When you talk to your more emphatic gun advocates about the proposition of regulating guns, a similar refrain always arises: we have guns to protect ourselves against tyrannical government. Guns, you see, have the ancillary benefits of being awesome for home defense and hunting (unless you shoot the wrong person or whatever, but that only happens once every vice-presidential hunting trip). But the overarching reason the drafters of the Constitution put the Second Amendment in place was so that you could ultimately shoot those drafters.
If need be.
I don’t want to litigate the meaning of the Second Amendment, and for the purposes of this post, I’ll accept that the above is, in fact, the purpose of the Second Amendment. In fact, I’ll even lay out the principles of the argument:
Let’s assume all of that’s true. The question, then, isn’t whether we should regulate guns…the question is how, when you start shooting, we determine whether you’re a constitutionally justified patriot or Chris Dorner.
The tyrannical government argument rests on the assumption that everyone will know and understand when tyranny is occurring. Reading Dorner’s manifesto, it’s clear that he intends to strike out against the injustice and corruption he believes pervades the LAPD. One might even call it tyranny, if one were so inclined.
However, Dorner is a murderer, unjustified even by his legitimate grievances to take the lives of innocent people. Generally, that’s how these things go – angry anti-government types arm themselves against whatever set of grievances they have, and if and when they take action, their meticulous offense at tyranny is exposed as largely narcissistic rage.
When it comes to our Second Amendment patriots, when are we supposed to know that they’re not just Chris Dorner? Or Tim McVeigh? Or some backwoods militia rube who thinks he lost his job because of this year’s disfavored ethnic group? If your reason for arming yourself is your belief that the government either has or inevitably will transgress against your rights – and it’s always the rights of the individual – then the difference between the narcissism of that “patriot” and the narcissism of people we consider to be monsters is a matter of degree, rather than quality.
The stance in support of broad gun rights has to be something more than the argument that everyone will recognize how wronged people with guns are at some magic, simultaneous moment. Those arguments exist, but they don’t let their advocates pretend they’re going to put on facepaint, hide out in a tree and get perfect headshots on every faceless soldier of the New World Order after this episode of American Pickers is over.