The Latent Problem Made Apparent by Gun Control

When I go shooting with friends and family, I’m not afraid that they will shoot me. It doesn’t bother me at all that they have guns, because I think they’re competent, generally sane, and on the same side as me.

If I were to be around people who were either not competent, not sane, or not on the same side as me, and they were armed, then I would be worried. If they’re not competent, they might shoot me by accident. If they’re not sane, they might chose to shoot me for a crazy reason. If they’re not on the same side as me, they might just want to shoot me.

So I wouldn’t want them to have guns. But if they were far away from me, much farther than the range of the weapon, then I wouldn’t worry about it.

If people want gun control, it means that they feel like the people around them are not competent, not sane, or not on their side. The more strongly that people feel this way, the more strongly they’ll want gun control. If gun control is popular, it means a large number of people don’t trust the other members of their community.

We can reduce the issue of gun control down to a matter of statistically analysing the risk of death in a free society versus the negative effects of the totalitarian enforcement required to ensure that no civilian can get a gun, and while that’s useful and shows a clear choice to me, it also indicates something more significant: this is a low-trust society.


Urbanisation means that people are increasingly socially atomised, living in smaller spaces, more densely surrounded by strangers, and have access to conveniences that let them minimize contact and dependence on those around them.

Diversity means that we not only have different outwardly visible features like clothing and cuisine, but that even if we all spoke the same language we would still be divided by differences in values, abilities, preferences, and fundamental assumptions about the world.

Hundreds of years of the material wealth of industrial society and the agricultural revolution means that we have for many generations allowed the survival of the less competent and mentally healthy who in harsher conditions would not have reproduced.

It’s not a surprise that someone surrounded by faceless unknowable strangers who are often at least slightly emotionally unstable would be eager to have their guns taken away. It’s a way to take the trust that would in ideal conditions be place in members of their community and transfer it to an idea of a powerful system that treats everyone equally, and forces everyone to be unarmed and powerless.

When you can’t trust the people around you, it’s tempting to want to replace the interpersonal with the impersonal withdraw into the illusion of safety in the cold, sterile, controlled it creates. Is that really what we want? Isn’t it better to try to find a way to live more freely with people we can trust because they are competent, sound minded, and known to be on our side?

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