To be sure, gun restrictions are generally still bad public policy due to reasons both intrinsic—criminals do not, by definition, abide by laws—and pragmatic—in a country with more guns than citizens, an Australia-style “buyback” program would be infeasible to the point of absurdity, even if it were not blatantly unconstitutional. But the very rhetorical and intellectual currency of our firearm policy discourse has become woefully debased over the decades. At the time of the American Founding, gun ownership was not merely viewed as a check on government tyranny and a logical outflow of the natural, common-law right to self-defense. It was also viewed as virtuous: something that was, can and ought to be deployed to protect one’s family, one’s home and one’s community. In this sense, a well-armed citizenry was not simply an outgrowth of any particular natural or legal right; rather, it was viewed as fundamentally just and redounding to the common good of a well-functioning, internally harmonious society.
The reader here will conjure up images of frontiersmen and homesteaders protecting one’s remote home with a flintlock musket—and there is a lot of accuracy to the early- to mid-republic authenticity of those images. But when is the last time anyone, even a conservative, has made an affirmative argument in favor of gun ownership based not on constitutional meaning or contextual prudence, but on the inherent virtue of gun ownership itself? The long, steady decline of this once-prevalent school of thought is certainly due, in part, to the hollowing out of America’s religiosity and overall temperance. But it is also due to the fact that manliness itself is increasingly viewed not as a virtue to be nourished and cherished, but as a “toxic” vestige of a bygone barbarism that must be tamed and ultimately excised. A society that loses its belief in the importance of manliness qua manliness will necessarily fail to appreciate the virtue of a home- and hearth-protecting paterfamilias. There is a direct, unmistakable connection between the decline of the former and a lessened respect for the latter.