Security - Thinking Reasonably About a Hot-Button Issue

Sharon August 26th, 2008

I got an email recently from a very kind gentleman who very politely told me that he’d feel better if I had some form of protection, that he didn’t want to push me on the subject, but he assumed that all our family had was good intentions on this subject.  And since I often write that I think the “marauding hordes” vision of the future is false, I can understand why he thinks this, and appreciate his tremendous and respectful kindness on my behalf. 

In fact, despite the fact that I don’t buy the idea that isolated armed homesteaders will be secure in the future, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have guns, or that I’m a pacifist - I’m not.  Among other things, I live in an area populated by bears (of course, the official maps say not, but the bears say otherwise) and at least one large cat (we didn’t see it, but from the sound of its movements and its noises, not to mention the fact that it scared the poop out of my very intrepid dogs (one took out a raccoon when he was considerably smaller than the coon),  we have either a bobcat or a cougar - which also aren’t supposed to live here) and assorted mid-sized predators.  We also have poultry, small goats and sheep to protect - so weapons are just a tool of our trade, along with shovels.  We don’t hunt, because we keep kosher, but my husband is learning, because honestly, kashruth will go out the window if my kids are ever hungry enough.  I’m not working on that skill set simply because my eyesight is so appallling that I think the odds of my hitting a food animal are pretty small.  But I can hit a target pretty well at distances needed for humans and animals, and I have reasonable confidence that I’d do so.  I learned to shoot when I was a child, taught by my father for self-defense, and I remember well helping him make bullets in the furnace of our house.  So no, I’m not opposed to the careful and wise use of guns.

And I don’t honestly buy the bullshit that is passed around about the evils of guns.  I certainly believe it is quite possible for guns to be used stupidly, and I have no problem with the regulation of certain kinds of weaponry - and problems with the regulation of others.  I think different countries can and should have different approaches - but in the US, given the reality of an already heavily armed populace, I tend to think that guns in private hands do operate as a kind of deterrant against some of the very worse excesses of the government.  

I also think that statistic show quite clearly that women, particularly women living alone, if they know what they are doing and use it carefully, are safer in the US if they carry a weapon and know how to defend themselves.  I think the best discussion of this issue I’ve seen is by Joe Bageant, in his great _Deer Hunting With Jesus_ where he debunks most of the standard, urban liberal perceptions about weaponry.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible to kill your own kids with a stupidly managed gun, or that guns are the answer to everything, or that everyone should own one - quite the contrary.  But if you think that today’s class is going to focus on all non-violence, you are incorrect.  While people will make a large range of choices, they also need to explore their options.

But before we go to guns and other variants on weaponry, I’d like to back up, and talk about why “Security” in and of itself doesn’t translate to ” everyone get a bunch of guns.”  Especially in the US there’s an immediate leap to “guns=security” and in many cases, I think they are a component of personal and community security.  But only one.  Before we start to talk about weapons, and the loaded (so to speak) discussion that that leads to, let’s remember that the gun comes into the security discussion quite late - if you are pulling a weapon, you are already well past many things that you could do to ensure your own security.  Not getting to the weapons stage should be the focus of everyone’s relationship to their own security. 

The truth is that while my pulling a weapon on a person might be useful in some situations (when I am being treated aggressively by one or two people, and all other scenarios have failed me), and assuming I am resolute enough and quick enough not to have it taken away from me and used upon me (and this happens), doing so also escalates a situation in a dramatic way.  There are plenty scenarios one can imagine in which my not appearing to be a threat could be just as valuable as my ability to present the appearance of one.  I know at least one woman who had a gun in her glove compartment, when she experienced a man getting into her car and threatening her.  There was a decent chance she might have gotten the gun quickly and turned on him - but she might also have failed, and her reading of the situation was that she was better off emphasizing that she was a mother, that her children would be alone and vulnerable.  She did so, and the man let her out of the car.  In another case, with another person, she might have been wiser to go for the gun.  In all scenarios, however, she would have been wiser to have kept her car locked, and not to have pulled up to search through her purse in an unlighted area without any protection.  As in almost all cases, reducing risk would have helped the most. 

I’m also going to mention that this is one of many issues in which there is no one-size-fits-all answer.  A lot of this depends on who you are - your personality, your level of physical ability, your psychology, your age, gender and time of life, as well as your neighborhood and other constraints, and who the person or persons or animals threatening you are, what their reasons are and what the situation is.  One of the things that shocked me when I became a mother is how fearful I became for myself - I’d never worried much about dangerous things, or feared death much in any conscious way, and now I realized I was terrified that something would happen to me, or my husband.  I was puzzled by this - but I’ve found now that my last baby is turning into a kid, that level of fear has eased off again.  And now I see it for what it was - a perfectly reasonable recognition that as a pregnant or breastfeeding mother, I depended on my husband’s survival in many ways (because it wouldn’t have been easy for me to take up the economic responsibility) and my child depended physically on my survival for his.  Now that my babies are not babies any more, I find that while I certainly don’t like the idea of my death, or my spouse’s, I can breathe a bit when I have to contemplate them.  And that’s simply because my children are no longer physically dependent on him, and I’m no longer in such a vulnerable stage of life.  I mention this because I think that a pregnant woman, for example, has a different set of vulnerabilities and potential responses (and remember, the person most likely to be assaulting a pregnant woman is not some random criminal, but her husband, boyfriend or lover) than, say, her husband, or an unencumbered male.  That is, what we can do and what we need to do varies quite a lot.

