When Guns Are Not Justified

A little while ago, Mark and Patricia McCloskey pointed their guns at some protesters in St. Louis. One of those guns was a semi-automatic rifle, a weapon of war. The protesters were walking together past the McCloskey house towards the home of their city’s mayor in order to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. They were not armed. They did, however, walk into and through a gated community.

McCloskeys via Global News   https://images.app.goo.gl/gze8vFVjbo4PHedB8

In many countries, gated communities allow the residents to separate themselves from other, less salubrious, members of the town or city in which they reside. The gates are justified by fears of theft and violence, and are a consequence of the very large wealth gap. It is the modern equivalent of the moat around the castle. Similarly, most of us practice appropriate kinds of precaution. We lock our houses, bolt the back gate, and install security cameras. We are afraid.

No matter what you think about the Black Lives Matter movement, it has been largely non-violent. Initially, there were some instances of vandalism and looting, but as far as I can tell they were not representative of the movement as a whole and occurred on the fringes of the first few marches in a few cities. They did, however, get a lot of media coverage.

This, then, is the backdrop to the McCloskey’s fear. They were already feeling vulnerable when they moved into their community, and then the violence and theft that accompanied the BLM movement exacerbated their fears. They were very scared and they were gun people.

When I saw on television a group of people expressing righteous indignation, the McCloskeys had seen an angry mob. When I might have gone outside to cheer, they went outside to protect their property. Where I saw kindred spirits, they saw personal threats. In any case, the protesters never actually stepped onto the McCloskeys property.

This week, when I saw an article about the McCloskeys in the San Jose Mercury News, I commented: In my world, a person who waves a gun at an unarmed person is the threat, not the defensive person.

The first response was: Do you have room for one more in your world? This one makes less sense every day that goes by. I’ll take my chances in yours.

Subsequently, the responses were: You live in crazy world, in mine when their are riot, looting and hundreds people trespass on your property it makes perfect sense to protect yourselves when the police are ordered not too.

And: How were they to know at the time that those invading their neighborhood were unarmed? They could have had knives or maybe a gun that was not visible. I don’t blame this couple one bit. They were well within their rights.

And: Like someone waving a gun to dissuade banditry or worse on BART? You’re wrong, I’m afraid. [note: BART is the Bay Area Rapid Transit system] 

McCloskeys Boston Globe
image via Boston Globe https://images.app.goo.gl/1nwfHA2GQqbz2g7y7

So, three out of four people think I am wrong and they think that the fear justifies the reaction. They use the words riot, looting, rights, and banditry. Here is why I think they are mistaken.

First, the fear in this instance is greater than the threat. Fear makes us all irrational. No-one was rioting, looting, or being bandits. All involved were exercising their rights.

Second, if gun owners are protecting real estate, that does not justify killing. Trespass does not deserve the death penalty.

Third, if they are protecting possessions, that does not justify killing. It is all simply “stuff” and I have lost and gained enough stuff in my life to know that you can get it all back. Yes, it hurts to lose it, but life goes on.

Fourth, if they are protecting their lives, their defence is out of proportion to the threat. The protesters were unarmed. Yes, they were many, but they were not focused on the McCloskeys and they were not menacing.

However, in three of the four replies to my comment, the fearful response is being justified by the perception of threat, not by any actual threat. That is very troubling.

St Louis Protest via New York Post https://images.app.goo.gl/MidHmGRw5SfieN7N9

In addition, I would challenge the notion that a gun is an appropriate response to a fear of potential theft or violence. The dissonance is in the degree of lethality. The whole “stand your ground” ethos becomes a different creature when you factor in the gun culture. The McCloskeys felt justified because they thought their only strength was in their guns. They couldn’t fight the people they feared unless they had a weapon, and the weapons they had were guns. The display of lethal weapons was so far removed from the actual threat as to be illogical.

