Gun Ownership and ethics

There is an excellent article written by Eric S. Raymond entitled Ethics from the Barrel of a Gun: What Bearing Weapons Teaches us about the Good Life. Written in 2006, I’m surprised that I haven’t seen it floating around the internet before now.

Raymond begins his treatise thus:

There is nothing like having your finger on the trigger of a gun to reveal who you really are. Life or death in one twitch — ultimate decision, with the ultimate price for carelessness or bad choices.

It is a kind of acid test, an initiation, to know that there is lethal force in your hand and all the complexities and ambiguities of moral choice have fined down to a single action: fire or not?

He then proceeds to list and define four essential lessons which can be learned from owning and using a gun.

I would highly recommend a complete read of the paper. In fact it wouldn’t hurt to re-read it on a regular basis.

Although the article doesn’t speak specifically to the issue of hunting, the premise that a person’s moral and ethical character is reflected in how he responds to the responsibilities inherent in the ownership and use of a firearm makes a stronger argument for the value of the hunt than those arguing as to it’s worth as a conservation tool or the traditional procurement of food.

A hunter knows the capabilities of the gun that he carries and that death is real and permanent. It is not a video game that can be re-started from a keyboard. He learns the responsibility of knowing his target and the ethics of a clean kill. And he knows that if he acts carelessly and without thought, there are consequences.

Admittedly, there are those who never learn these lessons. Either deliberately or through lack of intellect or interest they misuse their tools. In my experience they are in the minority and if known, should be avoided at all cost.

The lessons learned from handling a firearm extend as well to competitive shooting, where the intent is not to kill, but to merely punch a hole in a paper target. But it has the value of teaching discipline and self control. And even on the shooting range the person holding the gun understands the potential tragedy of a careless moment. He knows the deadly capability of the instrument he holds and he handles himself accordingly.

The responsible gun owner develops insights into his ethical and moral responsibilities that are not always apparent to those who deprive themselves of that opportunity.

Eric Raymond says it far better than I ever could.

Nothing most of us will ever do combines the moral weight of life-or-death choice with the concrete immediacy of the moment as thoroughly as the conscious handling of instruments deliberately designed to kill. As such, there are lessons both merciless and priceless to be learned from bearing arms — lessons which are not merely instructive to the intellect but transformative of one’s whole emotional, reflexive, and moral character.

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One Response to “Gun Ownership and ethics”

  1. Gary Says:

    Right on. This is a great point and very well said. It builds upon American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter to his nephew about shooting building character.

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