Wednesday, January 02, 2013

On Guns and Gun Control, Part I

Meshparjai saw Brave the other day, and was surprisingly not-scared by the whole thing. This reminded me of the Disney Brave weapons set ("this is my princess axe!") that Thayet was planning to get her - and, of course, the fencing ("sword fighting," for those WMA snobs who can't admit that fencing is fencing) lessons that Thayet and I want for her in a few years.

And then, you know, Sandy Hook happened.

I talk a lot about force in this blog, but I've rarely directly discussed the issue of physical violence. It's been on my mind a lot lately, especially as I look forward to finally getting a job that will allow me and my family to pursue some more of our martial interests.

It is axiomatic to me that a responsible person should know how to kill people - so axiomatic that, to be honest, I have a hard time dissecting why. On a pragmatic level, it's always possible that one will be called upon by necessity to kill - but the truth is, killing isn't a pragmatic issue to me. It's a moral issue. It is people of force who claim the Kingdom of God - and while physical violence isn't the purest expression of force, I think it is part of it. All things being equal, someone who has mastered the art of physical violence - a truly dangerous person - is, I think, more a person of force than one who has not.

Why do I think this? What is force? The best definition I have for force is to effectuate one's will in spite of contravening factors. That can be the agency of another, but also (in a way) oneself - in fact, it is this sense, I think, that Jesus has in mind when he says that people of force claim the Kingdom of God. It is not easy to be Christian, and the greatest obstacles to being Christian come from ourselves. Only a person of force can overcome the obstacles they place in their own way (I don't mean to imply that an act of will is sufficient, but I do think it is, in the ordinary course, necessary). While force often includes overcoming obstacles - that is, overpowering other people - it is ultimately about self-mastery.

I think this is something you see reflected in all of our great martial traditions - in part, I think, because the serious study of arms forces us to self-examine in extreme or unusual ways. This is one reason the study of firearms and the study of swords appeals to me more than the study of unarmed combat. Unarmed combat is probably a much more practical discipline, but the point is not only to carry on (or in) one's person the ability to kill. The point is to make one's peace with killing. When are we killing to kill? Why?

Nothing I can think of - short of military or police service - encapsulates these questions better than ownership of a weapon. The objective of combat (other than, you know, survival) is often phrased as "incapacitation," and weapons are designed to "incapacitate" people. That means either (i) inflicting enough psychological horror that a person chooses to submit, (ii) severing enough limb muscles or limb bones to render a person incapable of threatening action regardless of intention, or (iii) disrupting enough of the central nervous system to render a person incapable of threatening action regardless of intention.

A sword is designed to incapacitate through either (ii) or (iii); a firearm through (iii) alone. This seems to me like a worthwhile thing to meditate on. As the old saw says, you should never point a weapon at somebody you aren't willing to kill. Or, to put it more precisely, you should never point a weapon at somebody you aren't willing to kill, turn into a vegetable, or render quadriplegic.

It may seem macabre (or perhaps it doesn't), but surely we can all imagine situations in which we would be willing to do that to another human being - and if we truly can't, I think that's an important thing to know about ourselves. If we can imagine such a situation, we should be able to kill, vegetable-ify, or paralyze a person without hesitation. Of course, doing that to a person is hard; even Melkor admits that human beings are pretty much hard-wired not to do that to each other. By overcoming that hesitation we render ourselves more dangerous, and thus more forceful.

I don't mean to imply that we should all aspire to be sociopaths. I can't think of any legal (or desirable) ways to truly inure oneself to killing anyway, except for combat service in a shooting war. But by practicing arms, I think we can increase our self-mastery, which is good for the character in situations both violent and non-violent.

This leads me back to Sandy Hook, which is a subject for another post.

No comments: