Consequentialism, Rights Theory

A Dissenting View on Guns: Why Rights-Based Arguments Against Gun Control Fail

Bobby is a brilliant scientist. So brilliant, in fact, that he builds a functional atomic bomb in his garage. Of course, Bobby strictly adheres to the non-aggression principle, so he has no plans to use his bomb to attack others. But he’s proud of his scientific accomplishment and hangs the bomb on his fireplace mantel as a trophy.

Should Bobby be permitted to possess this atomic bomb? Surely not. The reason is simple: the risk to others is simply too great.

So what’s the point of this parable? It offers a reductio ad absurdum of the typical rights-based arguments that libertarians make against gun control. The first such argument asserts that gun control deprives people of a means of self-defense. That’s certainly true. But bomb control—depriving Bobby of his bomb—deprives Bobby of a means of self-defense.

To see why, suppose Bobby posts a sign on his front lawn alerting potential intruders that he’ll bomb them should they enter his house. That’s a pretty effective means of defending himself. (You’re probably thinking that this is a bad way of defending himself, since he’ll die too. Fair enough. But just imagine that he can run into a bomb shelter before the bomb detonates. Or just change the example: to defend himself, he releases into the atmosphere a synthetic, lethal, airborne disease to which he is immune.). Nevertheless, depriving Bobby of this means of self-defense is justified on the grounds that not depriving him of this means of self-defense would mean tolerating intolerably high risks to others.

Another libertarian objection to gun control is that it deprives individuals of their private property. But bomb control deprives Bobby of his private property. Bobby justly acquired all of his materials, mixed his labor with them, and produced the bomb. On a Lockean story, Bobby privately owns the bomb. Nevertheless, depriving Bobby of this bit of private property is justified on the grounds that not depriving him of this bit of private property would mean tolerating intolerably high risks to others.

The final objection I’ll consider is that gun control opens the door to state tyranny. Gunless citizens are less equipped to resist abuses of state power. But an atomic bomb is at least as effective in deterring state oppression as a handgun. Nevertheless, depriving Bobby of this means of deterring tyranny is justified on the grounds that not depriving him of this means of deterring tyranny would mean tolerating intolerably high risks to others.

To be clear: my argument is not that gun control is justified. I take no stand on the issue. In fact, that’s pretty much my point: the case for or against gun control shouldn’t be made on the basis of philosophical arguments about rights. Instead, the issue should be decided on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis: e.g., does robust access to guns increase or decrease the general risk of violent crime, death, etc? That’s a social scientific question. What I do claim is that the kinds of rights-based arguments against gun restriction that libertarians often make are unsuccessful.

Published on:
Author: Christopher Freiman
  • Ignatiibellum

    At best this defeats the view that people have *absolute* rights to own weapons. But I don’t hold that view. Rather, I think that I have a prima facie right to own weapons. In cases where the risk is too great my right can be overridden (as in your bomb case) but not in some other cases. For instance, I own a set of steak knives. My ownership of them puts others at risk, however, that risk is not great enough to justify taking my steak knives from me. Where guns fall on the continuum from nukes to steak knives is a matter of social science. But notice, my prima facie right to gun ownership means that the *presumption* is that I get to keep my gun. So rights aren’t everything but they’re also not irrelevant.

    • Chris Freiman

      But even on this view, it seems as though all of the “heavy lifting” is done by the social science. Think of it this way: the sorts of considerations that might ground a prima facie right to own a gun also appear to be the sorts of considerations that could ground a prima facie right to own a nuke (private property, self-defense, etc.). So we have a prima facie right to own a nuke. But this conclusion doesn’t get us very far in terms of justifying an all-things-considered right to own a nuke. I’d say the same goes for guns.

      • Reasonable Extremist

        Hi Chris,

        What do you think of Mike Huemer’s essay posted below? He starts off with the idea of a prima facie right and then says “Look it’s only a prima facie right so we might in fact have reasons that would make restrictions or even outright prohibition justifiable.” He then makes the case that none of the arguments work. http://www.owl232.net/guncontrol.htm

        • Chris Freiman

          I like Huemer’s essay. I think, though, that the real work is being done in the sections where he argues that the considerations commonly taken to outweigh the prima facie right to own a gun (e.g., risk to others) don’t actually do so. What he is doing there is basically social scientific analysis–and I think that’s as it should be.

          • David Morris

            ” What he is doing there is basically social scientific analysis–and I think that’s as it should be.” – Ok, but suppose one estimates gun control might save 50 lives a year. Then you have a moral dilemma. Suppose there is a question of values, “How much is the sheer joy which gun enthusiasts get from guns worth?” Or “How much is the satisfaction of a ‘more free’ society worth?” One could easily conclude it’s worth far more than 50 innocent lives. And perhaps it’s worth more than 5,000 lives, if we’re talking about convicted felons killing each other. (Or then again, maybe 5,000 felons killing each other is exactly what we want?) So there’s a huge question of values here, not just social scientific analysis.

          • Ron H.

            Your estimate assumes something not in evidence, that is that fewer people owning and carrying guns reduces the number of deaths by guns, and the number of violent crimes in general. So yes, you DO have a moral dilemma.

            Instead of estimating the number of deaths prevented by gun control, you might more correctly try to estimate the number that occur because people are unable to defend themselves. You must weigh the number of violent crimes prevented by people with guns (a vastly under reported number) against some unknowable elevated risk of accidental harm to others – something you are assuming exists, with no evidence. Also to be weighed are people’s private property rights, and the natural right to self defense recognized in common law for the last 600 years and acknowledged in the supreme law of the land, the US Constitution. Lots to overcome for gun control advocates.

            Consider that many lives might have been saved in the San Bernardino shooting if someone had been shooting back.

          • CJColucci

            Care to estimate? Even in a shall-issue jurisdiction, how many genuinely skilled, armed, good people are likely to be in any given location at any given time? As a gun owner myself, I’d estimate that it would be unlikely.

          • Ron H.

            Do you mean estimate the number of deaths that might have been prevented in the San Bernardino shooting?

            You’re right, the likelihood is small, but assuming someone in the room was armed, probably some number greater than zero. As with other shootings in gun fee zones, the perpetrators have plenty of time to do their dirty work before armed response from outside arrives. The threat of return fire or actual return fire, whether skilled or not, might cause shooters to leave some business unfinished if they had future plans as the SB shooters appear to have had. They weren’t planning to die there.

            Mass shootings like that one can never be totally prevented, but many other violent crimes may be discouraged or thwarted by the mere presence of a gun. .

  • Should the market or politics determine if the risk to others is too great? Prior restraint is a difficult process to reconcile with freedom. Perhaps to live in a community one must agree to purchase liability insurance that will make whole anyone you damage. The cost of insurance for dangerous devices would keep them from populated areas. Those who are concerned about safety issues would gravitate toward areas that require liability insurance.

    • Farstrider

      Surely, you’d agree that liability insurance would not work in the context of nuclear weapons. And, the notion that you can make the victim of a nuclear attack, or even an accidental shooting, “whole” with money is quite a leap. Finally, why should the victim’s safety take a backseat to the aggressor’s freedom to do dangerous things?

      • Ron H.

        And, the notion that you can make the victim of a nuclear attack, or
        even an accidental shooting, “whole” with money is quite a leap.

        There is no possible way a victim of serious injury or murder can be made whole. The best that can be done is to attempt to compensate the victim or his loved ones for financial losses, plus some punitive amount that would satisfy some notion of justice.

        Finally, why should the victim’s safety take a backseat to the
        aggressor’s freedom to do dangerous things?

        Are you suggesting that people have a right to some level of safety? An “aggressor” must pose an immediate and serious threat to be so named. Extreme caution must be exercised when considering prior restraint, so as to not violate any of the rights we have granted that person.

        • Farstrider

          “Are you suggesting that people have a right to some level of safety?”
          Yes. Rights are made up by people, acting through government, and people, acting through government, have generally decided that people are entitled to some minimal level of safety. Your definition of of aggressor is fine, but it is not actually what any government uses when exercising its police power.

          • Ron H.

            Rights are made up by people, acting through government, and people,
            acting through government, have generally decided that people are
            entitled to some minimal level of safety.

