There are as many ways to look at a man as there are at a glass of water. Either half empty or half full. Either people are basically good or they are basically rotten. And all theories of government come down to one view or the other.
If people are basically good, then they can also be left to their own devices. They may even be allowed to run their own affairs. If however they are basically rotten, then a system is needed that will force goodness on them. And this system’s own goodness will be protected by strict conformity to an ideology that is also inherently good. Those who run the system can only be chosen from the ranks of the faithful adherents of that ideology.
Arguments for goodness or “badness” are wholly anecdotal. And always have been. A man walks into a school and murders children. A man throws himself under a car to save a woman. Which of them is a definite commentary on the species or the culture? That’s a matter of picking and choosing. Both are arguably exceptions to the rule. But on the whole we have far more people who do not shoot anyone than those who do. Far more who do not steal, than steal. Far more who may not wear a halo, or that we would want to share a long train ride with, but who on the whole could be trusted not to turn on their neighbors if one day every police department within a 100 miles folds up shop.
Gun control, like most liberal social legislation, is a barometer for the state of the human glass. It is a Rorschach test for how we see others. This week’s MSNBC commentary has been the usual notes about the paranoia of gun owners. But if there is gun owner paranoia about being attacked, it seems to be outmatched by the paranoia of gun controllers who believe that every gun owner is a ticking time bomb. Or pretend to believe it when the red light turns on and the commercial break ends.
“How much firepower does a law-abiding gun owner need?” is the leading talking point of the gun controllers. But it could just as well be, “How much cold medicine does a law-abiding sneezer need?” Cold medicine has been regulated to the extent that you need a photo ID if your nose is stuffed up under a bill sponsored by a community organizer from Chicago who stayed briefly in the Senate on his way to bigger and worse things. And people have been arrested for buying too much cold medicine.
If you believe that people are basically good, then they can be trusted with an AR-15. If you believe that people are basically bad, then they can’t even be trusted with cold medicine.
We have come a long way from the muckrakers who headed downtown from their cozy digs, toting along heavy cameras and notebooks to document the conditions there. And proposed reforms. Some of the reforms were even salutary. Others were cruel and capricious. The reformers saw to it that a woman walking alone in 19th Century New York City could be arrested for prostitution. Because if you believe that people are basically bad… then you already know the rest of the story whether it’s cold medicines, guns or a woman walking down the street.
When you dig up enough dirt, then everyone looks dirty and the justification is there for a mandatory clean-up program. That is what the reformers and the muckrakers accomplished by displaying an image of a broken society. Their work was selective and biased, and they insisted on defining the city by its worst parts, and the entire country by the city. Their grand achievements have culminated in a national system of one-size-fits-all legislation. Lanza is America. America is Lanza.
Mayor Bloomberg is right that New York City has a problem with gun violence, but it’s not a problem caused by guns. Still talking about guns is easier than talking about shooters. Urban mayors are waging war on gun shops in more rural and better behaved parts of the country as if urban social problems come from those gun shops, when if anything it’s the other way around.