The Psychological Value of Gun Ownership

Monday's Supreme Court decision on guns allows citizens to challenge city and state regulations that curtail their Second Amendment right to bear arms. This is an important ruling because it shores up the Constitution at a time when the Obama administration is testing it in more than one way. But it is also important psychologically for millions of Americans.

The right to bear arms is a critical component of feeling competent and autonomous as individuals, rather than relying on the goodwill of a super-powerful, unassailable government. A disarmed population is, by definition, a population that has completely ceded the power to defend its homes against local, state or federal authorities. This implies a level of trust much more consistent with that which children have for parents than that which thinking adults have for the institutions they have created to perform vital functions like defending the nation, keeping the peace, maintaining schools and providing clean water.

A disarmed population is allowed the toxic luxury of feeling as though our way of life and our safety from oppression comes without the tremendous responsibilities and moral complexities of wielding force. The same people who passively pay taxes that put tanks on the streets and fighter jets in the skies over our enemies' nations can cringe at the idea of owning guns themselves — projecting their survival instincts onto an all-powerful father figure (the state).

History is replete with examples of cultures in which taking guns away from law-abiding citizens foreshadowed catastrophic abuses of the power thereby invested in government. One need look no further than Nazi Germany.

While gun control advocates point to the toll of accidental deaths and murders involving firearms, I believe such tragedies highlight the need for citizens to take more personal responsibility for the handguns they own, not any justification for them to be infantilized by banning them from owning handguns at all.

It may well be that putting more guns in the hands of American men and women and training them to safely store those guns would actually be one immediate way to immunize the population from feeling like passive participants in history and in safeguarding what we value about our way of life. Every gun privately and legally owned in America is a tiny impediment to the citizenry assuming a docile, nearly delusional perspective that the world will always be predictable, that one's home and loved ones will always be safe and that government will always tend toward light and never toward darkness.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, “Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty” has launched a new self-help movement including Dr. Ablow can be reached at