Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Necessary to the Security of a Free State

Jerry Stratton, May 12, 1999

These questions were from John Spain in response to other writings here. I chose to answer them during this editorial simply because I’m not likely to be writing about firearms again for quite some time, and it is already getting late. John wrote these questions March 18 of 1998, over a year ago. I think it is important for readers to remember that I did not start my Internet life opposing gun control. I came on-line to talk.politics.guns about ten years ago specifically to further the cause of gun control. I had always supported extreme gun control, but I had never done anything about it. My biggest problem is that I try not to express opinions unless I have researched them. When I researched the need for gun control, what I found first scared me, then made me angry for having held such an incredibly misguided and dangerous view for such a long time. I found that the need was for less gun control. Like most criminologists before and after me who went in looking for reasons to ban guns, I discovered reasons to encourage firearms ownership.

Almost all of the “off-the-cuff” speculations about why gun ownership is bad have actually been studied by criminologists. The answer is invariably one of two: either gun ownership has neither a good nor a bad effect on the item in question, or gun ownership makes the world a better place with regards to that item.

The results of my research, and the result of yours if you choose to do so, is this:

  • No country has seen a drop in violent crime as a result of gun control. The countries traditionally given as examples of gun control utopias, such as England, already had low crime rates before gun control. Furthermore, they continue to have low crime rates using weapons other than firearms. To assume gun control is part of the reason for their low crime is to assume that gun control has a magical effect, magically reducing crime years before the laws are enacted, and magically causing criminals to stop using knives, fists, and gasoline as well.
  • People defend themselves using firearms. Firearms are much more effective at defense than they are at attack. Discouraging, banning, or penalizing people for using firearms in self-defense puts them at a disadvantage towards those who are bigger, stronger, or who use knives or other killing instruments.
  • Concealed carry saves lives. Criminals are apparently not stupid. If the risks involved with violent crime increase, then violent crime decreases. This is not speculation. Wherever non-discretionary concealed carry is enacted, violent crime decreases, whether it is in Florida or Israel. This has been so clearly shown in the criminological literature that it is not reasonably in doubt. Concealed carry saves lives not only of those who carry, but of those who choose not to carry.

When looking to ban something, when looking to put people in jail for owning or wanting to own something, we need to do more than just speculate. We need to determine whether or not our speculations have any basis in reality. If they do not, the correct course of action is to change our mind, not to further entrench ourselves and cast desperately about for lesser supports to a flawed goal.

The idea that criminal elements will get guns regardless of legislation doesn’t hold here. The guy didn’t have any criminal connections. He wouldn’t have known where to start.

He wouldn’t have known to look for his neighborhood coke dealer? In any case, he has all the time in the world. How long will it take him to figure out where to start? Two months? Six months? A year? Seven years? Remember, he’s only planning on doing this once. Delaying him (and I suspect you are vastly underestimating both his ingenuity and the ease of acquiring black market weapons) does not reduce the body count.

Regarding the idea that “the victims must be able to defend themselves”. I can’t see how having the teachers or the toddlers armed would’ve been practical.

Here in the United States we have also had some school shootings recently. In at least two, the killings were stopped short by an armed teacher, once by a teacher who illegally had a firearm in his trunk in the school parking lot. These types of incidents don’t reach the news because they result in fewer deaths. Yes, having the teachers armed is both practical and effective. If there are any teachers who cannot be trusted with a firearm, how can they be trusted with the minds of our children?

Back when children routinely carried firearms to school for marksmanship classes and rifle teams, this sort of thing never happened. It isn’t simply the availability of firearms that is causing the problem (though it may be the unavailability of firearms that is allowing the problem to exist).

And finally, listen to what you are saying: you want everyone to be less able to defend themselves because of school killings. How many adult lives is a child’s life worth? One? Two? A hundred? The evidence, within the United States, is that the net savings in lives saved is in the thousands, from concealed carry alone. This does not take into account lives saved from defensive use in the home (something England already doesn’t have). How many family members would you choose to exchange for those toddlers’ lives? That you find it impractical to allow teachers to be armed doesn’t make it reasonable that we should increase the playing field for murderers by also disarming citizens outside of school grounds.

Isn’t banning guns a better way to stop the random nutcase going on a suicidal shooting spree? These guys don’t care if they get killed. Isn’t it better if they do their thing with a knife or a baseball bat rather than a gun?

Within the United States, studies show that “killing sprees” occur more often the more gun control we have. Even if you assume that a knife is better (when everyone is disarmed, a knife will be extremely effective for mass killings as well), you are assuming that suicidal killers will opt for less effective mass-murder weapons rather than more effective mass-murder weapons. Gasoline and chlorine, just off the top of my head, are both much more effective at mass murder than firearms. Our worst mass murder in the United States was the gasoline torching of a dance hall in New York City. Perhaps it was New York City’s extremely strict gun control laws that caused the killer to murder his ex-girlfriend by burning down the dance hall she was in, along with eighty-seven other people.

