ISSUES IN FOCUS

Week of June 21, 1999

 

GUNS AND RIGHTS

 

Previously, I have observed that you cannot defend what you cannot define.  Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the current debate over gun ownership.

One of the reasons gun owners have seen increased restrictions on their "ownership" of guns is that most have long since ceded their actual right to own a gun.  The reason?  Most do not understand the meaning of a right.

A right is the sovereignty to act without the permission of others.  That being the case, the right to purchase and own a gun means: you may take the appropriate actions, without anyone’s permission, to purchase and own a gun—this is the right to bear arms.  If you need permission from the state, then you do not have a right to such action.  If you must get permission to do something, then the right belongs to the permission-giver, not to you.  A right to purchase and own a gun means there are no strings attached, no conditions to its ownership other than the fact you must pay the market price for the desired gun.

Your most fundamental right is the right to your life.  This means your life is yours, not the property of others—it is yours to live as you see fit, as long as you respect the same right of another.  Because your life is yours, you have the right to self-defense and this includes the right to own the material means—the property, a gun if you choose—to defend it.  If you do not have the right to own the means for defending yourself, you have no rights.

As with most issues in Congress, not a single, fundamental principle is being focused upon in the current debate over guns.  Not only is the actual meaning of a right missing from these discussions, but also absent is a discussion of an issue that goes beyond the simple ownership of a gun.  Should the state regulate the ownership of property, including its sale and/or purchase?  Is the concept of regulation consistent with the concept of, and right to, property you have earned?  In fact, regulation undermines the meaning of property and violates your right to it.  Keep carefully in mind the meaning of a regulation: it is a legal command and/or prohibition of certain action, enforced by the state’s initiation of force.

In a free society, the ownership of property—any kind of property—is not outlawed, except for criminals, those who initiate force against others.  In a free society, law is never designed to forbid or control the possession of property, of objects, but only outlaws the use of objects in a threatening manner, in a manner that actually uses or threatens to use the initiation of force against another.  The right to property is the right to freely act to create and/or earn the material means for living.  Regulations on the sale and/or purchase of property violate property rights because such regulations forcibly place conditions on the ownership of property—in other words: you must get permission from statists before you can "own" something.

Is the mere possession of an item of property, such as a gun, the cause of crime, such as murder or robbery?  No.  Lifeless, physical objects, including guns, have no volition or power to act on their own.  They must be acted upon to activate their power.  Ideas, the ideas of statism, not guns, are the cause of crime—but government has no role in promoting or suppressing ideas. Bad ideas must be fought by reason, education, not by legislation.

England is often cited as proof that the banishment of guns will bring about a low homicide rate.  In England, guns have virtually been banned and the murder rate is very low, although the rate of other crimes is much higher than they are in the United States, perhaps the result of criminals knowing that most of their victims have been disarmed.  However, what is rarely acknowledged is the example of Switzerland, a country awash in guns.  Here we have a country in which virtually every adult male owns a firearm, yet the murder rate is negligible, one of the lowest in the world.   Guns are obviously not the cause of crime.  If they were, Switzerland would have a horrendous murder rate and we would have had the same 50 years ago, when guns were much more available than today, in America.

One of the cornerstones of a free society is: you are not punished for the acts of others, you are not deprived of your freedom and rights because of the wrongful acts of others.  Thus, if someone commits murder, like those two monsters at Columbine, you are not punished by the state by robbing you of your freedom to defend yourself if confronted by similar monsters who threaten your life.

The state should not regulate the sale or purchase of any product.  To do so is to violate your right to life, as well as property rights.  It is proper for the state to make it illegal for an individual to knowingly aid and abet a criminal in the commission of a crime—and this includes those criminals in charge of authoritarian governments in foreign countries. But this is not the initiation of force by the state and not a regulation.

In principle, your right to purchase and own a gun is no different than your right to purchase and own a car, if you can afford the price.  Your ownership of either should not be restricted or regulated by the state.  Only your use of either in the initiation of force (or its threat) against another is properly outlawed, not your mere possession and ownership of such objects.

There is, however, one kind of gun control that is desperately needed: government guns need to be stringently controlled.  We need a constitutional amendment that forbids the state from engaging in the initiation of force.  Once this occurs, then—finally—your right to life, liberty and property will be safe.

Fulton Huxtable
June 21, 1999

Copyright 1999 Fulton Huxtable
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To read more by Fulton Huxtable, go to Fatal Blindness: America's Decades of Declining Freedom and The Rise of Its Dictators.

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