Who should be able to buy a gun?

Debates over gun rights and gun control often center around the question of who should be allowed to own firearms.  Few argue that every single person should have guns, so the argument is over where we ought to draw the line.

One example of this appeared in the on-line magazine xoJane in an article by Rachel Blumenfeld, titled, “I Shouldn’t Have Been Able to Buy A Gun (And I Shouldn’t Have Needed To).”  Blumenfeld spent a couple of weeks in a psychiatric facility after trying to kill herself and was later beaten by the boyfriend she lived with.  She chose to buy a handgun—a .380, on the advice of a gun store employee—to protect herself from the vile excuse for a human being who hit and choked her.

Let’s inhabit an ideal world for a moment.  Would we include abusive partners in paradise?  Of course not.  No matter how much we accept the need for competition and struggle, imposing violence on people we claim to love never fits into any version of morality that I understand.

Unfortunately, as Jeff Cooper tells us James Thurber once said, “He who goes unarmed in paradise had better be sure that that is where he is.”  We inhabit the real world, no matter how much we attempt to deny this, and some of us are beyond reason and common courtesy.  With such people, the answer that works is force in the hands of the just.

It’s not clear when the incident that Blumenfeld describes happened, but under current Pennsylvania law, her slime of a boyfriend could have been arrested for assault—probably felony assault.  As a nation, we need to take domestic violence much more seriously.  Blumenfeld is correct to say that she should have been better protected by law enforcement and prosecutors.  Given the injuries she sustained, the so-called man who beat her ought to have been locked up pending trial.  A protective order—which she was denied on the grounds that her abuser hadn’t explicitly threatened to kill her—is a piece of paper.  Keeping violent offenders out of circulation, both pre-trial due to the obvious threat they pose and upon conviction for a long stretch, is a solution that would work.

But what about the fact that Blumenfeld at some point in her life was suicidal?  Should this mean that for all time, she must be denied the right to own a firearm, the right to effective defense?

Again, we have to address both the ideal and the real worlds.  In theory, to whom do we belong?  If I own something, it’s my right to use the property as I choose—so long as I don’t harm others while doing so.  So who owns me?  If I belong to myself, I get to make decisions about my own life, including the end date if I decide that time should come sooner than nature would allow if left to itself.  Now if she’d asked me whether she ought to kill herself, I’d likely have said no.  Most attempts at suicide are done by people who are dealing with problems that aren’t worthy of dying over, when looked at from the outside, but ultimately, on what grounds can I say that I have the right to decide for someone else the severity of the person’s distress?  We all should be ready to help people in need, but imposing help is a hard business, especially since as J.R.R. Tolkien said through the Elf Gildor, “advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.”  If I have not lived your life, it would be arrogant of me to make definitive statements about what you must do.

And then there’s the practical matter of how we can prevent anyone either from acquiring guns or from committing suicide.  Someone determined to die will achieve that goal.  Life is inherently dangerous, and the means to kill oneself are all around us.  In a country where we’ve found it impossible to keep drugs or alcohol away from people who want them, in a country with more than 300,000,000 guns and porous borders, anyone who wants to be armed will be.  And there’s an irony in a law that would deny the opportunity of self-protection now to someone who at one point considered not living.  Should we not encourage the choice to live?

Let’s also note that under the Gun Control Act of 1968 and ATF rules, it’s unclear how she was able to purchase a gun in Delaware as a resident of Pennsylvania who had been committed to a mental institution.  More details might clarify this, but she herself sounds like an illustration of how laws do not stop people from getting guns.

As I said above, we can do a much better job treating domestic violence as a serious offense.  We can also do a lot more to make mental health services available to those who need it.  Those are the answers that are consistent with both freedom and realism.

Having made these choices, we can then move on to debate the efficacy of the .380 ACP for self-defense…

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.