Has anyone (else) seen the movie Zardoz? It's title character is an enormous flying head, apparently made from stone, which is God or at least represents God in yet another post-apocalyptic world of the kind we like to envision now and then. Although it has an angry look, it floats about serenely, coming to rest eventually among a crowd of men riding horses and shouting its name. From its mouth it more or less vomits firearms among its worshippers, bellowing "The Gun is Good!" among other things. This is, as I recall, the opening scene.
The movie stars Sean Connery, wearing a very silly costume, and Charlotte Rampling "as a bit of tail" as Monty Python would say, and others. Zardoz provides guns to men who keep slavish serf types in line while they grow food for a group of women and less than virile men (compared to Sean) who rule over them. I forget why, or how, and most of the movie. I am fond of the big stone head, however, which you may find easily enough via Google or some other browser. It appears sad in some way, but very angry because it is sad, and so seems to simultaneously cry and roar ferociously. I sometimes wish I could find a Zardoz mask to wear.
The head sticks in my mind, as does the phrase "The Gun is Good!" It seems to express a sentiment which many hold today in our Great Republic, that Americans should own guns. Why some of us have this sentiment is something I'd like to explore, however briefly, in this post.
I'm the owner of a shotgun, with which I shoot clay pigeons or discs. I enjoy owning and shooting this firearm. I even enjoy cleaning it, more or less. I like the way it looks, feels and handles. Based on these feelings, I suppose it would be appropriate to say that I find it "good" to own and use the gun, in a fairly limited sense. The "good" I would refer to, though, would merely express my pleasure in its ownership and use. It would be "good" in the same sense food would be "good" in my opinion if I enjoyed it.
No doubt other gun owners feel much the same about their firearms. But the sentiment I refer to now is plainly more than that.
Guns in America are not merely enjoyable. Owning a firearm is considered a right, established in the Constitution, of course, but the fact that one has a right to own a firearm doesn't mean one should own one. That, however, is what is now being claimed.
The Second Amendment plays its part in the conception of the gun as good. This is because it's thought that grants us a right which, unlike other rights, is not paired with an obligation or duty to others, but instead is derived from a perceived need. The need is no longer associated with keeping us from hunger, so the gun isn't good because we need it to survive. We need to have a legal right to own firearms in order to protect ourselves, not from others but from the government itself. Owning guns has somehow become essential to our liberty. The gun is good not just to put food on the table as once was the case, or because it may be used in hunting or sport. It is good as laws limiting the power of government are good, to prevent tyranny.
By virtue of this conception of the Second Amendment, the gun has become a kind of totem. It is a peculiarly American emblem of freedom.
Although many of those urging us to buy guns are associated in various respects with gun manufacturers, and so may be considered mere shills and salesmen, the "sales pitch" made isn't typical given the great status of the gun in our society. We're not being told we should buy a gun because we'll enjoy having one as we can engage in sport shooting or hunting. Those doing the urging aren't trying to exploit our sense of pleasure, or that is in any case not the focus of their efforts. They tell us we should have guns to protect ourselves and our families. Of course, we have a duty to protect our families. Having a gun is good as well as it allows us to comply with that duty.
More than this, they tell us we should have them so that we may participate in the effort to stop assorted bad people who would shoot us; terrorists and the mentally ill, and perhaps even common criminals, all of whom have guns themselves. Even certain members of law enforcement now claim that we should have guns, as we cannot rely on law enforcement to protect us fully, or can aid them by using guns before they arrive on the scene.
So, the gun is not a tool it's good to have, or something good to have so that we may use it to enjoy hunting or sport shooting. It's good to have because it is associated with America itself, and the founding of America. It's good to have because it protects our liberties and our families. It's good to have because it will allow us to become active participants in the struggle against evil. For these reasons, we should have guns.
Are they good reasons? As to the Second Amendment, I don't think it can be ignored that at the time of its adoption, the likelihood is that most everyone had guns and most everyone used them. However, it's unlikely that, after the Revolution, they were used for the purpose it's being claimed led to its adoption. They were probably used to hunt, for food, and to kill vermin. They may have been used now and then during duels. They could well have been used to kill Native Americans. They were very useful in ways in which they're for the most part no longer used. Far more useful than they are now.
Everyone having guns, the demand being at least as great if not greater than the supply, I doubt the Second Amendment served the purpose of motivating the acquisition of guns, as it's being used now. To the extent there was a concern over government tyranny, I think the concern was related to the possible confiscation of guns already possessed, not the need to acquire more guns. It was good to have guns, but not necessarily good to get more guns.
As to the need to protect ourselves, our families, and participate in the struggle against evil, one would think that in order to do so effectively something more than the mere possession of guns would be required. We would have to learn something about using them and trained to use them well. Those urging us to get guns don't seem inclined to urge us to do that, though certain of them want us to carry them around with us. The lack of emphasis on responsible and efficient use of firearms is disturbing. There also seems to be a lack of evidence that citizens owning guns, or even carrying them, prevents gun violence or inhibits evildoers.
If the gun is good as claimed, shouldn't there be good reasons for that claim?