Guns don’t kill people, I do.

Sep 16

Ok, before the men in white coats come to get me, I probably should clarify that the title of this post is a quote from The Vidiot from UHF, a Weird Al Yankovic film: “Gun control is for wimps and commies. Listen, let’s get one thing straight. Guns don’t kill people; I do!” The line was delivered by a fairly crazy-looking Deliverance-stereotyped older guy in a lampoon of a pro-guns advertisement/’community announcement’. It was a long time ago that I watched it, but I can still remember the look on the guy’s face as he spoke the last line while taking aim at the camera. It was an effective send-up of the pro-gun argument “guns don’t kill people, only people kill people”.

I read a few pro-gun control posts after the ‘dark knight’/batman shootings some weeks back, and had the idea of writing a post of my own (because it strikes me that some people tend to think all gun users are gun nuts and, perhaps, just plain nuts as well), which, while giving what I hoped would be a useful insight into guns-as-tools would still come down on the side of gun control as a good thing. I was going to say that I really couldn’t get my head around what all the fuss was about in the pro-gun lobby, that, along with people like Jason Alexander, I couldn’t conceive of a reason to allow civilians to own assault-style rifles.

But then I had to admit that the reason I didn’t know what all the fuss was about was largely because I hadn’t really read any pro-gun arguments. So I did some reading, and now (notwithstanding having read a lot of poor arguments and diatribes) I find myself in a rather unsettled position; I’m not sure what I think just yet, but I’ll put some thoughts out there… like clay pigeons across the sky; feel free to shoot them down, because I’m still kicking these thoughts around myself.

I should say first that for the sake of brevity (relatively speaking) I’ll talk about pro-gun and anti-gun or pro-gun and pro-gun-control, or a number of other seemingly-but-not-really-dichotomous pairs. That is, I recognise I’m running the risk of lumping people into one camp or another, and I realise that it’s more complicated than that (and that, for example, pro-gun people can also be pro-gun-control). But for now I’ll take that approach because I think the points I’m interested in hold regardless.

Firstly, my own shooting background.

Me and my gun

Actually, I don’t own a gun anymore. I was given a rifle for my 16th(?) birthday back in the day when such a thing could be done (by the time the Tasmanian laws first began to regulate long rifles, as opposed to hand guns, I was already 18; indeed, I remember my older brother made a gun cabinet as a school woodwork project – it had no lock and and a glass panel in the door). Some ten or so years later, more strict gun laws were in place and since I was getting married and moving to the big smoke of Melbourne, I sold the rifle to a family member still living on the farm (quite a process since under the new legislation the sale had to go through a gun dealer) and let my firearms licence lapse. Now that I’m back on the farm, I still have use of that rifle (having demonstrated my capacity to use it, responsibly; I had to re-apply for a firearms licence, and do a training course, despite the fact that I’d previously held a firearms licence and owned a rifle for many years).

But I am in the market for a new rifle now. A more powerful one. Why? Because I think if I’m going to kill something I should kill it with something that does a better job of killing things. I hesitate to call it “more humane”, but that’s really what it’s about. Perhaps “less inhumane” would be better. But no, I’m not talking about a military assault rifle here.

I don’t like killing things, and the older I get the more I dislike it, probably because the older I get the more I think about things.

There have been no cattle in this paddock for months on end – this is the spring break growth in the cage, protected from wildlife grazing, compared to the relatively mowed lawn that the wildlife ‘provide’ in the rest of the paddock.

So why do I do it? Well, we have a wallaby problem. They eat the grass that we grow for our cattle. Lots of grass. The wildlife management branch of DPIPWE surveyed this farm, did some computer modelling based on their data from elsewhere in the state, and came back to us with a figure of around $90,000 of lost productivity due to wildlife browsing. That’s just based on the grass that they’re eating. I’m not convinced the problem is that bad, but it certainly suggests that the wallabies could easily be the difference between doing ok and running at a loss. Shooting is one way to effect an initial drop in population numbers (but is recognised as one of the most ineffective long-term strategies if used in isolation to others).

I’ve happily maintained a “live and let live” attitude for quite a few years now, but in the context of a commercial farm, it’s getting a bit difficult to maintain. There are also OH&S issues to consider as well; a rabbit here and there may not do too much damage to your crops, but if someone twists an ankle walking through the rows, there’s more at stake than a few berries.