            And this is not something just made up by you? you have provided no support other than your assertions. “Generally decided” isn’t a very solid basis for rights. It means rights can be anything people decide they are at any given moment. I could decide tomorrow what your rights are. Good luck with establishing a right to keep your “stuff” if I decide I want it, or articulating your desire to stay alive if I decide you’ve lived long enough, because your place in the world is whatever I want it to be. Great system with no consistency you’ve invented here. You probably assume you’re one of the deciders.

          • Farstrider

            “It means rights can be anything people decide they are at any given moment.”

            Yes, that’s my point. Now you are getting it. There are no such things as “rights” outside what people make.

          • Jim Davies

            Would that include the right to life?

            If so, in any place or time, the “society and culture” could, without any infringement of ethical absolutes, decide that a certain class of people had no such right, and therefore exterminate them. Red-heads, say, or Negroes, or Jews, or mental defectives or gypsies or homosexuals or dissidents, etc etc ad inf.

            The principle that “There are no such things as “rights” outside what people make” is exactly the one underlying the Nazi and Soviet systems. That’s exactly where an abandonment of rights theory can reasonably lead. As far as I know, libertarians alone consistently maintain the falsehood of that principle, and those who think it correct are therefore not libertarians.

          • Farstrider

            Jim,
            In answer to your first paragraph, you are mixing up two different issues: (1) could a rights regime exist that discriminated against gays or blacks? and (2) would I want to live in such a regime? As to (1), of course that is true: look at the pre-Civil War (or even Jim Crow South) and any of the Muslim countries where homosexuality carries the death penalty. As to (2), of course I do not like such regimes. But whether I like something or not has little to do with its existence – or in this case, whether the minorities you mention actually had rights in those societies. They do not have the rights I wish they did – which just goes to show that there is no such thing as rights beyond those made by people.
            In answer to your second paragraph, the regimes you offer examples, just like the Muslim countries and American South discussed above, are simply rights regimes you do not agree with. And rightly so, in my opinion. But showing that people can make bad rights regimes does nothing to disprove that rights regimes are made by people in the first place. In other words, your examples prove my point, not yours.
            Thanks

          • garegin

            The Nazis believed in a Germanic spiritual myticism of sorts. So they did believed in rights. Interisringly Mises and Marxists agree that rights are just man made to secure cooperation.

      • Christopher King

        Sure it would. You say “And, the notion that you can make the victim of a nuclear attack, or even an accidental shooting, “whole” with money is quite a leap.” Sure it can. If there $X, and the liability insurance is $(X+1), then if bobby pays $(X+1) he can fix the problem, by contradiction. If something is too dangerous to be fixed, the cost will be too large to be payed: ergo, the insurance company stopped the nukes.

        • Farstrider

          So you are ok with the insurance company “stopping the nukes” but not the government? Why? What difference does that make? Either you have the right to nuclear weapons, in which case neither the government nor a private person can take them away from you, or you don’t have the right, in which case either can take them from you. But it is hard to imagine a scenario where the government cannot take away your property but the private person can. This is not a case where state action is particularly important.

  • Jerome Bigge

    There are “degrees” of risk to be considered here. The atomic bomb if detonated will likely kill large numbers of people as there is a minimum size below which the bomb won’t work as a bomb. It is in effect a “weapon of mass destruction”.

    Firearms are entirely different. The basic design is to direct lethal force against specific individuals at the decision of the “controller”. Who makes the decision whether or not to use the weapon, and against “who”. There are also laws regarding the use of lethal force and to “whom” it can be directed against. Additionally not everyone is legally allowed to have access to firearms.

    What those who believe that “gun control” will resolve the issue of criminal gun use, I suggest that if “laws” could stop people from doing things, there would be no crime, no illicit drugs, and Prohibition would have been a roaring success. The reason that passing laws hasn’t resolved these problems is that people made decisions not to comply with these laws. The “demand” for these things was great enough that despite the fact there are (and were) serious penalties for violation of these laws, people seeking to satisfy that “demand” soon popped up to provide what sufficient numbers of people wanted. Even in the face of relatively “draconian” laws as is the case in some countries. What this means is as long as there is a sufficient “demand”, someone will supply what is “demanded”. There is no reason to believe that the same people who now supply illegal drugs wouldn’t branch out into supplying guns to those who wanted them badly enough to pay the price demanded by the “supplier”. So the criminal element would continue to be armed even if ownership of guns was outlawed by the national government. This would simply make life more dangerous for the rest of us while doing little to prevent criminals from obtaining firearms smuggled in from “somewhere else”.

    • Farstrider

      You are forgetting two things. First, criminal penalties are never intended to prevent all illegal behavior – that is a strawman. They instead increase the cost of the activity, and therefore through basic economic theory, reduce the frequency of it. Obviously, it works better with some activities than others, but I have no reason to believe that people are going to be brewing guns in their bathtubs.
      Second, much of the concern regarding guns has to do with shootings that are not “at the decision of the ‘controller'” – also known as accidents. This dovetails with nicely with the first point, because by increasing the cost of the conduct that leads to accidents, you decrease the number of accidents (or at least their severity).

      • David Morris

        “Second, much of the concern regarding guns has to do with shootings that are not “at the decision of the ‘controller'” – also known as accidents. This dovetails with nicely with the first point, because by increasing the cost of the conduct that leads to accidents, you decrease the number of accidents (or at least their severity).” – Is that really true? Why do you believe this? Most of the time I hear of people talking about homicides, not toddlers accidentally shooting their older sister. And why would anyone care if guns can’t be brewed in the bathtub? There is a huge black market, a huge number of ways to get guns from overseas, many millions of guns that already exist in so many places in America. So the black market for guns could be just as huge as the drug market.

      • “… also known as accidents. ”

        Accidents are a tiny fraction of fatalities and have been steadily decreasing. The overwhelming majority of fatalities are intentional, over half of those are suicides, the majority of homicides (also decreasing) are connected to other crime and committed by those with criminal records. That more or less nullifies the rest of your point.

    • ThaomasH

      I think “gun control” should be weapon and owner specific. Different kinds of weapons owned by people with different skill levels and needs for a weapon in different environments have different kinds of risks. Perhaps the issue is better handled by a tax rather than an allow/disallow.

      • ThaomasH

        Gun control has little to do with crime control, even mass shootings. It’s a public health issue.

        • David Morris

          Perhaps you could elaborate?

          • ThaomasH

            I do not have a specific plan. I see this as another regulatory problem that one seeks a least cost solution to. Guns are involved in lots of accidents, suicides, and crimes pf passion. Fewer guns in circulation would presumably reduce those outcomes. On the other hand, some people really want to own guns. Maybe there is a way to restrict guns to those who most want them and who are less likely to misuse them and allow them to be misused. Maybe some kinds of weapons are more likely to be misused than others. So I thought maybe a tax that is specific to the kind of gun and with lower rates for people with special needs for guns and who show skill in using them and knowledge about storing them safely would work. The tax would be local but there would need to be some national system to allow enforcement.

          • David Morris

            OK I don’t think we are that far off. But I would say, sometimes there will be situations where the laws can be made less restrictive. I support the Texas open cary laws.

          • ThaomasH

            I think that one would need a lot of training to be able to use a gun in public with a probability of doing more good than harm. Look at how often even policemen get it wrong.

          • Ron H.

            First of all, people don’t plan to “use a gun” in public. They hope to prevent serious injury or death to themselves and others should an imminent violent encounter be unavoidable. The Police get it wrong because they are investigating potential crimes and chasing suspicious people, and in a disturbing trend, are more often these days bursting into someone’s home unannounced, where the chance of a violent confrontation or accident is orders of magnitude greater than other equally effective methods of apprehension and arrest.

            On the other hand, law abiding citizen gun owners are not seeking out violence, but are only prepared to defend themselves.

            Don’t let your own lack of knowledge, training, and familiarity with proper gun handling and safety cloud you judgement about what other people should be allowed to do.

          • ThaomasH

            The point is not what (or not only what) people carrying guns intend, but what will actually result. It seems to me very dangerous. I’d rather not be in a crowd with lots of untrained people with guns just as I’d rather my next door neighbor did not have a gun in his house (unless he had some special reason and I knew he was good at using his gun.)

          • Ron H.

