L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 316, April 24, 2005
"What Are You Afraid Of?"
Special to TLE
[Author's Note: Started on Sunday, July 18, 2004. Completed on Tuesday, August 10, 2004.]
Before beginning a treatise on the question of gun control, there are a few things I would like to point out. First, it seems that this is a popular issue that is hotly debated by the political critics of our time. It seems that the Left is supportive of gun control whereas the Right is opposing gun control. These are very vague and general terms, and reasonably so. Since both ideologies are attached to political parties (Leftists aligned with the Democratic Party, and Rightists aligned with the Republican Party), people will be willing to concede certain things to gain more votes. A Left politician might say that he opposes the right to handguns except through certain verifications, but that he expressly supports the right to rifles. A Right politician might say that he opposes control over rifles, but that he expressly supports some verification for handguns. Indeed, both parties begin to resemble each other, when it happens that their main and primary concern is getting the vote of everyone, or as many people as they can. This is the failure of representative government: the leaders of the country, by their very position, are given the incentive to lie, to deceive, and otherwise to betray the people who they are supposed to protect and defend. Between these two political parties that exist within our United States today, the question of gun control seems to be one of the most hotly debated topics, up there with the debate over Abortion.
The second fact that I would like to recognize over the matter of gun control is that, well, I have thought about it considerably for quite some time, perhaps for years. I have not published any opinion on the matter mostly because I was concerned with other questions of social justice that I thought were more deserving: such as the question of Animal Rights, returning power to the people, the liberation of the body via an ethic of free love and the liberation of the mind via the right to experiment with psychoactive drugs. However, like any other issue that is floating around in the air of our political climate, I have been toiling away with different scenarios, different arguments, and different analogies when it comes to the matter of gun control. With all this said, I begin this essay...
The Right to Bear Arms
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the Right of the people to Keep and Bear Arms shall not be infringed.
There is a very sad fact about the life of America today. People are more likely to use their words quoting the Constitution or the Bill of Rights to demonstrate their point, than they are to use their words bringing up arguments and evidence to defend the ideas of the Constitution. It is almost as to say, that the rights guaranteed to the people of the United States would mean nothing, unless they were written on an ancient piece of paper outlining the charter of government. People qoute the Constitution as their primary argument only for one reason: because they feel it is more important to align yourself with tradition than it is to align yourself with logic and reasonthat it is more important to listen to the words of dead men than it is to hear the fresh speeches of those who are alive. The irony runs very deep here. For it was the Constitution of the United States that itself was most revolutionary in its time. Its authors did away with tradition, they completely cast away the chains and fetters of their prejudices. Among these prejudices was the idea that the right to free speech was dangerous, that the people are a threat to themselves, that only a king with absolute rule is capable of securing peace and prosperity. The sound of these chains falling to the ground is the true music to freedom. I am not simply making an indictment towards anyone who uses the Bill of Rights to "prove" that they should have the right to bear armsbut to anyone who thinks that the Bill of Rights can prove anything beyond the boldness of those who have gone before. I must do away with these arguments that quote the Bill of Rights, because tradition itself cannot confirm any political theory, whether it is the right to bear arms or the absolute authority of a despot.
Regardless of this matter, it cannot be accepted as an argument for or against the right to bear armsonly an argument against some of those who support the right to bear arms. The primary argument that is ever used to defend the right of the people to bear arms is as a form of protection against the state. This argument definitely has some merit. In the past, as in the present, it has always been the governments of the world who have committed the greatest amount of destruction upon anyone or anything. And when I speak of governments, understand that I am implying a group of persons who have complete control over everyone around them, the epitome of Authoritarianism. In our present world, police brutality has gone to an unbelievable point. The people must be able to defend themselves against these police officers. There is no reasonable argument against this when we understand that police officers are all armed, arrogant, and are not held responsible for their actions. An innocent killing is regarded as an "accident" for a police officer, but it is regarded as "murder" for a civilian. Right here is the contradiction of those who support the right to bear arms: they have not, in any circumstance that I have seen, supported the right to control the government. In fact, Republicans and Conservatives typically hold the belief that the government is never wrong, while still touting the belief that "guns can protect us from the government." They have not ever supported the right of the people to actively engage in the matters of government.