While they have irrational desires, criminals tend to make rational decisions towards reaching those desires. If the weapon they want is unavailable, they will choose weapons that do more damage over weapons that do less damage.

And while I share your distrust for repressive state forces such as the army or the police, I don’t really see what it is that makes my fellow citizens or the militias they may form any more trustworthy.

Because, as long as the trustworthy are armed, the untrustworthy know that they won’t “get away with it”. The fact is, where concealed carry is allowed in the United States, those who acquire concealed carry licenses are vastly more trustworthy than both the general population and the local police. It isn’t police that I mistrust. It is police who are required to be responsible for individual defense. They can’t do that, unless they are given police-state powers.

And, the fact is, your fellow citizens generally are trustworthy. Most crimes are committed by repeat criminals. Outside of a police state, the one person guaranteed to be at every violent crime is the victim. It makes sense to encourage victims to take responsibility for their own defense. A victim who stops one criminal has stopped many, many crimes.

Like you said yourself, guns are just pieces of tubing. An oppressed society can always make their own weapons. Isn’t it smart to keep killing tools away from irresponsible individuals that aren’t resourceful enough to get them but could be dangerous if they did?

There is no such person. How resourceful do you need to be to grab a gallon of gasoline? Remember, this isn’t conjecture: all criminological studies show that more concealed carry means less violent crime, including fewer mass murders.

And finally, if a criminal knows there is a serious chance that his robbery victim has a gun, won’t he be more likely to shoot to kill at the slightest hint of resistance?

This question has already been extensively studied. Within all countries that allow concealed carry, and within all states within the United States that allow concealed carry, there is no such substitution. “Shooting to kill” clearly drops wherever concealed carry is allowed. Murder, rape, and assault all fall significantly. It is very telling that, within an area as large as the United States, most of the states allow concealed carry, but most of the killing goes on in the States that do not.

No gun control law has ever resulted in reduced violence. If violence is already extremely low, violence will only increase slightly. If violence is high, violence after gun control will go higher still.

But beyond all the statistics, there is a very strong liberal argument against gun control that is irrefutable: an America with gun control will jettison all of its liberal leanings. If the second amendment goes, the Fourth, Eighth, Fifth, Sixth, and First will not be far behind.

There are three arguments against the second amendment as an individual right. The most ridiculous is that the reason (“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state”) somehow invalidates the right itself (“the right of the people”). That the “militia” is not “the people”, or that the militia is not necessary. But that is a dangerous argument to take. I’ve even had one dyslexic claim that “The 2nd amendment says a ‘well-regulated militia’ has the right to bear arms. This is the national guard or the army-not private citizens!” No, the second amendment states that a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state. It states that the right to own and carry weapons, however, belongs to the people. Sometimes I think that these folks have a “wishful thinking” reading disability, reading “A well-regulated people, being necessary to the security of the state, the right of the army to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The second amendment states clearly and forcefully that a well-regulated militia is necessary. Therefore, it says, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. You can argue that the need doesn’t exist; you can argue that this is the wrong way to meet that need. But to argue that the right of the people is not a right of the people is a good way to lose the rights of the people listed in the first, fourth, ninth, and tenth amendments as well.

The most insidious is that, since there is no need for a well-regulated militia any longer, the second amendment can simply be ignored. But the Second does not say “For as long as a well regulated militia is necessary”. If there is to be no “right of the people”, that amendment has to be repealed. And then, to satisfy the ninth and tenth amendments, a new amendment has to be added, allowing infringement on this right of the people. This idea that the government can simply ignore the constitution because it is outdated is a dangerous one to allow. Governments don’t stop when you start letting them do things like that.

But that gets us to the most illiberal solution to “the gun problem”: that the second amendment should in fact be repealed. The argument goes that the National Guard now fulfills the need that the militia once filled. There is no need for a militia to guard the borders of the country, so the second amendment should be repealed.

That interpretation is only half of the militia’s duty, however. The National Guard (along with the Navy, Army, and Air Force) are responsible for external security: guarding the United States from invasion. But the militia was also responsible for internal security. Just as there was no long-term standing army in the early days of the United States (and the second amendment was meant to keep that from happening), there was also no police force. If there was a murderer on the loose, it was members of the militia who brought the murderer to trial. If a highwayman attempted to rob an individual, he was attempting to rob a member of the militia, and it was the victim’s responsibility to fight back.

Nowadays, the police, the FBI, and numerous other three-letter-initials track down murderers and rapists and burglars and highwaymen. Does this fulfill the reason for the second amendment?

No, it does not: the second amendment does not state “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of the state.” The second amendment says “the security of a free state”.

Our police forces, our FBI, and our prosecutors, are severely hampered by the constitution. Our system is designed to keep from accidentally (or intentionally) subjecting the innocent to search, arrest, trial, and punishment. Our criminal justice system is designed around a populace that takes responsibility for its own defense. The courts only intervene if it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the specific crime in question. The police are neither required nor charged with defending individuals from violence. Their job is to pick up the pieces after crime occurs. The courts are not allowed to find someone guilty just because they “might commit a crime in the future”. Anything else requires more police power than the constitution currently allows the police and courts to wield.

