The calls for stricter controls on automatic and semi–automatic weapons sound more like the baying of a wolf pack as it closes in on hapless gun–owners and the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms than it does outrage over the crime.
“Preventive” or “preemptive” law is the legal offspring of Positive Law, which, simply put, is legislation passed to correct perceived social wrongs or inequities. Positive law nullifies natural law, which, in today’s and yesteryear’s context, is based on the requirements for an individual to live as an independent, rational being. The Constitution is based on natural law. The United States has absorbed many tons of positive law in the way of welfare state legislation that has made the Constitution nearly superfluous. Natural law has been under assault for over a century.
Positive law presumes that men cannot be trusted to handle a butter knife – never mind a gun – without harming themselves or others. But if a man murdered or maimed another with a butter knife, then, in today’s disintegrating culture, in which mob rule and demagoguery trump individual rights, there would an outcry against the legal sale and possession of metal butter knives.
A British correspondent, John Webb*, has seconded these and other points I make in that column, and provides us with further elucidation on the historical, practical, and political background of not only America’s Second Amendment, but the British philosophical and political origins of that thinking. I have reprinted his comments with minor editorial and punctuation changes.
John Webb writes:
I cannot really be bothered to write anything new on gun control and the ridiculous stupidity of the media. It’s a sickening spectacle to be sure. My position, which dates from 2007, remains unchanged. I’ll make just a few comments in no particular order. They are not by any means intended to be water–tight arguments, just casual observations jotted down as they occur to me.
- The government wants to ban private gun ownership on the grounds of public safety. Since when did public safety become a proper goal of government? On how many objects and humans actions might the government legislate under the pretext of possible injury to a third party? Form your own list.
- Even if you argue the case on the basis of ‘domestic tranquility’ some of the most violent nations in history have also been the freest – you couldn’t find a more bellicose bunch of nutters than the ancient Greeks, not to mention the peaceful years of the Soviet Russia, Hitler’s orderly pre–war Germany or any number of tribal societies, some of which don’t even have a word for ‘theft’ let alone ‘murder.’ If it’s safety you desire – there’s nothing more tranquil than a concentration camp, except, perhaps, a graveyard.
Remember that line of Harry Lime’s from the 1949 film, The Third Man? I know this argument is unfair but I’m sympathetic to its long–term perspective. The plethora of contemporary moral panics to which we’re subjected mean absolutely nothing to me.
“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed – they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love and five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!”
- If firearms are in general circulation don’t armed crooks have a tactical advantage over the armed law–abiding? They may benefit from the element of surprise. But their behavior often gives them away before they draw their weapons – scoping for security cameras, unobstructed getaway routes, the location of their accomplices, etc. Plus, most crooks are idiots – they are incompetent at everything, including gun use – they buy the wrong ammo, forget the safety catches, don’t maintain their guns, they accidentally shoot themselves. And all short–term tactical advantages disappear as soon as an alert is sounded – if the people are armed.
- Wouldn’t a ban decrease the availability of arms to criminals? No. Banning guns increases their availability to the criminal classes, thereby making criminals more of a threat than they should be, which in turn generates fear in their victims and potential victims, and fear is anti–mind. Criminals do not heed – and, indeed, scoff at – all species of legislation, especially gun controls.
In a free society everyone should be able to own guns except those with a criminal record. In such circumstances the law supports, and encourages the honest and the ‘societal’ advantage of an armed public, and advantage which rests with the law–abiding. Ban guns and the situation is reversed. Now the law–abiding are at a disadvantage against gun–toting criminals and more dependent for their protection on the diligence of government officials. And that diligence is too often found wanting, especially because government officials cannot predict the commissions of crimes. Crimes happen regardless of the diligence of the authorities.
True, when guns are banned the general supply of guns falls locally, but among the criminal classes the supply of guns subsequently increases – not only do serious criminals merely stash their firearms along with the rest of their loot, but petty criminals, too, get in on the act encouraged by the artificially inflated profits of a “new” illicit trade. As long as Afghan peasants can afford a Kalashnikov it is likely that there will exist sufficient economic margins to make it worthwhile for petty criminals to smuggle and horde weapons for use as illicit currency.
