Saturday, January 5, 2013

Quotes on Guns

In response to calls for firearms restrictions in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, the gun lobby has responded with its usual arguments.  If only more people had guns, we could resist deranged shooters like this.  More guns, more guns.  Safety can finally be achieved only if everyone is armed to the teeth.  Every time I hear this argument, I think of this and wonder if it is what the NRA wants our society to look like.

In the '90's, arguments against this viewpoint mostly expressed a personal distaste for guns and wish for something better.  This time, we are getting real discussion of what such a society would look like. This one expresses my thoughts exactly:
[W]hat troubles me most about this suggestion — and the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly.
Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction.
Even more encouraging is the pushback I am hearing on the argument that we need guns to resist a potential tyrannical government.  Incredibly, back during the '90's, the main counter-argument I heard was that government had tanks and helicopters and that mere small arms would be no match.  In response, insurrectionists argued Vietnam and Afghanistan.  They pointed out that Chechnya was holding out against the Russians.  Some even held up Al Capone as a freedom fighter -- he was a capitalist providing the public with a product it wanted in the face of oppressive government regulation, and ready to back it with armed force.  The timing of such arguments was significant.  The Vietnam was a distant enough memory that expressing admiration for the Viet Cong no longer seemed like treason.  Radical Islam had not yet fully established itself as our enemy, so it did not seem un-American to admire Muslim insurgents in Afghanistan or Chechnya.  I thought that after a decade of fighting irregular guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and calling them "unlawful combatants," the romance of the guerrilla fighter might be over, but apparently it is not. In any event, people who laud irregular resistance in Vietnam, Afghanistan or Chechnya fail to address whether any of these are societies where one would want to live.

Here is a piece seriously addressing as an empirical matter what such insurrection is likely to get you:
While "people's war" militia-based strategies have been employed to wear down invading armies in numerous countries over the past century, not one of those countries (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, southern Lebanon, etc) is "free". This is not an accident of history. Freedom is the product of orderly democratic governance and the rule of law. Popular militias are overwhelming likely to foster not democracy or the rule of law, but warlordism, tribalism and civil war. . . . No popular militia has ever prevented the seizure of power by an authoritarian ruler. In countries with well-established democratic traditions, authoritarian takeovers are rare; when they occur, popular militias do not resist, or are ruthlessly crushed by national armed forces. In countries with weak democratic traditions, authoritarian takeovers sometimes go smoothly, or in other cases touch off periods of civil war, which are resolved when one faction finally defeats the others and imposes authoritarian rule.
Conor Friedersdorf points out that the whole setup of our government is supposed to protect freedom without the resort to armed insurrection:
Even if we presume that the 2nd Amendment exists partly so that citizens can rise up if the government gets tyrannical, it is undeniable that the Framers built other safeguards into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to prevent things from ever getting so bad as to warrant an insurrection. Federalism was one such safeguard; the separation of powers into three branches was another; and the balance of the Bill of Rights was the last of the major safeguards.  If a "2nd Amendment solution" is ever warranted, it'll mean our system already failed in numerous ways.
I have discussed before other people making the argument that our freedom and democracy rest, not on the threat of violence, but on the universal renunciation of political violence.  People like Justin Raimondo:
The whole point of even attending such a gathering, or, indeed, any sort of rational discussion about anything, is that we leave our guns—embodying the possibility of coercion—outside the door. We forsake force, and rely solely on our persuasive powers to get our point across.
Or E.J. Dionne:
 The simple fact is that an armed citizenry is not the basis for our freedoms. Our freedoms rest on a moral consensus, enshrined in law, that in a democratic republic we work out our differences through reasoned, and sometimes raucous, argument. Free elections and open debate are not rooted in violence or the threat of violence. They are precisely the alternative to violence, and guns have no place in them.  On the contrary, violence and the threat of violence have always been used by those who wanted to bypass democratic procedures and the rule of law. 
And finally, Frum quotes Lincoln from the last time anyone tried a "Second Amendment solution"
[B]allots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided, there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal, except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace; teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by a war; teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war.
 This is a critically important point, that democracy requires the losers to yield to the winners and the winners to respect the rights of the losers.  For democracy to succeed calls for that rarest and most difficult of skills -- being a good loser.  A system in which the loser resorts to armed rebellion against the winner is not democracy; it is endless civil war.  Such was the fate of elective government in ancient Greece and Rome.  Such was the fate that our Founding Fathers most feared.  Such was the fate that our country met when Lincoln was elected.  Such was the fate that we miraculously survived.  I am not worried right now that enough people will resort to "Second Amendment solutions"

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