While the next few weeks will invariably bring out the same cavalcade of charts, graphs, and statistics purporting to explain either how the United States is the most violent nation in the world or how more gun ownership actually helps make us less violent, the gun-control debate has moved well past statistics and into much deeper matters of family, morality, and political culture. We simply speak different cultural languages, and these languages are rooted in choices that go far beyond the decision to own a gun. Do you live in a rural or urban community? Were you raised around firearms? Do you have military experience? What is your conception of government and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship? Do you feel that you have the primary responsibility for protecting your family?
Rather than launch into the battle of statistics, let me explain three reasons why I “cling” (to borrow President Obama’s words) to my guns.
First, the practical: My family will be less safe if we’re not armed. We’re from Columbia, Tennessee, (actually closer to Mount Pleasant than Columbia proper) and live well outside of town. In other words, when seconds count, the police can be up to 15 to 20 minutes away. This is no insult to the police. Our local sheriff’s deputies are fine people and good officers, but they simply can’t cover the amount of territory they would have to in order to be immediately available. And lest anyone think it’s far-fetched that we’d ever face a personal threat, we faced one last year — when a threatening man approached my wife and kids at home with law enforcement far away.
Simply put, my firearms are not anyone’s problem, but they could be my family’s solution in a worst-case scenario.
Second, the moral: Beyond the practical problem of safety, many of us have a profound moral problem with delegating our family’s protection to the state. As a husband, a father — as a man — it is difficult for me to understand the decision (absent compelling circumstances, such as mental illness, criminality, suicidal ideation, or substance abuse) to disarm and voluntarily do less than I lawfully can to protect not just my own family, but also the people who come under my roof. If I disarm, I make the decision to render those most valuable to me more vulnerable.
Third, the cultural: There is the critical matter of our own liberty and independence — indeed, of our very national identity. The American experiment rests on the idea that our rights don’t flow from the state but are instead protected by the state. The government is created by “we the people,” and “we the people” must retain authority over the state we’ve created. The Constitution — and the ballot box – provide our first lines of protection against government overreach, but an armed citizenry represents the firewall — a deterrent against the kinds of grotesque abuses we’ve seen elsewhere around the world. In fact, the certainty that a significant mass of Americans would take up arms rather than submit to the kinds of governments that took over such otherwise-developed and advanced nations as Germany and Japan is one of the reasons why such governments are unthinkable here in the United States.
In other words, I own firearms not just for self-protection but also as an act of citizenship in a constitutional republic of profoundly-limited government powers.
To be clear, I’m no “prepper” (though the zombie apocalypse is inevitable), nor am I terribly concerned that our present government (as flawed as it is) is in danger of crossing any red lines into tyranny. I’m even a part-time government employee as an officer in the Army Reserve. But the responsibilities and vital traditions of citizenship endure nonetheless, and as a gun-owing veteran I’m standing in a long line of more-distinguished family members, stretching all the way back to a long, cold winter in Valley Forge.
So I’m not clinging, I’m preserving — doing my very small part to preserve my family’s safety, our moral integrity, and the primacy of the citizen over the state in our constitutional republic.