Armed children

The Bear of Considerable Brain, writes:
“This does not mean every man, woman and child should roam the streets
packing heat, much as some of my more rabid hoplophile colleagues in
the Blogosphere might enjoy the sight.”

N.Z. was probably thinking of me as one of his “rabid hoplophile
colleagues.”; I’d be rather disappointed if he weren’t, actually. I
endorse all his good sense about citizen miltias and the necessity of
a decentralized response to decentralized threats; in fact, I wrote an
on that topic the day of the WTC attack. Establishing it as normal
custom that adults go armed strikes me as an excellent idea, and
not merely as a tactic against terrorism and crime either. “The possession
of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave.”

I was originally going to respond to His Ursinity’s remark by
tossing off some denial that I contemplate universally arming children
as a response to terrorism. But I’ve decided it would be more
interesting to attack the question from the opposite side: under what
circumstances should children be armed?

If your answer is “Never!” than consider that this is actually
quite a radical position. In large parts of the U.S., rather young
children have and use BB rifles. In much of rural America,
including most of my own state of Pennsylvania, boys learn to hunt
early, and to accept both the weapons and responsibilities of men
when barely into their teens.

The bloody slaughters nervous urban liberals would expect from this
policy somehow never materialize. Kliebold and Harris, the Columbine
shooters, were the exception that demonstrates the rule; they were
not taught to use firearms within approved contexts by their
parents and other adults, but instead devedloped a pathological,
isolated relationship to weapons that mirrored their pathological,
isolated lives. Their victims were not killed by the rural gun
culture, but by its absence.

So part of our answer is this: children should be armed, at least
part of the time when in company with responsible adults, in order
to prepare them for the responsibility of arming themselves as adults
and participating in civilian defense against terrorism and crime.

The next logical question is: under what circumstances should
children be trusted to carry weapons for self-defense without
direct adult supervision? Again, “Never!” would be a radical and
historically exceptional answer. It would also be unfair to the
children, especially poor children who live in areas where the chance
of encountering criminal or terrorist predators is significant.

It’s worth bearing in mind that most decisions about using a
firearm in self-defense are pretty simple. They don’t tend to involve
complicated ethical abstractions — the relevant question is
usually “Am I or a defenseless person I am responsible for in imminent
danger of being assaulted, abducted or killed?” If the answer is no,
you don’t even draw your weapon.

Of course, the capacity to make those judgments varies from child
to child. I have known intelligent, precocious children as young as
eight years old who I would sooner trust with my .45 than, say, an
adult alcoholic with an impulse-control problem. In fact, I wouldn’t
consider most adult pro-gun-control voters as trustworthy as the
children I have in mind; people who project fear of their own behavior
with weapons onto others make that spot between my shoulderblades

At the other extreme, it’s pretty obvious that pre-verbal children
don’t have the apparatus to make even the simplest ethical decisions
about lethal force. They don’t know enough about the world yet. The
standard models of childhood development tell me the same thing as my
experience of real kids; the on average, possibility of ethical
competence sufficient for self-defense decisions opens up at around
twelve years old. It is not invariably present at that age, but the
possibility deserves to be taken seriously.

I can say this. If a person who is legally a minor but twelve or
over shows signs of continuing responsibility (including either
holding down a job or applying him/herself to make steady grades in
school), and does not have a history of substance abuse or other
self-destructive or criminal behavior, and wants to accept
the responsibility of going armed — then I think custom should
support that.

Finally, I want to point out that we may be doing children no favor
by `protecting’ them from the decisions that go with bearing arms.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote to his teenage nephew as follows:

“As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives [only]
moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence
to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too
violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun,
therefore, be the constant companion to your walks.”

This was no aberration. I have developed elsewhere
the theme that the practice of bearing arms was not important to the
Founding Fathers merely as a counter against crime and overweening
government, but as a school of moral character in the individual

The retreat of American gun culture from our cities and suburbs has
coincided with the the fetishization of adolescence and
the infantilization of our entire society. To reverse that trend, we
need to remember the ways we used to use to encourage people to
acquire self-discipline, character, and maturity. One of those ways
was — and in large parts of the U.S., still is — the
healthy use of lethal weapons.

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3 thoughts on “Armed children

  1. I have owned a gun since birth and carried a gun since I was old enough to operate one.

    Before age 6 I hunted with a Daisy BB gun, rather more successfully than you might expect.

    I was hunting with a shotgun by age 8, and proficient with a wide variety of handguns by age 10, and with various fully automatic weapons by age 12.

    I carried a concealed pistol through most of my teens, by age 15, kept an Ingram .45 “MAC-10” handy.

    I carried a concealed weapon to school, as did several of my friends, so a “Columbine”-type scenario was impossible. My friends and I would have accurately engaged anyone who presented a threat of deadly force.

    Many people (although you probably would not be one of them, Eric) might ask “why does a 15-year-old kid need an Ingram submachine gun? (My parents were among those people – my answer: training. They knew I didn’t need it to defend myself because I could do that just fine with my 1911.)

    I was threatened a time or two as a teenager, mainly on visits to the big city. I pointed out to my would-be attackers that if they persisted, I would draw and fire the 1911. The threat abated. In my own home town, I was not threatened, and anyone contemplating violent behavior against someone else had to consider the possibility that I or one of my similarly-armed friends might be around. This situation did come up. The idea that a would-be criminal might run into one of us with a MAC-10 deterred quite a bit of crime, according to our local Sheriff’s Deputies.

    But we don’t live in that world anymore. Everyone is required to be a victim now. To suggest otherwise will cause you to be branded a nutcase.

  2. That Thomas Jefferson quote and your whole entry reminds me of a story I read about how a man taught his son about guns. He took the boy with his 16 gauge shotgun out to the field. He passed the gun to the boy and told him it was not loaded but to aim at a bird flying overhead as was explained to him before. He directed the boy to go through all the motions of shooting the bird, safety off, aim slightly in front of the bird and pull the trigger. The boy was knocked flat on his ass when the gun fired. The man told him to always assume a gun is loaded.
    That’s a lesson you don’t forget and certainly does exercise your mind to always pay attention to what you are doing (i.e. where your gun is pointed).

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