My friend and former colleague Tom Nichols has been going on one of his regularly scheduled Twitter anti-gun rants over the past few days. In his latest, he slammed the “spread of gun worship” among conservatives. That Nichols’s opinions on the subject, which resemble a progressive 17-year-old’s knowledge of American gun culture, get a lot of attention from anti-gun types tells you something about the anti-gun movement: that it, too, has very limited experience with guns and the people who own them.
Among Nichols’s beliefs is that, as he put it this week, conservatives now “measure freedom by how many of us walk around with guns.” He also believes that concealed carry culture is really just “conservative virtue-signaling” as a stand-in for real patriotism, that gun owners “measure [their] sense of worth” by whether or not they are carrying firearms, and that gun “worship” has become a “litmus test” for conservatives, to the detriment of conservatism itself.
It is safe to say that none of this is true. What Nichols advances is a grossly distorted view of American gun culture, one that suggests he either has spoken to zero gun owners about guns or didn’t listen to them when they did speak.
In fact, the people whom Tom is clumsily describing — those of us who carry guns, who take a keen interest in gun policy, and who believe that it is fine for responsible and well-trained gun owners to carry their firearms in public places — do not actually “worship” guns. Nor do we tie these interests and habits into our sense of self-worth and patriotism.
Here is the truth: Guns are many things, and one of the things they are is tools. Like any tool, guns have a good and meaningful application when used properly and correctly, e.g. when they are carried by trained, law-abiding citizens and used for proper defensive and life-saving measures. A good example of that is the recent shooting at the church in White Settlement, Texas, in which an armed parishioner shot and killed a murderous gunman before a rampage could really begin.
Tom calls that scenario a “lucky break.” But this is precisely the point. The vast majority of gun carriers will never have the need to draw their weapons. Virtually none of them (a few blustery dimwits aside) wants to draw his weapon. Tom’s claim that the Right has undergone a “pornification of gun ownership” does not comport with the reality of those gun owners who would be happy to live out their lives without getting in a firefight.
For these gun owners, carrying guns has nothing to do with some base desire to get in a shootout. They carry because they want to be able to protect themselves and other innocent people if an insane murderer decides to start shooting. It’s not rocket science.
Statistics are not on the side of Nichols’s argument. In the past twelve years concealed permits have increased by over 300 percent; homicides, meanwhile, have been dropping since the early 90s, with the murder rate 5.3 percent lower than it was in 2009, at the beginning of the concealed-carry boom. Nichols’s persistent prognostication notwithstanding, the rise of concealed carry has not actually led to more accidental gun deaths, either; such deaths are at historic lows.
There are plenty of other reasons besides self-defense that many Americans enjoy guns: They are fascinating machines, they are fun to shoot for sport, they are both a potent symbol and a practical example of the unique American brand of civic and political freedom. Yes, we like guns. Yes, many people carry firearms for self-defense. No, we do not “worship” guns. Nichols and his friends would do well to get off their sneering Twitter feeds and actually talk to gun enthusiasts at length, as we are not the idiotic slack-jawed trigger-happy cowboys he so desperately wants us to be.