THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 474, June 29, 2008
"These are beings perfectly willing to kill
you and your children for your own good."
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
Much is being said about the recently decided Heller case. Though I do prefer the guild of magic robes to respect our rights, nobody can revoke or restrict the individual right to own and carry weapons. They can only make it harder to practice.
There is a reason why this is a key issue for most libertarians. I'm not going to say that owning a gun determines whether one is free or a slave or a sheep or some other kind of animal. It is silly to claim that freedom is defined by material possessions. However, people taking back the use of weapons is a powerful affirmation of individual liberty against authority.
A gun is the best form of personal protection available. Nearly anyone with the proper attitude and average eyesight and hand strength can learn to use firearms effectively. In addition, one individual can often use a firearm effectively against several individuals. This is in contrast to previous types of weaponry, which generally relied on physical strength and numbers to use effectively, making it easier for a warrior class to physically subdue political minorities and women than is the case today. Facilitating equality is a major reason why guns have been targeted by tyrants, from slave codes to modern laws to race and gender profiling. Public safety justifications are a hoax. All credible research on non-government crime shows that disarmament laws make only criminals safer.
The political implications of gun ownership can grow from here. We've heard of rising against and replacing a government that oversteps its bounds. Think beyond that. Think deliberate elimination of government. After all, most gun-related deaths are committed in the service of governments or wannabe-governors. The state is at the core a protection scam. The less need people see for government protection, the less justification there is for large standing armies.
Though obviously flawed and unsophisticated by today's standards, American founders understood the multifaceted superiority of the militia for securing a free people. We already know a militia can fight a government that has overstepped its bounds. But a militia can be also a substitute for a standing army. It is harder to justify the necessity of a large standing army when there is a strong militia. An army of course brings further tyranny with debt and taxeswitness today's military budget. Of course, the police are another standing army that could be rendered unjustifiable by an armed public. Another underappreciated aspect of the militia is that, while excellent for securing a free state, it is bad at invasions. This makes the debts, taxes, and further invasions that aggressive foreign policy brings less likely. Unfortunately the militia system could not satisfy the imperial ambitions of American leaders and the military is now the most harmful government program.
Some will claim that the militias were ineffective in fighting the American Revolution. It is true that they did not succeed in the European manner of lining up on opposite ends of a field where the general with the most disciplined impoverished subjects wins the day. Militia units denied the British control of the backcountry, cutting their lines of communication and supply. As partisan warfare was relatively undeveloped at the time, a conventional army got the most attention. Whether irregular units with a more developed strategic doctrine could have won the war without the Continental Army is difficult to say, but denying the militia helped the cause is like saying the Viet Cong were an ineffective fighting force. Of course, it is likely that a libertarian country would develop heavily-armed security firms, so a defensive war would not need to rely totally on guerrillas.
For a more modern look at a militia system we can look at George Orwell's account of his experience in the Spanish Civil War. In Homage to Catalonia he writes that the militias held the line despite poor training, "the complete lack of war materials of every description," and having nothing to keep them in the field "except class loyalty." He also described how superior weaponry was one thing the Communist faction utilized to take over the revolutionary cause.
Though industrialized mass state armies ultimately won World War II, irregular forces were given much attention and were often effective. Major operations were mounted to support resistance movements in Western Europe. The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising proved that a small, barely armed force could hurt the Nazi death machine. Then there was the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, in which the Polish Home Army expelled the Germans from the city as the Soviet Army was nearing Warsaw. Stalin then characteristically prevented the Polish from receiving effective outside support while the Germans destroyed Warsaw and his potential opponents. The Germans never made it into Switzerland, which relied on a militia system. Claims that Swiss Bank shenanigans kept the Nazis from invading the country are not consistent with how Hitler customarily treated appeasers.
The most modern demonstration of irregular force effectiveness is Iraq. Religious violence and the targeting of civilians do not alter the fact that the most powerful military in history is unable to suppress a fragmented insurgency.
Examples of militias being used in bad ways, for example to oppress blacks and Native Americans, do not mean the militia system cannot protect freedom. However, this history and the attitude of permit-flashing authoritarians among today's gun owners should remind us that guns are not enough to secure freedom. Political education, particularly on the consistent application of the zero-aggression principle, is more important.
It should be mentioned that a militia must always be voluntary to adhere to libertarian principles. Also, private security firms can coexist with militias, perhaps acting as true checks against each other's potential to monopolize power.
The power of an armed citizenry to resist government foreign and domestic, to serve as a check on coercion by private security firms, and to discard reliance on authority will likely be an important element in the creation and maintenance of a libertarian society. Widespread ownership of weapons represents a seizure of power from authority. This is why Obama, McCain, and the National Rifle Association all want to control guns that don't belong to them.