This will be my last foray (part 1, part 2) into the whole gun debate issue and so I would like to address a common objection to “ordinary” citizens owning “military” grade weaponry. I received this question from a friend recently: “How do sovereign people adequately defend themselves from their government that has vastly superior weapons?” The assumed “gotcha” response is that such defense is obviously futile and thus having demonstrated such futility ipso facto there can be no legitimate reason for a citizen to posses such weapons. This was not my friend’s intent in asking this question though; he raised a legitimate question and was seeking a thoughtful answer.
To answer this we must first ask: What is the objective of such people defending themselves? Is it to achieve an outright resounding victory or is it to merely resist? Although the former objective may be the desire clearly the difference in weaponry would make that an unlikely immediate outcome. However, resistance is a different matter. Resistance does not require equivalent weaponry, merely minimally repulsive weaponry. The truth of this is found throughout a history replete with stories of rebelling forces that were vastly outgunned and outmanned resisting against superior forces for years on end. For example, the American Indian (various tribes) resisted the growing incursions of the United States into their various territories for decades. They did ultimately lose that battle, however there was resistance. Had they been completely disarmed the resistance of the Indians would have lasted days rather than decades.
There are also examples where resistance can ultimately translate into victory. If your goal is not to win but rather to simply wear your enemy down, then it is often possible for the “weaker” party to prevail. For examples of that look no further than our own American Revolution. An army of farmers armed with muskets defeated the mightiest military on the face of the earth. Likewise the tables were turned in Vietnam when we, with the mightiest military on the face of the earth, were defeated by a grass roots militia. Some might quibble over the details of these examples, but there are plenty of others and it does not detract from the underlying point, which is that a weaker party can overcome a stronger party even when they may only posses the most basic defensive weaponry. Don’t believe me, believe history.
So if resistance is a legitimate use of such weapons does that mean possession of such weapons by citizens should be legal? Yes. Does this mean then that everyone is going to rush out and buy their own bazooka and surface to air missile launchers? Of course not – those things are expensive! According to the Internet a bazooka costs around $50,000 and a single round costs $500. In other words the market already has a built in regulation of such weaponry as they are simply financially out of reach for 99% of the population. The 1% that can afford them have no interest in them and the 0.001% that can afford and do have an interest in them are not going to risk losing them by doing something stupid.
If our government were actually serious about restricting weapon sales they could do so today without passing any laws or regulations. Simply make it a condition of any purchasing contract with arms manufacturers that any weapon the military purchases may only be sold to them (e.g. an exclusivity contract). The arms manufacturer is free to sign such a contract or not. Violations of such a contract would entail loss of future multi-million dollar contracts and other damages. Additionally, the military should destroy all weapons when they are designated for retirement rather than selling them through “surplus” stores or to other governments that are not so careful about where they end up. This might not eliminate every instance of these types of weapons getting into the hands of citizens but even advocates of gun laws agree that gun laws won’t eliminate every instance either. So all things being equal it seems a contract based market approach coupled with common sense prevention (destroy, don’t sell, old weapons) will have greater success (today) in achieving the goal of reducing weapon supply. It would limit supply to both criminal and non-criminal alike whereas weapon laws restrict only non-criminal possession.
Those that are opposed to gun control frequently resort to the tactic of citing some statistic that demonstrates how some ordinary object (e.g. a hammer, a fist) is used far more frequently to kill someone than is a “rifle.” This approach is not particularly constructive to the debate. While it is true that hammers are used to kill more people than “rifles”, “guns” are used to kill far more than all other methods combined. Since the real debate is on gun control and not rifle control, it is a bit dangerous to argue such control is unnecessary owing to relatively low death totals. If your opponent switches from “rifle” control to “gun” control your argument will fail.
An adjunct to this argument is an appeal to common sense. Most intuitively accept the premise that that it would be silly to ban things because they might be misused (which taken to its logical conclusion would involve banning everything). However, people generally go along with banning something if it has no apparent “legitimate” use (e.g. drugs, high capacity guns, cigarettes) but bristle at banning objects that are predominantly used for “legitimate” purposes, particularly if the loss of that legitimate use would present a substantial hardship. The main problem anti-gun control advocates have is that the legitimate use and illegitimate use of a gun have the same result: death. The difference between the legitimate and illegitimate use of a hammer is obvious, not so much with guns. How does one overcome this hurdle? Always forthrightly confront any questions of the “why do you need a gun that does X?” variety. If asked why does one need more than 6 rounds, explain real life is not like the movies and one bullet does not kill someone instantly (recently a mother in Loganville, Georgia shot an intruder 6 times and he still walked away!