            . It seems to me very dangerous.

            I don’t mean this to sound like an insult, but your fear of guns seems irrational. I suspect you feel reasonably comfortable around people driving cars, when you know nothing about their competence or concern for safety. Chainsaws are dangerous; nail guns are dangerous; backyard barbeques are dangerous. I would imagine there are dozens of things in your immediate vicinity every day that pose a greater threat to you than guns, but you probably don’t fear them..

            You may be unaware of the number of people around you who are legally carrying guns at any time. I can’t know this, of course, but there’s a good chance your neighbor already has guns in his house. He needs no special reason because he (she) has a Constitutionally guaranteed right to do so, unchallenged statutory obstacles notwithstanding.

            This may sound really strange to you, but you might consider asking someone you know and trust who owns firearms – if there is such a person – to explain gun safety to you. It’s something everyone I know of who has guns takes very seriously. You might then ask to actually hold one of those evil things in your own hands for a moment. As a last step you might ask to be taken to a shooting range where you could observe safety conscious and responsible people practicing target shooting, and maybe even try it yourself.

            You would most likely lose your fear of the unknown in this way.

          • ThaomasH

            Thanks for a reasonable response.

            You are right in a sense that I am more apprehensive about what I do not see (people carrying guns in public or my next-door neighbor owning a gun) than what I do see (automobiles). I do not stay up nights worrying that my next-door neighbor may have a gun in his nightstand or that the lady next to me at the movies may have one in her purse. But however small the chances of an accident at my neighbor’s house or that that the lady at the movies will shoot me or someone else, I’d guess that’s still more likely than that he’ll safely repulse a criminal or that the lady will foil the terrorist attack at the movie theatre. I think we would all be better off if only a few who were trained to use guns in emergencies had them.

            To me the better analogy is people having VERY well-sealed vials of smallpox virus in their homes or on their persons; the likelihood of something going wrong times the negative consequences are greater than the likelihood of things going right times the positive consequences. I’d feel the same way even if there were a Constitutional right to carry smallpox virus.

          • Ron H.

            Do you would deny the right of self defense to thousands of your neighbors because you are vaguely uneasy about the vanishingly small risk of an accident? That hardly seems reasonable.

            I you check a variety of sources, I think you’ll find a significant number of crimes are prevented by armed citizens. Keep in mind that only a small number – those in which someone is hurt or killed – are reliably reported. A criminal may be deterred by the mere display of a weapon, which in many cases wouldn’t likely be reported.

            BTW I wouldn’t expect many shootings in theaters to be thwarted by armed women, but they might prevent a mugging or rape when they return to their cars after the movie.

            I think we would all be better off if only a few who were trained to use guns in emergencies had them.

            I’m sure criminals would prefer it that way too. I know it’s total cliche, but you can only keep guns from people willing to obey the law. Others don’t care, and in fact must go about armed since they can’t call on law enforcement and must provide their own. People who want to have guns will have them, including otherwise law abiding citizens. You can no more eliminate guns than you can eliminate illegal drugs, no matter how hard you try, but you can make criminals out of otherwise law abiding people.

            Actually there IS a Constitutional right to carry vials of smallpox virus. The Constitution limits the power of government to a few that are specifically defined, but doesn’t limit individuals in any way. The Bill of Rights lists some of the existing rights of individuals and prohibits government from interfering with them: Speech, religion, assembly, keep & bear arms, etc.

            But your analogy fails as a cost /benefit comparison, as there is no positive use for smallpox virus – unlike firearms.

          • ThaomasH

            You are correct in that I see this as a cost benefit issue. I simply am not persuaded that there is much benefit compared to a situation in which those who wanted to possess guns would show skill in using them for self defense.

          • Ron H.

            Well, I can only say I’m really glad gun ownership isn’t up to you? 🙂

          • ThaomasH

            Obviously we disagree. I’m still interested in whether it’s just a disagreement about probabilities of how guns could be used under different regulatory frameworks and the cost and benefits of those uses of if there is something more.

          • Ron H.

            Yes, a few things more:

            I’m a libertarian who believes that we, as sovereign individuals, have natural rights including an inalienable right to self ownership, self determination, negative rights to life, liberty, and property, or whatever similar wording you prefer, and a right to defend ourselves and our rights against aggression from others including tyrannical government.

            I believe in the non-aggression principal as a fundamental ethical foundation for interpersonal relationships. In other words, I believe we are free to pursue whatever *peaceful* ends we wish, as long as we acknowledge and respect those same rights in others that we claim for ourselves. “Do unto others…”

            There has never been a better way to defend one’s self than being armed except hiring other armed people to act for us. Most of us can’t afford that level of security.

            Since all value is subjective, I don’t believe there’s any way to objectively weigh the cost/benefit of gun ownership as you wish to do. My right to self defense far outweighs your baseless fear of guns (IMO), so absent some realistic, imminent, and believable threat to you or others, you may not legitimately restrict my right to keep and bear arms, especially in my own home.

            There are plenty of things to worry about in this world, and my guns should be at the bottom of your list. Absent some credible reason to believe it’s a problem, you have no right to question my competence with my firearms, or force me to prove I should have them, and I don’t need to offer a reason for having them.

            You can’t invoke the precautionary principle in this case without also invoking it against hundreds of other things in our everyday lives that pose more of a threat than guns, Cars come to mind. We accept, without serious objection, the deaths of 30-40,000 people a year in auto accidents. Apparently the cost/benefit analysis favors our being able to drive from place to place.

            Many of the people who are shot each year are operating outside the law, and must therefore provide their own security. We CANNOT I repeat CANNOT prevent those people from having guns no matter how strict gun control becomes, but we can certainly restrict the rights of law abiding citizens to defend themselves. Unless you or I are members of that first group, our risk from firearms is much lower than the raw numbers indicate.

            And we cannot rely, as you would prefer, on a few armed experts such as the police to be our first line of defense. As they say, “when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.” They will be right over in 20 minutes to take a report and call the coroner – maybe. Court cases have determined that the police are not obligated to protect any individual, only society as a whole. Comforting?

          • Farstrider

            First of all, people don’t plan to “use a gun” in public. They hope to prevent serious injury or death to themselves and others should an imminent violent encounter be unavoidable.
            Yes, but by using a gun in public.

          • Ron H.

            Yes, but by using a gun in public.

            Using a gun in public…what?

          • Farstrider

            You said people don’t plan to use a gun in public, but your next sentence reveals that they plan do do exactly that.

          • Ron H.

            Is “plan” the problem word here? I don’t “plan” to use my spare tire, either, but it’s nice to have one. It prevents being stranded on the side of the road, just as a gun can prevent physical harm from the violent actions of others. What different wording would you prefer I use to convey that concept of prevention? Is “use” the problem here?

          • Farstrider

            The only reason you or anyone has a spare tire is because they plan to use it should the need (in their view) arise. It’s silly to argue that people carry guns or spare tires with any other intent but to use them in certain circumstances.

  • Reasonable Extremist

    A question for hardcore pro-Second Amendment libertarians from a medium core pro-Second Amendment libertarian: are there are any limits on private ownership that you think are acceptable or do you indeed interpret the “right to bear arms” to cover everything from rocket launchers to nukes? And if you do support some restrictions what is your criteria for line drawing?

    • Ryan O

      Not sure where exactly the term originated but one that is used by “medium core” people I’ve spoken to is “arms of common use”
      Today, the vast majority of firearms are either magazine or tube fed, or are revolvers. That covers probably 99% of what’s available “in common use.”
      I personally find this phrase useful to explain to anti-gunners why banning semi-autos is ridiculous because SO many guns are semi-auto and commonly used.
      Nuclear weapons, rocket launchers, grenades, mines, weapons of that nature aren’t considered “arms of common use” by the vast majority of people, myself included, and would be considered normal to be barred from regular ownership.

      I personally don’t think that the framers meant to bar the citizenry from access to them, as they wanted to be able to arm the populace to a sufficient degree to challenge the military of the government if necessary, but limiting access to “arms of common use” for the average person is a reasonable place to start when it comes to enacting restrictions.
      The issue then becomes “what arms are OF common use”
      Like fully automatic firearms, rifles of significant caliber, etc.

