March 5 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden recently had some advice (delivered through the good offices of Parents magazine, of all things) for women who are afraid of crime. “If you want to protect yourself, get a double-barrel shotgun,” he said, during a Facebook video chat.
The vice president said he told his wife, Jill, that “If there’s ever a problem” -- at their home in Wilmington, Delaware -- “just walk out on the balcony here, walk out, put that double-barrel shotgun and just fire two blasts outside the house.” He went on, “You don’t need an AR-15. It’s harder to aim. It’s harder to use, and, in fact, you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun. Buy a shotgun.”
He later expanded on his theory of home defense in an interview with Field and Stream magazine. “Well, you know, my shotgun will do better for you than your AR-15,” he said, “because you want to keep someone away from your house, just fire the shotgun through the door.”
Biden’s advice is both generally and specifically bad. It is never a good idea for a woman, or a man, to fire shotgun blasts into the dark. It is a particularly bad idea to fire a shotgun through a door. It is very specifically a bad idea for Jill Biden to fire a shotgun from her balcony into the dark because she might shoot a member of her husband’s Secret Service detail.
But the vice president is one of the few Democratic politicians today who acknowledges, even implicitly, that the desire of millions of American citizens to participate in their own defense by arming themselves is both morally and practically legitimate.
Many Democrats find joy in caricaturing gun owners -- even of the non-absolutist variety -- as mouth-breathing barbarians. This smug moralizing has become almost pathological. It is also counterproductive, because demonizing the more than 40 percent of Americans who own guns (the vast majority of whom secure them responsibly) isn’t an effective way to advance sensible legislation to regulate civilian-owned guns.
The gun-control debate after the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has been mostly a non sequitur. Few of the reforms suggested would have prevented the shooting. But it is true that universal background checks, a more stringent mental-health reporting system and certain other measures could at least marginally reduce the frequency of mass shootings. It is also true -- although Democrats are loath to admit it -- that an armed and trained adult at Sandy Hook would have had a fighting chance of stopping Adam Lanza from killing 20 children and six staff members that day.
An important, and overlooked, fact of the Sandy Hook tragedy is that it took police 20 minutes to arrive at the school. The police are spread too thinly across many American communities to stop shootings in their first moments. And armed civilians have been instrumental in stopping shootings at New Life Church in Colorado, Pearl High School in Mississippi and elsewhere.
This hasn’t stopped some Democrats from arguing against armed self-defense. Some left-wing commentators, members of a class not previously known for its love of the police, think their fellow citizens don’t possess adequate faith that law enforcement will protect them.
On the Nation magazine’s website, Bryce Covert wrote: “Agreeing to ignore the instinct to pick up more guns means trusting that the police will show up to answer your call, that you’ll be treated fairly by our criminal justice system, that our laws will be enforced in a way that truly prevents violence. Our system fails at many of these goals. But the alternative is each citizen being a private army of one, on the defense against all others around him.”
Shortly after Sandy Hook, a blogger at the Washington Monthly, making the unfounded assumption that the police provide Americans with flawless protection, asked, “Isn’t one of the fundamental reasons of forming any kind of government in the first place to provide for a common defense, instead of having to bear the totality of that burden all by yourself?” Yes, but this misses the point entirely. When the government’s provision of defense is inadequate, as it usually is during a mass shooting, you have to defend yourself.
I haven’t quite fathomed why many self-described liberals are so emotionally invested in the belief that a suitably trained and vetted person with a gun shouldn’t be allowed to participate in his or her self-defense. So I turned to Dan Baum, a self-described liberal and author of the new book “Gun Guys: A Road Trip.”
“Gun Guys” is a rare thing -- a book that attempts to understand, rather than caricature, gun owners. Baum, himself a gun owner, takes us into the collective psyche of a portion of the U.S. that its coastal elites don’t seem to understand. In the second installment of this column, I’ll share some of my conversation with Baum, who thinks that his fellow liberals are allergic, as he puts it, “to the thought of individuals being vigorous and empowered and capable enough to use a gun.”
(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist and a national correspondent for The Atlantic. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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