If you asked me to defend only one of these moral pictures I would defend the pro-gun vision. I am not a gun owner but I can imagine many situations and political dispensations in which a morally responsible citizen should own a weapon; I have encountered many communities where “gun culture” seems healthy and responsible rather than a bloodthirsty cult. And the claim, often urged on anti-abortion writers like myself, that guns and abortion should both be opposed on “life” grounds seems like a category error, since every abortion kills but guns sit harmless in millions of households and many deter violence or turn back evil men.

However: A fetishization of guns and violence is also a real American cultural phenomenon, perhaps especially among alienated, isolated young men. And for them and for others (including the N.R.A. these days), the guns-and-citizenship ideal can curdle into a crude myself-alone libertarianism for an age of polarization and mistrust…

Perhaps the self-arming of citizens could be similarly staggered. Let 18-year-olds own hunting rifles. Make revolvers available at 21. Semiautomatic pistols, at 25. And semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 could be sold to 30-year-olds but no one younger.