I stand out among my conservative friends in disliking guns. I favor reasonable restrictions on the Second Amendment, such as bans on fully automatic weapons, background checks for purchases and forbidding the sale of guns to those with histories of mental illness or criminality.
Yet I cannot agree with liberals that more gun control will lead to fewer gun crimes.
President Obama's choice for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, actually illuminated one of the weaknesses of the gun control case. Hagel had been closely associated with Global Zero (though he's since repudiated it), a movement dedicated to "the elimination of all nuclear weapons." Hagel isn't alone in endorsing this cause. President Obama supports the concept, as well.
Liberals like Hagel and Obama think nuclear weapons are a problem in themselves. Call it the instrumental view. It's the weapon, rather than the person wielding it, that presents the danger. But American possession of nuclear weapons didn't threaten world peace. On the contrary, our nuclear arsenal arguably kept the peace for the whole second half of the 20th century. On the other hand, a nuclear weapon in Iran's hands would be a profound threat to the world.
By the same instrumental logic, many ask how we can tacitly tolerate Israel's possession of nuclear weapons while declaring that Iran must not be permitted to obtain them. The answer is the same. No matter how awful the weapon, the relevant question is about the weapon's owner. Israel is a peace-seeking democracy whose nuclear weapons are clearly intended purely for defense. Iran is ruled by a terrorist gang that managed to gain control of a country.
To propose, as Hagel did, that the existing nuclear powers completely divest themselves of nuclear weapons wouldn't make the world safer. It would make it profoundly less safe because the U.S. would be powerless to prevent smaller powers that acquired nuclear weapons after we had destroyed our own from bullying the world -- or worse.
Wouldn't it be a better world if nuclear bombs had never been invented? That's hard to say. History isn't over. The U.S. military projected casualties from an invasion of the Japanese mainland between 500,000 and 1 million American dead and between 5 and 10 million Japanese dead. Dropping two atomic bombs, as terrible as that was, cost about 200,000 lives.
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