Virtue and Guns: A Response

Earlier this year, philosopher Michael Austin posted a short reflection on “Virtue and Guns” on his Psychology Today blog “Ethics for Everyone.” If the title didn’t already grab my attention, the subtitle would have: “How ‘Gun Culture 2.0’ can harm character.”

Even if some people hadn’t mistaken Austin’s argument about GC2.0 for mine, I still would have wanted to respond. He told me he would post a response if I wrote one, and he is true to his word.

Read “A Counterargument to ‘Virtue and Guns'” and let us both know what you think in the comments here.

As noted in my acknowledgement, my essay benefited from input from John Correia, John Johnston, Randy Miyan, Mike Pannone, and Patrick Toner.


  1. And after a little more thought, I think a case can easily be made that choosing to handicap one’s ability to stop murder as quickly and effectively as possible is the *less* virtuous path. Less virtuous still if you are forcing that choice on others and rendering them more vulnerable by creating “gun free zones”.


  2. I’m a grunt. All the training mentioned in the first article are what I call “battle drills.” They exist not to condition the conscience but to condition the body and mind to conduct a specific task without a great deal of conscious thinking. Don your promask. Perform immediate action on your rifle. Engage multiple targets at varying ranges.
    The virtue portion, the introspection and self awareness should occur long before a CCW holder puts gun in holster.


    • I have not done military training, but the civilian training I have does has all been pretty self aware. Maybe I have cherry picked my trainers, but I hear this from alot of people.


  3. A better written argument than I could probably have managed, but based on my own 30 years of being involved in the study and practice of self-defense law and methods, and my education in philosophy and Criminal Justice, I’d say you make the responding argument perfectly. Essentially every significant historic moral and legal system of which I am aware, both “Western” and “Eastern,” even those of a more pacifistic bent, has accepted justified violence in self-defense as, at worst, legitimate and morally neutral, if regrettable, when necessary to preserve innocent life (indeed many consider it morally praiseworthy for the reasons listed above). So, I’m not sure where any premise that preparing to use such violence can be harmful to character or society can legitimately come from.


  4. Very succinct argument, David, and correct to first note Austin’s first error in his view of human nature. Dave Grossman’s influential and interesting “On Killing” suffers from the same defect. Whether you make the observation from an evolutionary perspective, that humans evolved by means of exploiting intellect, tool use, and violence, or some more prosaic approach, such as Christian theology which sees humans as BOTH made in the image of God, AND sinners fallen from grace, human beings are clearly not pastoral herbivores, employing violence only when seriously defective. It reminds me of scholars that focus one a single theory or approach to explain all human behavior (e.g. cultures of honor, or theory of limited good as two examples), operating with that one tool to analyse everything they observe. In other words, when the only tool you have is a hammer, every question looks like a nail. Austin’s view of human nature is bound up in a tool that isn’t up to accounting for the complexity observed.


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