Universal armament is a stable equilibrium.

I’ve been hearing a lot of my friends on the left dismissing the argument that guns make us safer. This disturbs me because I’m with the left on this issue: I don’t want more guns and it bothers me that America is already “armed to the teeth.” But I completely disagree with the left’s casual dismissal of the opposition’s solution.

I was therefore relieved when Will Wilkinson wrote this:

In part because my father’s gun made me feel safe in a McDonald’s almost three decades ago, I feel today that increasing the number of good people with guns is a perfectly sensible response to the threat of bad people with guns.

This is not false or twisted logic. It’s coherent. I just believe the Left sees the right as so militant and authoritarian that it has built a reality distortion field.

In fact, America has already operated under this policy before.

To this end and so as to preserve the possibility of bargaining effectively to terminate the war on acceptable terms that are as favorable as practical, if deterrence fails initially, we must be capable of fighting successfully so that the adversary would not achieve his war aims and would suffer costs that are unacceptable, or in any event greater than his gains, from having initiated an attack.

That was Jimmy Carter. The most liberal President of the second half of the 20th Century, arguing what was not right wing propaganda but rather was simple game theory. Mutual Assured Destruction was the official foreign policy of the US for much of the Cold War.

It’s the same game theory that motivates the right in advocating for broader gun ownership. Bad guys will always be armed. But if the good guys are armed, then maybe they can deter aggression. The threat of being killed or seriously maimed substantially raises the costs of committing assault.

My problem is that I find Mutually Assured Destruction poisonous. Universal fear produces a stable equilibrium, but it’s hardly the equilibrium anyone really wants. Furthermore, in spite of preserving some lives, it seems rather anathema to creating a “free” society, which I like to think of as ideally marked by harmonious and amicable relations and not one full of shotgun diplomacy.

I can’t say whether the left will win or lose on this issue, but it does itself no credit by hurling invectives from reason-proof perches. The easy argument is to arm everyone. The hard argument is to say that we demand the kind of society that doesn’t want to be universally armed, and we won’t stop till we change the zeitgeist because that is the world we want free autonomous beings to live in.


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