Unless the UK government can abolish all guns everywhere on the planet simultaneously it is unlikely that any domestic legislation will remove firearms from the hands of UK criminals. I doubt that the UK government will ever be able to achieve this ‘noble’ aim given its failure to eradicate illicit drugs from convicts securely ensconced within the not insubstantial walls of UK prisons (and U.S. prisons).
- Speaking of drugs – the same principle applies to all goods of simple manufacture. Prohibition doesn’t work – it merely empowers the criminal classes to the detriment of all. The idea that all social ills, real or imagined, can be solved by the sweep of a legislator’s pen is a popular, modern delusion.
American Prohibition sired the creation and growth of organized crime. American regulations, including the criminalization of drug use, sired the creation and growth of drug cartels. Joseph Kennedy Sr. founded his family’s political dynasty on smuggled Canadian and British alcohol. Cigarette taxes and regulations have fostered the growth of criminal gangs smuggling cigarettes from low tax states to high tax states – gangs often composed of Muslims raising money for their jihadist masters.
- Neither will Draconian laws against possession reduce criminality – but it will fill the prisons with harmless dupes, women, and children coerced by gangsters to transport and secrete weaponry intended for criminal purposes.
- Though it is true that in society we do surrender our right to self–defense to the government, we do so only partially, but not in entirety. On many, if not most occasions, no government official will be present to prevent a crime, especially a crime against the person. In the absence of an armed populace (or a state–appointed bodyguard) the potential for ambitious politicians to use the fear of crime to advance their own powers and interests is exacerbated – 24-hour surveillance, ID cards, paid informants, retinal scans, and etc.
- Even today the government recognizes some right to self–defense but what does ‘the right to self–defense’ mean in practice? What does ‘the right to self–defense’ mean for an unarmed woman in the face of a male attacker? In purely physical terms most men are endowed with a muscular strength that puts women at a serious disadvantage during a physical confrontation. Firearms – the product of the mind – negate that unchosen genetic disadvantage. A firearm is just a tool, a tool of the mind; Should the mindful be deprived of the tools of the mindful? How many tools would exist if their use were restricted to the mindless by the mindless? Would you ban the ownership of pointed sticks? If not, who should decide who gets the licenses and permits to use pointed sticks? If you want a big government, that’s a good way to get one.
- Which leads us to the political aspect. If this country stands for anything it stands for the recognition of the idea that individuals have rights, especially the rights to life, liberty, and property. The social and historical context for the development and “implementation” of these ideas is, to the best of my knowledge, unique to this island and its former colonies. France and Spain, however, produced some great heroes of liberalism but they signally failed to implement any coherent liberal tradition independently of this country. Why?
Politically, a number of reasons occur to me – but four stand out:
a) The absence of a standing army.
b) The early separation of church and state (since the 12th century).
c) The subjection of political authority to the rule of law (since the 11th century, at least).
d) A consistent affirmation of the right of rebellion (since 12th century).
According to some historians, particularly by David Hume, it seems that these principles matured by accident often contrary to intent and independently of philosophy. I disagree with that thesis, but it would take too long for me to justify that position. It is, however, worth remembering that these principles did not go unchallenged by ambitious monarchs and they were not secured without cost – as Wat Tyler, Jack Cade, Robin Hood, the Parliamentarians, the Regicides of Charles I, Algernon Sydney, and The Immortal Seven (Five Whigs and two Tories who put their estates – and necks – on the line by inviting William of Orange to take the throne from the Papist James II), thereby facilitating and enabling the Glorious Revolution. and many, many others would readily attest.
In the light of their experience, what might the future hold now that we are disarmed, and have an army of police officers eager to enforce the dubious whims of our political masters (e.g., the regulation of the use of mobile phones today – who knows what tomorrow)? What might the future hold now that we have a growing band of enthusiastic religionists anxious to foist their vision of the New Jerusalem courtesy of an army of professional activists funded by their tax–exempt re–branded charities – many of today’s seemingly secular charities have religious origins, and still others aspire to the Papacy “Wildlife groups axe David Bellamy as global warming ‘heretic’,” was one classic headline I remember from last year.