There is one person who is guaranteed to be present at every violent crime: the victim. If that victim is a citizen, they are also a member of the militia. The militia may no longer be needed to track murderers from farm to farm, but the militia is the only responsible party guaranteed to be present at every violent crime. Our criminal justice system currently assumes that the victim is responsible for their own defense. Courts can maintain the presumption of innocence; police have no need to trump up charges or beat out confessions or arrest for no reason; only so long as individuals are allowed and encouraged to defend themselves.

To that extent which individuals are discouraged from taking responsibility for their own defense, or denied the right to do so, we will see the public demand that police be given more power to defend them instead. Three strikes laws are a direct response to this. It should be no surprise that one of the most liberal states, California, was one of the first to pass a three strikes law. California is one of the few states not to have non-discretionary concealed carry. In California, self-defense is not a valid reason to carry a firearm. So the people, over the cries of liberals, demanded more police power from the criminal justice system. New York’s “over-zealous” police—and the public acceptance of their abusive behavior—is part and parcel of the police’s new-found responsibility to cause fear in the criminal mind. Amadou Diallo and Abner Louima probably didn’t realize it, but their beatings and shooting were a direct result of New York’s gun control.

How does New York in general feel about it? Practically nobody except a few movie stars are protesting: “There’s only a couple hundred people over there. That’s not how a majority of the city feels,” said one Brooklyn officer. “People in the city feel we’re doing a fine job. Crime’s lower. They feel safer.” Listen to what he said: not “The people of this city feel we’re doing a fine job. They know the accusations aren’t true.” No. The people know what’s going on, but “they feel safer.” They no longer have responsibility for their own safety; when a third party (the police) is responsible, drastic measures are necessary. The police cannot be there when any particular citizen is attacked, so the police have to be “proactive”. That’s a nine-letter word for “police state”.

Take away the second amendment completely, and three strikes will become two strikes and then one strike. The fourth amendment will go first (as it is already disappearing), as we make it easier for police to search, arrest, and seize based on flimsier and flimsier suspicions. The sixth amendment will go, as it becomes more important to keep undesirables in jail than it is to actually worry about a trial. The eighth amendment will go, as we put people in jail for life for lesser and lesser crimes, just to make sure they don’t get out and commit more crimes. The first amendment will go, because it is difficult for the police to tell a peaceful assembly from one that will someday not be peaceful, and freedom of speech is too dangerous because it allows criminals to conspire!

You can already see all of these happening now. We already have a Democrat president who supports curfews, house-to-house searches, and random wiretaps on telephones and electronic mail, and encourages his Justice Department to find ways around the constitutional prohibitions against these. Organizations such as the ACLU try to fight these, but the ACLU is successful only because most people do not care about civil rights one way or the other. Require these people to rely on law enforcement for their defense, and they will begin to care: they will oppose civil rights, because civil rights get in the way of someone else defending them.

Today, our criminal justice system is designed around the presumption of innocence, that it is better to free the guilty often, than to arrest and jail the innocent. We can do this because individuals are assumed to be responsible for defending themselves against the guilty who go free. Take away individual responsibility for self-defense, and our criminal justice system will change: we will decide that it is better to jail the innocent than to let a single criminal go free.

Any armed force can defend the security of a police state. The second amendment’s desire for a free state can only succeed if citizens are allowed to take responsibility for their own defense. The presumption of innocence and all of our other cherished freedoms cannot survive otherwise.

March 9, 2014: The insecurity of an unfree state

In an article at USA Today, Glenn Reynolds takes a closer look at the prefatory clause of our constitution’s second amendment:

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

If a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, then where is ours? Because if a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, it follows that a state lacking such a militia is either insecure, or unfree, or possibly both.

The headline is his conclusion: No militia means more intrusive law enforcement.

As I wrote back in 1999 in Necessary to the Security of a Free State,

Today, our criminal justice system is designed around the presumption of innocence, that it is better to free the guilty often, than to arrest and jail the innocent. We can do this because individuals are assumed to be responsible for defending themselves against the guilty who go free. Take away individual responsibility for self-defense, and our criminal justice system will change: we will decide that it is better to jail the innocent than to let a single criminal go free.

Any armed force can defend the security of a police state. The Second amendment’s desire for a free state can only succeed if citizens are allowed to take responsibility for their own defense. The presumption of innocence and all of our other cherished freedoms cannot survive otherwise.

Reynolds adds that the militia, when used as a police force, was kind of a jury with guns: the government could call out the militia to track down lawbreakers, but if everyone thought the government was over-reaching, they stood as a check between the government and the oppressed. Even if they didn’t refuse to show up they would be likely to drag their feet, go home early, etc.

This even covered going to war. Reynolds gives the example of the 1912 invasion of Mexico, in which the militias refused, “noting that the Constitution allowed them to be called out only to repel invasion, suppress insurrection, or enforce the law—not to invade other countries.”

It’s like the old joke about requiring bake sales to fund the military, but for real.

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