Guns Are Not Good or Evil

From the March 31, 1995, statement of Tulane University criminologist James Wright before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime of the Committee on the Judiciary:

My ninth observation is that per se guns are neither inherently good nor inherently evil. Guns, that is, do not possess their own teleology. Benevolence and malevolence are things that inhere in the motives and behavior of people, not in the technology they possess. All guns, are nothing more, nothing less, than a chunk of machined metal that has a variety of purposes to which it can be put, all involving a small projectile hurtling at high velocity downrange, to lodge itself in a target. We can only say that guns are good when the target strikes us as an appropriate one, and evil when not. The gun itself is immaterial to this moral judgement.

Singling out certain types of guns for specific policy attention, 'assault weapons' these days, "Saturday Nite Special" handguns in an earlier area... earlier era, is almost always justified on the grounds that the type of gun in question "has no legitimate use" or "is designed only to kill." By definition, however, all guns are designed to kill, which is to say, designed to hurtle a projectile downrange to lodge in a target. And if one grants the proposition, which, I admit is an arguable proposition, that self-defense against predation and plunder is a legitimate reason to own a gun, then all guns, regardless of their type, regardless of their characteristics, regardless of their firepower, regardless of their quality, all guns, regardless, have some potentially legitimate application.

It seems to me, therefore, that the focus... the frequent focus, in gun control circles on certain "bad guns," is fundamentally misplaced -- the idea that there are good ones and bad ones and that we want to get rid of the bad ones. When all is said and done, it is the behavior of people, I think, that we evidently need to control.