What might the future hold now that the government routinely exempts itself from its own laws – the European Union’s nonexistent accounts, Mandelson’s mortgage, bribes to the Saudis, Jack Straw’s child–molesting brother and drug–pushing son, Blunkett’s nannies, the sale of Knighthoods, exemption from pension taxes etc.
And what sort of rebellion might be organized if Tony Blair’s great–grandson becomes President of the United States of Europe and declares Pol Pot a visionary? Will our great–grandchildren thank us for their lack of arms?
Tom Paine once observed that a nation’s constitution, ultimately, is its people who must exercise vigilance, identify tyranny, make their judgment and put their lives and estates in jeopardy in defense of their rights.
What force does that living ‘constitution’ have now that it is disarmed? (This is a reference to the liberal perception of especially the U.S. Constitution as a “charter” that can be modified or amended to conform to the exigencies and circumstances of the modern world – in short, a document governed by no absolute principles.)
The long English tradition of an armed public and disarmed state has been turned on its head. Is this a good idea?
- Gun prohibition also sends out the wrong metaphysical message. On every occasion that I have had the chance to seriously question collectivists about the wisdom of their infantile policies, exposing their policies for the nonsense that they are, sooner or later, they always revert to the same old mantra: the people are sinful, guilty and foolish, unreliable and untrustworthy, incapable of managing their own welfare, not sufficiently ‘evolved’ to be left to their own decisions. Is this a principle that we should affirm by agreeing with gun controls –the people cannot be trusted?
- The right to bear arms is written into our own Bill of Rights of 1689. If we allow such a fundamental right to be infringed then it sets a precedent for abolishing other fundamental rights (this is already happening.)
- By siding in favor of gun controls we also side with some of history’s blackest villains, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot.
- By siding in favor of gun controls we also side against some of freedoms postulated by our greatest advocates:
- Edward Coke (1552– 1634.) “And yet in some cases a man may not only use force and arms, but assemble company also. As any may assemble his friends and neighbours, to keep his house against those that come to rob, or kill him, or to offer him violence in it….for a man’s house is his castle, and a person’s own house is his ultimate refuge; for where shall a man be safe, if it be not in his house? And in this sense it truly said that the laws permit the taking up of arms against armed persons.” Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628.
John Locke (1632– 1704.) “The people “have a right to defend themselves and recover by force what by unlawful force is taken from them ….” Thus, the people never give absolute power to the legislator, for they would not “have disarmed themselves, and armed him, to make prey of them when he pleases.” SecondTreatise on Civil Government, 1690.
Algernon Sydney (1623–1683.) “…swords were given to men that none might be slaves, but such as know not how to use them.” Discourses Concerning Civil Government, 1698.
William Blackstone (1723–1780.) “In the three preceding articles we have taken a short view of the principal absolute rights (personal security, personal liberty, private property) which appertain to every Englishman. But in vain would these rights be declared, ascertained, and protected by the dead letter of the laws, if the constitution had provided no other method to secure their actual enjoyment. It has therefore established certain other auxiliary subordinate rights of the subject, which serve principally as outworks or barriers to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights, of personal security, personal liberty, and private property…To vindicate (the three primary rights), when actually violated or attacked, the subjects of England are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law; next, to the right of petitioning the king and parliament for redress of grievances; and, lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self–preservation and defense.” Commentaries on theLaws of England, 1765.
Thomas Jefferson had something to say about guns and an armed citizenry:
“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”
“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms in his own lands.” (On an early draft of the Constitution)
“Laws that forbid the carrying of arms . . . disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes . . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” Thomas Jefferson, quoting Cesare Beccaria in On Crimes and Punishment, 1764.
Americans should treat the current assault on their right to own and bear arms as perilous as the current assault on the First Amendment and their freedom of speech. The power to physically disarm the citizen is the companion power to disarm his mind.
Gun control advocates ultimately and necessarily must and will advocate speech control, to render Americans defenseless in body and mind.
*John Webb is Former Chairman of The United Kingdom Objectivist Association (UKOA) at www.ukoa.org.uk.