The public versus the private and the urban versus rural in gun laws and control

Weeks before the Sandy Hook shootings, my students and I explored the case of Stand Your Ground Laws versus castle laws. The former are the laws under question with Trayvon Martin case; the latter appear to be a fairly well-established part of law coming from the English tradition. This was a seminar on social justice, so it’s not like we had a big showing on the pro-gun side, but my planning students distinguished between the STG laws and castle law mainly based on the public sphere component in the first made most of my planning students very uncomfortable. For them, the communitarian, public sphere question meant that people in the public realm should be unarmed, while most could understand individuals wanting to own a gun for home use.

Andrew Sabl and I were chatting via email about the difference between that idea and the civic republican tradition, which holds that people have a duty to protect not just their homes, but their ‘public’ space as well.

Both my planners and the civic republicans come from similar, communitarian goals of public safety, but they arrive at completely opposite conclusions for policy.

It strikes me that public space-private space distinction is somewhat relevant here, but I am not sure what to do with it. I do know that gun control, like transit policy, is one of those areas which begs for urban-rural distinctions in policy context, and those differences are getting largely ignored in the discussion with the various sides shouting past each other. Guns make much more sense in rural areas than they do in cities–most people in the country do keep guns for a variety of purposes, including hunting, but also to help deal with predators and sick animals like rabid skunks and raccoons, etc, where people can not rely on animal control or police to help. In those contexts, it’s tough finding 40 people in one spot, let alone shooting them. Sure, you can do it, but it probably involves a special occasion, school, or church. But cities are different, with their densities of people in buildings, trains, and sidewalks. My BoA on a normal day has 40 people in the lobby, let alone post office or DMV, which has lines out the door. The possibilities for human harm in short time become greater.