Predictably, the Arizona tragedy has prompted cries for gun control from the usual quarters. Who can blame them? A senseless tragedy makes us all try to figure out how we can prevent something similar from happening again. Ever. In our imaginations, taking away guns is the easiest solution. No guns, no shootings.
I am a libertarian, not an anarchist. I believe that people have the right, through the mechanism of the state, to prevent others from posing an imminent threat to others. The radical libertarian/anarchist argument, which I will take on in detail in my upcoming book Common Sense Liberty, is essentially that the state is never justified in using force, even to prevent violence. I do not agree.
For example, while I support the right to keep and bear arms, I do not think the 2nd Amendment justifies manufacturing weapons of mass destruction in one’s basement. I figure that Bubba in his double-wide is posing a threat to me by the mere act of bringing together things that could blow us both to high heaven. It is cold comfort to know that he would be punished if he actually hurt me, assuming he lived.
Likewise with brandishing a Thompson submachine gun on Main Street. Radical libertarians seem to think “no harm, no foul.” In other words, no offense is committed unless the one waving it around actually shoots someone. Presumably, it is permissible to fire it into the air unrestrained unless a falling bullet cracks open a skull. Clearly something has gone wrong with this argument.
On the other end of the spectrum, I do not believe I have the right to tell someone else he/she cannot carry a pistol for self-protection. Personally, I think that is usually a bad idea. My father taught me about guns–thoroughly. The first lesson was that once that bullet leaves the barrel, it doesn’t care who it hits. The second was that you can never get it back. I know I would be justified in shooting at someone who shoots at me (or is about to shoot at me) first, but the thought of killing an innocent in the process is near unbearable to me. Unless the world gets even crazier than it is, I will rely on my martial arts training. If I get offed by someone because of that, well, at least I left Earth risking myself for a good reason.
So here is the frame of the debate, sure to anger both sides. Yes, people have a right to self-defense, including firearms. No, people do not have the right to possess weapons that are clearly outside that function and purpose. The line, like many other issues that center around a continuum, is not hard and fast. It will require us to come to reasonable laws that afford citizens their Constitutional rights without allowing every Tom, Dick, and Samantha to pack just anything.
Guns will not go away, and they shouldn’t. Gun laws will not go away, and they shouldn’t either. How we handle that balance will determine whether we become a nation of well-armed lunatics or properly defended citizens.