Friday, July 08, 2005

On the Right of Shopkeepers to Arm Themselves against Attack

This article was originally written for a magazine called "The Costco Connection" by English libertarian writer, Sean Gabb

The question is whether shopkeepers should have the right to arm themselves against violent robbery. My answer is that they most certainly should have that right. However, I am not fundamentally interested in their right to keep baseball bats or pepper sprays. These have their use - but not against the sort of determined attackers who are the real danger to life and property. Nor am I specifically interested in the rights of shopkeepers to the exclusion of all other persons in this country. Shopkeepers - and everyone else in this country - should have the right to arm themselves with guns.

Since I am one of the few people in the country willing to say this, I want above all else to be clear. So let me begin by saying that I believe in the right of adults to be able to walk into a gun shop, and, without showing any licence or proof of identity, buy as many guns and as much ammunition as they can afford. I also believe that adults should be free to keep guns at home and in their businesses and to carry them about in public, and use them in defence of their life, liberty and property.

I am not saying this because I am a gun owner: I am not nor ever have been. I say it because I believe that the right to self-defence is a fundamental human right, comparable to freedom of speech and association. Anyone who is denied this right - to keep and bear arms - is to some extent enslaved. That person has lost control over his life. He is dependent on the State for protection.

Of course, most people watching me will say that I am mad. Do I want a society where every criminal has a gun, and where every domestic argument ends in a gun battle? The short answer is no. The longer answer is to say that more guns do not inevitably mean more killings. There is no evidence that they do. What passes for evidence is little more than an excuse for not trusting ordinary people with control over their own lives. Take armed crime, both professional and domestic. Great Britain had no gun controls before 1920, and very low rates of armed crime. Today, Switzerland has few controls, and little armed crime. Those parts of the US where guns are most common are generally the least dangerous. There is no necessary correlation between guns and armed crime.

Focussing on professional crime, gun control is plainly a waste of effort. Criminals will always get hold of guns if they want them. At most, it needs a knowledge of the right pubs to visit. All control really does is to disarm the honest public, and let the armed criminals roam through them like a fox through chickens. Indeed, free ownership of guns may often reduce armed crime. Just consider what might have happened had someone else beside Michael Ryan been carrying a gun in Hungerford High Street in August 1987. He might have been cut down before firing more than a few shots. Think of the burglaries, rapes and other crimes that might never happen if the victims were armed, and therefore able to deal with their aggressors on equal terms. As the saying goes: "God made men equal, and Smith and Wesson make damn sure it stays that way".

But let us move away from armed burglars and rapists and the occasional lone psychopath. We need guns to protect us from the State. So far from protecting us, the State is the main aggressor. A low estimate puts the number of civilians murdered by states this century at 56 million - and millions of these were children. In all cases, genocide was preceded by gun control. How far would the Holocaust have got if the Jews in Nazi Germany had been able to shoot back? How about the Armenians? The Kulaks? The Chinese bourgeoisie? The Bosnians? In all previous societies, guns and freedom have gone together. I doubt if our own is any different. Laugh at me. Call me mad. Call me evil. But just remember me when you or your loved ones are being raped, or mugged, or dragged off never to be seen again - and you are an obedient, disarmed little citizen who can do nothing about it.

Liberal logic: "If we take Liberal logic, which of course is the ultimate oxymoron, and apply it to everything in life, we will get some rather odd results! Liberal logic says if we had fewer guns, we would also have fewer crimes. Therefore, from this we must conclude Liberal logic also dictates the following. Fewer eating utensils would soon lead to less obesity. Fewer restaurants would also lead to less obesity, as would fewer cattle. After all cows give milk, and milk can be fattening. Cattle also give us beef, which can also make us fat. So we can conclude, using Liberal logic, that if we had no cows, no restaurants and no utensils, obesity would be quickly eradicated. Fewer pens and pencils would lead to fewer grammatical errors such as misspellings. Fewer pens and pencils would also lead to fewer notes in class, thus leading to fewer kids getting in trouble for passing notes in class. Also without pens and pencils, students could not write nasty things about classmates could they. So we must eliminate these tools of intolerance. Paper too, should be tightly controlled. Without paper, even students with pens or pencils would be unable to write bad things or use poor grammar while writing. So using Liberal logic, which says more gun control and laws will lessen violent crime, we must also confess that having tight controls on pen, pencil, and paper would curtail poor grammar and hateful writing".

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