      • Reasonable Extremist

        I got it from Bryan Caplan in his excellent post on hardcore, medium core, and soft core opposition to the welfare state.

        I think your account is thoughtful and well grounded (a similar account was advanced by Reason Magazine’s Jacob Sullum in a debate with gun control proponents recently) but I wonder if it makes sense with respect to the “prevent tyranny” rationale. In other words, if a major purpose of the Second Amendment is to prevent government tyranny, shouldn’t we allow citizens to acquire rocket launchers and other highly powerful weapons even though they aren’t in common use today?

        • Ryan O

          That is the rub.
          If the founders truly wanted a populace sufficiently armed to be able to militarily overthrow the federal government, then rocket launchers, SAMs, grenades, tanks, etc might be necessary.
          The discussion breaks down to this particular argument: how much force would those in the military agree to use in the act of attempting to put down an open rebellion?
          Many of those on the very pro-2A side would argue their military brothers take an oath to defend the CONSTITUTION against all enemies foreign and DOMESTIC and that if ordered to fire upon fellow citizens, many if not most would refuse. It’s true that there will always be soldiers who do what their told, but Trump’s recent arguments in the last debate that the military would follow orders he gives regardless of whether or not they’re legal has brought up the training all military personnel receive on orders.

          I believe that any situation where an attempt to overthrow the government would have legitimacy will be a scenario much like the secession that occurred prior to the civil war; there will be political action long before open combat. This would give those in the rebellion sufficient time to develop a (hopefully) constitutional reason for wanting to rebel.

          A legitimate raising of arms against the federal government would require much more than just a series of assassinations by a few thousand in a militia group.

          In the end, whether the combat occurs in large scale or small, at the very least the average person would need access to semi-automatic and pump/lever action firearms to be able to pose any kind of threat. Single shot long guns and “smart” .22 caliber handguns won’t cut it.

          • Ron H.

            Good comments, Ryan. I agree that “arms of common use” is a good standard to start from, and I would include heavier weapons absent serious concerns by the neighbors. Obviously individual circumstances would need to be considered.

            I would like to think that military and law enforcement folks wouldn’t fire on fellow citizens, but we have too many examples where that restraint hasn’t held: Kent State, Ruby Ridge, Waco, and of course the War of Northern Aggression itself. Keep in mind that the Confederates weren’t interested in overthrowing the US government, they just wanted to leave the Union, which they did. Lincoln’s refusal to allow this legitimate action resulted in the deaths of 650,000 Americans.

            It’s hard to say what would happen in an armed confrontation. Of course the Bundy Ranch standoff ended without violence, and with the Feds backing down. One for the good guys

          • ThaomasH

            Clearly there is a difference of principle, but It sounds like the main difference is my difficulty of believing that very many people can use a gun in an emergency to protect themselves and of these very few will ever face a situation in which their ability could be put to use. I guess I’d feel the same way about automobiles if I thought that car owners almost never used them to reach a destination but still managed to have fatal accidents.

          • Ron H.

            Instead of relying on your vague “difficulty believing” as a guide you might try to find some objective numbers in the issue. Here’s a good place to start. These are all incidents that were serious enough to involve the police and to be reported by news outlets, and most involved the actual firing of a weapon. Most studies of this subject, whether pro or anti gun control estimate that only about 25% of defensive gun usages involve actually firing the weapon, and many if not most of those may not be reported due to concerns for unwarranted scrutiny by police.

            Then compare to CDC reports of accidental shootings to make the comparison or cost/benefit analysis you have been doing based on “feelings”, but without any actual data.

            If you do actually read some of the referenced incidents, ask yourself what some of the people who successful prevented violent crimes would say to you if you told them you didn’t believe they should have had that ability to defend themselves.

            .

          • Ron

            Analogies are always imperfect, as is this one, but carrying a gun to a destination is analogous to driving to a destination. Only a tiny fraction of cases of gun-carrying end up with someone getting hurt.

      • “Not sure where exactly the term originated but one that is used by “medium core” people I’ve spoken to is ‘arms of common use'”

        “Common arms of the day” comes from British common law cases from the period of transition between common use of crossbows and ‘handgonnes’, particularly Rex v Knight and Rex v Gardner. The cases held that commonlaw protections on the RTKBA applied to the “common arms of the day” and had to keep pace with changes in technology, both that generally available to the law abiding and that of the criminal threats they commonly faced.

    • n0truscotsman

      For me, as a generalized ‘socially liberal, economically right-leaning” person, I draw the line at licensing ordnance (rocket launchers, anti-tank gun ammunition) rather than the ‘generally availability’ of favored ones like military-like rifles. Probably due to my personal experiences with such weapons from the military and the high degree of training required to safely operate them.

      Same with the mentally adjudicated and felons (with plenty of room for closely examining laws on individual cases).

      However, the so-called ‘common sense’ restrictions on, say, AR15s and kalashnikovs for example is ridiculous IMO since those weapons are used in such a tiny number of homicides and crimes compared to their increasing popularity not only within target shooting crowds, but also hunters (with small magazines). Ditto on the arcane restrictions on suppressors and short-barreled long guns.

      That is my 2 shillings.

  • Ben Kennedy

    It is perfectly reasonable to ban private ownership of nuclear weapons because they cannot possibly be used safely for self defense, or safely to deter tyranny. To use a bomb to do either would result in the deaths of countless innocents. There is no such thing as “responsible nuke ownership”. Non-aggression is still the operating super-principle. I’m pretty sure Rothbard used this argument.

    Now if a social scientist comes in and says that guns are a social plague, they would have to make the case that owning a gun is an act of aggression – maybe because some criminal could break into your home and steal it and murder people. In that case, the debate should turn to sensible ways to maintain gun ownership in society without letting innocents get hurt, which is pretty much what we have today.

    Of course, I think all natural rights arguments are silly from the get-go – but in a natural rights framework it is pretty coherent to appeal to a natural right to own a gun

    • Chris Freiman

      I don’t see how hanging a nuke on your mantel is, in itself, an act of aggression. I think the reason we nevertheless want to prohibit this is because of the possibility of the nuke being misused and the high social costs of such misuse. But if that argument works for nuke control, it seems to work for gun control. Obviously, the risks of the two are different but my point isn’t that the risks are the same; it’s that we should think about gun control in terms of its risks and rewards in the same way that we think about nuke control in terms of its risks and rewards.

      • Ben Kennedy

        Well, the question of “can I ban horribly dangerous things” is still orthogonal to self defense. Suppose I invent a new communication technology that works by sending arc lighting around the neighborhood – that could be banned, and it has nothing to do with keeping and bearing arms. Similarly, the question of whether or not horribly dangerous things can be kept as long as you promise not to use them (that is, then hang over your mantle) is unrelated to keeping bearing arms – for example, suppose my power generator has a 10% chance per hour of exploding and destroying the neighbor hood.

        However, the hidden premises of the right to keep and bear arms as that arms are not horribly dangerous things. And it is reasonable to attack that premise, of course, in the same way I can debate the costs of benefits of free speech, or a free press. The point is that it completely coherent to argue for a right to keep and bear arms irrespective of costs and benefits, as that is already answered the premise (like speech, the free press, etc).

        Your approach will work only if you jettison the entire natural rights paradigm and go full on consequentialist – which is fine, but this would concede there are no such things as rights at all

    • Ron H.

      You may mean a natural right to self defense – a gun being a pretty good way to accomplish that.

      You’re right that owning a nuclear weapon for self defense is a really stupid idea, and are useless in deterring tyranny by our own government. And yet we have appointed agents – other people just like ourselves – to keep them at the ready as a deterrent to other nations on our behalf. go figure.

      Just out of curiosity, what do you think is silly about the concept of self ownership?

      • Ben Kennedy

        Not self-ownership specifically, just natural rights in general. My objection is metaphysical, and is pretty much analagous to the objections raised by moral error theory to morality. People use rights-language as if they are actual things that are properties of our universe, but unfortunately the universe doesn’t actually supply those properties. At best, rights language is useful linguistic shorthand for communicating human-oriented goals. So, something like “there is a right to self ownership” is a truth-apt statement that is false

        • Ron H.