The truth is that how you deal with security issues depends a lot on where in life you are - a mother with multiple young children has different choices to make than someone with older or adult children.  And those choices aren’t certain - that is, a woman in her fifties whose children are grown might be able to commit to organized non-violence even at the expense of her own life, while a woman in her 30s with three small kids might feel she had no choice but to defend her children.  On the other hand, a woman with small children might feel that escalation to violence would lead to her children’s death as well, while a woman with no kids might not feel that same fear pulling her gun.  The truth is that all situations vary a lot, and it is impossible to talk here about every possible scenario. 

It is also true that most of us are going to make our choices on the fly, in response to stimuli, and without fully understanding what we are doing.  That is, most of us aren’t going to have time to make considered choices, to do the right thing every time, and mostly, we aren’t going to know what is right for sure.  I often talk about the choice my husband’s great-grandmother made for her daughter - they lived in Nazi Germany, and Jews were being rounded up to the ghetto, but as yet, there were no major death camps, and the violence against Jews seemed mostly non-fatal.  At the same time, the Germans were near conquering England, and Britain was being heavily bombed.  Jewish parents had the choice of sending their children on the kindertransport, a train travelling through France, to England - that is, putting your children, now comparatively protected in Germany and under the protection of their own parents, on a train that will travel through a war zone, to a country being heavily bombed, to be cared for by people who did not know or love them, in a place that odds are, was likely to be conquered shortly anyway by the same Germans.  Or they could keep their children by their side, and hope that German anti-semitism didn’t escalate into widespread mass murder.  Of course, it had before, but there were also plenty of examples where, well, it hadn’t.

I remind people of this because it seems so obvious now - Eric’s great-grandmother put her daughter on the kindertransport, and sent her off to England, along with one cousin.  A third cousin elected to stay behind.  And of course, that third cousin died in the concentration camps.  In the same sense, the Warsaw Ghetto survivors make it seem so obvious that Jews should have taken up arms early on in the Nazi conflict against the Germans.

But if there is any truth about history it is this - no one knows how it will work out.  Security is something that each of us is going to navigate from a different perspective, and from a different place.  And at some point most of us may have the horrible thought - damn, I could have done that better if only….  But the truth is that most often we are going to decide what to do at climactic moments with not enough information, just our guts and what we do know - and sometimes, we’re going to be wrong, or make mistakes. 

The best thing most of us can do is reduce our level of risk - to reduce the number of those moments as best we can by planning for those reductions.  The second best thing we can do is to prepare for those moments - to make sure we won’t be overcome by panic, to have the tools to deal with them, whether they be a barking dog, a neighbor on speed dial or a gun, and to know what our choices are. 

But before we go into my next post, which will be about our options, I want to remind people that all of this - all of the process of adaptation, of which security issues are a part - is about skewing the odds in your favor.  It is not about the elimination of all risk.  It is not about ensuring that no one will ever die, or make a mistake, or have something horrible befall us.

And perhaps the beginning point of talking and thinking about security is talking about something none of us really like - thinking about death.  Our own deaths, the deaths of people we love and rely on.  These are not fun things, but they are important.  The idea that we can all be magically insulated from death is something that American culture sells us - we can sue if by some chance someone dies from something, because, after all,  we can find immortality through the medical system - these are things we are told in a thousand ways. 

But the odds are good that in a lower energy world, one that is poorer and harder and probably has more violence in thus-far protected areas, some of us are going to die sooner than we’d like.  The odds are that most of those deaths will be less from marauding hordes than from diseases we can’t afford to treat, but some of them probably will be from violence.  And having some sense of how we face this reality, scary as it is, is probably the first tool we have.  There are things we can’t protect ourselves against, and some things we could protect ourselves against in the hypothetical, but that will run up against our real imperfections.  And people die anyway, even while we’re told no one should.  All of us need to hold in our heads the truth that death is a reality for all of us, and sometimes sooner than we would like. 

