Democracy in America makes a good point about gun ownership and freedom:
Most Americans on the right believe that a crucial reason why individuals should own guns is to protect themselves from government tyranny, and that widespread individual possession of guns is one of the main reasons why American citizens enjoy freedom of conscience, religion, and the rest of our civil liberties.
[…] And yet, while the United States has the most guns per person in the world, the number two country appears to be Yemen, not usually considered a bastion of democracy or civil rights. Individual ownership of firearms is much higher in Saudi Arabia and Russia than in Britain; it is much higher in Pakistan than in India. The idea that individuals could use their private firearms to mount a serious challenge to government hegemony is only plausible in very weak states. When individuals, militia or criminal gangs foolishly attempt to directly challenge police or the National Guard in the United States, they are quickly overpowered, killed or arrested.
[…] Americans and Britons have freedom of conscience and secure property rights because of the strength of American and British democratic civil culture and legal and governing institutions, not as a function of whether or not they are allowed to own private guns.
This reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s famous commencement speech opening:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
We take things like physical security, rule of law, democratic institutions, a literate population and an engaged civil society so thoroughly for granted we forget that many of our political opinions depend on them entirely. The majority of our arguments, including the proper role of government, are so entwined with the particulars of our present institutions that they can’t even really be called principles.
We argue so much about the kind of fish we want to be, we sometimes forget how we got underwater in the first place.