Fayetteville, AR – -(AmmoLand.com)- Christopher Hitchens was one of the most perceptive commentators on politics and culture. Born in England shortly after the end of the Second World War, he came to the United States in the 80s, growing enamored with our defining values, while at the same time pointing out our moments of inconsistency and absurdity.
One example of this is his discussion about our attitudes toward freedom and government activity at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2010. His specific argument is that Americans don’t want universal healthcare but do want access to guns because we prefer dangerous freedom. He saw this as a continuation of our frontier spirit that drove people to pick up and go west whenever things got too regulated back home.
In the manner of many converts—Hitchens became an American citizen in response to the 9/11 attacks—he displayed here a clarity in his analysis of the group he joined. And what he had to say asks us to think through what are often settled assumptions about how we address the relative risks in life.
Gun control advocates constantly declare that owning guns is a risk. The number of expletives that I use in reply depends on the day I’m having, but the essential point is that I am not being told anything that I didn’t know already and choose to live with.
Is a gun owner more at risk of being shot than someone who doesn’t possess firearms? Yes. But as with so much else in life, we can’t reasonably stop the argument there.
Any calculation of risk can focus on one narrow question—risk from owning or not owning alone—but we have to be open to acknowledging other factors that are associated with that risk in the real world. If I am trying to figure out how much danger I am in buy having guns in my presence and want a complete answer, I have to include the number of defensive gun uses alongside the number of suicides or accidents that involve guns. The former is difficult to be precise about, but the lowest estimates come in well above the number of people who die from gunfire.
And then we have to ask how much choice we ought to have with regard to risk. My current state of residence does not require adults to wear helmets while riding on motorcycles. I understand the impulse, but I have to go here with a comment that I saw once from left-leaning libertarian musician, Neil Peart, that though he didn’t support helmet laws, he always wears a helmet. The saying, your mileage may vary, applies. Some people like to climb mountains. Others enjoy mind-altering substances. Still more buy cars without reading Consumer Reports. Levels of risk that are acceptable differ widely by person, and that’s okay.
What I want, to bring things back to Hitchens’s observations, is access to the tools of mitigating risk, not demands that I employ any particular example of them. Helmets, Sudafed, and AR-15s are all useful for this purpose, and gun control advocates hope that we’ll ignore all the elements needed for the calculation and limit ourselves to their assessment of the dangers.
About Greg Camp
Greg Camp has taught English composition and literature since 1998 and is the author of six books, including a western, The Willing Spirit, and Each One, Teach One, with Ranjit Singh on gun politics in America. His books can be found on Amazon. He tweets @gregcampnc.