Wednesday, January 09, 2013

More on Guns

Guns Are Designed to Kill

By Kenneth Bennight

Would-be gun controllers argue that guns are different from other dangerous commodities. Guns are uniquely are designed to kill, they say, and therefore lack the utility of other dangerous things. Take automobiles, for instance: automobiles kill more people than guns, but automobiles' primary use is peaceful, and automobiles are not designed to kill. Why, gun controllers ask, should we tolerate guns, which are dangerous and have no material utility other than killing?

Gun-rights defenders sometimes argue that guns have innocent uses such as hunting and target-shooting. Those uses, they argue, justify widespread gun ownership. But what other widespread toy is as potentially lethal as guns? It's poor argumentation to refuse to acknowledge the obvious: the function of guns is to kill. That is incontrovertible. Non-killing uses of guns are incidental.

Does that make the gun controllers right? No. If we are to preserve our Second Amendment rights and our freedom generally, we must accept the possibility of legitimate killing in two circumstances: defense against violence and resistance to oppression.

Self-defense is a natural right of all persons, one not limited to non-lethal force. If gun controllers concede that, they proceed to parse finely the degree of allowable lethal force. (No one needs more than a three-round magazine.) But any such calculation necessarily assumes unknowable things.

Why is it that those who know the least about guns have the strongest opinions on how much lethality is legitimately necessary? And gun controllers would not impose those limits on the Secret Service or the bodyguards of other prominent people. What has become of America if the law holds that the lives of such people are more worthy than the lives of the rest of us?

A line on lethality must be drawn somewhere. Most of us agree that it is short of individual nuclear warheads, but why should it be pushed all the way back to single-shot .22s? To reasonably locate the line of permissible defense, look to the sort of weapons that are most popular. That incorporates the wisdom of crowds and easily covers AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons with large magazine capacity.

No doubt the founders accepted the natural right of self-defense, but that was not why they proposed the Second Amendment. They had just prevailed in a war won largely with civilian-owned firearms. The shot heard round the world was fired to resist a British attempt to disarm Americans. The British army, accustomed to an unarmed British countryside, was surprised by an armed and largely hostile American populace. The founders wanted to protect Americans' ability to resist oppression. If we wish to retain our freedoms, we must retain that ability.

This is the point where sophisticates roll their eyes. Armed resistance to oppression? Really? In the 21st century? Yes, really, in the 21st century. Most gun controllers, being of the left, cannot conceive of a threat to civil liberties from the present administration. But the same people claimed fear of "Darth" Chaney. On the other hand, they think that Obama's sidekick Bill Ayers, the former Weatherman, is merely colorful.

We need not argue which side of the cultural divide poses the bigger threat to civil liberties. Both sides think the other is a threat. So both sides must accept the existence of threats to civil liberties.

Next, gun controllers argue that no civilian militia could hope to stand up to a modern military. With no apparent irony, they make this argument right after arguing there is no justification for civilians owning semiautomatic weapons such as an AR-15 or any weapon with a magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds.

Irony aside, we need not expect a civilian militia to stand up to a modern military in a pitched battle. As we know from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as from Vietnam, not all resistance is in pitched battles. Take, for example, the Warsaw Ghetto. With few arms, the Jewish resistance greatly complicated the task of the Nazis. Of course, the episode ended badly for the Jews, but how likely is it that the American military or even police departments would be complicit in an extermination program? And shouldn't we be sorry that the Warsaw Jews had only as many weapons as they did? If only they had had many more.

If any level of government attempts to use the military or the police as an instrument of oppression, the results will be horrific. But have enough confidence in our military and police to believe that many will refuse outright to participate, and many others will be conflicted about following their orders. If enforcing oppression can be made sufficiently difficult, many more enforcers may reverse sides, and the enterprise may break down. In the end, even Soviet soldiers would not fire on the Soviet people. I am not suggesting that it would be painless or bloodless, but the more arms the protectors of liberty have, the more likely they are to be successful.

The ability to kill is itself the social utility of guns. Killing is a legitimate activity in the right circumstances. If we can't make that argument, we won't preserve our freedoms. Thomas Jefferson warned that retaining liberty may sometimes require spilling "the blood of patriots and tyrants." That is one of the unpleasant truths about human nature. Gun controllers would prevent us from preserving our freedoms.

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