For example, the punishment for shooting and killing a police officer is usually 25 years or more. But, when a police officer shoots and kills an innocent, even if it was a child, the punishment is usually only a few months, if anything at all. These Conservatives have supported the right to bear arms. Yet, even with this right intact, it seems that the government is regardlessly attacking, murdering, and imprisoning its own people. The right to bear arms, apparently, has done only a small amount to protect the people. In those cases where it has, Conservatives are immediately doubtful of it. When police officers hunt down and kill an unarmed black man, is the first thing a Conservative says, "I am going to find and kill those police officers to defend my country." No. In fact, they will usually offer some apologetics on behalf of the police officers. Something to the tune of, "The stress and hardship that a police officer endures is so tough, that we must look the other way when an innocent is occasionally gunned down in cold blood." Those same people who say, "People must be armed to defend themselves against the government," will see the government killing the people and say, "I see nothing wrong here." This system of hypocrisy and ignorance will then be purported as patriotism in its highest and most noble form. I know very well that these Conservatives do not believe that the right to bear arms has anything to do with defending themselves against the government. These people are hypocrites, liars, and enemies of the people.
While I can only regard Republicans and Conservatives as uninterested in the rights of the people to defend themselves, there is a still the argument of people defending themselves against the government. It is, in fact, a very viable and useful argument on behalf of the people. While it may be important to defend the rights of the people to bear arms, it is vastly much more important to defend the rights of the people to engage in the process of government. Police officers and other members of the government cannot be exempt from the laws. Nor may the laws exempt them from acting in a civilized and peaceful manner. If Democracy is carried out to its fullest, then the entire structure of government will be eliminated. There is no doubt as to why authoritarian politicians want to keep government in tact: it is the only way that they can maintain their power and authority over all of those around them. If the people are to defend themselves against the government, then the laws should reflect it. To simply allow them to possess weapons is, in fact, ineffective. Not only must they be allowed to possess weapons, but the system of which they call government, must be allowed to let them use it when it comes to matters of self defense against the government.
Another argument, one similar to the "defense against the government" argument, is one of self-defense. Not defending against the state, but rather, defending against others that the state was incapable of neutralizing. In this arena, of self-defense against others, gun control gains merit. It must be understood here that gun control is not a matter of gun prohibition, but rather, a process of limiting the amount of guns that are out in the world. Or, at least, preventing a criminal element from obtaining weapons. Through the process of restraining people from obtaining guns, there will be a chance that guns are less likely to be used in criminal activity. Background checks, waiting periods, marked guns, etc., etc., all of these things are used to prevent criminals from using guns on innocent people. By eliminating gun control, self-defense becomes a much more difficult problem, by placing guns into the hands of people who have proven, by their past actions, to harm those around them. The argument of "defense against others" does not appeal to the right to bear arms, but rather, it appeals to gun control.
There is an argument on behalf of unrestricted right to bear arms, overriding all checks that are used to inhibit criminals from possessing weapons. It is the Libertarian argument: that each person has the right to bear arms to protect themselves from others. It is not a matter of what method is most effective in the protection of civilized society, but rather, what method is most just, most honorable, most noble and truthful. To Libertarians, it is not a matter of safety or defense, but rather, it is about the rights which belong to the people. Just as a person has the right to property, to life, to liberty, among these, a person has the right to possess arms. It is a matter of liberty. However, I do not think that this argument makes any reasonable appeal. In fact, we make so many restrictions on liberty. It is against the law to murder, to rape, to attack, or to steal. The law restricts liberty in all of these ways. Even in ways that do not directly effect the security of citizens, there are marked instances of the law interfering. Threatening someone with violence, running a red light, trespassing on private property, among many other crimes, are not directly related to the security of private citizens. Rather, they are imposed to protect the security of the people. So, it must be accepted, that some limitations to liberty is an acceptable, even desirable idea, since it will entail the security of the people. The same must be said of gun control.
