Andy Schmookler

It has been a remarkable time in the politics of the Shenandoah Valley. Remarkable for the unusually large crowds of people showing up for meetings of county Boards of Supervisors to defend what they see as their rights under the Second Amendment. I.e., to defend those rights against threats they believe that the newly elected Democratic majorities in the General Assembly pose.

The huge turnouts reflect the great intensity of people’s feelings about the gun rights issue.

I have my various beliefs about how guns-in-America should be organized. But the whole issue is not at the top of my list. Dealing with the destabilization of the climate, and protecting our constitutional order are my main concerns. But I believe a lot of other issues have more bearing on the health and well-being of American society than the gun issue.

As I see it, those people for whom those “Second Amendment rights” are paramount are making a bigger deal of the guns issue than is called for.

When I’ve heard these people talk about why it matters, the two things mentioned most are 1) protecting their home and family, and 2) hunting. And if that’s what matters, there are two reasons not to be all hot and bothered about guns.

Perhaps most important is that there’s no way that gun laws would be passed that make it impossible for Americans to defend their homes from intruders, nor that prevented the continuation of the American culture of hunting.

But even if neither of those were assured, although the stakes would be of some importance, those stakes would not be so great as to warrant making the issue the center of one’s political passions.

On that second point…

Protection: I can see how people might really like to know they’ve got a gun at hand so that, if there were dangerous intruders in the house, one would not feel helpless.

But really, how much of a danger is that for most of us? Yes, In "Cold Blood" happened to a family in Kansas, but the chances of its happening to any one of us are so small that it seems unreasonable to invest a whole lot of feeling into preparing for such self-defense.

The great majority of us live in places where one can reasonably live without a gun in the house. We’re not living on the western frontier of the movies, where virtually every hero has a rifle inserted by his saddle and a handgun in the holster on his hip. Many Americans live both without any gun and without anxiety about defending themselves in their homes.

So even if guns were taken away – which, again, they won’t be – very few of us live in places where it’s reasonable to feel greatly endangered.

Hunting: I can see how hunting can be a valued part of someone’s life. As a sport, for one thing. So, for some people, is fishing. Or surf-boarding. Or golf.

And I understand that for many, hunting is a valued part of family tradition.

So it makes sense that people would not want that taken away. But I don’t see that the stakes warrant the kind of intensity of political focus we hear from the single-issue gun voters.

But then there’s a third issue — i.e. the belief of some that an armed citizenry is essential for guaranteeing the ability of the people to prevent tyranny.

I see no evidence that guns play any such role.

First, I can see no scenario in which the guns of citizens would matter much against a tyrannical government commanding the armed forces of the United States.

But second, we’ve already seen how tyranny can arise in America, and it is not by the government subduing the people through the use of weapons. Rather, we’ve witnessed how the powerful few can subvert our constitutional order by deceiving enough of the people.

The irrelevance of guns to the real task of preserving American democracy is also demonstrated by the evidence from dozens of nations around the world. Dozens of decent and democratic nations that have come up with various ways of dealing with guns that seem to be effective in avoiding the kind of bloodbath we have ongoing in America (tens of thousands of gun-deaths each year), while maintaining free, democratic societies that show no vulnerability to the rise of tyranny.

Freedom, it turns out, is not a function of gun laws.

If those impassioned about their gun rights continue to have their way, and the American bloodbath continues (like with the hundreds of mass killings – by firearms – we’ve had this year alone), that would not be a national catastrophe, but it would be a shame. More American lives would be lost than if we achieved together some reasonable way of combining those rights with the requirements for public safety.

But in any event, I wish some of those (as it seems to me) excessive passions that go into defending gun rights (that are neither so endangered nor so vital) would be devoted to some of those other issues on which America’s future well-being matters more.

Andy Schmookler is a prize-winning author. Many of his works can be found at