But, despite having legitimate commercial reasons for shooting, I do also have to admit that there is some kind of thrill in the sense of the hunt. I put this down to some kind of primal thing going on somewhere, which I don’t really understand, because at the end of the day I can’t reconcile that small, incongruous thrill with the sense of philosophical meltdown I feel when dealing with an animal whose life I’ve just ended. I’m able to steel myself to do what needs to be done, in doing it there’s a recognition of something primal coming to the surface, and once it’s done I fall back onto the ‘necessity’ arguments so I have some chance of sleeping at night. But I never really convince myself.

There is also the fact that there is something of an art to shooting. It’s not rocket science by any means, but it’s involved enough to be a competitive sport, and there’s enough depth in the behind-the-scenes stuff involved in the paraphernalia to be engaging enough to be a truly boffin-friendly hobby. For example, a gun can be a work of master craftsmanship – indeed, if it’s not, it’s not going to work very well, because it won’t be accurate. And there’s a bit of science involved in the ballistics side of things – just as one example, the curly grooves cut into the inside of the barrel of a rifle that make bullets spin at different rates have a big effect on how a bullet performs over various distances and conditions. Indeed, one man I know who has owned various calibre rifles, shotguns and a pistol, and has been shooting for longer than I’ve been alive, regards himself as not expert enough to answer questions on such matters; there’s a lot to it. Similarly, many serious or regular shooters opt to load their own ammunition – that is, they buy the individual component parts of their rounds and put them together themselves, which gives them complete control to ‘tune’ the ammunition to perform how they want it to perform, and makes the performance more consistent than factory-produced ammunition (with the added bonus of being cheaper overall). And, at the end of the day, there’s something almost “magical” to the idea that you can squeeze a little lever here and hit something hundreds of metres away in a split second. Unnerving, disturbing, but also “magical” in the sense that it’s the closest you’re likely to get to telekinesis.

So, that’s some personal insight. I’m not a gun nut (although I am attracted to the precision and scientific side of the pursuit), and gun nuts are generally just boffins like the boffins you get in any hobby. To be honest, I was quite disturbed by a room full of model train enthusiasts my family encountered during a stay in Scotland a couple of years ago; a couple of rooms full of grown men spending all day watching toy trains go back and forth on a model track that was just that – tracks stuck on a bit of plywood, not even villages sprinkled here and there to capture the imagination. That struck me as very weird indeed. But no, they weren’t going to go out and kill fifty people with their model trains, which brings me back to my original purpose.


The culture (and the cultural cringe)

I do think it’s important to look at the culture because there really does seem to be an “us and them” divide in most gun debates, which hinders the possibility of a genuinely meaningful discussion.

A good friend of mine has also been looking at buying a rifle, and as such he’s been doing some research with gun magazines (glossy paper, not the ones that hold ammunition) and such. He told me an amusing story recently. His son took one of his gun magazines to school. When the (rural) school raised the issue with the parents, my friend was bemused to realise that the school didn’t take issue with the fact that his son had been reading the magazine when he was supposed to be engaged in school activities, but rather with the fact that the magazine in question was a gun magazine – which, to my friend’s mind, meant a tool catalogue. Even more strange was the Principal handing the magazine back, rolled up so the cover could not be seen, with an awkward “I think this belongs to you”; it was as though he was handing back some porn. Even stranger is the fact that the same school seemed to tolerate another student running around dressed up as a ‘gangsta’, pretending to pop caps into students’ asses, under the auspices of “Book Week” dress up.

I can relate to the Principal’s gun mags-as-porn awkwardness, because I also feel a bit creeped out by those covers with guys dressed in khaki gear kneeling on dead pigs, with big grins on their camo-painted faces (the hunters, not the pigs… if the pigs had camo paint they wouldn’t be in the picture at all. There’d just be confused-looking guys on the covers of shooting magazines). But I also have to appreciate the honesty of the hunters. Unlike most of us, they’re willing to get out there and kill the things they’re going to eat. If they’re just doing that in the most effective way they know, I guess I have to try to get over myself a bit.

I think the cultural cringe that a keen shooter can elicit is partly a product of the fact that we are so far removed from the production of our food.