          Without engaging in a philosophical discussion for which I’m not prepared, what would you call the universally observed characteristic of humans and most other living creatures to instinctively and consciously protect their lives, liberty, and property from loss, especially loss due to the actions of other people?

          • Ben Kennedy

            I’d call it a survival adaptation

          • Ron H.

            And is this survival adaptation a property of the universe, or an observable manifestation of living creature oriented goals? Survival apparently being a desirable end.

            This survival adaptation doesn’t appear to depend on the views of others to exist.

            Perhaps I could say “I may determine for myself when and if to exercise my natural survival adaptation without the permission or approval of others, because it’s an inseparable part of my nature as an individual human being.”

            I gotta say, I find relativism quite dreary. Everything seems pointless.

          • Ben Kennedy

            Survival adaptation is a highly interesting process – I wouldn’t call a “property of the universe” as much as high level abstraction over biological responses, which are abstractions of chemical reactions, which are abstractions of subatomic interactions, etc

            The issue is with the part of your statement is “I may determine” – there is nobody giving you permission to do things or forbidding action. An error theorist is not a relativist. It may seem dreary, but it is better to swallow that particular bitter pill now. Plus I would argue that it is in fact not dreary at all, but rather freeing to be able to push through dogmatic assertions. It’s also work, as now you have to show your work rather than say “taxation is theft” or “reproductive right” or whatever

            Moral language or political language is definitely useful linguistic shorthand for communicating various concepts. It’s fine to talk about the moral permissibility of this and that when proposing an ideal society. The problem is when people use that language as the basic for something. I agree with Chris, rights-based arguments against gun control fail, because rights-based arguments are not even arguments, they are just assertions. They are conversation stoppers. They effectively say, “I will not argue with your, because, rights!”

          • Ron H.

            Interesting. So there is no room for first principles – there’s no place from which to start as in: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

            I think my survival adaptation would demonstrate that taxation is theft. What do you think? Please describe how I would show my work attempting to assert the premise that taxation is theft, and how it would fail. If taxation isn’t theft, It’s not clear that theft can have any meaning at all, as it seems to infer a moral judgement of some kind. this is not familiar ground.

            In Chris’s atomic bomb story it’s not clear why Bobby’s neighbors would deprive him of his bomb if there’s no moral equivalence between Bobby’s self defense and the neighbor’s safety. Who decides such things? And what, exactly, does “intolerably high risks to others” mean? Who gets to measures risk tolerance and make a determination of what is “too high”?

            People seem to make value judgements all the time, which appear to reflect their individual preferences, and since all value is necessarily subjective, it’s not clear how human society ever developed beyond Hobbes’s “state of nature” without some widely recognized first principle.

          • Ben Kennedy

            Yes – aside from the metaphysical problem, the fact that “self-evident” truths are endless debated throughout time is pretty good sign that they are human figments

            If I wanted to show my work to oppose taxation, I’d probably point to Mises and Hayek, and note that government can’t really allocate goods and services better than individuals. If I wanted to vindicate taxation, I’d point out that some people are unlucky, and it really kinds sucks to be unlucky, so some redistribution to take care of them is called for.

            I don’t know who decides what is too risky, the answer really depends on your framework for how society should be organized. Most frameworks will handle that problem somehow

            As for how we rose out of a Hobbesian state of nature – people certainly believe there are first principles. Morality wouldn’t be doing it’s job if didn’t persuade people that the laws were objective and universal. But of course, that doesn’t mean they actually are objective and universal

          • Ron H.

            So it’s possible to have no morals, no ethics, no principles, and to hold opposite positions at the same time on any issue.

            Are there any truths at all if none can be self-evident? I’m really struggling with your answers.

            You didn’t really answer my question about theft. I’m familiar with Hayek and Mises, but wouldn’t I just be showing THEIR work if I support my assertion by pointing to them?

            If I wanted to vindicate taxation, I’d point out that some people are
            unlucky, and it really kinds sucks to be unlucky, so some redistribution
            to take care of them is called for.

            I don’t see that there’s any connection, Who gets to decide? Are justice and fairness human constructs?

            Is luck a property of the universe?

            If theft is a thing, (and assuming there’s property) how is my theft of your property different from someone calling themselves ‘government” taking your property, assuming there’s no prior consent in either case?

          • Ben Kennedy

            There is nothing wrong with ethics or principles, as long as you don’t assert they are somehow fundamental properties of the universe. As for the age old question “what is truth”, check out the definition of truth at the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – and moral skepticism while you are there. Those guys can make the points better than I can.

            As for “justice” and “fairness”, one thing I have noticed as a parent is that from a early age, kids are clued into things being fair (we all get the same number of cookies) and things being just (so-and-so broke the rules). My personal approach is that justice, fairness, and other concepts such as transgression and authority are evolved human responses to rules. It is interesting that in three unrelated areas of sports games, the civil state, and religion that we see the same kinds of institutions play out of in terms of judges, laws, fairness, penalties, etc. So it makes a lot of sense that those are internal human states.

            On taxation and theft – theft is taking things that don’t belong to you. I like the Lockean proviso approach, the says in order to justify the taking of unclaimed goods as private property, there must be enough left for other people to do the same thing. If there isn’t, then sharing is called for. Thus, taxation and redistribution. I think this is why most people don’t intuitively understand taxation as a form of theft, because at the end of the day they want social safety nets to exist

          • Ron H.

            Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – and moral skepticism while you are there.

            OK, thanks for the pointer. I’ll check that out. And thank you for the intro to the subject.

            I used to struggle with the Lockean Proviso because it seems there was a natural limit to “as much and as good” left, but I’ve since realized “unowned nature” need not apply only to land area, but would include anything previously unknown and/or unused by anyone else.

            When we create value for others we are leaving more than as much and as good. There is far more useful “stuff” available to others now than there was in Locke’s time, and there will be even more in the future. Where it is most desirable and in demand, we have even created more “land” in the form of multistory buildings.

          • Ben Kennedy

            The crux of the Lockean Proviso is fairness – humans generally don’t like rules to be arbitrary. This manifests all over, like in football how they tweak overtime rules, or jury selection in legal trials. To me the proviso just means essentially “you just can’t take all the stuff because you got lucky an got there first”. But when there isn’t really any stuff left to homestead, then the proviso is implemented through taxation/redistribution. That’s my take anyway

          • Ron H.

            To me the proviso just means essentially “you just can’t take all the
            stuff because you got lucky an got there first”.

            Which is nothing, if not arbitrary. 🙂

            But when there isn’t
            really any stuff left to homestead, then the proviso is implemented
            through taxation/redistribution.

            Which runs afoul of “taxation is theft”. Who gets to decide what is “fair”? It seems like a subjective judgement. What I think is fair probably favors me if I were one of the parties to such a decision.

            I have homesteaded nothing in my lifetime, I have mixed my labor labor – something I have always owned – with “stuff” someone else has produced and owned in exchange for a share of the value I’ve added to the “stuff”.

            Taxation/redistribution, to avoid being labeled theft, requires the curious notion that some amount of my labor, doesn’t actually belong to me – which runs afoul of the idea that one person may not be forced into the service of another.

            Who should instead own some of my labor, and in what amounts, is determined by people who don’t even know me. How the term “fairness” can be applied to such an arrangement is beyond my understanding.

            It’s hard to imagine the concept of homesteading without picturing someone appropriating previously unused and unowned land to their own use, but in reality it may only be necessary to find a new use for something in nature that was previously unknown. Crude oil comes to mind. It had no value until a process for making it useful to people was discovered.

          • Ben Kennedy

            “Who gets to decide what is “fair”? It seems like a subjective judgement. What I think is fair probably favors me if I were one of the parties to such a decision.”

            The people that decide are the people that are negotiating. There is incentive not to be selfish because most people prefer peace to violence. It is definitely subjective, but also cultural, which is why historically there is more violence between societies rather than within them

            “Who should instead own some of my labor, and in what amounts, is determined by people who don’t even know me. How the term “fairness” can be applied to such an arrangement is beyond my understanding.”

            Arnold Kling just put up a piece on “cultural intelligence” – I think this is a better model for explaining things like taxation than a hypothetical social contract. We have tons of cultural norms hammered into us that evolved over time. The norm “you ought to pay your taxes” is probably conducive to a more orderly, successful culture – so it shouldn’t be surprising that it exists. This is why anti-tax Libertarians are generally met with blank stares. Even though people don’t like paying taxes, they have internalized that they are necessary, and only a few wacky AnCaps will bother to disagree.

