Monday, January 17, 2011

Bang Bang

In the wider context of the current, more or less deplorable state of political rhetoric, Democracy in America makes some interesting points about private gun ownership:

Certainly, one way in which excessive rhetoric on the right is different is its link to pro-violence political sentiments, both in terms of individual gun rights and in terms of militarism in foreign policy. Most Americans on the right believe that a crucial reason why individuals should own guns is to protect themselves from government tyranny, and that widespread individual possession of guns is one of the main reasons why American citizens enjoy freedom of conscience, religion, and the rest of our civil liberties. You can read this argument any day in the NRA's house magazine, "America's 1st Freedom", and I doubt you could find a Republican politician who would demur. But it's a hopelessly mistaken ideological belief. Looking around the world, there is no link between individual ownership of firearms and democratic governance or civil rights and freedoms. The main determinant of guns per population member, as for cars per population member, is wealth. And yet, while the United States has the most guns per person in the world, the number two country appears to be Yemen, not usually considered a bastion of democracy or civil rights. Individual ownership of firearms is much higher in Saudi Arabia and Russia than in Britain; it is much higher in Pakistan than in India. The idea that individuals could use their private firearms to mount a serious challenge to government hegemony is only plausible in very weak states. When individuals, militia or criminal gangs foolishly attempt to directly challenge police or the National Guard in the United States, they are quickly overpowered, killed or arrested, which is why Erick Erickson would never actually point a shotgun at a census worker, regardless of any strange boasts he may make on his blog. Americans and Britons have freedom of conscience and secure property rights because of the strength of American and British democratic civil culture and legal and governing institutions, not as a function of whether or not they are allowed to own private guns.

Well, yes and no.

I agree that the NRA presents gun ownership as being far more of a guarantee of our other civil liberties than it actually is. Clearly, a robustly democratic society enjoying a strong rule of law is far more critical. Structures like that have a tendency towards being self-reinforcing.

Moreover, I find that the NRA's argument that the 2nd amendment protects the rest of the Constitution to be a bit implicitly weak. The weapons that would be necessary in a real citizen uprising against a tyrannical state are rarely mentioned. To my knowledge, the NRA has never advocated the personal ownership of anti-tank missiles for example. Whether or not they should, is a debate for others.

All this misses an important point however: People have not only the right, but a literal need to protect themselves. In situations in extremis, most people will probably resort to what they feel is necessary, rather than what is strictly licit.

The question to be answered regarding gun rights is whether the perceived need of some to protect themselves via gun ownership can or should be subservient to the perceived need of others to protect themselves from gun crimes via legislation.

Until a balance between these competing individual and group rights can be established, any pro or anti gun argument is hollow at its core.

No comments:

Post a Comment