So, with respect to firearms as a hunting tool, I think the point I’d like to raise is that if you eat meat you’re on shaky ground objecting to the tools that are used in making meat. That is, the cultural divide between hunters and anti-gun lobbyists is artificial. We can’t argue that the divide exists because the anti-gun lobbyists are more civilised or enlightened, unless they don’t eat meat, because if they do, they’re just pushing the dirty work onto someone else and claiming enlightenment.

On the other hand, if a shooter is actually getting into the whole thing for its own sake, then yeah, that does freak me out a bit. But whether that’s a rational response, I don’t know. Plenty of people get right into fishing, for example, and this is generally viewed as a passion for a hobby, nothing particularly freaky. I’m not sure that the recreational anglers who pull in dozens of fish each week and give them away to family and friends are any more justified in their pursuit than someone who goes hunting for the sake of it, but we tend to view such an angler with less suspicion.

Which suggests it’s something to do with the gun; full-on shooters wear specialised clothing and equipment and carry a gun, full-on anglers wear specialised clothing and equipment and carry a fishing rod, but the former typically elicits a more visceral concern than the latter.

Of course, the oft-used argument is that the obvious difference between such objects is that the gun can kill lots of people quickly, whereas a fishing rod is not typically a tool of choice for a mass murderer. True, but I’d argue that with regard to the kind of cultural/visceral cringe I’m talking about this is only half the issue, at most; for example, if we replace the image of the hunter in camo paint with encountering a uniformed police officer with a gun in a holster, the response is likely to be entirely different – we may barely even notice the gun.

I think we have to admit that these ‘enlighted’ responses are at least partly irrational and based on stereotypes. For most law abiding citizens, the chance of being shot at by a serious hunter is probably no greater than being shot at by a police officer (and it’s not like police officers don’t ever go postal and don’t ever have disturbing tendencies toward militancy).

Similarly, it’s worth considering ANFO – Ammonium Nitrate/Fuel Oil. This explosive combination was readily available on many farms until relatively recent times. Ammonium Nitrate was a widely used agricultural fertiliser, which when mixed with diesel (the predominant fuel used on farms), becomes an explosive; at certain times of the year our farm probably would’ve had enough raw ingredients to level a good many buildings in our closest town. In Australia, following 9/11, the government placed restrictions on the use of AN. It wasn’t a ban, but it’s had the same effect – our local agricultural supply store doesn’t handle AN as fertiliser anymore because the conditions of doing so are too onerous. Its use as an explosive on farms was standard practice (it was well known as an effective way to blast holes for fence posts, for example) and a refined grade of ANFO was widely used in mining operations. But it’s also been used in terrorist attacks since the 1970s, and yet I can’t remember anyone looking at me suspiciously when I’ve talked about using AN on the farm. Prior to 9/11, before the notion of “legitimate user” changed, I was actually a licensed explosives user for some years, which would’ve allowed me to buy more explosives (purpose-made ones like gelignite, detonators and detonating cord, not just fertiliser) than I’d ever be likely to need at any one time, as well as holding a firearms licence, and it’s the firearms licence that’s always tended to earn me a sideways look, not the explosives permit. And, unlike guns, it’s difficult to make a hobby out of explosives, and the argument about guns being able to kill lots of people, compared to a fishing rod, falls over altogether as an explanation for the cultural cringe when the comparison is explosives. They can kill lots of people too. So why the cringe over a firearms licence and not so much with an explosives licence?

(While I think of it, I hope someone out there will argue my case if I mysteriously disappear once ASIO reviews my internet search queries and finds “mass shootings”, “ANFO”, “NYPD Israel branch” and so forth…)

Still, there will be those who would argue that the gun was always intended to kill, whereas explosives can be used to shift dirt.

And they’d be right. But I don’t think people are really mindful of this distinction, nor indeed of many of the others I’ve touched on (or of those I haven’t touched on but which do figure in the pro/anti gun debates) at the time of the cringe. So, regardless of how much sense such distinctions seem to make (or not) when we encounter them in the debate, and regardless of the fact that they may justify an anti-gun stance, they don’t explain the cultural cringe. They may provide logical support for the anti-gun position, but they don’t adequately explain the emotional response to guns. It’s more like the logical arguments are an afterthought.

Like spiders. People who are freaked out by spiders are more fundamentally freaked out by spiders than their explanations really support.