I once was a noble idealist, and could think of things that (in the hypothetical, since it was never asked of me) that were worth dying for, and that I hoped I’d have the courage to die for.  And then I had children, and for a while, courage meant staying alive at any price, to ensure their survival.  I can just barely begin to see around to the day when I might think that there are principles that would be worth dying for again - now don’t get me wrong, I very much prefer to live for my principles, and who knows whether I’ll actually have the ovaries to live up to any of them.  But both of those perceptions are real and rational responses, one to a youth when you have that glorious sense of immortality, the other to the sudden recognition you have flesh in the game.  Both are reasonable.  And neither perception allows for the fact that one is just as likely to die ignobly, and that those who need to be immortal sometimes aren’t.

When we talk about security, even before we begin minimizing our risks, and talking about our options, we have to recognize that there is no perfect solution, no way for you to be certain, reductions in various risks, but no perfect security.  Being secure starts, I think, recognizing this - that all the scenario planning in the world, all the thinking and choosing we do, gets us only so far, and probably will never get each of us back to the level of security that most affluent Americans have already experienced.  That doesn’t mean we’re all doomed, or that the zombies are coming anytime soon.  It is just this - we will never be secure enough.  We can use some or all of the tools in our hands, we can plan and think and prepare and train ourselves not to panic and how to respond, but we will never be wholly safe, we will never know what the perfect choice is, except in hindsight.  And all of us will die, some of us sooner than we’d like - and that has to be part of our planning as well.  I don’t like it - probably even less than you do.  But security only goes so far - we can plan and hope, but sometimes things go wrong, and we do the victims and the dead a great disservice if we imagine that death can always be prevented, mistakes can always be avoided and that failure is something for other people.


27 Responses to “Security - Thinking Reasonably About a Hot-Button Issue”

  1. Fearsclaveon 26 Aug 2008 at 10:00 am

    Hi Sharon: what a wonderfully balanced, sane, and reasonable piece on a topic that usually elicits positions that are none of the foregoing. When planning for collapses of institutions and failures of social services, preparations for defending one’s self and family, up to and including acquiring firearms and the skills to use them, are as common-sense as buying first aid kits, fire extinguishers, or garden tools and acreage. If we’re contemplating becoming self-sufficient in a world without electricity, city water, long-range food deliveries and modern levels of health care, neglecting to plan for the absence or severe degradation of police protection is a strange thing indeed.

    Yet many of our fellow preppers either shy violently away from this, eschewing what are really only useful tools, not intrinsically evil devices, or go completely overboard and expend a disproportionate share of their time, budget, and efforts on what are really only useful tools, not magical panaceas, and that really are only be one component out of many of an overall preparation plan.

  2. Meadowlarkon 26 Aug 2008 at 10:20 am

    Well said!

    Being armed doesn’t necessarily mean that I plan on taking a life. Just that if it’s him or me, I at least have a chance.

    And I think early-on, there will be “marauding hordes”, at least to some extent. But society will (hopefully) quickly extinguish such behavior and violence will become less and less common. Kind of like what happens when people are forced to live in extremely crowded situations… they become extra polite, rather than starting a firestorm with rude behavior. And those who DO choose to be rude/abrasive/etc are quickly “corrected” by the community at large.

    Just my thought.

  3. Veganon 26 Aug 2008 at 11:01 am

    Another well-balanced expose, Sharon.

    May I remind those with weapons and children to make sure to keep guns locked or in a gun safe. Children can be very curious, not always rational.

    Some years ago while my 9 year old son visited a friend, a 6 year old sibling ran to the attic of a two-car garage showed-off his father’s loaded shotgun and briefly pointed it at my son. Later I learned via the mother that the gun was loaded and that they thought the children did not know where they kept it. From that point on whenever my son visited a friend, I always inquired if they had guns and if they were locked. Don’t assume that “good” families automatically keep their guns in a safe.

  4. Anonymouson 26 Aug 2008 at 11:12 am

    Speaking of security and not dying and stuff… my son put his arm through a plate glass window last week while horsing around with his cousins. Pure accident. But it cut down to the muscle. I slapped a towel over the wound (which thankfully wasn’t bleeding too much) so he wouldn’t freak out and hustled over to the ER 5 minutes from my house. They X-Rayed for glass shards in his arm then had to call in a plastic surgeon to stitch him up from the inside out as the on-call ped. feared his muscle tissue was damaged. Long story short… he’s doing fine, gets his stitches out tomorrow, and by shear grace missed severing anything important in his arm.

    BUT after reading your post, I can’t help thinking: WHAT IF there was no hospital nearby? No trained doctor to stitch up his arm? There was nothing superficial about his wound. I could barely look at it without passing out myself. And of course I had to remain calm so that he wouldn’t freak out. There is nothing I knew to do to handle the situation save holding the edges of the cut together. And a few inches in any direction and it could’ve been much much worse.

    How do we prepare to keep our loved ones safe? We can’t wrap them up in bubble wrap. And we don’t all live 5 mins away from an ER. Even if I KNEW how to stitch him up… the fear and panic I was experiencing as his mother was entirely overwhelming. What does one do?

