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Gun Enthusiasts: Why Not Say You Just Want to Own Your Guns?

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Opponents of new gun laws often rely on one of two arguments in support of gun ownership. The first is that only an armed citizenry can prevent tyranny from taking root in the United States. Any restrictions on gun ownership are seen as ominous signs that tyranny is on the march and, as a result, there is reflexive response by some current gun owners to stockpile more weapons in preparation for armed resistance.

This argument, of course, is absurd. Not only is it ridiculous to think that private gun owners could fight off the U.S. military if the government wanted to bring its full force down on its citizenry, but all one needs to do to see the lack of meaningful correlation between gun ownership and freedom is to take a quick glance at Australia. Australia's 1996 gun law placed significant restrictions on gun ownership in that country and tyranny hasn't taken root there. In fact, Australians enjoy some of the highest levels of economic freedom and of civil liberties anywhere in the world.

The other argument is that all Americans have an obligation to take responsibility for their own protection and for the protection of their families. This is the argument put forth by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has come under fire for his public service announcement urging local residents to arm themselves instead of expecting the police to respond quickly in times of need. The self-defense argument routinely takes on a missionary tone, as gun advocates encourage non-gun owners to take up arms.

Now, I'm not opposed to guns or to gun ownership. I've shot various kinds of guns in various contexts over the years -- hunting, bottle plinking, trap shooting, and competitive pistol shooting to name a few. However, the notion that a person should own a gun because someone might try to victimize them is an argument that doesn't resonate with me.

The way I figure it, there were around 1,200,000 violent crimes committed in the U.S. in 2011. The population of the U.S. is around 314,000,000. This means, then, that the likelihood of being a victim of a violent crime is something like one in three hundred. Those are pretty small odds, and going through life as though you're about to be attacked seems a depressing way to live.

What I'd like to hear more gun owners saying is that they want to own guns just because they want to. Maybe they hunt; maybe they shoot for fun; maybe they are collectors. The Constitution gives them the right to their guns and they want to exercise that right. I'm fine with that. In fact, I'm a whole lot more sympathetic to "just because" arguments than I am to the scare tactics frequently used to advance the gun rights argument.

It seems to me that both the "just because" gun owners and the gun owners interested primarily in self defense ought not to have any real problems with some of the proposals out there for curbing gun violence. I don't mean the bans on so-called assault weapons, bans that strike me as being more about gun cosmetics than anything else. Those bans may restrict access to scary-looking weapons, but they leave equally lethal weapons untouched. They are little more than feel-good measures.

Instead, I mean proposals such as background checks on all gun purchases, the licensing of all gun owners, and the tracking of guns as they move from one legal owner to another legal owner. I'd even throw in a law requiring guns owners to buy liability insurance holding them accountable if a gun they own is used to commit an act of violence, which might compel some of the more careless legal gun owners to make their weapons more secure.

After all, it is really gun violence that we ought to be addressing, not gun ownership per se. I'm fine with eligible gun owners owning as many guns as they want with whatever kinds of grips and stocks they fancy. I just don't want those folks trying to make non gun-owners feel like they ought to own guns, too, and I don't want to listen to them pretending to be the last line of defense against tyranny. I also want them to recognize that along with their right to own guns comes a responsibility to keep society safe from their weapons, as much as they like to think that they are keeping society safe with their weapons.