So, it seems to me that:

  1. Guns themselves elicit a disproportionate dread that guns per se don’t warrant (at least not on the grounds that I’ve seen cited in the debate), and
  2. This dread is at least partially mitigated when the gun is in the possession of a ‘respectable authority’ (who in reality probably has less expertise in using it than a regular shooter, and probably also feels more of a sense of entitlement to use it on a human), and
  3. Given 1 and 2, there clearly seems to be an irrational component to the cultural cringe (no, it’s not really a separate third point, but I did it for emphasis. Plus it gives me an opportunity to do Monty Python Spanish Inquisition jokes if I think of another point later).

I’ll come back to this later (because there may be four things…). For now I want to look at some of the “rights” issues around guns.

Right to bear arms. Or not.

In America they have the Second Amendment to deal with. As far as I can tell, that enshrines the right of a people’s army to bear arms to defend itself. So there are lots of arguments about what constitutes a militia, whether the amendment is relevant now given that it was written in a time when there was no official army, whether it extends to an individual’s (as opposed to a member of a militia’s) right to bear arms, legal rulings on the matter, and so forth.

I feel a bit stupid saying this, but it wasn’t until some days after first reading all this stuff that it actually hit me just how different this part of the debate is to the Australian landscape. To the point that it’s almost entirely irrelevant to us in Australia. Not just because we don’t have a second amendment, but because we do have very clearly defined “legitimate reasons” to own a firearm, and self-defence isn’t one of them. Now, in my (self) defence, I think the reason this has never struck me before, is because I’ve never wanted a gun for self-defence, and I’ve never really thought about it in those terms. I wanted my license for farming, so I ticked the boxes next to the legitimate reasons relating to farming.

So, despite the fact that it must’ve been floating around in my knowledge-base, when I actually considered this, I got a bit of a shock when I realised that even if you were one of the people who experience a cultural cringe when you see a gun-nut, and despite a deep-seated loathing of guns, you decided that it would be prudent to have one for, say, the protection of your family in the case of a break and enter, you couldn’t get one. Even if you were willing to do whatever training and certification was required, and hoped that beyond that training you’d never have to lay eyes on the thing again, let alone use it, you simply couldn’t get one legally.

You cannot legally own a gun for private self defence in Tasmania, under any circumstances.

What to believe now?

The next thing to weigh into my thoughts on this debate came from David Coady’s book, What to believe now: applying epistemology to contemporary issues. The book is a very engaging examination of arguments, assumptions and prejudices around different positions of belief regarding a range of contemporary issues such as what constitutes expertise, what sources of information are reliable, and an examination of conspiracy theories and theorists (as opposed to ‘coincidence theorists’!)

The book’s postscript was the bit that made me look at gun control in another light. I should state up front that the author had nothing to say about gun control in the book whatsoever, so I may well be wildly misappropriating his arguments. However, it struck me that there are aspects of this academic’s arguments that are fundamentally similar to the arguments gun users appeal to, but for which they’ve typically been dismissed as disturbingly paranoid (and therefore, by implication, unfit to own the guns which they’re defending their right to own). Coady’s arguments are, as you’d expect, more lucid, cogent, and eloquent, but nonetheless I found the similarities striking.

The book’s postscript looks at government surveillance, and specifically CCTV cameras, and argues that contrary to many of the objections raised against such surveillance, the real concerns are not stemming from privacy issues, but rather from the “implicit assumption that government can be trusted to be well-intentioned” (p. 184). The author examines the arguments within a published debate wherein Mrs Aremac (camera spelt backward), who is a disabled, elderly lady watching passers-by from her window, is proposed as the personified equivalent of a CCTV camera. Even the comparison itself immediately struck me as disingenuous, since the more accurate analogy would be to compare a CCTV camera to Agent Aremac on permanent stakeout. At risk of confusing my argument, in short, the Mrs Aremac comparison is appealing to the surveillance equivalent of the old gun chestnut: CCTV cameras don’t spy on people, only people can spy on people, and therefore a camera, per se, can only be as threatening as a little old lady. In both cases, there’s an element of truth, but it’s effectively obfuscating the argument, because neither guns nor cameras exist in isolation, there are always people involved. The reason I feel comfortable using Coady’s objection to cameras as an argument through which to view gun control (as opposed to “cameras are bad so guns are bad too”, which might seem to be where I’m heading in drawing comparisons), is that Coady is talking about cameras owned by the state, and I’m talking about guns owned by the people (the fact that the state also owns lots and lots of guns is another matter I’ll get to).