  5. Anonymouson 26 Aug 2008 at 11:51 am

    When Russia collapsed it had a big growth in both violence and suicide. I see every reason to think that both violence and suicide will be increased security risks in the US soon. One classic danger of having guns is accidents, and another is making oneself a target or escalating a tense situatio, all of which you have mentioned. But the other classic danger of guns is that suicide will be much easier, if on some dark night when things have been going particularly badly it seems really tempting. If one is determined, of course, many other tools can do the job, but having a nice handy gun means that you only need a short period of resolve to wind up dead. And even if you are not so worried that you might be tempted to turn the gun on yourself, are you as certain of each member of the household? Of family that might be forced to move in with you? Will they still all be in good shape after a few years of profound trouble? I’m not saying don’t own a gun, but I am saying that when you are weighing the pros and cons for your situation, suicide risk needs to be front and center, along with accident risk, escalation risk, and the risk that you’ll wish you had a gun handy when you didn’t.

  6. Sharonon 26 Aug 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Anonymous, this is an excellent point - I really appreciate your making it. I think that is a reality - that suicide is a possible response for many people, and having the means to enable it is a real fear.


  7. Greenpaon 26 Aug 2008 at 12:04 pm



    I’m so glad you tackled this first- I’ve long had it on my list of serious stuff to talk about. I’m pretty sure it means more coming from you in this way; being an older male means these ideas are more what people expect of me anyway- ergo, they are easier to discount.

    I DO have a bunch of things to add- and no time today; harvest. But you’ve got a great start to the conversation here.

    Just one addition; a couple weeks ago the NYT ran an article on a “preparedness” guru type; in upstate NY - and she stated, for the press “no, we absolutely don’t keep guns, we don’t believe in such awful things… and yes, we have a full year’s supply of food for 5 right here…”

    And what immediately ran through my mind was “Gosh, thanks lady, for telling us! Me and my buddies have you marked on our map now, and we’ll be right up to wipe you out, and take everything you have, just as soon as we need it. Thanks for the tip!”

    I’ll guarantee my little fantasy answer is not a fantasy- 300 NYT readers, of the nasty vicious type- had exactly those thoughts when reading that article. And at least 10 actually looked her up on the map, for future reference; and wrote down the directions to her farm. Believe it.

    None of this is fun- but like every other aspect of life, ignoring ugly realities is not helpful- and can get you, and yours, killed.

  8. Myrto Asheon 26 Aug 2008 at 12:43 pm

    What I take away from this post is that how we can best defend ourselves as societal infrastructure erodes is quite unknowable. We can try to guess that armed people may want to take our food and hurt us and our children while they are at it, but we don’t know how armed they will be, for example. I understand that robbers will always prefer the one house without the guns (I’m afraid that will be mine).

    I’m not sure how to draw a relevant conclusion using the example of the kindertransport. This was an effort spearheaded by British Jews that saved nearly 10,000 children, while 1.5 million (of those who stayed behind) were eventually killed by the Germans. The obvious thought here in retrospect is that someone should have stopped Hitler! But how??!! And how does this translate to our situation? I can tell you about my Greek grandfather, who owned guns for target practice, who buried his guns so the Germans would not confiscate them during their occupation of Athens, who had a neighbor tell on him, and who was eventually taken away and killed in a concentration camp. What is the conclusion there? Who can imagine what is in store for us?

    Two questions:
    1. How is a gun, that is locked and not loaded (or whatever the law says at this time) supposed to be used in self-defense? I guess I worry there will be no time to get to it.

    2. Also, the last statistic I read, a few years ago I admit, is that a gun in the house (locked or not) was 6 times more likely to be used against someone in the house (shooting self or other household member) than against an assailant. (Of course this applies to before the police force collapses.) Anyone have updated data on this?

    In a discussion of whether we should prepare by buying guns, I would think that a consideration of the principles behind non-violence is imperative! I fear that by focusing exclusively on practicalities of survival, we will get the world we prepared for. This post is based on the idea that “the means justify the end”, but I strongly believe that “the means ARE the end”.

    In response to the post about the sliced forearm, I share those fears, and I am a physician… Some first aid training will definitely help, (and folks mention the book “Where There is no Doctor”), but we will be in some trouble, I am sure. I have talked to a lot of people from remote Mexican villages, and spent two months myself in Tanzania. A lot of “treatable” conditions just don’t get treated. You get stuck with a lame arm, or a kid who dies of pneumonia because there is no oxygen tent.

  9. Frostwolf in Troyon 26 Aug 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Hi, Sharon. Thanks for this post as well. I need time to digest it.

    Musing about death–my own as well as those of others, and perhaps even the bulk of humanity itself–has been a preoccupation of late. Accepting that one’s own mortality could come any day seems to be an essential component of survival. (And my Mayan day sign is 6 Death, so I think that takes me into musing about the summerlands anyway.)

