ANYONE can get a gun in Kansas, but it takes a full eight hours
of training to earn a "concealed carry" licence (a licence to carry
a weapon, such as a handgun, in public, in a concealed manner). The
purpose of this requirement, however, is not to discourage Kansans
from carrying guns: the aim is to promote public safety by
maintaining a cadre of trained citizen-shooters, armed with
concealed weapons and ready for gunfights with criminals and
To this end, the state legislature prohibits cities from banning
concealed firearms in libraries, museums, schools, and other public
buildings. Public facilities may get exemptions, but only if they
install metal detectorsat all entrances, and employ armed security
personnel - an expensive proposition - to ensure public safety in
the absence of freelance gunmen.
Kansans do not believe that police officers can keep them safe.
Like most Americans, they are convinced that government is
inefficient and that public employees, including police, are
incompetent and corrupt. They are proud that Kansas was once the
heart of the Wild West - the home of rugged individualism and
self-sufficiency, where posses, vigilante committees, and bounty
hunters maintained law and order, without the help of police, and
without government interference.
Self-sufficiency is, admittedly, appealing: there are those who
like the idea of living in green, unspoiled nature, growing our own
food, building our own house, making all we need with our own
hands, and defending our territory.
Still, this rugged individualism is inefficient and costly. So
long as people lived in small, self-sufficient family groups or
bands, producing all they needed by themselves and defending their
territory, they could not rise above subsistence, at best.
Standards of living improved only when humans got the ideaof
specialisation, and economies of scale - when they banded together
in tribes, cities, and nations, and developed a division of labour,
specialised occupations, and expert-ise.
Things did not get much better until very recently in human
history. Before then, we wasted most of our resources in vendettas,
brawls, and warfare. Eventually, we realised that tribal clashes
and gang warfare were wasteful. If we raped and pillaged during one
skirmish, during the next the enemy would rape and pillage and take
all our stuff.
We saw that with all the endless back-and-forth, we were both
much worse off than we would be if we had minded our own business.
Even cowboys got sick of theWild West, and welcomed the women and
preachers who brought churches, schools,and civilisation.
It was only after the closing of the western frontier that Wild
West shows, and, later, Western movies and TV series, caught on.
Safe at home, Americans enjoyed watching dramatised saloon brawls
and gunfights, because they had never seen the real thing.
Romanticism is a deficiency of imagination. We made a romance of
the Western frontier because we could no longer imagine the danger,
violence, and pain - or what a gunfight at high noon would really
be like. And contemporary Kansans cannot imagine what a shoot-out
at the local school or public library would be like if armed
citizens, with eight hours of training, pulled out their concealed
weapons in response to a real or imagined threat, and shot their
feet off while bystanders screamed, fell to the floor, and filled
Humans did, eventually, figure it out and get ahead, even if
there are local regressions from time to time. It would be a pity,
however, if we were so unimaginative that we had to experience a
few real gunfights to get the idea.
Dr Baber is Professor of Philosophy at the University of San