According to Coady,

Unregulated and/or widespread use of CCTV is objectionable, because it makes it much easier for governments and government agencies to gather information about people who are not reasonably suspected of criminal activity. It is objectionable for governments or government agencies to gather such information, not (or at least not principally) because it is a violation of the privacy rights of the people in question, but rather because it makes it more likely that they will be persecuted… …Governments do not last forever, and, as a result, people who are not dissidents today may become dissidents tomorrow without changing their opinions. (pp. 185-6)

He gives examples of this kind of marginalisation-by-declaration, with the US Department of Homeland Security issuing different warnings (e.g. to local police forces) regarding “extremist activity” from differing sides of the political divide at differing times.

Now, Coady introduces his main concern as being that “the [open society] ideal is of society as a one-way mirror, through which the citizen can observe the state, but the state cannot look back. Increasingly, this one way mirror is pointing in the wrong direction.” (p. 175) So it’s really only with regard to state transparency and the related potential misuse of intelligence that I can attempt to apply his arguments to gun control with any credibility. But there is quite a bit of grist for the mill within those parameters.

For example, in Tasmania, registered gun owners are just that – registered, which means the state has intelligence about gun owners. And registered gun owners are, presumably, the epitome of “people who are not reasonably suspected of criminal activity” (if they were reasonably suspected of criminal activity, they wouldn’t get approval to own a gun). One could argue that a registered gun owner willingly offers the information which is registered, but that’s often not the case – many gun owners would prefer not to be registered, and register begrudgingly, because the state has legislated that they must.

If, as Coady says, “it is objectionable for governments or government agencies to gather such information… because it makes it more likely that they will be persecuted”, and if there’s a problem with the “implicit assumption that government can be trusted to be well-intentioned”, this would certainly hold true for the case where things get really nasty – a database of known gun owners would be a fantastic tool for a state which fears an uprising of the people, a state which seeks to become totalitarian, or for an invading force. And we also know that government-managed databases aren’t necessarily secure. So, unlike car registrations, gun registrations do place a much-heightened risk on the registrant if things go pear shaped.

Also, it’s probably reasonable to assume that we as citizens have no hope of knowing how many guns the government owns, nor where they are stored, and we certainly can’t inspect the repositories to assess whether they are secure (as can the police with respect to privately owned guns). We could probably get some of the information from FoI requests on procurement data and such, but it’s likely the government would not view public disclosure of all its arsenal information as being within ‘our’ collective security interest.

And there’d probably be some sense in that position; I’m certainly not suggesting that this is a black and white issue (and nor, I think, is Coady with respect to surveillance – it is the “unregulated and/or widespread” use of surveillance he objects to, not necessarily all surveillance). There has to be room for society to weigh up the pros and cons and set limits on what levels of state power should be considered appropriate given the risks of not conferring that power, and this should certainly apply to weapons. But even so, the enforced registration of licensed gun owners is in some sense a heavy-handed (or perhaps just ‘lazy’) solution to the perceived risk of weapons, since:

  • Licensed gun owners are law-abiding citizens (otherwise, as I’ve already said, they wouldn’t be licensed)
  • Their registration does little to prevent their guns being stolen. The use of a gun safe is apparently considered the best protection against a gun being stolen. The best indicator of whether a safe will be used into the future is likely to be whether there’s a safe on the premises (e.g. no farmer likes spending several hundred dollars and then not using what they’ve spent the money on). The initial inspection to ensure the gun is adequately housed in a safe could be triggered as part of the purchase process – there’s no need to store permanent data relating to that person’s gun ownership to establish that a new firearm will be held securely. The existence of a secure gun safe on a premises can therefore be established for all new gun purchases, without recording anything permanently.
  • The police have the legal capacity to do spot checks, anytime, on whether guns are securely stored. This does imply a need for a register of gun owners (so the police know where to check), but it also implies a need for the police force to be adequately resourced to carry out the inspections. Given the many registered guns out there (apparently some 35,000 in Tasmania), and therefore the unlikeliness that they’d all be inspected, the registration of gun owners purely to facilitate these inspections is an imposition on the owner’s security at very little benefit conferred to the security of society. This argument is reportedly supported by the police themselves: “Police sources agreed… saying their main worry was the hundreds of thousands of illegal firearms in Australia rather than registered firearms falling into the wrong hands”.
  • For those who already owned a gun when gun control legislation was introduced, the system was effectively opt-in anyway (since no-one knew where the guns were, no-one knows how many are still owned, unregistered). It still is effectively opt-in, as apparently evidenced by the many unregistered guns in circulation.
  • In this day and age there are ways to license people such that the validity of the licence can be established, without having to keep a record of the owners of those licences (e.g. in a similar way websites know if your voucher code is valid without knowing who you are). So it’s possible to grant someone verifiable permission, once all the relevant checks are done, to go out and buy a gun, without having to register that person permanently as a licensee or a gun owner.

