Why do gun owners shy away from actual “personal responsibility”?

Hi Joel,

A couple months ago, I wrote a post saying that there was no such thing as a responsible gun owner. Some folks thought I was overwrought (a term that gets almost exclusively applied to women). Some folks probably tried to dismiss my claim on the grounds that I live with trauma from gun threats on my own campus.

But I really mean it. Of all the gun owners I know (and if I’ve been in your home, I know you are a gun owner because I asked), only one of them keeps his guns secured to the safety standard of the NRA. One. This means my children don’t visit my own grandparents in their homes. It’s sad.

But don’t feel bad for me. My kids are alive.


Video games.  Those are the problems, we’ve heard this week. Our young people have too much screen time. Call of Duty desensitizes them to violence. Politicians like Kentucky’s Matt Blevins argued this week–while the school shooting in Kentucky should be still fresh in our minds–that

As much as I hate violent games and films, the link between violent media consumption and mass violence isn’t strong. It is also often an attempt to pass the responsibility for normalizing guns and valuing violence from parents to games.

But parents are the strongest forces of socialization, even during those hard teen years. We matter more than video games. We’re far more influential. That’s why our romanticization of guns and our refusal to secure them (because we need them at the ready!) matters so much.

Most teen mass shooters get their guns from their parents. They practice with their parents at shooting ranges. They learn from their parents that gun violence is sometimes justifiable.

In video games, they learn that guns are fun and should be used to kill bad guys. From their parents, they learn that guns are fun and should be used to kill bad guys. The message from their parents matters more.

Call of Duty doesn’t teach our children to ready, aim, or fire, and it doesn’t arm them to do so. Parents do that when they decide to keep guns in their homes.

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 4.08.07 PM

Above, just two of thousands of images of “gun rooms” you can find on Pinterest and elsewhere. If you want to see how valued these rooms are, ask your realtor how the cost of a home increases when the current owner maintains a gun room. What do rooms like these tell our children about the value of owning dozens or hundreds of guns? About how guns and status are linked? 


Gun fetishists fall back on the language of “personal responsibility” a lot: We should hold the shooter and no one else responsible for the deaths he causes. But we can’t really make a shooter accountable. We can only punish him retributively–and most of the time, we can’t do that because he’s dead at the end of the shooting. We can’t make the situation fair. You can be responsible for repairing things you break. You can’t be responsible for bringing the dead back to life.

And there are all kinds of responsibility that gun fetishists reject:

We can’t require parents to secure weapons. We can’t require gun safes. We can’t require biometric locks that would only allow the dedicated user to fire a shot.

We can’t limit who can buy guns. We can’t track who owns them. States have attacked pediatricians’ right to ask about guns in the home in the same way that they ask about smoke detectors and car seats.

We can’t sue gun manufacturers or gun sellers except in rare cases. We have a federal law that deliberately makes it hard to sue these people. We protect the gun industry like we protect no other.

We can’t require insurance that would force the recognition that guns often cause accidental and malicious wounding and death. We can’t make gun owners pay for the risks they take.

We can’t make them report lost or stolen weapons. Most states do not require people who have had their guns stolen to report this information to the police. Who steals guns except for people plan to use them to commit more crime? These are the very people that gun fetishists are always invoking as their reason to own a gun in the first place, yet they don’t think that the rest of us have a right to know that they’ve just irresponsibly allowed themselves to be robbed of their own guns by these people.

We can’t hold parents responsible for shooting their children “by accident” or for the “accidental” shooting deaths their children cause. We call failing to secure a gun an “accident” when it is really a failure of personal responsibility. And it happens all the time. Today, more toddlers than police officers are killed by guns. We’ve made childhood more dangerous than fighting crime.


All of these ways that gun owners could be responsible but refuse to… they make me think that “personal responsibility” is just a code for “arm yourself”–that the goal isn’t a more responsible society but one that simply has more guns in it.


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