Is gun confiscation a form of dismemberment?

Body and gun. © SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI/Science Photo Library/Corbis

Let me preface by stating that I'm not concerned with the phallic symbolism of guns, at least for the purposes of this post. I also have no intention of making a pro- or anti-gun legislation argument here, as that's a topic rather muddied by the complexities of politics, economics, history and semiotic resonance.

But here's what I'm pondering: Are guns part of the human body and, if so, does this partially account for the intense emotions regarding gun ownership, gun legislation and that dreaded bugbear of gun confiscation?

Let's break down the idea...

The Body Schema

First of all, let's remember that guns are tools. By virtue of being a tool, they are also extensions of the human body.

'The Terminator'

See, our bodily awareness comes down to something called body schema, a sort of working mental model (or map) of our body's limits, parts and abilities.

As the "Dawn of Man" segment in "2001: A Space Odyssey" so perfectly illustrates, the rise of human civilization has depended in large part on our ability to utilize tools. When the savage ape picks up that bone club, the creature's body schema updates itself, incorporating the club's length extension and bludgeoning power.

In other words, the tool -- the weapon -- becomes a part of the human body. This is the neurological underpinning of tool use and a large part of what it is to be human.

And so I wonder: If my body schema feels at home with a gun, if I've made that gun a part of my body, then are perceived threats to my gun ownership a threat to my body? Would gun confiscation constitute a sort of phenomenological dismemberment?

My Gun, My Body?

I don't present this notion as a jab at gun enthusiasts. Body schema is a basic neurological attribute, enabling us to trick human test subjects into thinking they have a third arm, or making them recoil in horror when a researcher stabs a rubber limb.

You can even argue that the humans are "natural embodied cyborgs," to borrow a phrase from philosopher Andy Clark. Our bodies take on artificial limbs and sensory enhancements with relative ease.

Of course, this also brings to mind the old adage "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." Evan Selinger and Timothy Engström examine this notion in light of body schema in their paper On Naturally Embodied Cyborgs: Identities, Metaphors, and Models:

"Technologies are not value-free instruments that we autonomously control, as if once in hand we easily transcend their impact upon our sensibilities and decide how they should be used via pure mental and independent abstraction. Technologies are best understood, Ihde suggests, not as isolated things-in-themselves, but as always contextualized within a holistic equipmental context of human concerns and practical conventions."

They go on to quote philosopher and science sociologist Bruno Latour:

"You are different with a gun in your hand; the gun is different with you holding it. You are another subject because you hold the gun; the gun is another object because it has entered into a relationship with you."

Our bodies are made to assimilate cybernetic updates.

Those updates give us amazing abilities.

Accessorize with care, humans.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.