It must be admitted, by even gun advocates, that there has to be some form of gun control. I have heard certain arguments by certain radical gun proponents, that "anything the government can have, the private citizen must be allowed to possess." If, in fact, this argument is admissable, then it must be true that any individual should be allowed to possess a nuclear bomb. Upon hearing this startling result of said argument, we come to a rather simple conclusion: no person should be allowed to have what the government has. In fact, if we could take away what the governments of the world possess (in the form of weaponry), it would probably be better for everyone. Without much argument, few people will admit that nobody should possess nuclear bombs. Why is that such a bad idea? Mostly because certain people would obtain nuclear bombs with the intention of using them. The result would be millions and millions of people killed, possibly hundreds of millions. And, for every person killed, there is a guarantee that ten more would suffer from disabilities, including radiation. With this excess radiation, I imagine the environment might be completely uninhabitable by natural forms of life. Not only would these nuclear devices destroy mankind, but they would make the formation of another form of life nearly impossible.
Why would we, as a reasonable and thoughtful people, deny each other the right to possess nuclear bombs? The answer is simple: because granting this right will take away the rights of others, to live with a sense of security in their lives. This analogy is very much applicable to the idea of gun control. In both instances, individuals are prevented from possessing weapons that would seriously threaten the stability of the whole. I can see no educated person arguing that citizens ought to possess nuclear bombs. And, in like thought, I can see no educated person arguing that citizens should be able to possess automatic rifles, sniper rifles, powerful explosives, artillery, or other high-powered weapons. Yet we run into a contradiction here in our current policy. A person is allowed to purchase rifles or handguns in our nation, but to possess brass knuckles, switchblades, butterfly knives, or other hand-held self-defense means is illegal. I am quite baffled at this. It is almost as to say that hunting rifles should be illegal yet automatic machine guns should be legal. I cannot understand why a policy would be enacted that would force people to arm themselves with weapons that are more dangerous to themselves and to those around them. The only explanation I can think of is the thoughtless ignorance of our politicians, who have managed over the years to turn our homeland into what seems to be a foreign place.
When we read the wording of the second amendment to the Bill of Rights, we read the words "well regulated militia." This term has some very significant importance. There is a noted difference between army and militia. The first is paid to do their job. The second only does their job for their own safety and security. This difference is extremely important to recognize. When the armies of the world have murdered, attacked, raided, and otherwise destroyed other nations, these were armies that were paid, not militias. A soldier of a militia does not invade, nor does it attack. The only action committed by a soldier of a militia is self-defense of himself and of those innocent people around him. If I could make a choice for the world, I would choose that all armieshired thugs and killerswould be eliminated, and that all modes of warfare would be done only by militias. And, it must be noted, that a militia would detest war far more than any army in the world. The militia is composed of common men and women. They are workers and farmers. The only time that they are drawn to raise their arms up in combat is when it is a matter of self-defense of their community. The sight of blood and destruction, which might excite the passions of any army officer, will in fact smother the militiamen's heart with a deep-rooted hatred of all war.