    About 15 or so years ago, I remember hearing on NPR one morning about a study someone did on “hope.” But she defined the word in a different way than most people do. Basically, her notion of hope was more active–to have plans B, C, D, etc. for any contingency that could be thought of. She clearly defined it as different from optimism, and the example she used was someone caught in traffic. The mere optimist would sit there in the glacially moving parking lot and say “it’ll get better soon,” whereas the hopeful person would get off at an exit and figure out a couple of means of getting to their destination more or less on time. A hopeful person by this understanding of the word uses strategy and tactics. The optimist is “everything will be fine,” but the hopeful person would be more like “pray to God but keep rowing to the shore.” This seems to me relevant to the discussion because the hopeful person in this situation has to factor in that death can come at any time for anyone. And while they don’t want it to happen to themselves or to their loved ones, they need to at least be aware and have some crude manner of beginning to accept something unpleasant should it arise.

    I know that I could die at any point along an ideal timeline to becoming an elder in whatever tribe forms around me, in whatever tribe I collaborate in. Some days this death notion is easier to accept than others. Probably many of us who read this blog have a similar understanding, a similar acceptance of life on life’s terms. We have heard of people who snog all sorts of unhealthy foods and smoke and drink, etc., who live to be 85, and there are the ones who do “everything right” and have a heart attack before they’re 40. Probably a lot of that has to do with genetics, but I also like to think there’s some kind of divine action and intent in all that. Call that what you will, but I think there’s quite a bit of co-creation with divinity going on.

    While one can probably never be too secure, one can get myopic about it, and at some point it just becomes ridiculous. We need to be able to stand in the sunshine sometimes which makes a person vulnerable. I think about “All Quiet on the Western Front” where a soldier reaches for a flower in the trenches in France only to be shot by the other side. The soldier at least still yearned for beauty, and took the risk anyway. Security alongside beauty and breathing. Otherwise, what is the point?

  10. Wildfloweron 26 Aug 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Incredibly insightful post. It is impossible to prepare for all unseen contingencies, including our own reactions–we’ve just got to do the best we can.

    Guns are no more evil in themselves as a knife or any other tool–but they aren’t the answer to perfect security either.

    Those who feel their arsenal of guns is providing security could go down before those without any arms at all, for all we know.

    Historically, in some countries under martial law, house to house searches for arms are done and those who have them are rewarded with a bullet in the head.

  11. Greenpaon 26 Aug 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Frostwolf-”While one can probably never be too secure,”

    ah, a very slippery slope. My instant, and not too thoughtful thought was: “oh, yes you can.”

    The FULL truth- as Myrto Ashe points out, is “how we can best defend ourselves as societal infrastructure erodes is quite unknowable.”

    A bit of esoteric, exotic wisdom from the Ancient Orient - security - is an illusion.

    Some sort of disaster can always show up and take you out- no matter how prepared you are. We’re in deep denial about that in the USA, have been for many years now.

    Which does NOT mean letting the neighbors know you have guns, and know how to use them, is a bad idea. Quite the contrary, in my opinion. That kind of preparedness helps keep casual scum away- and there are plenty of casual scum out there. But are you going to stop a determined attack by a rogue army platoon? No. Neither will you stop a dead-on hit by a category 5 hurricane; or in my neck of the woods, a tornado.

    I think it’s easier to live with that attitude- I’ll stop the disasters I can- keep a gun, and dig a storm cellar- but I also know that when a tornado comes, I may be too far from the cellar to use it. And learn not to obsess about it- because it truly is beyond all control. There truly is no other option- no other planet you can go to- just this one.

  12. Hummingbirdon 26 Aug 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Another wise and thoughtful essay. Preparedness is not all veggies and blankets.

    I have another take on the suicide issue, however. That is an option that needs to be preserved for a time when the lack of means condemns one to a worse fate. It is a final liberty of choice that should never be taken away from a rational person.

    I am 70 years old, healthy and happily living in a rural area with my partner of 32 years who is 73. We are growing and preserving veggies, storing food, clothing and water and splitting and stacking firewood and in general preparing as best we now how for harder times we believe are ahead.

    The hunting rifles are for deer if we get that hungry, the handguns for self-defense if necessary.

    However, I will never willingly leave this land for a nursing home or a city apartment. I would rather die here and my Colt Cobra is my security blanket that assures that I will always have that choice.

  13. Frostwolf in Troyon 26 Aug 2008 at 2:47 pm

    and your disagreement with me is?

    One of the problems with reading stuff online is that I speak the terms I read in my own voice.

    Case in point:

    >Frostwolf-”While one can probably never be too secure,”
    >ah, a very slippery slope. My instant, and not too thoughtful thought was: “oh, yes you can.”
    >The FULL truth- as Myrto Ashe points out, is “how we can best defend ourselves as societal >infrastructure erodes is quite unknowable.”