          • Ron H.

            you ought to pay your taxes

            Followed by: “Or we will take them from you by force and throw you in a cage” provides pretty good motivation to comply. If that very real threat wasn’t part of it, I wonder how much actual tax revenue would be collected from people paying voluntarily? If people were really willing to pay for services provided by the state the threat wouldn’t be necessary, would it?

            And of course “You ought to pay your taxes” assumes the legitimacy of the taxing authority.

            Accepting taxation without serious objection is certainly conducive to a more docile and orderly society, I guess ‘successful’ would depend on which side of the tax collection a person is on.

            Blank stares result from people who have learned from an early age accept the cultural norm without questioning it. “Internalized as necessary”, as you put it.

            It’s a blow to one’s dignity to accept the idea that they are being robbed and have accepted this abuse because they see no reasonable alternative. It’s easier to call it something else and internalize it as necessary, without questioning.

          • Ron H.

            BTW thanks for the pointer to Kling’s excellent article. It mirrors my views almost exactly. I’m not sure why you think it provides support for acceptance of taxation. Cultural Intelligence, as described, matches my understanding of the spontaneous order of free markets, and seems to reject central planning and authority.

        • Ron

          Individuals have many rights: to travel freely, to contract with others, to defend oneself against aggressors, etc… But they don’t have the right to harm non-aggressors while exercising those rights.

          Rubber-hit-road — Here’s how the Uniting Amendment addresses the issue:

          “…The right of self-defense shall not be infringed; the right of the people to lawfully possess, use, transport, transfer, sell, buy, or otherwise own or control any weapon or defensive device for the purpose of the defense of their life, liberty, family, community and property from criminals, aggressors, usurpers or tyrants shall not be abridged, infringed, licensed, or regulated…

          Indiscriminate weapons may be regulated by Congress. An indiscriminate weapon is a thermonuclear explosive, or any other tangible weapon that, when used against an aggressor during any particular defensive act, would likely maim or kill a non-aggressor. Any regulation of an indiscriminate weapon shall be narrowly constructed so as to affect protection of non-aggressors with the least amount of restriction possible…”

          Note that a weapon may be indiscriminate in one context, yet perfectly legal in another. An RPG is indiscriminate for someone who lives in a small apartment, but it may be appropriate for someone living on a large ranch near the border of a hostile territory.

          The amendment includes an exception that allows the armed forces to use extraordinary weapons such as nuclear bombs. Should it?

  • Josh Smift

    “the issue should be decided on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis:
    e.g., does robust access to guns increase or decrease the general risk
    of violent crime, death, etc?”

    In the other direction, if this is a good way to decide who gets to have guns, why isn’t this a good way to decide who gets to have other kinds of property, like cars or computers or whatnot? If studies suggest that people would be better off if they did more hiking and spent less time in their living rooms watching television, should we ban TVs? Presumably not, but why do are social cost-benefit analyses ok for guns and not for televisions?

    I think a better approach to gun control — and to any sort of property ban — is to balance the right to own the property against the risk of doing accidental damage to others with it. I’m not likely to accidentally hurt anyone else with my television, so you don’t ban that. I’m very likely to do (massive) accidental damage to others with my atomic bomb if I use it to stop a burglar, so you do ban that. Somewhere in the middle are dangerous things like cars and guns, and that’s where you get some robust debate, and maybe licensing requirements, and stuff like that.

    • Farstrider

      “why isn’t this a good way to decide who gets to have other kinds of property, like cars or computers or whatnot?”
      But it is. We don’t let kids, blind people or drunks drive, for example. Nor do we let hackers or pedophiles use computers.

      • Josh Smift

        Those all seem like examples of the “rights vs risk of accidental (or intentional, in some of those cases) damage” idea, not the “just take a pure cost-benefit analysis, rights don’t enter into it” idea.

        • Farstrider

          All rights are rooted in cost benefit analysis – they are human constructs, not natural constructs, that are created by humans to accomplish certain societal goals – so there is no distinction between the two.

          • Ron H.

            Do you mean other people decide what my rights are? How is this different from slavery?

          • shemsky

            Ron, as long as you interact with other people, then they are going to have a say in what your rights are, just as you will have a say in what their rights are. There’s no way around that. It’s not slavery, it’s common sense, Hopefully, it’s cooperating with others to live in a peaceful society.

          • Ron H.

            If I describe my “rights” as an individual right to self ownership and self determination including a right to my own labor, and including the negative rights to not be killed restrained, or robbed (assuming my actions are peaceful), would you still say other people can determine those rights for me, or might they be part of my nature as a human being, and inseparable from me?

            Notice I didn’t claim those rights couldn’t be violated, which of course they can, but that I have them whether or not they are respected by others.

          • shemsky

            One can claim whatever they want as being their rights. I do it all the time. And when I do, what I really mean is that I feel that those particular things should be my rights and that other people should respect them. But other people can determine whether or not those rights will be respected or violated or ignored. That’s what matters.

          • Ron H.

            Then we agree – as long as you didn’t claim those rights only exist because others grant them.

            I wouldn’t claim positive rights, as that might require that another person be placed in my service against their will to provide it. I have a right to make a living, but no one is required to provide me with a job. I have a right to an education but no one is required to provide me with one.

          • Farstrider

            Of course rights exist because others grant them – and notably because there is a government to enforce them. Without other right-recognizing people and a government, you’d have no rights at all. This is obvious.
            Thus, when people claim they have a right to X, it usually means one of two things: (a) they have government approved and enforced choice to do or not do X or (b) they wish they had (a).
            (Note also that you only have rights vis-a-vis other people. Your “right” to make a living by, for example, farming, is not violated if there is a (naturally occurring) drought or a flood. You similarly have no “right” to be free from the violence of a (naturally occurring) bear attack. This is how you know that rights are human constructs, not something found in nature.)

          • Ron H.

            This is obvious.

            Um,.. no it isn’t obvious.

            Government is nothing more than a person or group of people who claim dominion over others, and may claim to act as their agent or in their interest. Why would enforcement of rights make any difference to whether or not they exist?

            How do people become rights-recognizing, and how do they know what right to recognize?

            Your “right” to make a living by, for example, farming, is not violated if there is a (naturally occurring) drought or a flood.

            Of course. That IS obvious. A right to make a living doesn’t mean I will succeed at making a living, nor is anyone else obligated to help ensure that it happens.

            You similarly have no “right” to be free from the violence of a
            (naturally occurring) bear attack.

            But I have a “right” do attempt to avoid such an occurrence. I have a “right” to self defense.

            What if I claimed to have exclusive control of of my own thoughts, and of my own actions to the extent that I’m not physically prevented by others from acting?

            This is how you know that rights are human constructs, not something found in nature.

            But what if “rights” are a part of our nature as human beings?

            Birds fly. It is a part of their nature as birds. Of course they can be prevented from flying, but their nature isn’t altered by that constraint. Would you say they have a right to fly only when allowed to do so? That would sound a lot like a permission, not a right.

          • Farstrider

            You are mixing up rights with preferences. Saying it is in the nature of (some) birds to fly is not the same thing as birds have a right to fly. Birds in reality have no right to fly – we do not violate any rights by putting birds in cages – even if the bird has the ability and perhaps the desire to do so.

          • Ron H.

            We can as easily say the same of people. There is no morality, there are only the whims of others to guide us. But in that case, all whims must not be equal

          • Farstrider

            Yes, other people can (and do!) determine those rights for you. Your list of “rights” is a wishlist, some of which will be granted some of the time. Again, this is reality, not news.

          • Farstrider

            Yes, other people do in fact decide what your rights are. Through things like the “Constitution” and “statutes.” This should not be news to you.
            How is it different from slavery? Well, one obvious example is that one of your rights (decided by other people) is that you cannot be a slave. Do you need more differences, or is that sufficient?

          • Ron H.

            How is it different from slavery? One obvious example is that one of
            your rights (decided by other people) is that you cannot be a slave.

            So I can be a slave or not a slave depending on the views of others in my vicinity. It is our nature to only be what others want us to be. Not a very satisfying answer.

