A Nation of Cowards: Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control / the Origin the Second Amendment: A Documentary History of the Bill of Rights

By Kopel, Dave | Ideas on Liberty, March 2002 | Go to article overview

A Nation of Cowards: Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control / the Origin the Second Amendment: A Documentary History of the Bill of Rights


Kopel, Dave, Ideas on Liberty


A Nation of Cowards: Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control

by Jeff Snyder

Accurate Press * 2001 * 170 pages * $24.95

The Origin of the Second Amendment A Documentary History of the Bill of Rights

Edited by David Young

Golden Oak Books * 2001 * 838 pages * $55.00

While there are many books on the empirical, sociological, historical, legal, or political aspects of gun volicy, A Nation of Cowards is the first fulllength book focused on philosophical questions. The first, and best, essay bears the same name as the book. Originally published in 1993, Snyder's essay challenges the notion that reliance on government employees for protection is morally superior to protecting oneself. Indeed, Snyder suggested that a failure to protect oneself is immoral.

The rest of the book consists of reprints from Snyder's column for American Handgunner magazine, plus some other writings. This means that there is considerable repetition of themes from one chapter to the next. It also means that Snyder rarely gets much more sophisticated than in the first chapter. We see the same issues examined from various angles, but the perspectives never lead to greater depth.

Even so, Snyder makes many excellent points, persuasively expressed. Looking at the National Organization for Women's opposition to female gun ownership, he observes that "feminine helplessness is acceptable as part of feminist dogma" as long as women rely on the state rather than an individual male for protection.

Snyder also addresses the argument that women should not use guns for defense against predators because defensive gun use is not always successful: "such arguments rest on the craven suggestion that you ought not to fight back unless you are first guaranteed perfect, risk-free protection." He likens eschewing guns because armed defense is not always successful to not wearing seat belts because they do not offer perfect protection in auto accidents.

Much of the gun-control debate in America revolves around social science and arguments for utility. Snyder raises two objections to such arguments: First, groups like Handgun Control shouldn't force others to live according to HCI's theory of utility and effective protection. Second, utility is irrelevant because it doesn't matter how many people misuse guns compared to how many people use them properly; to deny even one person the right to carry a gun because everyone else misuses guns is a violation of his natural rights.

Another of Snyder's targets is "instrumentalism"-ascribing moral qualities to firearms, rather than to the intention of the person with the firearm. This leads to his broader point that the gun issue is fundamentally about character, and that refusing to assume the responsibility of owning a gun to defend one's family is an abdication of the responsibility necessary for the citizen of a republic. …

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