I Won’t Shoot You / Don’t Be a Horse

I live in New Hampshire, and it is much easier to buy a firearm here than in most other states. There are no state laws limiting the purchase of any type of gun. The only real laws are these:

1. A person must be at least 18 years of age to purchase a long gun.
2. A person must be at least 21 years of age to purchase a handgun.

The federal government does, however, allege authority to impose firearms restrictions in the state of New Hampshire, so there are other hoops to jump through. There are special licenses and requirements for automatic and selective-fire guns, explosive devices, and other miscellaneous items. Purchase of any firearm from a federal licensee requires undergoing an “instant” background check.

But by and large, providing you’re not mentally unstable or a criminal, it is easy to get a gun here. There are even laws that bypass the federal licensing system by allowing firearms transactions without paperwork between certain parties. It’s also easy to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun—again, if you’re clean. There are no fingerprints taken or other criminal-handling procedures inflicted on the applicant. The issuing authority (usually local police) must respond to your application within 14 days with either a brand-new license or a damn good reason why you can’t have it. The fee is $10 for residents. That’s ten dollars, not a typo.

There are also no laws telling gun owners how to store their property. If you want to lock up your guns, do it. If not, don’t. Despite this, it’s common practice to lock up guns anyway, and to keep ammo separate. People who own guns tend to be quite aware of the potential for misuse or devastating accidents, not to mention that they can be pretty expensive. But no one has to tell them to do it.

Keeping and bearing arms here is a right that you have to forfeit by your actions, not a privilege that is contingent on the actions of others. The carry license is a sort of convenience, a way to simplify innocent encounters between the police and lawful gun-toters. The laws keep guns out of the hands of unsupervised children because that’s common sense. If there were no federal laws, the state would still work to keep known criminals from acquiring guns because, again, it’s common sense.

But overall, adults are treated like adults when it comes to firearms. In fact, adults are treated like adults in general. It makes sense in a state with “LIVE FREE OR DIE” emblazoned on every license plate. We aren’t required by law to buy any kind of insurance, not even for driving. No one has to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. The state doesn’t tax our income so that it can justify making our decisions for us. The state only ever attempts to make safety decisions for children, because they’re children and they can’t be expected to responsibly make those decisions yet. Until they’re 18, they have to wear seat belts and refrain from playing the lottery. After that, it’s up to them.

Personally, my decisions lean toward those that are mandated in other states. I have driver’s insurance because it is the right decision for me. I wear a seat belt whenever I’m in a car because I want to. If I were to get a motorcycle, I would probably wear a helmet out of pants-shitting fear. On the other hand, I don’t have health insurance because, without an employer subsidy, it’s an extremely bad deal. It’s the better decision for me to not make that purchase, and I have the freedom to do so.

I also have a pistol/revolver license, and on any given day I might choose to carry a loaded gun on my person or in my vehicle. With the laws the way they are, I could have any number of guns that invoke any number of media buzzwords—semi-automatic handgun, assault rifle, hollow-point ammunition, pistol grip, high-caliber rounds, extended magazines! Any day of the week, I could be standing in line next to you with a pistol and 48 rounds on my hip.

I might have all of that and more, but I won’t shoot you, ever. I promise. My promise goes back to the original idea of the social contract. I’m an adult and you’re an adult, and we solemnly agree not to do each other harm or to interfere in each other’s affairs. Unless your actions urgently force me to do it, I will not shoot or even point a gun at you. I also won’t force you to wear a seat belt or put away your cell phone while you’re driving (even if it makes me grit my teeth). In return, all I ask is that you respect my rights and my decisions the way I respect yours.

This is the ideal from which the United States grew. Freedom does come with risks, but it is exactly in our dealing with these risks that we grow to be mature, useful people. The best among us are allowed to flourish when their lives are left in their own hands, and the worst among us will fail anyway. But when we are deprived of freedom and the risks that go with it, all of us never really grow up. We assume we need permission for almost everything. Our confidence is stunted, and our minds develop around the idea of seeking approval rather than improving ourselves and achieving things. We become the opposite of free; we become dependent.

Free people say “yes” or “no” by their own choice, and they act of their own will. They don’t wait for orders and say “okay” to every request. They don’t defer their judgment and their decisions to well-dressed know-it-alls a thousand miles away. Dependent people need that bubble, that insulation from themselves. They agree to be put in social handcuffs for what they perceive to be their own good, and they consider a safety net a good deal at any cost (and anyway, they can’t say no).

The United States was partly designed as a sort of experiment, but not an experiment to see if democracy works. Citizens get to vote, but the system of government itself is a constitutional republic. It exists to safeguard our freedom and to govern within strict limitations so that we can become strong and independent. That, more than anything else, is the material purpose behind the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and every other revolutionary founding document of this country. The founders did not want their victory to go to waste on a nation of weak, dependent children who would only lose it all back.

When the government acts outside of its restrictions and betrays the purpose of freedom, that nation of weak, dependent people comes to life. We may feel safer, but in reality we are more vulnerable the less free we are. We grow into lives of perpetual servitude, constantly seeking out employers instead of ever doing anything for ourselves. We depend on others for everything we need to survive. Our skill sets become a list of traits that are desirable in slaves: works hard, speaks politely, has a positive attitude, doesn’t challenge authority, follows directions well, and so on. We never really demand anything, so we end up with whatever we are willing to accept to sell ourselves out. What we get is generation after generation of people that are indistinguishable at a distance from herds of livestock.

That is why freedom is worth defending—because it makes us strong, and its absence makes us weak. It gives us opportunities to learn and keeps us from developing into ignorant, helpless animals that would die without a master. Freedom is the difference between a man and the horse he rides. Every time we give up some of our liberty, we are getting on all fours and inviting anyone to mount us. We are proclaiming ourselves weak and in need of a master. And there is always someone ready to take up the offer.

Being a good citizen does not mean following the orders of men who want to make us their horses. Our country will never be better off because its people declared themselves beasts undeserving of liberty. Our best people earn honor by remaining steadfast while everyone else’s knees quiver. And they are remembered far longer and more fondly than their horses.