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51


L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 51, July 15, 1999

Contradictions and Conundrums in Gun Prohibition

by Patrick L. Lilly
p&slilly@mho.net

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

           There are three great misconceptions about anti-gun laws which hardly ever get mentioned. It is no surprise that they are passed over by those advocating such laws, but it is somewhat surprising that many of those who answer such proposals usually miss, and fail to point out, these three glaring flaws in all "gun control"(1) proposals.
           First, "gun prohibition" is a more accurate description of all such laws and proposed laws than "gun control." Such laws don't "control" anything in any meaningful sense. They are, pure and simple "prohibition," in the classic sense of America's disastrous alcohol prohibition. They make simple possession of something a violation of law, in and of itself.
           But even this term subtly misstates the case. At least in theory, alcohol prohibition could have been enforced on everyone in America, and obeyed by everyone in America, specifically including those who enforced it. There was no necessity for the cops going in to destroy other people's barrels of beer to have beers in their own back pockets. Indeed, it could be cogently argued that genuine teetotalers would be more likely to be honest enforcers of alcohol prohibition than those who would really like to have a drink themselves.
           No such thing is true about gun prohibition, however. For this reason, a more descriptive term might be gun discrimination. Anti-gun possession laws must all have built into them at the most fundamental level an exception for those who enforce laws-indluding the anti-gun laws. So they implicitly contain a sort of self-contradiction. Far from "getting rid" of guns, anti-gun laws merely divide society into two strata, with a yawning gulf between them: an upper class of the armed elite, employed by the government, who can defend themselves, and a much larger lower class, composed of all the rest of us, who cannot defend ourselves-at least not legally. Worse, once the elite sees that the underclass cannot defend itself, they realize that they (the elite) can not only defend themselves, they can commit crimes against the underclass, and do so with utter impunity. A quick look at history shows that this realization is never long in coming.
           Put simply, the conundrum implicit in all gun prohibition is this: Gun prohibition is enforced by people with guns. It is not, as it obviously cannot be, enforced by people without guns. It does not, cannot, disarm everybody. It isn't meant to. The main problem that this causes is not, as opponents of gun prohibition too often rush to claim, that it leaves the disarmed masses at the mercy of those among them who manage to get away, at least temporarily, with disobeying such laws and keeping guns themselves for the purpose of committing random crimes. The main problem it causes is that it leaves the legally-created underclass at the mercy of the elite class, who most definitely are not breaking the "law," who are not armed only temporarily, until they are discovered, but, rather, are armed permanently, and who, therefore, are perfectly free to commit crimes against members of the underclass, not randomly, but on a systematic, institutionalized, and perpetual basis. The main purpose, and effect, of "gun control" is not to prevent the average person from defending his life, liberty and property against random crimes committed by self-employed criminals. Its main purpose and effect is to prevent the average person from defending himself, his home, and his family against the armed government elite-better known as the police and the military.
           The practical point is this: No matter how "bad" you may think guns are (and no matter why), they have already been invented, and the genie simply cannot be put back in the bottle. The question is not whether there will be guns or not. It is only whether everyone (or, at least everyone who wants to) will have them, or only some people will have them. Those who back anti-gun laws implicitly sign on to the principle of only some people having them. That means that they implicitly sign on to the principle of most people-which strangely enough, often includes those people themselves-being left completely at the mercy of the elite they create.
           The second great misconception of gun prohibition proponents is that they are backing non-violence, and creating a less violent world. Gun prohibition-like all prohibition-is violence, and its imposition creates more violence, not less. It is, implicitly and irretreiveably, unprovoked, pre-emptive, aggressive violence against people who have not harmed anyone. It is nothing but the most ludicrous of self-contradictions for a person to assert, on the one hand, that he or she is a non-violent person, or, worse yet, a pacifist, and then, on the other hand, to promote gun prohibition. When you promote gun prohibition, you are overtly and unambiguously supporting gun violence against innocent people. In this vein, the oft-repeated claim of gun grabbers that various other countries, which have even more draconian anti-gun ownership laws than the U.S., have "less violence" than we do should never be answered with pointless arguing over statistics. It should be answered with the fact that they certainly do have violence, and gun violence at that; it's just that the violence works so well and so pervasively that it doesn't happen out on the streets where the news media can easily cover it. Instead, it happens behing jail and prison walls, and in the offices of tax collectors. But it is no less violence for being indirect and harder to see.
           Note well: this is not a metaphor, nor is it any kind of hyperbole or exaggeration. The enforcement of gun prohibition consists of nothing but the use of guns to attack, without the slightest real provocation, people who have committed no violation of anyone's real rights. Putting the gun in someone else's hand, someone who you believe, rightly or wrongly, is acting in your stead and for your interests, does not get you off the moral hook. When you recommend that the police be sent out, with guns, to jail, or kill, others simply for having guns -- and this is, of course, the essence of all gun prohibition laws -- you are putting your stamp of approval on such aggressive violence, and you are just as guilty of gun violence as if you held the gun in your own hands. When you make such a proposal, you no longer have any business calling yourself a pacifist, or a supporter of non-violence; you are proposing nothing other than the pre-emptive use of violence to accomplish your chosen social and cultural goals.