    How I hear it? “I JUDGE YOU FROSTWOLF!!!! YOU YOU YOU, THAT”S WHAT YOUR ARE. But Myrto Ashe…”

    Or, when I let myself get angry, how I picture you saying it is that you morph into a pod-person and point your finger at me and go “SPRAWWWWWWWWWWK!’

    But I realize that you didn’t really read or take in what I said, because the gist of your post is “I don’t agree with you the way you say things, but I agree with you the way I, Greenpa, say things.”


    Blessings to my Elders.
    Kisses from Troy!

  14. Sharonon 26 Aug 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Wow, Hummingbird, that’s a really interesting perspective, and not one I’ve thought of before. Personally, I think my preferred option would be a good bit of morphine, which stores well, but it can be tough to get your hands on - or sleeping pills and booze. But I’m not in the place you are, and barring some illness that made me a complete and utter burden, suicide isn’t an option for me. But thank you for that perspective.

    I have wonderful readers.


  15. Robyn M.on 26 Aug 2008 at 3:00 pm

    A very well-balanced post. While many on this list are glad (as am I) that you point out how guns can be a useful part of personal security, I am frankly glad that you also point out that guns are not the start and finish of security. I am disturbed by how often any crime or similar is met with a response like “too bad no one had a gun.” While there are situations where a gun would improve matters, my own opinion is that those situations are the exception, not the rule.

    I am definitely not against people owning guns, but I would like to think that most people own them for good, well thought-out reasons. For example, in my family’s current situation, self-defense is a complete nonsense reason for owning a gun. We would be in far more danger by keeping a gun in our house ready to use than we would be from any would-be attacker, especially given our young children. And if we kept the gun in a child-safe manner (e.g., unloaded, locked up, etc.) there’s no way it could provide security–unless I perhaps politely ask the attacker to wait while I get the key to the gun cabinet? It may be that someday soon local security will slide to the point that having a gun in our house will be a worthwhile risk–if for no other reason than letting others know we have one and know how to use it. But for personal security right now? I don’t see it. Others are certainly in different situations than ours, but I really hope that bringing a gun into the picture isn’t just the standard knee-jerk reaction to potential badness happening.

  16. Veganon 26 Aug 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Myrto said: “This post is based on the idea that “the means justify the end,” but I strongly believe that “the means ARE the end.”

    Excellent point! I agree.

  17. Anonymouson 26 Aug 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Ah Hummingbird, suicide is both the cherished liberty for the rational person to prevent even worse situations, and a security risk and dangerous temptation for the temporarily-not-entirely-rational person. Its both at the same time. If you trust yourself enough to stay in camp 1 and not camp 2, I can see why the gun would be a valuable security blanket. But one doesn’t have to read many accounts of past societal collapses to realize that there will be plenty of folk at greater risk of camp 2 than camp 1.

    Additionally, one needs to be remarkably free of other duties and obligations for suicide to be a liberty entitlement, rather than simply a method of shirking one’s obligations. At 70, you may well be that free, and owe nothing further to the living. Or perhaps others will feel that you are obligated to try to live for their sake and will feel immorally abandoned if you opt for that route. You know your situation better than I do, but that kind of freedom is precious and rare, not a liberty that all rational people just automatically have. Many rational people are emeshed in webs of mutual dependence where people need each other and taking one’s own life, rather than facing the fate worse than death and bearing it anyway, is a moral lapse. I don’t think that suicide is always wrong, any more than guns are, but it isn’t always right, even for rational people, either.

  18. Sharonon 26 Aug 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Myrto, I liked your comments a lot. I will say, in response to both you and Robyn, that I think the “locked up guns are of no use” is probably not true - I discuss this in more detail in my next post, but while they do definitely reduce your choices in the “they are coming through the door in an instant” situation, assuming you are trained and practiced in their use, and know how to get your case open and load a gun under stress, they would be useful in the “there are clearly people outside and they are trying to break into the house” scenario, where things don’t happen instantly. That’s not to say you or anyone else should get a gun, just that I think it is important we don’t rhetorically cast off a tool as useless because it doesn’t serve us in one particular scenario. People with children (or with disabled people who can’t be reasoned with, or senile parents) can’t risk a gun easily accessible, and they sacrifice some ability to respond to an unlikely instant threat because they are protecting their family members from a more likely accident. On the other hand, many dangerous situations do carry warning - enough to walk to one end of a room, unlock a combination lock, quickly do the same in another and load a gun. Or perhaps enough to make other choices, involving calling police.

    My use of the kindertransport is to point out that when we’re actually in situations, it is almost impossible to be certain you are making the right choice - as your grandfather found too. Having a gun could easily be a bad choice in a society where that’s a marker of an enemy of the state. Not having one could be a bad choice in a society where they are needed.

