L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 32, August 1, 1997
Rights vs. Social Utility
By Sarah Thompson, M.D.
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
received an e-mail from some gun rights advocates which
proposed the following:
1. The Constitution is the standard argument for the right to
keep and bear arms.
2. "Joe and Jane Sixpack", not to mention "Joseph and Janet
Champagne", don't think the Constitution matters.
3. Scholars such as Kleck, Kates, and Lott have demonstrated
that firearms ownership has social utility.
4. Therefore, we should abandon the Second Amendment as the
basis of our arguments and attempt to persuade the public
to accept gun ownership on emotional terms as having "social
My response follows.
It is true
that "Joe and Jane Sixpack" don't care a bit about the
Constitution. It is sad, but true, that most of the justices don't
either. But think about what you're proposing. Do you really want to
concede, a priori, that the Constitution is irrelevant, that all
that matters is "social utility"? Do you want to change the rules of
engagement so that pragmatism trumps rights? If you do so, I maintain
that the battle, and the war, are irrevocably lost.
unchanging and immutable, because they are of nature,
or God, if you're so inclined. "Social utility" is so inconstant and
capricious as to be virtually meaningless. If, someday, someone comes
up with statistics that refute Kleck and Lott, will you then willingly
turn in your firearms?
gets to define "social utility" anyway? It was of
tremendous social utility for the British to disarm the lawless and
rebellious colonists. It was of equally great social utility for
Hitler to disarm Jews and anyone else who didn't support him. The
current administration thinks it is social utility to label any and
all dissenters "terrorists", and then to deprive them of all rights,
harass, disarm, and imprison them. Is that really what you want?
mistake: the argument is most assuredly not about the
relative niceties of self-defense against muggers and rapists. I'm
not discounting this aspect; as a woman, and former victim, I know how
important it is. But ultimately the argument is about tyranny; not
just the tyranny of one stronger person against one weaker person, but
the tyranny of any government, state, church or group that wishes to
inflict its will on any other individual or group by force.
nothing wrong with Kates's, Kleck's or Lott's work. It's
excellent, but it's totally irrelevant to rights. Its utility is
in demonstrating conclusively that those who favor gun control are de
facto supporting murder, rape and assault against innocent citizens.
However, if you use social utility as your primary argument, you are
playing the enemy's game. But the enemy, and its ministry of
propaganda, the media, are infinitely better at playing it, and have
infinitely more resources, than the right to keep and bear arms
movement ever will. Never, ever agree to play by the enemy's rules!
it's true, as was stated in the letter, that the law rarely
establishes norms but rather follows cultural norms, this is no
argument for basing laws on opinion polls and then trying to influence
the polls. It's bad enough that Congress operates that way.
I'm confused, but I thought the goal of all this was to
create and preserve a culture where respect for the Constitution,
respect for individual rights and liberties is the norm! If,
instead, the goal is for us gunowners to be safe from "bad guys",
while we ignore our neighbors being dragged off to prison in the
middle of the night, maybe we all need to reevaluate what we're doing
that Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted openly that the
disarmament of British subjects had nothing to do with safety and
everything to do with eliminating the influence of the "American gun
culture". He was successful, and the vast majority of British
"sheeple" happily agreed to be disarmed, foolishly believing that they
were creating a "safer society".
less here. We are living in a fascist state that is
just beginning to consolidate its powers. I predict that genocide
will be attempted against gun owners here as well. We will be
declared "enemies of the state" and "social utility" will be defined
as disarming, or exterminating, gunowners and anyone else misguided
enough to take the Constitution literally. The reason we are being
"allowed" "permits" is to drug us into forgetting about rights, and to
lure us into putting our names and firearms and fingerprints into
is meaningless. The Constitution is all the
"legislation" we need. What we must do is to reclaim our rights
regardless of what Congress does or does not do. An unconstitutional
law is no law at all.
We do need
to educate the people, but not to accept the social
utility of firearms. Those who would be citizens of a free state must
be educated to understand the concepts of individual rights,
responsibilities and liberties. Any other path is tyranny. Any other
path is doomed.
Sarah Thompson is a writer, physician, ex-activist and self-proclaimed
pot-stirrer. She has written on topics including the Constitution
(particularly the Second Amendment), activism, Waco, Jews and
firearms, and is currently working on her first novel. Sarah is also
Director of Women's Affairs for Doctors for Integrity in Policy
Research and has testified and lectured on the social utility of
firearms. She lives in Sandy, UT with her husband and two cats.
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