But of course it’s not just the buying and storage of guns that’s an issue. There has be a way of taking possession of someone’s firearm if, for example, they have a psychotic episode or engage in criminal behaviour thus losing their right to own a weapon.

However, the chance of a law abiding citizen later opting for a life of gun-armed crime is presumably quite low. And if it does happen, criminals, by definition, likely won’t be too concerned about whether their weapon is registered or not, or whether they’re licensed or not. If they really want one, they’ll get one.

Similarly, anyone can have a psychotic break. Putting someone on a register is not going to do anything to prevent that happening; becoming mentally unhinged is not something people generally choose. If someone just snaps and goes postal, and they own a firearm, having it registered is not going to save anyone.

In the case of someone gradually becoming increasingly mentally troubled, there could certainly be an opportunity for a GP for example, to recommend the confiscation of firearms (indeed the Act currently requires it). So this case certainly would pose a hurdle for a “don’t register” argument.

In summary, it seems to me that, following Coady’s concern about the reversal of the one-way mirror, and the potential misuse of information to persecute those of differing opinions, the actual registration of gun owners, as a permanent record, places a security risk on gun owners for a limited benefit (if we exclude society’s perception of increased safety) to society. Initial inspections, education, and skills testing are all well and good (and as a long time gun user I have to say I found the training course I had to complete in order to get a licence again, useful), but permanent “simple” registration (e.g. a record comprised of “this guy called John Smith living at 1 Smith Rd owns a Class B firearm with serial number 12345”) is arguably a lazy solution to the messy rights/risks issues around gun ownership.


This guy makes some interesting points about a gun as a civilising factor:

In a truly moral and civilized society, people exclusively interact through persuasion. Force has no place as a valid method of social interaction, and the only thing that removes force from the menu is the personal firearm, as paradoxical as it may sound to some.

When I carry a gun, you cannot deal with me by force. You have to use reason and try to persuade me, because I have a way to negate your threat or employment of force.

I don’t agree with his argument – that carrying a gun is a civilised act, any more than nuclear proliferation is civilised. Threatening force in answer to a threat of force is not civilised. It may be necessary, because we’re not civilised, but that’s very different. But he does make some interesting points on the self-defence side of things.

I probably should clarify here that even if I was allowed to own a pistol for self-defence, I don’t think I’d want to. Similarly, if I had the chance to bear arms against a marauding invading force, I don’t think I would. I’m inclined to think “ah well, if it’s come to this, so be it”. Although, having said that, having kids on the scene alters the landscape significantly, but resignation would probably be my natural response if there was just me to look out for.

But I know not everyone feels that way, and so I’m a bit affronted by the idea that we can’t own a gun for self-defence when the government can be armed to the teeth. Not because I think the government is the enemy, but again because it’s a case of the government having all the power, and could be the enemy, and it also represents a double standard, which was self-imposed. It’s not like we had a referendum on the issue and the people voted for gun laws; Howard used the Port Arthur massacre as a justification to bring in gun laws, which, according to recent reports, are doing a great job of keeping law abiding citizens in check, and very little to prevent the prohibition-style trafficking of weapons.

It may also be that if we did have a referendum, Howard would be proven right. And actually, I suspect he would be, because of that visceral dread. But I think that would also be because we haven’t thought it through. There are ridiculous inconsistencies in our acceptance of different societal risks. Tasmania’s 5 year average road toll is 46 fatalities per annum; 11 more, every year, than the worst gun massacre in Australian history, which was indelibly seared into our minds. We accept that risk, and dutifully pay our MAIB premiums as part of the car registration cost. If someone were to suggest that we should introduce a hefty Firearm Casualty Insurance premium, and that that should make it all ok, they’d be howled down. And rightly so… and yet we accept the far greater risk of dying on the road with similar mitigating ‘safety nets’. It can’t all be put down to the greater utility of cars; there’s something weird going on there (“In the new landscape… steam hoses will be used to cleanse the altar”).

