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Of Arms and the Man - James Hester

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.



I'm going to talk to you about weapons.

There. Feel that?

That vague discomfort in the back of your mind? That reaction to this topic is, historically speaking, a new phenomenon, a couple of centuries old at most. Further back, whether it was the knife or sword worn every day or the musket propped behind the door, weapons were part of everyday life — a useful tool and an effective mode of defence if things should unexpectedly get ugly.

Weapons are today either reviled or glorified, with very little going on in between. We are content to delegate the use of force to others (the police and the military) and not concern ourselves with it. Owning one, you run the risk in some places of being labelled a violent weirdo, a criminal, or some combination thereof. Even those who legally own weapons for legitimate reasons make some people uncomfortable.

A yob with a steak knife stabs someone in a pub. A gangster puts two rounds in someone's chest for 'disrespecting' him. This is what happens when people get hold of dangerous objects with no understanding of or regard for what they have. Nor is this aggression representative of common human behaviour. Just as animals do not fight unless they determine that there are no other options (to do otherwise would be needlessly risky), it takes a lot to drive the average person to violence. Most would rather flee or attempt to diffuse the situation through other means. Tendencies towards conflict avoidance are only overcome through psychosis or training.

I propose that a person can be armed and capable of using arms with deadly effect and not be a violent person. That a society can be peaceful, take up arms and use them decisively when it is necessary, and then put them away and go back to once more being peaceful. The key to this is education.

According to UN crime statistics from 2008,[1] the United States had a homicide rate of 5.221 per 100,000. Here, many weapons (firearms and others) are for the most part legal. Public opinion towards the ownership of weapons is generally positive, although this depends on where you are. What awareness training there is comes either from home or through government programs that differ state to state (both with varying degrees of comprehensiveness and quality).

The United Kingdom clocked in at 1.19 per 100,000. Here, handguns are illegal, and many other weapons (knives, rifles, shotguns, etc.) are either also banned or heavily regulated. Weapons awareness is heavily angled toward inspiring aversion so that, with the exception of hunters, target shooters, or collectors, the popular opinion towards owning weapons is largely negative.

Switzerland is defended by a citizen militia. Every male between 19 and 34 completes compulsory military training (voluntary for women) and remains effectively on-call. Members are issued with assault rifles and ammunition which they are to keep in their homes and maintain themselves. Let me repeat that: practically every Swiss household with a male between the age of 19 and 34 contains an assault rifle, a box of ammo, and someone with military-grade training in using them. Weapons are generally looked-upon positively; bearing them competently is seen as a duty and a source of national pride. The 2008 homicide rate for Switzerland? 0.716 per 100,000; one of the lowest in the world.

A community, taught from an early age what weapons are, what they can do, and how to use them carefully and responsibly, will not descend into violence. Imagine being brought up viewing weapons as neither bad and forbidden, nor glorious and cool, but as just another part of life. A tool. Most would in all likelihood never have to use this knowledge. They would reserve it for the rare instances when stupidity occurs, requiring them to defend themselves, and perhaps their communities, from inescapable danger.

This piece takes its name from the opening line of Virgil's Aeneid: 'Of arms and the man I sing...'

  1. http://data.un.org/Data.aspx?d=UNODC&f=tableCode:1