Choice of weapons

I am not an expert in weapons and I don’t fully understand all of the theories behind the use of weapons. But I have had enough conversations with people with more expertise than I to know a little bit about the subject. There is a theory that a weapon can be used as a deterrent. Not every situation requires that the weapon be actually fired, but the mere presence of the weapon can alter the balance of power and change the situation.

There was a rural sheriff who required his deputies to carry shotguns. The large weapons are bulky and a bit difficult to carry when you have other things in your hands, but they are very visible. The rationale of the Sheriff was that if a deputy walks into a situation he should immediately demonstrate authority and power. The deputy is not expected to fire the shotgun when wading into the midst of a barroom fight, but the weapon immediately demonstrates who has the upper hand when it comes to power and diffuses the situation.

However, for a weapon to be effective as a deterrent, the people being deterred need to believe that the weapon will be used. If there is no fear that the weapon will be used, it is ineffective at deterring action. The old television show, Andy Griffith, often had sketches in which the deputy, Barney Fife, was so incompetent in the use of his gun, failing to properly load the weapon when under stress, that he was not the least bit threatening. The show presented scenarios that weren’t particularly dangerous and the kindness of the sheriff always trumped the evil intents of the would-be criminals. In real life, there are some criminals that not only take advantage os that situation, there are scenarios where incompetence results in death.

Police officers are trained to use lethal force in ways that are lethal. They are literally trained to kill. The hope is that they will never need to use that force, but the very fact that an officer is carrying a lethal weapon means that the officer is trained and prepared to use it. The television or movie image of the highly skilled shooter who can shoot to wound or shoot the weapon out of the hand of the assailant is not the way it works in real life. A lethal weapon is used with the intent of killing. It is a choice that the officer needs to make in training so that there is no hesitation when the situation presents itself.

The hope is that there is a corps of highly trained, highly effective officers who are prepared to use whatever force, including lethal force, is required by the situation. To that hope is added an additional hope that the officers never are placed in a situation where the force is needed.

Philosophers can argue the theory of the use of weapons for deterrence, but we live in a world where it is one of the most common uses of weapons. And, in our country, weapons are in the hands of civilians as well as police. I don’t know the current statistics, but I have read that more people say that self protection is the reason they own a weapon than hunting. That would certainly be the case with handguns, which are not particularly effective for hunting. It is worth wondering how much those who have purchased the weapons have thought about the theory of deterrence and whether or not they are actually prepared to use lethal force to kill another human being. Since gun owners are more often the victims of crimes than those who do not own guns, one might argue that the deterrence isn’t effective. Such an argument, however, would quickly be countered by those who believe that more weapons increase safety and decrease the likelihood that weapons will be used.

The argument goes far beyond private gun ownership, however. In the case of nuclear weapons, countries that have them have not only the power to destroy an enemy, they also have the power to destroy all human life. The theory of mutually assured destruction poses that if two superpowers both have enough weapons to destroy all human life and if they aim their weapons at each other than neither side will use the weapons. The buildup of arms and equality of power creates a balance, where the weapons are never used. This theory, however, is primarily based on World War II technology. The only time that nuclear weapons have been used, they were bombs delivered by airplanes. The decision to use the weapons was careful and followed hours and hours of deliberation. The weapons, once loaded into the airplanes would have been withdrawn at the last minute, depending on a wide variety of factors. However, following that war new weapons delivery systems were developed that replaced the airplane delivery system with intercontinental ballistic missiles. These weapons fly so fast that if there is any warning of an attack, it will be very short. The speculation is that if a missile attack were to be launched, the first missiles would be aimed at the launch sites of missiles in the enemy country and the enemy would have at the most 5 or 6 minutes to respond before losing the capability to respond. A decision that could result in the death of all of humanity needs to be made in a split second.

It is on a different scale, but it can be compared to the police officer with a gun. The decision to use a weapon to kill another person needs to be made in advance because there isn’t time to deliberate and weigh pros and cons in the heat of the battle. When the decision is kill or be killed the response must be swift and overwhelming. The problem with nuclear weapons, however is that the situation is not “kill or be killed.” It is kill and be killed. There is the possibility that the use of nuclear weapons provides no defense, but rather mutual assured destruction.

The result is that we need to continue to have conversations about our choice of weapons. There are choices add no security and only raise the risk. It is prudent to take a second and a third look at the choices we have made.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!