            The Constitution, of course, doesn’t grant any rights to individuals, but only lists a few of the rights individuals supposedly already have, and prohibits government from interfering with them. The rights mentioned are presumed to already exist. Check it out.

            Statutes are nothing more than permissions or prohibitions dictated by people with no authority other than might-makes-right. I know, I know, we are led to believe we are making choices in these matters, but we really aren’t.

            You are painting a sad and rather pointless picture of the world.

          • Farstrider

            “So I can be a slave or not a slave depending on the views of others in my vicinity.”
            Yes, now you are getting it. But you already knew this – Blacks in the pre-war South were in actual fact slaves because of the views of others around them. Why? Because they did not have a “right” to be anything else, until the Thirteenth Amendment came along. Yes, that’s right, the Thirteenth Amendment granted someone a right they did not previously have before. A right that did not exist in actual fact prior to its ratification and enforcement. Check it out.

            “You are painting a sad and rather pointless picture of the world.”
            I’m sorry if you find what I’m saying to be sad and pointless, but that has little to do with its truth. The world does not owe you satisfaction, and wishing something was so does not make it so.

          • Ron H.

            I could as easily say that slaves were slaves because their inalienable natural right to self ownership was violated. We can see that they were only restrained physically and forced to perform through threats of violence. They didn’t lose their thoughts or their will. We know that because many escaped – a simple act of will, a demonstration of their control over their own bodies. Chaining someone prevents their ability to move, not their will to move.

            It must be awful waking up each morning not knowing what rights others will allowed you that day.

            Are there no first principles from which we can construct a meaningful view of the world?

            I take it you would never say “We hold these truths to be self evident.”

          • Farstrider

            “I could as easily say that slaves were slaves because their inalienable natural right to self ownership was violated.”

            You could easily say that. But if pressed, you’d be unable to muster any evidence to support the existence of the “natural right.” Your inability to muster evidence would reveal that your statement reflects merely a preference about rights, not a description of rights that appear in nature. In particular, your statement would betray your preference that the slaves be given a different set of political rights then were actually afforded to them in the South. It’s a laudable preference, but it is nothing more than that.

            “We know that because many escaped – a simple act of will, a demonstration of their control over their own bodies. Chaining someone prevents their ability to move, not their will to move.”

            The fact that slaves don’t want to be slaves does not change anything. You are again confusing preferences (or as you put it, “will”) with rights. I can want an apple, but that doesn’t mean I have a right to one. For the same reason, I can be a slave and also want to be free.

            “It must be awful waking up each morning not knowing what rights others will allowed you that day.”

            Luckily, I don’t have this uncertainty, because I live in a relatively free society with a wide breadth of freedom afforded to me by my fellow citizens and the government under the rule of law. Of course, it would be awful to wake up in a repressive and lawless regime, where my freedom was severely curtailed and in which others could arbitrarily work their will on me. Those regimes do not grant their citizens’ rights, and that is why they are bad.

            “Are there no first principles from which we can construct a meaningful view of the world?”

            Sure, but naked assertions of “natural rights,” unsupported by anything but the dogma of their proponents, are not among them.

          • Ron H.

            Heh! You keep asserting that there’s no evidence for natural rights while making various pronouncements on moral values for which you have no evidence. You don’t see the irony?

            Luckily, I don’t have this uncertainty, because I live in a relatively free society…

            That’s today. How about tomorrow? People change their minds, you know. You must be assuming that goodness prevails. Where’s your evidence that there is such a thing as “goodness”? You keep asserting things without evidence.

          • Farstrider

            It’s a clever tactic to try to flip the burden of proof on me, but it doesn’t work. You are the one asserting the existence of something called “natural rights.” You have to come up with evidence of their existence. Just like you would if you were asserting the existence of a tree, or a virus or a photon.

            I’m merely questioning the existence of the thing you say exists. I have no burden of proof here to prove the negative.

          • Ron H.

            You haven’ established that ‘good’ and ‘bad exist, although you have made claims that require they do. What evidence do you have?

          • Farstrider

            I am saying that some “rights” consistently contribute to human suffering and some to human flourishing. That’s a somewhat empirical fact, insofar as we can study different outcomes under different regimes and see which are better. I suppose it is a “first principle” to suggest that we should be interested in human flourishing/suffering in the first instance, but that seems like a much smaller leap than what you are arguing, which is that rights spring from “naturally” from some unknown and unknownable intangible source, and exist regardless of the suffering or flourishing they may cause.

          • Ron H.

            You seem to be assuming the precondition of some “regime” existing as necessary to this discussion, but it’s not. My natural rights argument applies to any number of individuals from 1 to 7 billion.

            “Suffering” and “flourishing” are subjective values constructed by people, as is any judgement that one or the other is “good” or “bad”. We can indeed call such beliefs first principles because there is no way I’m aware of to go beyond that. “We hold these truths to be self evident.” We can argue whether or not they are true but there is no “evidence” to be called up. It’s simply a matter of faith.

            You might want to be careful calling things “empirical facts”. Such things at some point rely on first principles, and in science they rely on having never been falsified. They’re more often known as theories.

            I can as easily claim as a first principle that we each have a right of self ownership which is part of our nature as human beings, as you can claim that any such privilege is granted by other people. See how that works?

            One difference is that your theory suffers from the inconsistency of depending on who holds the whip. My holding it means your rights are at my whim, and vice versa.

            .. but that seems like a much smaller leap than what you are arguing,
            which is that rights spring from “naturally” from some unknown and
            unknownable intangible source, and exist regardless of the suffering or
            flourishing they may cause.

            This is progress: You now have us both “leaping”.

            My natural right of self ownership is neither unknown or unknowable. It is as much a part of my nature as a human being my tendency be self aware and think in the abstract. That right is negative – I have a right to be left alone to pursue my own peaceful ends. Not sure how that affects suffering or flourishing one way or another.

          • Farstrider

            When I say rights are manmade, I am describing an actual observable fact. I can point to evidence in support of it, like constitutions and statutes, and government enforcement of same. I am relying on no first principles, other than the fact that the things we observe actually exist and we are not all in the matrix. In contrast, you are claiming the existence of a fantastical and unobservable thing and you cannot point to any evidence in support of it. When you call it a “first principle,” what you really mean “article of faith.”

            Finally, you seem to think you’ve scored some big victory by pointing out that we can disagree on which rights are better than others or whether rights can ever be compared to one another. You also seem to think you’ve scored a victory by claiming that rights created by people can be inconsistent, variable, and even unpleasant. But that subjectivity and variability do not help you establish that any right is “natural” as opposed to manmade. To the contrary, the variety of human opinion on the question argues against rights being “natural” at all. Art can be unpleasant, variable, inconsistent and people can disagree about it – none of this suggests that it is “natural” as opposed to manmade.

          • Ron H.

            You need to reconsider what you are calling ‘rights’. You repeatedly describe permissions. You are assuming that government exists, and has legitimate authority, and that pronouncements by the humans who call themselves ‘government’ have any importance or authority.

            What you have repeatedly claimed is that one group of people can force other groups of people to their will. You call this a system of ‘rights’, but it’s just common thuggery.

            Yes we can be forced to do or not do things, and we can be granted or denied permission by some group of people claiming authority to do so, but you might want to investigate the source of that authority more thoroughly, and quit calling those permissions rights.

          • Ron H.

            . I can want an apple, but that doesn’t mean I have a right to one.

            You have a right to an apple but no one is required to provide you with one.

          • Farstrider

            “You have a right to an apple but no one is required to provide you with one.”

            Then I don’t have a right at all. I have a desire.

    • LLC

      Not a bad idea. Let’s start counting the accidents: people who shoot themselves, people who shoot friends, people who shoot their spouses, people who shoot their kids, kids who shoot themselves, kids who shoot their parents, kids who shoot their friends, kids who shoot their siblings, people who swear indignantly that they lock up all their weapons and ammo who are lying through their teeth. Wow, we’re almost out of the house!

