The easier, the better

The Washington Post has decided to do the time warp again, stepping into their echo chamber to proclaim their support for a nationwide ban on all handguns in an editorial entitled Killing Made Easy.  They have lots of biased and misleading statistics to throw at the debate and see what sticks, although they have been reduced to citing their own prior articles for some of the weaker examples. 

While it may be true that only 160 of 12,000 homicides by firearm each year are ruled justified, the vast majority of defensive gun uses each year do not involve firing the gun, much less killing someone; the absolute lowest reliable estimate puts the number of defensive gun uses at around 80,000 a year (National Crime Victimization Survey, requiring a police report to count), and most estimates range between 1-3 million. 

But I'm not going to waste time pointing out statistical flaws in their argument this time around.  I've done that before, I'll doubtless do it again, but there's a bigger point their editorial strikingly fails to grasp.

The easier it is to kill, the better off humanity as a whole will be.

That's a strong statement, I know.   Bear with me.

To understand my argument, consider our history.  At the dawn of human history, we were little better than animals, gathering plants and harvesting arnimals for our sustenance.  Killing animals for their food was a significant effort, consuming the time and energy (and sometimes, the lives) of approximately half the population.  Whatever native intelligence or artistic impulse early humans possessed had little opportunity for outlet or expression, and even when opportunity was available it still revolved around the endless quest for food.

Suppose an early human invented a tool -- say, a bow and arrow.  This tool makes killing easier.  That means it makes hunting easier, requiring less time, less energy, and fewer people.  If enough people take up bowhunting, the surplus from their efforts can support human specialists, who spend their time pursuing something other than game: other sources of food, cultivation of crops, written language, or art.  More efficient killing machines allow for the possibility of humans whose lives do not revolve around killing, humans who otherwise would be unable to support their non-violent activities.

Consider next the middle ages.  The development of agriculture has allowed for a broad spectrum of human specialists to arise and form a civilization recognizably similar to ours in many ways.  Humankind has become the dominant predator on earth; though animals may rival individual humans, as a species there is nothing deadlier.  But as a result, more and more people live their lives insulated from violence

In fact, violence itself has become a specialized occupation.  Killing animals is easy, and killing humans is easy, but killing human warriors, specialized killers, is very difficult.  The most prominent positions among humanity are oriented around the best killers of other humans -- knights, the nobles who lead them, the kings who lead nations.  But the existance of those specialized roles allows for people who live entirely peaceful lives: monks and merchants.  Killing has become so much more efficient that large fractions of the population need not be involved in it at all.

But it is still difficult enough that it requires a specialist to do it well, and those specialists can rule the rest of humanity with an iron fist, unchallenged.  Not because they are better; because killing a specialized human warrior has become difficult, even for another human being.  The result is inevitably oppression. 

The invention of firearms changes that equation.  Suddenly, killing is easy again.  Suddenly, untrained farmers can defeat professional soldiers.  And do.

Think about that.

We owe the existance of our nation to tools that make killing easier.

Every single specialized worker whose profession is not warfare owes his life and his freedom to tools that make it possible for him to kill an attacker easily, without needing extensive training, strength, or funding

Women owe their independence from men to firearms.  A woman with a handgun can protect herself; she does not require a knight in shining armor to stand between her and brutal rape.

Journalists, who in modern times decry that the pen is mightier than the sword, owe their ability to "speak truth to power" to farmers who outfought professional soldiers on behalf of their forefathers.  They are able to do so because the gun is mightier than both.

We owe our very civilization to those same tools.  Not merely the origin of our civilization but its continuance.  Take away firearms, and see how long civilization survives.  The safe bet would be not very long.

The Washington Post says that handguns make killing easier.  They're right.  And I say Thank god for that.

This entry was published Tue Jan 17 20:16:38 CST 2006 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2006-01-17 20:16:38.0. [Tweet]

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