I guess that’s what I find really interesting about the debate. It’s so polarised and passionate, while other risks we face daily, are barely given a second thought.

As for that military assault rifle… I can’t see why a civilian would need one. Except for self-defence against a government equally armed, or an invading force. In either case, as I’ve said, I wouldn’t be interested. It makes me sick thinking about it. But it does seem a little naive that we’d be happy for the government to be armed to the teeth, and no-one else. Yes, it’s different to cars, because cars aren’t designed to kill people. But surely that’s also a reason why the state shouldn’t have a monopoly. It’s not like Western governments haven’t ever viewed their people as fodder to serve what they considered to be a greater good.

So, I still don’t know what I think, except that I’m thinking about it more. I don’t think I’d like to live in a society where everyone packs a gun (and especially not a military assault rifle), but that’s probably partly because I was born post-WWII in a country with no land neighbours and so this relative utopia has become normalised for me. But I don’t suppose for a minute that it will always be this way.

And I think maybe that’s what the cringe is really about. Maybe a gun is an emblem of humanity’s capacity to persecute, exploit, enslave, disempower, and kill. Maybe a gun is a reminder that yes, we have collectively resorted to this weapon in the past, and will again. Is it the gun’s undermining of our sense of civilisation that is the real root to our disquiet about guns? I suspect that this certainly plays a part. I think that’s why some parents are aghast to find their kids running around “shooting” each other. It’s not because they really think that their kid is going to be next serial killer on the news, but because it’s forcing a recognition that there is something uncivilised in humans that doesn’t need a lot of feeding to grow.

Now, looking at the other side of the coin altogether – considering the possibility that perhaps there need not be war – I hope to finally finish Jared Diamond’s Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive, and then move on to reading some of Judith Hand’s work.


Coady, D 2012 Full reference:

Coady, D 2012 What to believe now: applying epistemology to contemporary issues, Wiley-Blackwell.


  • Amazon
  • Google Books
  • Wiley
  • …and also currently in stock at the UTAS bookshop (at least that’s where mine came from).

Well worth a read.



  1. My hat off to you for writing such comprehensive gun-control related reflections; you left practically no rational stone unturned (other than the highly speculative territory of the ‘hidden agenda’ of TPTB…)

    On the metaphysical side of things, however, there’d be a whole other bag of treasure to explore, eh?

    On that note, your ‘wallaby challenge’ reminded me of Michael Roads’ “Talking with Nature” which we read many years ago. He being once an Australian farmer (now, as I understand, a full-time inspirational speaker), I reckon that if you dare to have your worldview rattled, read that book!

    • Marshall /

      Thanks Peter. I’m not sure I added anything new to the debate, it was a rather self-indulgent working out of my own thoughts. But thanks for reading!

      Michael Roads’ book is avaliable at the library, but only as a reference book, not for lending! Having done a quick googling, I’ll say up front that I do tend to shy away from such books. I think I have a very open mind (and I think the West is far too focused on a WYSIWYG outlook which oversimplifies things by equating science with truth) – possibly too open for my own good – but the last time I looked into one of these kinds of messages, I did some googling and found a video of the author giving a talk in which she explained that she was currently choosing to live in the past (i.e. our present is her past) and that in her own time (our future) she is actually a Commander of the Intergalactic Worlds Council. It was a good reminder that despite its inherent problems, empiricism does a pretty good job of sorting out the wheat from the chaff.

      Now, that’s not to say that I would reject out of hand the possibility of time travel – I’m with Hamlet, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy – but on the weight of the available evidence, it suggested to me that I’d be wasting my time. I have a hard enough time reading a diet book in such a way that doesn’t require endless checking of sources.

      Nonetheless, I’ll flag it in my reading list and see if I can find a sample online.

  2. Are you sure that you actually need to shoot the wallabies? I thought that a more effective method was to get one of those “Land for Wildlife” signs that you attach to your front fence. As soon as the wallabies see the sign they immediately move to your neighbours’ place and eat their grass instead – it certainly worked for one of our neighbours.