    That said, I’m not sure I agree that the means are the end, or at least, not that that’s all the end. That is, sometimes means are forced upon you, without you doing much to choose the end. And sometimes what matters most about an end may not be the means. For example, going back to the Holocaust, whether you look at the Warsaw Ghetto uprising or those who lied or stole or whored to bribe border guards, those who endured in the camps - of those who lived, I’m not sure that you could ever say that their means were the end. The end that mattered most is that in the face of overwhelming loss, they lived.

    That can come up in our lives too - to an extent, we choose the circumstances we live in. To an extent we don’t. To an extent what we do shapes what the end means. And to an extent, sometimes, it just matters what the end is.

    I hope nobody will run out and buy a gun ’cause Sharon said so. And I hope nobody will take up absolute non-violence because Sharon said so. I hope everyone will make the best and wisest and most careful choices they can, and then accept that those choices may not always be sufficient, but that we’ve done our best.


  19. risa bon 26 Aug 2008 at 4:30 pm

    People like to go straight to a discussion of guns in these threads, and that’s interesting, because I suspect something like less than one-tenth of one percent of the successful security actions we will take in our lifetimes will involve guns. But of course there are those exceptions …

    My mom, who is now 80, keeps a little .22 snubbie in her nightstand. She’s had it since the 50s. She only needed it once.

    In 1960, one hot Georgia night, when my dad was out all week fixing up a train derailment, she heard a guy jimmying her bedroom window. I was asleep in the next room.

    She ordered the guy to depart, and when he showed no signs of withdrawing, she popped him with a .22 short. In the leg, I think. He hung in the window, bleeding slightly, thought about about it, and went back the way he came.

    I do kind of think she “done right,” and I’m proud of her that she had proactively trained, equipped, and protected herself, and that she taught me these things. I do have a Concealed Handgun License and am active in shooting sports.

    But I recognize that, as a society, we’re really a difficult place in which a woman can defend herself in this way. If the man had shown up at a hospital, and had been investigated, and the incident had been traced back to her, she would have possibly had to spend a great deal of time in front of a grand jury. And could have faced an expensive and harrowing civil suit; this does happen.

    On the other hand, she and I remain alive and unraped.

    If you’re going to be a gun owner and even consider defending yourself with one (at least pre-collapse, and the collapse is not going to draw a clear line that says “ok, NOW there is chaos and you can behave according to old-West-mythology rules”), please, please please do these things:

    1. Take a proper defense class from a NRA-certified instructor or the equivalent. 2. LISTEN to the parts about responsibilities: Safety, Awareness, Prevention, Safe Room, 911, Last-Last-Last Resort. 3. Train. It’s expensive but important. Defense is not the same as shooting sports. 4. Know and obey the laws, which are different from state to state. Losing your job because you carried where it is not permitted is not any kind of security. 5. Now that you are dangerous, revisit Prevention: protect punks from yourself by investing in proper locks, bars, lighting, awareness, and every nonviolent preventive strategy you can lay your hands on. 6. Remember that statistically you may be more likely to have a really wretched accident with, or lose a child to, or be shot by someone you know with, or have stolen, or have taken away and used against you, your weapon than ever need to or be able to defend yourself with it.

    The truth is that “bad guys” have the drop on you. Heroic scenarios are just that — scenarios. So think it all through and weigh the pros and cons realistically.

    Because once you have pulled that trigger, your life can become extremely complicated for a long time, anything from losing a few of your friends all the way to lifetime imprisonment. For sure, not whatever it was before.

    Oh, my, I’d much rather talk about putting away potatoes!

  20. Fearsclaveon 26 Aug 2008 at 5:26 pm

    #Myrto Ashe: there are a number of conflicting statistics floating around to the effect that a gun in the home is more likely to result in a household member being shot; these are mostly traceable to studies by Arthur Kellerman and Donald Reay in the New England Journal of Medicine in the late eighties and early nineties. To say that their methods and conclusions were biased and questionable would be an understatement.

    The two studies that I’m familiar with are “Protection or Peril?: An Analysis of Firearm-Related Deaths in the Home,” New England Journal of Medicine, 1986, and “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home,” New England Journal of Medicine, 1993. Some Googling should turn up the articles and the very many criticisms levelled at them (among others, Kellerman counted only justifiable homicides as self-defence, leaving out cases where firearms deterred potential attackers).

    On the other side of the debate, the NRA claims that firearms are used defensively to the tune of two million times a year in the US. This stat gives us something to work with; even assuming that the NRA are exaggerating by a factor of ten, the fact that there are nowhere near 1.2 million firearms-related deaths in the US tends to indicate that the claims that a gun in a house is 2.7, 6, or 43 times more likely to kill a family member are grossly exaggerated. This, of course, shouldn’t be taken as being a dismissal of the need for proper safety practices and storage.

