Of Guns and Religions

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Or so says the dedicated gun nut.

The gun nut’s argument can be taken to mean that in a world without guns, people will use other weapons to kill each other instead: knives or molotov cocktails perhaps. Indeed, this fact is rather obvious. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that people can kill each other with all sorts of different weapons, and this was certainly always the case before the invention of guns. Perhaps the gun nut’s argument can be further construed to mean that guns are not, in and of themselves, bad objects. A gun, in and of itself, is a morally underdetermined proposition. A gun without an evil villain clutching it is no threat to anyone. Guns do not lunge out of holsters and carry out assassinations on their own.

Of course, to most people (especially on the liberal left), this argument is seen for what it is: silly rhetoric. Of course guns don’t kill people without their trigger being pulled by a person, but the fact remains that a gun is a relatively efficient means of killing another person, or many other people, in a very short period of time, without having to undertake any extensive premeditation or training. It is simply easier to commit a murder with a gun than with a knife or a molotov cocktail. Similarly, it is easier to destroy a city with an atom bomb than with a gun. That’s why the production of atom bombs is regulated internationally, however poorly. It is easy to commit mass murder with an atom bomb. On the same note, since it is easy to commit mass murder with guns, we regulate them as well.

However, the liberal left often uses the very same argument as the gun nut when talking about people’s religious beliefs, especially in the case of Islam. They naively produce arguments that run: “Islam doesn’t kill people. People kill people” or, perhaps: “Islam is not a violent religion, but some Muslim people are violent”. But then, as we have seen in the case of the gun nut, the question is not whether the Qur’an or the Hadiths, as books made out of paper, are going to jump up out of the library and go on violent rampages. Everybody concedes that books do not go on violent rampages. Obviously, the question is whether believing in the Qur’an and Hadiths makes it easier to commit violence.

To answer this question, we must be willing to accept that some beliefs make it easier for people to commit violence than others. I see this as an unproblematic assumption. Surely, it is easy to commit violence if you believe that God wants you to kill infidels. On the other hand, it is hard to commit violence if you believe that God wants you to love everyone equally.

Of course, a book will not jump off the shelf and kill a librarian, but books, just like guns, can make it easier for people to do bad things.

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