Apparently, I am in the minority on this, but I’m OK with that, too. I lock my doors, I bolt my back gate, and I have security cameras. What I don’t have is a gun, and I never will have. I would rather be killed than kill someone else, and that is where we differ. I cannot reconcile my need to protect myself, my family, and my property with the willingness to kill. Take precautions; yes. Check the locks; yes. Be prepared to kill; no.

There are two interwoven threads here. One is about fear and our reactions to fear. The other is about guns and the justifiable use of guns.

It comes down to the question, should we all arm ourselves? My answer is, no. There will always be people who make us feel unsafe, but adding more guns would simply make the world more threatening, not less so. When a society has fewer guns, there are fewer deaths. It is that simple.


  1. The photo of the St Louis couple sickens me. They do not even look prepared to handle any weapon while standing there in bare feet with rather dopey expressions on their faces. That, to me, makes for an ugly situation had they been challenged. And as I scrolled down a bit and saw more of their home, I thought of ‘white privilege’ and the racism so many of we Americans have been raised under. Black Lives do matter every bit as much as every other living human on this Earth. When we are able to grasp that, maybe Peace will become attainable.

    Such a sad commentary on the United States. And with our government in the chaotic state it is under the current president, it’s just one more negative amongst few positives these days.

    • They do look “dopey”, I agree. Their house is as big as a hotel, and I was amazed when I saw an aerial view of it. If only the two of them live in it, it is white privilege at its worst.

      • Sadly so true. I am pretty sure that our mayor in San Jose does not live in such luxurious surroundings. The BLM folks were headed for the mayor’s home, right? One might suggest he/she consider who the neighbors are!

  2. The one thing that has always concerned me about the second amendment is this: if a population has a right to bear arms and, in effect, act as a “well regulated militia“ (the original intention of the amendment, I believe), how does that affect or influence the actions of the police force? I often wonder what it must be like to be a police officer in the states, where anyone you pull over may possess a firearm and may feel entitled to use it. I’m not excusing police violence here, by any means. But a culture in which each citizen’s right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution In such a way strikes me as one that is predicated on fear of personal harm and will often resort to violence to settle disputes. There’s a movie called “Hell or High Water” that helped me to understand this a little better. Have you seen it?

    Good blog, Anne.

    • I have not seen “Hell or High Water” but I will add it to my list.

      The individual ownership of guns doesn’t come anywhere near fitting the description of a “well regulated militia” and I’m surprised that continues to be trotted out as an excuse. In any case, the second amendment was supposed to allow a militia to maintain a free state, not threaten their neighbours!

  3. This is a very good post, and the four points in the middle are especially well explained! Great work!

  4. You haven’t mentioned that this readiness to use guns at any opportunity is an American phenomenon, and that mostly it is aimed at blacks and those who seek black equality. I think that at some level these gun-toting Americans realize the deep injustice that has been done to blacks over centuries of slavery, abuse, lynchings and horrible discrimination. I think they fear retribution. They fear revenge from the black community, and they know by any primitive view of justice they deserve that revenge. Martin Luther King tried to assuage that fear through pacifism but, on the whole, it did not help. All these Confederate flag waving, MAGA hat wearing whites need to stop trying to justify the past and bring it back. Instead they need to honestly confess the sins of the past, take down those damn Confederate statues, and make a huge change in American society, in all aspects and at every level, educate their young, and actually bring about the democracy and equality their constitution talks about. And yes, I know we Canadians have our crimes to admit and reparations to make as well. Comments?

    • You make some good points, Barb. I have read a few articles recently that mention the need for reparations in the US but no-one seems to know quite how to go about it.

      I think Canada has recognized that need and has made some efforts towards reparations, although there is still work to be done.

  5. I have to add- and I wish I could give references for this- but there are many studies that show that the greater the inequality in any society, the greater the crime rate – which makes sense doesn’t it? So- yes, there is crime among the downtrodden, but the answer is not more prisons and more guns.

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