  21. Taraon 27 Aug 2008 at 8:40 am

    Risa B - excellent points! I would also add that once you pull the trigger, your life is likely to never be the same again, ever. Even after all the public wrangling is done, it’s something you’ll still have to live with. I have to imagine that shooting a person, even when it’s the only choice, can’t be very satisfying to one’s psyche.

  22. Myrto Asheon 27 Aug 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks for the interesting discussion. It has surprised me to discover that I do not value my own life above all else, after all.

    Sharon, think it through (and you may continue to disagree). The means by which one accomplishes an end speak loud and clear and create the world we all inherit. It is too bad, because when horrible choices are foisted upon us (live under a tyrant or shoot the guy, for example), we feel an overwhelming sense of despair. That is why what Gandhi did was such an accomplishment. The idea is that by refusing violent tactics (and I guess losing one’s life, sometimes…) we give strength to other tactics, in the long run.

    I go back to an old movie, Sophie’s Choice. In the movie, Sophie and her two children are taken to concentration camp. At some point, a Nazi officer forces her to choose life for one child, death for the other (more details on Wikipedia). This is the sort of choice that would clearly corrode your soul and leave you a shell of a human being, at best. What world you create after you survive such a situation is sad indeed. But the smaller transgressions hurt us too, in smaller ways. (Note that I refuse to judge others for their choices because I am untested).

    Statistics about guns deterring crimes (they may be correct) makes me really mad when I think about all the people living in other developed countries where gun ownership is beyond rare, and how somehow they are NOT the victims of more crimes! I once had the job of making a database of unexpected child deaths in San Francisco, between 1990-1995. It made me nuts to read about all the teenagers maiming and killing each other for bogus territorial reasons, or girlfriends and such, when a fist fight would have sufficed. And that’s without giving you details of the kids I met in clinic who recounted first hand experiences watching friends be shot.

    I am pretty clear that I want many, many FEWER guns around, whatever the outcome!!

  23. Fearsclaveon 27 Aug 2008 at 6:24 pm

    #Myrto Ashe: the thing about gun ownership is that increased gun ownership rates don’t correlate to increased violent crime rates. If you look at Norway, Finland and the other Scandinavian countries, where gun ownership rates are very high by European standards, violent crime rates are much lower than, say, Luxembourg, which has relatively low rates of gun ownership. Here in Canada, Newfoundland has the most guns per capita of all the provinces, and much lower crime rates than Quebec or Ontario, which control guns aggressively even by Canadian standards. Certainly, our gun control laws, which were tightened up considerably a decade ago, have had no detectable effect on our crime rates. And the UK’s have been skyrocketing since their handgun ban.

    The same thing applies in the US; the Brady Campaign gives its highest ratings for gun control legislation that are the worst places to live in the country in terms of violent crime. Conversely, the states with the highest rates of gun ownership tend to be safer (and more rural). When I started looking into this, I found it counterintuitive at first, but I eventually concluded that while high rates of legal gun ownership probably do deter crime, the correlation between low rates of gun ownership and high violent crime rates in cities is also partly due to social, cultural and economic factors that make cities violent places, and that the rural way of life is saner, healthier, more human, and less violent, and coincidentally frequently involves gun ownership.

  24. Sharonon 28 Aug 2008 at 7:29 am

    My own take on the deterrance issue is that in a society where gun ownership isn’t all that common, not having would probably be a good choice. But I don’t live there, I live here. And Fearsclave is right - rural areas in the US have high rates of gun ownership and in many cases, quite low crime rates. That doesn’t mean that having guns is an untrammelled good - that means that when people do own guns, and do commit crimes, the potential damage they do is worse. It is easier to kill your wife or the guy who owns the meth lab.

    But 99% of the guns mostly don’t kill people - not the kids in the households, not anyone. They get used for hunting and driving off animals and occasionally someone breaking in, without all that urban stuff. I don’t know where you live, Myrto, but it can be really hard to understand (and I didn’t before I lived here) how differently guns function in rural areas from urban ones.

    As you say, though, we may simply have to agree to disagree. Sure, Sophie had a horrible, horrible soul destroying choice - and novel characters only live with what they writers give them - but she also had a living child at the end of it. And that child’s life may have mattered, at least to the child, if we lived in a non-novel world. Of course means affect ends - they simply aren’t all the ends.


  25. MEAon 28 Aug 2008 at 8:06 am

    Sharon — I think one of the points of the novel is that both her children died. It didn’t really matter in the end what choice she made — that is no matter hard she tried to make the right choice when there was no right choice, all her efforts were for naught.


  26. Sharonon 28 Aug 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Ah, duh. That’s what I get for just skimming over wikipedia ;-)



  27. Wildflower » Linkage: I Can Haz Gunzon 30 Aug 2008 at 8:52 pm

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