           Those who react to every outbreak of violence, such as the recent shootings in Littleton, with knee-jerk calls for more gun prohibition, have been far too successful at controlling the debate, and keeping it firmly away from points like these. Instead, they delude people into debating pointless points like whether or not "guns kill people," and perfectly real but irrelevant statistics. But experience to this point should be sufficient to convince anyone interested in retaining what little is left, and reclaiming the much larger volume that has already been lost, of our gun rights, that he or she is only playing into the hands of the prohibitionists by taking such bait and even bothering to discuss such points.
           It doesn't matter whether it is the guns, or the people holding them, who may properly be said to be "killing people," and it's high time that this was pointed out. It doesn't matter how many burglars get shot for every accidental gun-cleaning death, or for every homeowner who otherwise get injured or killed with his or her own gun. It doesn't matter whether or not "criminals"(2) buy guns at gun shows. It doesn't matter whether anyone "needs" (whatever that means) a bigger ammunition clip or not. It doesn't matter whether or not levels of crime committed by self-employed criminals go down where government-allowed concealed carrying laws are enacted. It doesn't even matter whether the authors of the Second Amendment sought to bestow on us (or, more properly, protect) an individual right as opposed to a collective right to "keep and bear arms" or not.
           What does matter is that gun prohibition puts the people at the mercy of the government and its police, which is just what they want, and why the police establishment now universally supports more and ever more gun prohibition. (This wasn't always the case, but that's because police were once actually interested in preventing and controlling crime, instead of committing crimes themselves.) What does matter is that gun prohibition laws-all of them, no matter how written, or at whom they are aimed (pun intended), or how-are in and of themselves, improper, because they contradict themselves, because they violate the principle (not the Constitutional clause) of equal protection, because they divide society into the legal haves and the legal have-nots, and because they can never be enforced except by always putting more, and more deadly, weapons into the hands of government agents, pointed at the rest of us. It is high time that defenders of gun rights begin answering the (deliberately) misleading arguments of gun prohibition enthusiasts with fundamental points of principle like these, instead of falling into their rhetorical traps.
           The last great misconception, of course, is the idea, implicit in all gun prohibition proposals, that the promoters actually have a right to decide whether or not they will allow other people to possess things. The simplest way to cut through the forest of red herrings and get back to debating principles is to point out, first, last, and always, that, no matter what you think about guns, or about gun owners, it is simply not up to you whether or not you will respect their right to own honestly acquired property-guns or anything else. Seeing gun prohibition flaps in their most general terms, as property rights issues, eliminates any necessity to delve into the details of guns, gun design, ammunition, crime statistics, or any of the other irrevelancies which prohibition advocates throw up to obscure this more fundamental issue.
           Respecting other people's rights, even if you don't like them or don't trust them, is simply not optional. Nor it is conditional, coming and going with the flux of statistics of societal conditions. On the contrary, it is universal. Leaving other people alone, until and unless they actually intrude on your rights in some way, is the one obligation which you, like everyone else, owe to your fellow man or woman a priori, whether you like it or not. And this applies no matter how violent you think society has become (and even if you're right), no matter how deadly guns have become, no matter how many of them there are, no matter how many homicides there were last year, no matter how many accidental shootings there were last year, and no matter how inconvenient you think it is for you -- even if you're right. Anyone who "just decides" that he doesn't have to respect his neighbors' property rights any longer, because he feels threatened or for any other reason, is making a big, big mistake. It's not just a practical mistake, it's a moral and legal mistake, and it makes the person who decides it into a criminal himself, not a crusader against crime, or against violence.


(1) This term is, of course, a euphemism. Gun rights advocates have always tried to avoid it, and substitute more realistic descriptions, and rightly so. Indeed, one can look at it as substantial progress that, more and more frequently, the term "prohibition" is being used in the public debate. As noted, however, virtually any possible substitute term has drawbacks of one kind or another. This is partly because such a wide variety of sorts of violations of individual rights are subsumed under this general title.

(2) References to "criminals" in such contexts are often exercises in the fine art of tautology, and should be promptly exposed as such. Most often, the people obliquely referred to are "criminals" only because they are violating, or trying to violate, gun prohibition. But too often the gun grabbers get away with biasing the discussion by implying that they are talking about bank robbers, rapists, or muggers. Half the trick of coming off well against a gun prohibitionist is usually cutting through his or her misdefinition of the terms in which the debate is carried out (See (1) above).


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