Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

On the Brink

There is substantial fantasy literature about this and I've read a lot of it. (Recommendation: The American Apocalypse series by Nova.) You've even previously commented on one of the books, One Second After, by William Forstchen which is about an EMP blast and features an intro by Newt Gingrich.

I work in finance and lived through 911 and the various blackouts and in 2008 when the shit was hitting the fan in the financial world I had a ringside seat to what was going on and had serious concerns about waking up one morning and there being no cash in the ATMs. I figured this might cause a major panic. So I stocked up on some food and started reading these types of books and was kind of obsessed with this idea for awhile.

I don't own a gun and never plan to and kind of figure if some kind of Mad Max future comes to pass I will be one of the first to die. I figure there is a 10-20% chance of this happening in my lifetime. This is a guess obviously. Fortunately for me I've stopped being so obsessed with this idea lately.

But imagine if you did own an assault weapon and figured that you wouldn't necessarily be one of the first to die. And further imagine that you are also obsessed by this idea, but instead of thinking it was a 10-20% chance of happening you thought it was 50% or more?
Having someone threaten to take your gun away would be a threat to your very idea of survival.

Now we can sit here and debate the actual likelihood of societal breakdown but I'd have to disagree with anyone who tells me that this sort of thing would be impossible. I'm personally willing to take my chances and would prefer to live in a gun free society in the
meantime, but wouldn't simply dismiss as paranoia those who take the survival issue a bit more seriously. We as a society will probably need to address this concern if we do want to move to a true gun free society.

Most of this I think speaks for itself. But there's one addenda I'd like to add. Societal disruptions tend to reveal underlying maladies rather than trigger them. One of the best examples are the blackouts in 1965, 1977 and 2003 in New York City. (See some fascinating digital history project on the subject here.)

The 65 blackout was a major hassle but the city didn't fall apart. 77 was a very different story. It wasn't quite as bad as some of the urban riot fantasies you hear about on the gun right. But it wasn't altogether unlike it either. There was another major blackout in 2003. But everyone was basically chill. And pretty much the same with Sandy just a few months ago.

Clearly, New York City was a very different place in the mid-70s than in the 60s or in the last decade. And we don't need the evidence of the blackouts to tell us that, though it is a telling confirmation. Crime was on a severe upswing. There was major racial polarization. The city was in perpetual fiscal crisis. The first time I came or lived in the vicinity of New York City was in the late 80s. And even though I didn't know it then as well as I know it now, it was a very, very different place.

I don't have a major point to make about this now. I only want to note it. Because one of the points I want to return to -- that's an animating aspect of the whole discussion about guns -- is the what I think of as 'extreme gun ownership' has spiked even as the objective dangers we face in the society at large have diminished. Again, a point I'd like to return to.