Guns Rights

A Strange Self-Justifying System

Ian Mitroff
3 min readApr 18, 2024

I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

In her fascinating and important book, Merchants of the Right: Gun Sellers and the Crisis of American Democracy[i], Professor Jennifer Carson does a masterful job in explaining how Gun Sellers have become such a powerful force in the arming of America.

To summarize a complex and intricate thesis is difficult at best. To help accomplish such an onerous task, let me use the structure of Inquiry Systems or ISs. That is, the decision to buy and maintain Guns can be profitably viewed as a kind of an IS.

Every IS starts with a preferred set of Inputs. These are the “starting Facts or Valid Beliefs and Opinions with regard to a situation”. Next, the Inputs are Operated on by Operators in order to reach the End Conclusions or Truths of a complex situation. Finally, the Guarantor is by far the most important component of an IS.

The Guarantor guarantees that starting with the Right Inputs, Operating on them in the right ways with the correct Operators, that one will indeed reach the Truth or the Right Conclusions with regard to important issues. In other words, the Conclusions can thereby be accepted as Valid.

In the case at hand, the Inputs are the firm beliefs of Gun Owners that they cannot Trust the Government to protect them from Danger and Harm. As such, Fear is an important factor or component as well. In short, they can’t count on anybody or anything to Protect them from incalculable Danger.

The Operator is the strong Political Beliefs of Gun Sellers that Guns are indeed the only things that can Protect people and that the Liberal Anti-Gun Forces are “out to get them by depriving them of their Fundamental Rights.”

The Guarantor is made up of three critical components: Armed Individualism, Conspiracist Thinking, and Partisanship. In the words of Dr. Carlson:

“Through armed individualism, gun sellers defend — from their vantage vantage — democracy in a double sense. On the one hand, they understand gun rights as a shield against democracy’s biggest threat — tyranny in the form of gun control. On the other hand, they celebrated how gun rights ‘democratize’ security into the hands and holsters of everyday Americans as they searched for certainty and control amid insecurity and government inefficacy. And as compared to voting, gun ownership provided an immediate and satisfying relief from political tensions that had become increasingly acute in 2020, such as the core democratic tension between ‘protecting lives and preserving freedom’.”

Conspiracist Thinking and Partisanship essentially speak for themselves so I will not dwell on them. The major point is that the components of the Guarantor reinforce the Fears that are a critical part of the Inputs. They also reinforce the strong Political Beliefs that comprise the Operator.

From the standpoint of Gun proponents, the Outputs are not only greater Gun Ownership but the increased Belief that Guns are indeed the only true Protectors on which we can rely.

Nonetheless, all of the Outputs do not favor Gun proponents. The sheer increase of more unregulated Guns only increases the firm opposition to them.

In this way, I trust that ISs are an indisputable tool in helping complex issues become more understandable. Indeed, a future exercise is the representation of Anti-Gun proponents in the form of their own IS.

[i] Jennifer Carlson, Merchants of the Right: Gun Sellers and the Crisis of American Democracy, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2023.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

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