a disarmed population is as unprotected as an un-vaccinated child
The current approach of gun control advocates is equally counterproductive toward their cause. They seek to regulate the weapon and not the individual. Even the 2nd Amendment says “a well regulated militia” not a “well regulated arsenal”. So while I am no fan of the state deciding who may or may not own a weapon (by what subjective metric will it make that determination?), this approach resonates with the reasonable notion that we don’t want “crazy people” to have weapons. If the state determines I am safe and sane (how they will do that I have no idea and is unsettling prospect) what difference does it make what type of weapons I own? Similarly, if you have a driver’s license you can drive a Mini or a Ford F350 Dually. Nobody asks “why do you need that F350?” – so why do they ask “why do you need that AR-15?”. But since this is so commonly asked, allow me to answer. Those best able to answer that would be the following: Jews in pre-war Germany, civilians in Stalinist Russia, civilians in the Cambodian killing fields, or civilians in Maoist China. Guns are not merely for self-defense; they are also for defense of the sovereign people against their own (illegitimate) government when such government would seek to violate their sovereign rights. All of the 20th century genocides occurred on populations that were entirely unarmed and unable to resist. I do not believe there is some “master plan” to commit such atrocities in the US. However, a disarmed population is as unprotected as an un-vaccinated child. The first exposure to a dangerous element will be impossible to resist. Democracy is no prophylactic against tyranny: Hitler was elected through a democratic process. Those that genuinely do wish to disarm everyone (probably) have their heart in the right place. Any one of us would, if we could, wave a magic wand and eliminate every weapon on the face of the planet. Sadly that is nothing but a utopian fantasy. Once man creates technology it can never be made “unknown”. The only way to resist the misuse of technology is to maintain a level playing field so that all can access it and thereby mankind keeps mankind in check.
In the wake of the senseless shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut we attempt to ease our collective pain by latching onto the only hope of extracting anything useful from this event, that is, to learn from what is now history so that it is never repeated. But what have we learned? Superficially this shooting is no different than any of the other mass killings: heavily armed killer walks into an area designated as a “gun free zone” and then proceeds to open fire on the unarmed. For example, it is a deliberately ignored fact (or rather an inconvenient truth) in the mainstream media that the Cinemark theater chain (where the infamous “Dark Knight” shootings took place in Aurora, Colorado) had a “gun-free” policy. Several of the victims were recent veterans who could have expeditiously put down the shooter had they been permitted to carry arms into the theater. It is highly improbable that the following is mere coincidence: with only one exception (Gabrielle Giffords shooting in 2011) every public shooting in the US since 1950 in which there were at least three fatalities have occurred in gun-free areas (schools, malls, post offices, etc.) The killers may be sociopaths but they aren’t stupid. Such shootings do not occur at police stations or gun shows for a reason. If you are still unconvinced that gun-free zones simply inform evil-doers where they may proceed unmolested then I issue to you the following challenge: place a “this is a gun-free zone” sign on your front lawn. Still feel safe?
Eliminating gun-free zones is however not a panacea. It ironically suffers from the same “whack-a-mole” problem as extreme gun control. For example, if you could achieve the holy grail of gun control, i.e. eliminate all guns, then would-be killers would simply convert to other methods of mass killing (knives (see the oddly coincidental knifing of 22 children in China), explosives, gas, biological, etc.) some of which have a much greater potential for inflicting harm than guns. Yes, one could outlaw each of those weapons in turn but given their prevalence in warfare (and food preparation) it’s simply naive to think such weapons will not “leak” into the civilian population. Likewise, if would-be killers know that armed citizens could be anywhere, then they will engage in more stealthy killings. You can’t shoot back at what you can’t see. There are a lot of ways to kill people without exposing yourself to harm (it’s the entire modus operandi of warfare). So while eliminating gun free zones would help in those situations involving crazy and stupid and/or suicidal, it would not help when crazy and smart is a factor.
The sad fact is that nothing can ever solve the cancer of random mass killings. Humans are random, willful beings whose actions and interactions are impossible to predict, monitor and manipulate with 100% effectiveness. Absent the Panopticon of an Orwellian police state there is nothing government can do to “solve” this problem. If laws could actually alter human behavior then our prisons would be empty. The only possibility of a solution comes from the collective actions of all of us. To the extent all human action is influenced by the actions of others we each have it within our power to potentially alter the actions of others by making each of our own actions positive ones. For example, many of these killers were outcasts, loners, just a little bit different than the rest of us. These differences invited mocking and ridicule which only exacerbated the isolation of these individuals. The killers are not “victims” nor are their unreasonable actions in any way justified, but just because a response is not justified does not mean we should expect it wouldn’t occur. Negative actions invite negative responses (whether such responses are justified is irrelevant to the goal of eliminating such response). We should always be mindful that we do not live in a vacuum and that our actions may have far reaching consequences for others. The “Golden Rule” may not solve the problem, but I’m quite certain it can’t possibly make it worse.