All of the previous listed reasons, as to why militiamen are less likely to be prone to violence and unjust wars, are all good and fine. Yet, there is another aspect of combat and warfare that must be admitted. In every war, there are crimes against humanity. To every civilized nation, only combatants will be targeted, only military buildings will be bombed, and only enemy ships will be sunk. However, while these may be the rules of combat, there are still soldiers that will violate these rules. During World War 2, 101 U.S. soldiers were executed after court marshall, for crimes of rape and murder. This number was announced by the United States War Department. ["This Must Not Happen Again!: The Black Book of Fascist Horror," by Clark Kinnaird, copyright 1945, by Pilot Press, page 20.] If this amount were given execution, how many were given lesser sentences? Probably thousands. And, how many were not caught at all? Probably tens of thousands to one hundred thousand. I am quite confident in this number, because when a person controls the life and death of a witness who might testify against them, it is doubtful that a trial will be held against such a person. Not only would it be easy for a soldier to kill and murder anyone who might act as a witness, but there would be no suspicion over such an act; after all, in a war, dead bodies are everywhere, and even if a soldier did murder a civilian on accident, there was a high chance that they could reasonably argue to their fellow soldiers, that they thought it was an armed soldier. United States army soldiers murdered, tortured, and raped innocent civilians in Vietnam. This was observed to be happening in the thousands and tens of thousands. So, when the United States armed forces entered Iraq, was there any surprise when torture and rape became an observed part of the American occupation? In fact, reports about the torture and abuse had been floating around since the beginning of the occupation. It wasn't until a year after, when photographs came out, that it became apparent that US soldiers were torturers, murderers, and rapists.
None of this is specifically an indictment against United States forces. In all of the major wars, rape and murder have been an intrinsic part of soldier activity. I have heard that Russian soldiers brutally raped women of Berlin. According to everything I have read, no German soldier was every court marshalled over inhumanity to fellow men, whether it is rape, murder, or theft. Such activities made up the "recreational activity" of Nazi soldiers. In understanding the psyche of men who are taught to murder, to end the lives of all the other men around them without remorse or second thought, there is no doubt as to why they have proven themselves so capable of unharnessed cruelty to civilians. The best way to prevent these unrestricted manifestations of inhumanity is to eliminate armed forces and establish a militia. The Russians who invaded Berlin, the Americans who invaded France, the Nazis who invaded Poland: in every case, tens of thousands of cases of rape and murder were perpetrated against innocent civilians. A militia lives and works in the area that it defends. It might be a hard fact to ingest, but people are less likely to be humane to foreigners, to people who have strange and odd habits, than they are to people whom they have lived with. It is the nature of the spreading of the creed of kinship: first, a person values their immediate family, then their later family, then the tribe, then the country, then the race, then all humans, and finally, all animal life. The greater the differences, the less likely sympathy could be found. So it must be accepted, that injustices will be committed with much greater ferocity by invading foreigners than by a people living in the area in peace. Just as this argument appeals to a militia over an army, so it appeals to local police in one city over foreign police from other areas.
There is one last argument that I think ought to be considered in the matter of gun control. The primary argument against gun control, at least the primary argument that is supported by most conservatives, is for protection against the government. Since I have yet to see a conservative gun down the police officers that brutally beat Rodney King in public, I can only regard these conservative authors as heartless as they are thoughtless. They may preach and talk about how guns are so that citizens can protect themselves from the government. If there was ever an opportune moment for the public to defend themselves against the government, the video tapes of police officers beating African citizens being released is perhaps the most opportune moment of all. Yet, even then the Conservatives held back. I honestly believe that the only time they think they should use weapons, is if the leaders of the government become brainwashed and join a Bolshevik Party in the United States. As much as I think that I cannot bash the Republican Party enough, I should move on. The instance in which the private citizen mostly deals with an armed member of the government is in the case of the police officer. Most often, it is the citizen defending himself against an armed police officer, not an armed Army soldier.
The solution I am going to offer seems to oppose tradition in our nation. I support the idea of disarming the police. This seems to be the most effective method of creating peace. If police officers are the reason why people need to protect themselves, then by disarming the police, then we will achieve a state of true equality. I am not talking about some dreamed up state of equality, where everyone is disallowed from possessing weapons. A gun is a costly weapon, difficult to obtainunless you are a police officer. And, in a nation where the police have the worst record and have shown a record of unrestricted brutality, it seems to be the most effective and just policy that could be adopted. What I am advocating here is not something that is untried. It has been, and currently is, used in many parts of Europe, in England for example. And, the crime rate of england is near one tenth what it is in the United States. The most effective policy of gun control would be to disarm the police force and to disarm the public. Only then, would police brutality subsist, and criminal shootings decline.