guns and government
demolishing straw men and engaging in a thought experiment
of all the topics of american debate, nothing brings out the truly bad takes and outlandishly awful framings quite like the second amendment.
but even among these endlessly inept interpretations and outlandish straw men, one may find some real insight because as is so often the case the folks seeking to abridge the liberty and agency of others do so by projecting their own aims and ends upon them.
here’s a fine example:
this is a devoted collectivist authoritarian. he sees the state as the prime mover in society and political life and wants it to be muscular, powerful, and intrusive.
he’s yet another member of team “let’s create a state powerful enough to give me everything i want without realizing that such a state is also powerful enough to take everything i have.”
(or worse, knows this full well but presumes that it is he and his who will be wielding the whip hand and doing the taking and determining “the collective good.”)
but his argument is far more revelatory than i suspect he realizes and in it we may see both his incomprehension and the nasty shark smile of a desire to dominate by violence.
note that he cites “society” and “democracy” but not the rights that prevent democracy from devolving into that most vicious and inescapable of tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority.
and one sees glimmers of how chris sees the exercise of political power’s manifestation: to threaten violence to demand that the state do things for you. and this is telling. for the true reason for an armed populace has nothing to do with that. it is, in fact, the precise obverse.
the purpose of an armed populace is to PREVENT the state from doing things to the people against their will.
and that is an altogether different kettle of fish.
we need not guess as to what our framers had in mind when they wrote the 2A. they were quite clear about their views about the relationship of the citizen and state.
not exactly subtle or opaque, is it?
we institute government to secure our rights.
such government derives its just power from the consent of the governed.
when government becomes destructive to such ends it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.
when the state attempts to impose despotism it is the right and the duty of the people to throw off such government and provide new guards for their future security.
and they were absolutely correct.
because this is is how rights work in a society where we the people stand paramount to the state and its role lies in service to us.
the ultimate guarantor of the rights of the people is the people.
and in such a society, to claim that it is the ability of the citizenry’s arms to secure their liberty from state encroachment that constitutes the threat while it is the ability of the state’s arms to suppress the citizenry that engenders safety is a fundamentally absurdist position inimical to a free people and to common sense alike.
it places the state above the people and no just society may be so structured.
where chris and many others like him go awry is that they do not understand rights. rights established under free contract may be positive, but just societal rights are always negative.
they state: i possess agency and so long as i am peaceful and do not violate the rights of others to such agency and property i am to be left alone to do as i will. nothing more. (but certainly nothing less)
chris and other big statists like him seek to enshrine into society some set of “positive rights” such as a right to education or to healthcare or to housing.
such rights are always and inevitably antithetical to the actual liberty of a republic because a positive right demands that others perform services or cede property to you whether they wish to or not.
this violates their basic (negative) rights to personal agency.
we’re just so used to it that we forget the ethical underpinnings of such intrusions.
the big state is everywhere and always coercive. there is no other way to “provide” these services and benefits. they must be taken. a road may be provided by erecting tolls and therefore only those who use it will pay. that is consent. universal healthcare cannot work that way. it cannot be a system of user pays or of consent. it takes from all (under threat of violence and a taking by force of property or liberty) whether they consent of not. validating such by “democracy” is impossible. just because a crime is popular with 60% or even 90% of people makes it no less a crime nor any less a violation of rights. it actually serves to make these offenses greater by hiding the nature of the act behind legalism and enforcing it through armed agents of government.
try applying this structure to rape or slavery or grand theft auto and the issue becomes obvious. even if 90% of people approved of your enslavement, would that make it just? how about 99%? and if they evidenced a desire to do so, might you not want an ability to resist them?
and this brings us back to guns. because our founders knew something that chris does not:
the purpose of an armed citizenry is to deter and if need be resist predation by the state.
government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.
it is only when this consent is exceeded that conflicts may arise.
and why should any free citizen consent to be unable to defend their rights and freedom if it should?
the big state folks like chris want to sidestep this because they want a big state and to remove impediments thereto, perhaps because they suspect you may take umbrage at the new plans they have for you. the entire point is to rule without consent. and this is why so many in this camp would have you disarmed.
what just purpose or interest can a just state have in removing the rights of heretofore peaceful people to their own self defense?
the primary predator of free people throughout history has not been private citizens. it has always been the state.
mao, stalin, hitler, castro, pol pot, chavez, the list goes on and on.
it’s not a list you want to join.
and if the objection is "you cannot fight the state we have tanks and f-15's" then the answer seems twofold:
1. then why do you fear an armed citizenry?
and no, claiming "we need a law to prevent criminals from using guns" is not a real answer. see also: war on drugs and the high firearm murder rates in cities with strict gun laws. this is just false framing in service of ulterior motive. and the data does not support it:
2. if the populace is insufficiently armed to defend itself from the state, then why is the answer not "so get them better weapons"?
it sounds flip and like i’m staking out some edge lord position, but consider the possibility that i am not. our founders certainly made no such distinctions on weapon ownership.
so here is the thought experiment:
if the rights of the individual are paramount, so must be the individual's right to protect them.
to argue otherwise is to place the prerogatives of the state above the rights of the people.
and that is tyranny.
try to imagine a situation in which we the people fully cede a monopoly on the capability of effective defense against the state and still retain the ability to exercise our “right and duty” to “throw off such government and provide new guards for their future security.”
what real fundamental argument can one make that the state must have the power to subdue its people by violence and that the citizenry must be prevented from possessing the power to resist such predation?
try to imagine what such a state would look like and how you as a citizen could possibly trust it.
then, ask yourself some pointy questions about whether and to what extent we already inhabit such a state and whether such despotism might already exist and simply be a practice to which we have become habituated and accustomed and perhaps whether this resurgent interest in disarmament has more to do with desires to expand such prerogatives than to protect us.
because a people unable to resist the depredations of its government shall not remain free for long.
these are the foundational precepts of our republic.
no other right gets qualified like this.
you cannot speak without registering your speech and if you are “red flagged” such a speaker’s license may be denied.
the internet is too big a megaphone and personal bully pulpits can outweigh the government so it must be curtailed because it is too potent a weapon for an individual to possess. (no high capacity tweets allowed!)
the first amendment was written before radio and TV and the internet, so it does not apply to them.
who would accept such assertions? yet these selfsame arguments are time and time again trotted out as soon as the matter is “guns.”
but armaments (note that the 2A uses the word “arms” not “guns”) are no different nor were they intended to be. if anything, they were elevated as the guarantor of other rights. the fact that weapons have evolved is irrelevant.
the matter is truly binary.
only one may have have primacy: the people or the state
the former is a free republic, the latter a tyranny and when push comes to shove the ability to determine which should pertain should lie with the governed, not the government.
how else how could any claim that we the people possessed the ability to retain our agency and liberty and the ability fulfill the founding ideals of the great american experiment that has so unleashed the potential of the individual?
it is not some radical “maximalist” position to so assert. it is merely a restatement of foundational principles too long honored mostly in their breach.
it is no coincidence that the folks seeking taxation and predation without representation or consent but mere majority tyranny (if even that) sound so little like george washington and so much like george the king.
they want the same things.
and therefore, now as then: