Hugh LaFollette holds the Cole Chair in Ethics at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. His most recent book, In Defense of Gun Control, analyzes one of the most contentious and complex issues of our times.
This excerpt from the book's preface explains the origins of LaFollette's interest in the topic.
— Colette Bancroft, Times book editor
"I grew up in a gun culture. My father was an avid hunter and an amateur gun collector. He had multiple handguns, rifles, and shotguns. To me that seemed normal. As a teenager, I assumed I would continue that tradition. Hence, when my dad gave me a shotgun for my thirteenth birthday, I was ecstatic. My father's gift meant that he saw me as a man; I could now join him when he went hunting. It is difficult to overstate the satisfaction and self-esteem his gift bestowed.
"When I became an adult and moved out on my own, I was no longer enamored of guns; but, then, neither was I an ardent critic of private gun ownership. Although I had thought, both personally and professionally, about a wide range of moral and political issues, gun control was not among them. That changed in the mid-1990s when I spent the academic year at the University of Stirling in Scotland. While exploring housing options for my sabbatical, a disgruntled forty-three-year-old resident of Stirling drove to the elementary school in the neighboring village of Dunblane where he shot and killed sixteen children and one teacher; he wounded many others. When we moved to Stirling three months later, the community was reeling from the massacre. There were few Dunblane residents who had not been personally affected by this slaughter of the innocents. During our year, we learned details about several families whose children were killed. We sensed the citizens' confusion, anger, and profound grief when we frequented one of their local pubs. I met and became friendly with the solicitor (attorney) who represented the parents of the children killed in the massacre. Suddenly the issue of gun control was real in a way that it had never been before. My disease at having no settled view of the topic nagged at me for several years before I decided that agnosticism on this topic was neither intellectually tenable nor morally responsible. I was impelled to examine the arguments and the evidence to reach a fair and informed view.
"Confronting this issue carefully, thoughtfully, and honestly is not easy in the United States where the public debate about the private ownership of guns is contentious, often nasty, and rarely insightful. I had to make a serious effort to identify the most plausible views for and against gun control. One of the first things I noted was that this way of framing the debate grotesquely oversimplifies it."