Virtue and Guns: A Response

Earlier this year, philosopher Michael Austin posted a short reflection on “Virtue and Guns” on his Psychology Today blog “Ethics for Everyone.” If the title didn’t already grab my attention, the subtitle would have: “How ‘Gun Culture 2.0’ can harm character.”

Even if some people hadn’t mistaken Austin’s argument about GC2.0 for mine, I still would have wanted to respond. He told me he would post a response if I wrote one, and he is true to his word.

Read “A Counterargument to ‘Virtue and Guns'” and let us both know what you think in the comments here.

As noted in my acknowledgement, my essay benefited from input from John Correia, John Johnston, Randy Miyan, Mike Pannone, and Patrick Toner.

5 thoughts on “Virtue and Guns: A Response

  1. David,

    I’ve read the original, article, and your response to it, and I think you did an outstanding job.

    I’ve been a part of Gun Culture 2.0 for almost 25 years, as a concealed carrier, a student, and an instructor.

    Like you, I cannot think of a single instance of training that sought to teach anything other than protecting innocent life.

    Every course emphasizes the desirability of avoiding conflict and de-escalating, and any use of deadly force as an absolute last resort.

    The hundreds of folks that I know in the self-defense community are the most peaceful people I’ve ever met. The most dangerous, but the least likely to engage in violence, unless absolutely necessary to protect themselves or a loved one.

    I believe Austin’s argument to be based mostly on projection, rather than reality.


  2. I very happy to see that at least sometimes we can have a respectful disagreement and I wish I’d see it more. I read both essays and while my predilection leans me toward the second (that is that Gun Culture 2.0 isn’t inherently a bad thing) it seems to me that the predictions / assertions posited are things that could be psychologically tested rather than philosophically conjectured. Either people that practice shooting a gun at a target designed to look like a person end up more willing (and happy) to kill than people that don’t (or perhaps compared to people that shoot only at a neutral target that doesn’t look like anything in particular.). It seems to me such a study could be done and that might help us understand better. FWIW last I looked statistics seemed to suggest that CCW holders are less likely to commit crimes so there’s that.
    One thing that I hope people can understand is that Gun Culture 2.0 isn’t one single thing. I often notice when reading articles by people clearly not big gun fans is there is a tendency to cherry pick examples that highlight some example of gun ownership behavior that is seen as a great example demonstrating why guns are a bad thing. This ‘rolling thunder’ example is something I’ve never heard of. Most people I know that shoot guns for sport are content to simple go to a range and aim at a target. My guess is that sort of thing, as well as discussions about wolves and sheep, is not common (at least it isn’t in my community). No doubt in any group you can find some bad examples but its not fair to the rest for us to be judged by those standards.


  3. One other thing that came to mind when I reread both articles this morning is that the idea that simply the activity of shooting guns has in some way a desensitizing effect on people. Personally I’m sympathetic to the notion that would should be striving to build a society where ‘doing the right thing’ (however we might choose to define that) is easy. I love watching Star Trek and want to build a world where everyone has what they need and can contribute to the maximum of their ability. However I have found in my life that a lot of similar worries (that is that exposure to certain types of activities are harmful) have been ultimately unfounded. When I was young I recall the PMRC argued that the lyrics of some types of Heavy Metal music would lead children to a bad end. Now I listened to Heavy Metal as a kid and I didn’t find that to be the case. In fact most of my Heavy Metal loving peer group was just a similar bunch of kids that didn’t feel like they fit into pop culture very well and we were all grateful to find a supportive community. I also played Dungeons and Dragons and I didn’t turn into a murderous Satan worshipper either. I grew up fine, paid all my bills and put my kid thru college so I think none of those thing hurt me at all. And I recall there was a similar panic when Harry Potter was popular. If shooting guns at lifelike targets are problematic, then I would think any of a number of first person shooter video games would be worse, given how much more intensely graphic they are. Yet all the studies on those games returned unclear results (AFAIK, please someone correct me if I am wrong). We should take great care in making the assertion that shooting a gun leads people to become murderous without peer reviewed studies showing it.


  4. Pingback: I found a Really Good Gun blog to look at! – You can find it at – You Will Shoot Your Eye Out

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