What do you call a man who believes that just about everyone, everywhere should be armed—that the answer to the gun massacres that plague our country with regularity is to flood the country with as many guns as possible, so that the default assumption among citizens everywhere is that their neighbor is packing?
You’d probably call that man Wayne LaPierre, vice president of the National Rifle Association.
Me: I’d call the man a utopian.
We think of “utopia” as describing a perfect society, and it’s a nice thing to dream about. Actual utopians tend to be a little scarier, because they take whatever it is they value, imagine a world in which everybody else shares that value to the most extreme extent possible, and they believe a perfect society will come out of that arrangement. Utopians can pop up anywhere along the political spectrum (people who envision America as a “Christian nation” can be one form, but so can folks who believe the the country can be religion-free) and one thing is true of almost all of them: They often let their ideals get in the way of their humanity.
It is possible that gun critics were once utopians—that there actually was a dream of outlawing guns in this country, so that the only firearms in circulation basically belonged either to soldiers or police officers, basically eliminating violence from the American condition. A few decades of debates over gun laws has pretty much cured the country of that kind of idealism—now, even in the wake of Aurora and Sandy Hook, gun critics suggest limiting certain types of guns, or maybe access by certain types of people, but even Democrats these days spend a good amount of time paying lip service to the idea of gun-owning hunters celebrating a heritage of sportsmanship with each other. Thirty years ago, it seems unlikely you’d have ever seen major Democrats in pictures like these.
Now the utopianism belongs on the right, to people like LaPierre who seeming believe there’s no problem of violence that can’t be solved by flooding the country with even more guns that already exist. Here’s LaPierre, speaking Sunday with David Gregory on NBC’s Meet The Press:
GREGORY: This is similar. After Newtown, you were outspoken in saying more security was the answer…This was the Navy Yard. There were armed guards there, Mr. LaPierre. Does that not undermine your argument?
LAPIERRE: No, the whole country knows the problem is there weren’t enough good guys with guns! When the good guys with guns got there, it stopped.
This, of course, comes after LaPierre’s post-Sandy Hook declaration that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The thing about utopians, though, is that their ideas always fall short of perfection when put into practice. There were good guys with guns at the Navy Yard; they couldn’t react quickly enough to prevent a small massacre, though, so then the problem becomes that there weren’t enough good guys with guys. Utopianism never fails; it can only be failed.
We will never live in a gun-free world. We will also never live in a world where everybody is carrying; there are lots of people who don’t want to put themselves in the position, every day, of making life-or-death decisions in a confrontation with a criminal, nor do they want to place their families in the path of a potential crossfire. Maybe they simply don’t want to have to live their lives like this. For those of us who exist in the latter category, we offer the explanatory statement: You’ll make me carry a gun only when you have to push it into my cold, dead hands.
It’s ridiculous, of course, but as long as good guys remain who won’t or don’t carry guns, LaPierre can sound plausible (perhaps) when arguing that tragedy could’ve been averted if only there’d been a few more NRA members around when a bad guy attacked.
Good policies come from correctly recognizing problems, but in also dealing with the limitations of the real world in creating solutions. If your proposed solution requires a utopian mindset, it’s almost certainly doomed. Gun critics gave up their utopianism a long time ago. we’re still waiting for Wayne LaPierre and gun advocates to do the same. Looks like it’ll be awhile, yet.