Some Objectivists are squishy on gun rights, so whenever the topic is raised, I prepare myself for the worst. In this case, however, I was pleasantly surprised. This Forbes op-ed by Harry Binswanger is far better than anything I’ve seen from him on this topic. Plus, his analysis of gun control as a kind of collectivism is a fresh perspective too. Here’s a bit:
In particular, the government may not descend to the evil of preventive law. The government cannot treat men as guilty until they have proven themselves to be, for the moment, innocent. No law can require the individual to prove that he won’t violate another’s rights, in the absence of evidence that he is going to.
But this is precisely what gun control laws do. Gun control laws use force against the individual in the absence of any specific evidence that he is about to commit a crime. They say to the rational, responsible gun owner: you may not have or carry a gun because others have used them irrationally or irresponsibly. Thus, preventive law sacrifices the rational and responsible to the irrational and irresponsible. This is unjust and intolerable.
Nice! Now go read the whole thing. (If you like it, share it on Facebook, email it to your friends, post it to gun forums, etc! It has already gotten tons of hits on Forbes… and more is better!)
Also, don’t miss this further comment from Dr. Binswanger:
There has been a lot of discussion here about extreme weapons, from machine guns to tanks to nukes. I didn’t want to get into those in the article, because they don’t affect the principle. The principle is that only objective threats constitute force, and thus the government can use its force properly only in regard to such threats.
Given that, either mere possession of a certain weapon (e.g., a nuclear weapon) is a threat or it isn’t. If it is (and you can easily make a case that nuclear weapons are), then it can be banned. If it isn’t, it can’t be-and why would you want to?
If you ask me, an armed nuclear bomb inside a neighbor’s house is the equivalent of a pistol put up against my head. On the other hand, suppose it is an equally destructive device but it is in a state that would take 3 weeks of very publicly visible activity to make it ready to use. Further assume that a) there’s a good, peaceful use for this device, and b) there’s no evidence that the owner is taking even the first step along that 3-week path. In that case, I don’t see how it could be illegalized, *at this stage*.
I hope you can see that it doesn’t make any difference to the argument in the article how we come down on these extreme cases. Nothing decided about nukes is going to make an objective threat out of hunting rifles in the attic or concealed carry by some members of a school staff.
A further side-issue is that there is no right to assemble a private army or milita. The government can and should take forcible action to prevent that, because it has to maintain its legal monopoly on the use of force, even retaliatory force, within its jurisdiction. It cannot and should not allow the formation of a “competing government”-i.e., force on whim.
Finally, let me state that I wasn’t kidding when I said that until recently I was on the fence regarding gun control. In fact, for most of my 50 years in Objectivism, I leaned in favor of mild gun control. It was the thinking I did after Sandy Hook at Newtown that led me to my present position. So, to those worried about guns, yeah, I know very well how you feel.
Again, that’s excellent.
My own discussion of “extreme” weapons can be found here: Philosophy in Action Radio: The Legal Status of Automatic Weapons. Like Binswanger, my basic view is that the critical question to ask with any potentially dangerous property is whether mere ownership constitutes a threat to others. That’s not true of firearms, including fully automatic weapons.
- Duration: 12:48
- Download: MP3 Segment
My other discussions of firearms-related topics from Philosophy in Action Radio are gathered here.