The other day, I got to watch a public discussion about the election results in Los Angeles turn into a shouting match because someone brought up the subject of gun control.

The speaker, a former newspaper editor, was asked a question that was completely tangential to the discussion, and he tried to respond with a very measured answer that the Second Amendment is important, but no amendments are absolute and some “reasonable restrictions” could be appropriate.

That roused the ire of the questioner, who was a constitutional absolutist, and several other audience members.

Without judging who’s right or wrong on the issue, it occurred to me that the fundamental obstacle in trying to have a serious discussion about guns is one of trust.

Essentially it will always come down to the fact that while I trust myself to properly own, maintain and use any weapon up to and including a rocket launcher, I’m not so sure I can trust you even with a paintball gun. I’m sure other people feel the same way about me.

It’s a symptom of fear. We’re all worried that “someone” will sneak up behind us and do terrible things.

The rational response to that fear is to be prepared in case something ever does happen, and that’s where gun ownership comes in. Nobody sane wants to kill anybody, but responsible people understand that there are situations where that may be the only way to stop great evil.

The irrational response, which seems to be the one preferred universally by liberals, is to try to take away the bad guns, as if a villain couldn’t fix a couple of nails to a bat and go to town. In their fear, they can’t distinguish between law-abiding and criminal, and they can’t see the tautological sense in accepting that criminals don’t follow laws, therefore gun laws only affect the law-abiding.

Liberals don’t trust their fellow citizens, and many of them don’t even trust themselves. That’s why they look to someone else wearing the mantel of authority to take care of their problems.

It wasn’t always like this in America. In Colonial times, towns typically had a “powder house” near the center of business where residents could store what guns, shot and powder they didn’t keep at home for themselves. The powder house was the town’s armory, used to supplement what was already available to private owners.

So important was gun ownership that if a man was too poor to afford a weapon or powder, the local authorities would give him one or two and whatever shot and gear he needed. Every man of age was part of the militia and was expected to be ready to come to his town’s defense at a moment’s notice.

It wasn’t until much later in history that local police forces began to form, gun ownership became less common and crime became the normal course of events in big cities.

But even in those Colonial times, I’m sure that many folks didn’t trust their neighbors, just like today. But they do seem to have trusted in the fact that there were enough good people in the world to keep the bad at bay and the only way to do that was for every person to make his family’s and community’s safety his business.

Americans need to get back to that notion of trust in ourselves and our communities, and stop letting the power-hungry prey on our fears.