This essay is a year old. I posted it to my Facebook profile and e-mailed it to a mailing list of select friends on July 8, 2009. In reposting it here today, I have opted to leave it as written. This should be kept in mind when encountering time-sensitive references in the third and eleventh paragraphs (not including block quotes). - Gerry T. Neal
The Folly of Disarmament
by Gerry T. Neal
July 8, 2009
The devil’s right hand, the devil’s right hand,
Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand. – Steve Earle
When the Cambrian measures were forming,
They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons,
that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us
and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
"Stick to the Devil you know."
- Rudyard Kipling
Disarmament is the idea that violence can be averted and peace obtained by getting rid of the tools of violence, i.e., weapons. Historically, disarmament has taken two basic forms. The first is when a society as a whole abandons its defensive measures in the face of a foreign threat. The reasoning behind this kind of disarmament, is that well maintained defenses and a strong military will be interpreted by other countries as a threat, leading those countries to attack first as a pre-emptive measure. Therefore, abandoning these things is a sign of good faith to your potential enemy, showing that you mean no harm. This, the proponents of disarmament argue, will avert an attack and lead to peace.
This theory is logical in the sense of being internally consistent. It is invalidated by history and common sense, though, and nobody with even a miniscule understanding of human nature would be fooled by this argument for one second.
Recently, Hollywood brought Alan Moore’s 1986-87 comic book series The Watchmen back from the obscurity it deserved. The comic book was a not-so-subtle attack on the military build-up policies of the Reagan and Thatcher administrations. Ironically, the plot of The Watchmen undermines the very point Moore was trying to make. The end of the arms race and the dawn of world peace is brought about, not by either side unilaterally disarming, but by both sides being faced with the threat of their own destruction from another source.
Of course, in real life, it was the very policies Moore was attacking that brought about the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union – and not very long after his comic book was released. Reagan was able to successfully negotiate an end to the arms race precisely because he was not afraid to win the arms race.
The second form of disarmament is when a government disarms its populace. What is commonly called “gun control” today is a version of this form of disarmament. The official reasoning behind this kind of disarmament is that it will reduce crime, increase public safety, and ensure a stable order to society. The real reasons are not always that benign and these disarmament measures simply cannot be shown to have the beneficial effects their advocates claim for them.
Disarmament is nothing new. After Athens surrendered to Sparta at the end of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), Athens temporarily abandoned democracy and established an oligarchy of 30 men, known to historians as “The Thirty Tyrants”. Under the leadership of Critias, uncle of the philosopher Plato, the Thirty began to purge Athens of people opposed to their rule. When one of their number, Theramenes, opposed the unnecessary bloodshed, the Thirty, fearing that he might lead a popular uprising against them, chose 3000 citizens loyal to themselves to nominally bring into the government to provide the illusion of a broader power base, then proceeded to disarm everybody else. Xenophon describes it like this:
The Three Thousand paraded in the market place and the other citizens in various other parts of the city. The order was given to pile arms, and when the men were off duty, the Thirty sent their Spartan troops and other people who were on their side, seized the arms of all who were not included among the Three Thousand, carried them up to the Acropolis and stored them in the temple. Once this was done they considered that they were now free to act exactly as they liked, and they began to put people to death in great numbers, some because they were personal enemies, some for the sake of their money. (Hellenica, Book III, Chapter II, 20-21, translated by Rex Warner in the Penguin Classics edition A History of My Times, pp. 113-114)
Disarming the populace, then, from very early times, has been associated with tyranny – government free from constraints in its use or abuse of power. This is as true today as it was 2413 years ago.
The advocates of gun control say that people should not resist criminals, that that only escalates the violence and leads to innocent people getting hurt, that instead we should rely upon the police to protect us. That kind of thinking is fit for slaves not for free people.
Free people bear the primary responsibility themselves for the defense and protection of their persons, property, and families. This responsibility cannot be delegated without giving up your freedom. If you give up this freedom to the government, you will not be getting a superior form of security in return, but an inferior one. It is not the job of the police, in a free society, to be everywhere at once, watching over every citizen 24 hours of the day, seven days a week. If that were the job of the police, the society would not be very free.
In Canada, advocates of gun control tend to dismiss the ideas of their opponents as being “American”. Canada, however, is heir to the same British tradition as the United States, and the British tradition is a tradition of liberty. As the late Dr. Samuel T. Francis pointed out:
(T)he right to keep and bear arms emerged in British history, long before the American war for independence, as an essential attributed of freemen, and it was mainly from the British experience in the late 17th and 18th centuries that American republicans drew their immediate lessons about a citizens’ militia and what it meant for the preservation of political freedom. (“Historical Basis for the Second Amendment”, in Shots Fired: Sam Francis on America’s Culture War, p. 182)
Recently, gun control has been in the news again. The Harper government, in its first year in office, gave an amnesty to gun owners who had failed to register their guns under the costly, ineffective, and frankly tyrannical long gun registry, introduced by the Liberal administration of Jean Chretien in 1995, and has recently extended that amnesty. A few months ago, the Harper administration introduced a bill into the Senate, calling for the abolition of the same registry. Earlier in February, a similar but more extensive private member’s bill, Bill C-301, had been introduced by Garry Breitkreuz, Conservative MP for Yorkton-Melville, Saskatchewan.
Predictably, the advocates of gun control have been up in arms about this (pun intended). They are maintaining that the Harper administration’s actions are placing police officers at risk and threatening public safety.
Nonsense. The gun registry has not made Canadians any safer, it has wasted billions of the taxpayers dollars, and was a blatant attack on rural Canadians, turning an entire class of decent Canadian citizens into criminals overnight.
The Liberals claim that a majority of Canadians support gun control. That may very well be true, although the Liberals have never cared much what “the majority of Canadians” thought whenever they were determined to push legislation to serve some agenda of theirs that most Canadians opposed.
It is not relevant what the majority think, however. Gun control is inherently tyrannical. Free people have the right, responsibility, and duty to protect themselves when attacked. With that right, responsibility, and duty, comes the right to arm themselves. The two cannot be separated. The government that tells you that you do not have the right to arm yourself is telling you that you are not free. That government is behaving tyrannically – even if it has the backing of a majority of its citizens.
If Harper’s policies deserve criticism it is because they do not go far enough in restoring to Canadians that which is their birthright as a free people in a country built on the British tradition of freedom.
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