December 14, 2020

Weapons Carried in Public

The authorities in Washington, D.C., said on Sunday that they had arrested a man in connection with the stabbing of four people on Saturday night as supporters and opponents of President Trump clashed blocks from the White House.

The New York Times, December 13, 2020

Violence in America based on political belief has gotten out of hand. Demonstrators of whatever philosophical stripe should not be risking their lives by participating in constitutionally protected demonstrations. Public officials should not have to fear violence against themselves or their families because of their expressed views or their official actions. Doctors performing legal medical procedures should not live in fear for their lives, and houses of worship should be inviolable sanctuaries. Schools should be secure halls of learning. None of these “normal” situations can, any longer, be taken for granted. Twenty-first-century America sometimes seems to be the Wild West redux.

Why, we should ask, should anyone be carrying a weapon—a pistol, a knife, or, heaven forbid, an assault rifle—in public? Weapons carried for an aggressive purpose should be disallowed in a civilized society. If a weapon is carried for an ostensibly defensive purpose, what or who is it protecting its bearer from? If others cannot be armed, why should anyone be? Weapons carried in public are instruments of intimidation. Do we really want public discourse to take place at the point of a gun?

A few disclaimers: I am not anti-gun. Guns should be allowed for hunting game, whether for food or for wildlife management—though mountain lions are a better alternative for the latter task—and guns should be allowed for protection from wild animals or to control pests that are a threat to agriculture. But these legitimate uses are highly environment-specific.

Do police need guns? In the present environment, certainly. If guns were not so common, perhaps not. In any case, police are distressingly likely to use firearms in situations where neither life nor property is at stake. This propensity needs to be suppressed. If otherwise innocent people are carrying weapons to protect themselves from the police, the proper response is to re-train overly aggressive law enforcement officers. The general issue of arming police, however, is a discussion for another day.

Discussing the Second Amendment is likewise a dialogue for another day. For the moment, unwise decisions by the Supreme Court have limited options available for regulating gun ownership and use. We should not be asking what the Court allows, but what is reasonable, perhaps even essential, public policy.

In particular, we should be asking what the purpose of allowing the carrying of weapons in public is. The argument–questionable, in any case—that the Constitution allows it is not a compelling one. If police are available to keep the peace, what is the function of personal carry? This is a question that isn’t being asked. It is a question the NRA does not even want you to think about.

Think about it.

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