Friday, October 9, 2015

RKBA: The Ideological Fronts

     “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra

     Americans passionate about the right to keep and bear arms have succeeded in resisting – and in several states, reversing – encroachments on that right for about two decades now. These practical successes have been assisted by two helpful Supreme Court decisions and the proliferation of support organizations. However, the ideological battle continues. Indeed, most persons determined to hang on to their firearms can’t even locate the battlefield.

     The ideological war over weapons rights is a multi-front war. As with most contests over rights, justice, and public policy, it has a bifurcate nature:

  1. Philosophical: The argument over rights, their nature, their implications, and how to validate them.
  2. Utilitarian: The consequences of weapons rights versus the restriction or elimination thereof.

     Both branches of the fork need as much intellectual exploration as we can give them.


     I consider most arguments over rights to be wrongheaded. A right, in the politico-philosophical sense, has a nature that must be understood and respected before one can go on to discuss the validity of particular rights claims. However, arguments over particular claims swiftly grow so impassioned that even the intelligent and sensible forget that the sovereign remedy for most such chaos is to recur to fundamentals. (They are, of course, encouraged to forget this by the fake-rights crowd.)

     “Either rights exist, or they do not exist,” said Louis Thiers, an opponent of the concept of rights. If they exist as a category, it must be possible to define them: that is, to propose a genus and a differentia by which we can tell a right from anything else.

     A right:

  • (Genus) is a property inhering in all individuals
  • (Differentia) that each individual can maintain and exercise without the active cooperation of others.

     Thus, we can see that the right to life -- i.e., the right not to be killed or wounded by the aggressive action of others – qualifies without difficulty. Note, however, that a claim of a right to live, which implies a right to be supported by others, is disqualified.

     But a right to life inherently implies a right to defend one’s life against aggressive action by others. Such a right cannot exist unless each of us also has the right to acquire and wield means of defense. This fundamental argument cements the case for weapons rights in a fashion their opponents can only dispute by disputing the nature of a right. (And yes, they’re willing to do that in support of their preferred “rights,” such as the right not to be offended by the arguments of rational men.)

     The utilitarian arguments are the weapons-rights opponent’s usual recourse.


     Everyone with an interest in weapons rights has heard one or more utilitarian arguments against them:

  • “Blood in the streets;”
  • “Think of the children;”
  • “You don’t need them;”

     ...and the most recent and duplicitous addition to the chorus:

  • “You don’t need them anymore.

     (Note that even stronger utilitarian arguments against rights-claims by the Left, such as the specious “woman’s right to choose,” would be summarily dismissed as “interference with a basic right.” But that merely demonstrates the doublethink capacities of those who would disarm us.)

     The first three are easily disposed of – indeed, so easily that I don’t need to repeat their refutations here. They’ve become both ironclad and widely known in light of the Supreme Court’s agreement that the police have “no duty to protect,” and the Court’s consistent recognition of RKBA as an individual right rather than a social accommodation.

     Concerning the fourth dismissal of weapons rights, hearken to Andrew McCarthy:

     For the framers, the central government was the main reason the citizenry should be armed. They believed nothing more threatened individual liberty – the value the Constitution most promotes – than an all-powerful central government. Consequently, they prohibited Congress from providing for a standing army for more than two years’ duration. Standing armies, they calculated, can be turned against free people by an abusive government, leading to tyranny.

     Obviously, if the country were not to have a standing army, that would encourage other countries to attack and conquer it. At that point, Congress’s power to raise an army would be cold comfort since the conquest might already be accomplished. The framers addressed this problem by encouraging the citizenry to remain armed. That way, each state would continue to have a militia that could defend the state but also could be pressed into the service of the nation if a threat or exigency required it – thus protecting the whole country while a national army was being raised.

     Meanwhile, citizens would maintain the right to protect themselves. Since the framers and American culture regarded state power as primarily a threat to liberty, not the ultimate guardian of liberty, they would have rejected the notion that citizens should completely delegate to state police the obligation of protecting citizens from crime. The reasoning here is not along the lines of the public policy quip that “when every second counts, the police are only minutes away.” It is illustrative of the conceit that there was as much cause to fear the state’s use-of-force capabilities as to take comfort in them.

     The existence of an armed force that might prove inimical to one’s rights compels one to be prepared to meet it. Inasmuch as government, by definition, is an armed force pre-indemnified for its use of coercive measures against the citizenry, either we must knuckle under to whatever the government decrees, however tyrannical, or we must be prepared to resist it, and potentially overthrow it, just as our forebear revolutionaries once did.

     The anti-weapons-rights types usually reply to this with scorn: “You think a six-shooter would avail you against soldiers in MRAPs carrying automatic weapons and RPGs?” Perhaps it wouldn’t, in an open, pitched battle. But perhaps an AK-47 or M1 Garand would...and in a completely rational society, no one would be prohibited from owning any weapon a soldier might carry. Moreover, no state can support an army large enough to overwhelm a properly armed citizenry. The numbers are always on the people’s side.

     The alternate rejoinder is “Why fear the government? It’s here to protect and help you!” Time was, this would get more traction than it does today, after Waco, Ruby Ridge, the Bundy standoff, and a host of other demonstrations that the Benevolent State is anything but.

     Even the best-hearted, most sincere opponents of weapons right tend to suffer from a quasi-static conception of society and sociopolitical relations. They can’t or won’t see beyond the disarming of the citizenry. What would happen next? No one can be perfectly sure, but a look at the history of those nations whose governments have succeeded in denying guns to their subjects – a citizen possesses the acknowledged right to own weapons; a subject does not – suggests that “what’s next” is a sharp increase in authoritarianism and arbitrary rule, added to an increased likelihood of a coup that installs a dictator or totalitarian oligarchy.

     He who believes that government is the sole active agent in human affairs, and moreover that it can be “trusted,” cannot see this or will not concede it. He who is aware that an armed citizenry can be provoked into mass resistance to his schemes will denounce you for saying it. Observing that “If we don’t need our guns, then why are bureaucrats in the IRS, the EPA, and the Department of Agriculture being provided with them? Fully automatic weapons, at that!” will sometimes let the air out of his balloon.


     Argument is much less likely to effect a change of political position these days than it once was. Quoth C. S. Lewis on a different subject:

     I note what you say about guiding our patient's reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naif? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it....Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

     However, argument remains useful in reaching those who, though rational and willing to listen, are of unsettled mind, which is why an intellectual exercise such as the above remains worthwhile.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I am entirely arbitrary about what I allow to appear here. Toss me a bomb and I might just toss it back with interest. You have been warned.