      • “Not a bad idea. Let’s start counting the accidents…”

        OK, let’s. According to the CDC’s annual fatal injury reports, we are talking about a couple hundred fatalities per year in a country with 280 million-ish people and 300+million-ish guns. That number has gone down by half over the last couple of decades, particularly as handguns have become the post popular weapons for personal defense. There is some evidence that most ‘accidents’ happen in households where there is a history of criminal activity or domestic abuse. So, bottom line is that true firearm accidents are rare and the gun community itself has been effective at reducing them. Examining that data may very well reveal places where improvement is still necessary (there are age brackets where accidents are ‘sticky’ and have not been going down with the overall trend), but it will hardly yield a public health crisis of *any* dimensions.

    • LLC

      Sounds like a good idea. Lets start counting accidents: People who shoot themselves, people who shoot their spouses, people who shoot their kids, people who shoot their friends, kids who shoot themselves, kids who shoot their friends, kids who shoot their parents, kids who shoot their siblings. Now all we have to do is add all these same categories but where the shootings were on purpose, plus people who accidently shoot people who were mistaken for intruders and all the people who are shot by intruders with their own guns, and Wow, we’re almost out of the house and into the big wide world.
      BTW, I’m a multiple gun owner who used to shoot competitively.

  • alanstorm

    “Instead, the issue should be decided on the basis of a cost-benefit
    analysis: e.g., does robust access to guns increase or decrease the
    general risk of violent crime, death, etc?”

    Since gun ownership and gun laws have been liberalizing (in the original sense of the word) while violent crime has been decreasing over the past couple of decades, I’d say that issue has been pretty well decided.

    • Paul

      Yeah, I can’t imagine anything else that has changed over the past couple of decades.

    • LLC

      Arguably, abortion rights may well have more to do with reductions in crime than the liberalization and increased ownership of guns. Plus, the accidental death rates among gun owning families is well up.

      • Ron H.

        Plus, the accidental death rates among gun owning families is well up.

        Can you point to any data to support that claim?

        • “Can you point to any data to support that claim?”

          I highly doubt that @Ron H. can because it directly conflicts with the CDC’s fatal injury reports data from the last twenty years which shows an asounding decrease in firearm accidents both in absolute and relative terms.

          • Ron H.

            Deleted Comment

  • JW Ogden

    I have a view of pre-emptive regulation is good for the government to regulate an activity, like drilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico, if can be reasonably assumed that the damage due to an accident is beyond the actors ability to reasonably rectify. Same on weapons. It is squishy but some things are that way.

    BTW we are luck it is very expensive to build a nuclear weapon.

  • Ryan Davis

    I’m personally tempted to bite the bullet here. Other philosophical tribes are happy to hold radically revisionist views about the content of morality. Libertarians should have more courage, sometimes.

    But nevermind that. Let’s say that the right is based on self-defense. It’s standard to think that a condition of permissibly exercising my right to self-defense is that I not endanger (or, if your prefer, not disproportionately endanger) innocent third parties. Any use of the bomb for self-defense will run afoul of this condition. So there is no use of the bomb that is justified for self-defense. Of course, it is not the case that any use of the gun will run afoul of this condition. So the gun is eligible for use in permissible self-defense while the bomb is not. Maybe that is good enough as a morally relevant asymmetry?

    I feel like maybe I’m missing something, because it seems like I can say all of this without appealing to any of the social science on the effects of guns/gun ownership. I guess my worry is that for any right I care about, i want there to be a case for that right that does not depend too much on the empirical facts.

    • Farstrider

      “I guess my worry is that for any right I care about, i want there to be a case for that right that does not depend too much on the empirical facts.”
      Yes, we should all be free of the scourge of empircism, so that we can make pronouncements based on nothing but uninformed preference. Assume the can opener and all that.

      • Ryan Davis

        Well, I don’t think that rights depend on preferences, informed or otherwise. I think the deeper issue here is not really about gun rights, but about rights more generally. You could generate a reductio analogous to the one developed in this post for most any putative right: expression, religion, association, etc. There are possible situations in which the right, if exercised, would have very bad consequences. Consequentialists may be happy to allow that any “right” is thus limited. To my ear, that sounds like giving up on rights.

        • Farstrider

          Ah, but every right is so limited. There is no such thing as an unlimited right. You have a right to expression, but not to defame, defraud or threaten, for example (I’ll leave aside the fiery theater canard). You have a right to practice your religion, unless your religion requires human sacrifice or child abuse. It is both true and a truism that your right to swing your arm ends at the tip of my nose. The same is true for all rights.

          • David Morris

            The basic idea is simple. When the empirical facts are murky, err on the side of freedom. (And by the way, I DO think we should have the right to defame. Don’t you?)

          • Farstrider

            I agree, we should throw out nearly all of defamation law. I was just citing one of the many limits on speech rights that come to mind. While I don’t like defamation law, it is hard to disagree with limitations on actual fraud or true threats, right?

          • Ron H.

            So, you’re saying that a person’s right to not be sacrificed or abused trumps your right to practice your religion? Otherwise, I don’t see how anyone can interfere with or make pronouncements about your religious practices.

          • Farstrider

            “So, you’re saying that a person’s right to not be sacrificed or abused trumps your right to practice your religion?’
            I hope all of us are saying that.

          • Ron H.

            So that right to not be sacrificed or abused is granted by others? It doesn’t matter what the person believes about themselves, they have no right to life. Those Aztec captives had no reason to complain or resist that long walk up the steps to the sacrificial alter, as they had no right to life.

          • Farstrider

            You are again confusing rights with desires. Naturally, Aztec captives did not want to be sacrificed – or at least I hope that is true. But in that place at that time, under that regime, they did not have a right to be free from being sacrificed.

          • Ron H.

            You are again saying that rights don’t exist unless they are granted by others, I would draw a distinction between a natural inalienable right of self ownership or self determination each of us has as a part of our nature as human beings, and privileges granted by some other person or persons.

            Natural rights are considered to be negative, and include a right to not be killed, or unjustly restrained and to not have our stuff stolen. the fact that these rights can be, and are violated doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist.

            When you wrote: ” it did not recognize the rights we want all governments to recognize.” you were implying that those rights already exist, and you want government to acknowledge that they exist, and not violate them. There’s nothing there to suggest that government (some group of people) is empowered to grant or withhold those rights as it pleases.

            It sounds less awkward to say that those Aztec prisoners had an inalienable right to life that was violated, than to say you hope they wanted to live but their desires apparently went unfulfilled.

            Your example of a right to speak is merely something government is forbidden to restrict or compel and shouldn’t be confused with natural rights. No one has “freedom of speech” in my house. I can throw them out if I don’t like their speech. My property right trumps their right to speak.

          • Farstrider

            “I would draw a distinction between a natural inalienable right of self ownership or self determination each of us has as a part of our nature as human beings, and privileges granted by some other person or persons.”

            But what evidence could you offer for such natural inalienable rights? Can you point to any empirical thing making the existence of those rights more likely than not? No. Your “natural inalienable rights” are merely preferences for the rights you wish societies granted their citizens, not something that appears in nature or in any other empirical place.

            “the fact that these rights can be, and are violated doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist.”

            Rights can both exist and be violated. That’s not my point. My point is instead that a right that can be violated with impunity and without any recourse is no right at all.

            “When you wrote: ‘it did not recognize the rights we want all governments to recognize.’ you were implying that those rights already exist, and you want government to acknowledge that they exist, and not violate them. “

            No, you’ve missed the point entirely. Rights are human constructs, created by humans. At the same time, some rights are better than other rights, but only because they advance the human condition. Thus, we can want governments to recognize rights that they do not currently recognize.

            An example: a right to kill heretics increases human misery and suffering, and is therefore a bad right, but a right to speak heresy reduces human misery and suffering, and is therefore a good right.
            Neither of these are “natural rights,” insofar as their existence is not subject to empirical proof. It would be quite odd, as well as completely unfounded, to say that either right can be found in nature, especially since they can exist only in the context of an established religion (another human construct). But we would say that one of these rights is better and one is worse, and that societies should incorporate one into their rights regimes, and not the other.

            “No one has ‘freedom of speech’ in my house.”

            But at the same time, you have no right to silence a stranger on the street. Because he has a right to speak, afforded by society. But in a different place, where there is no societal limit on your behavior, you could silence anyone you were able to threaten or beat into submission. Because the speaker would have no rights in that place.

          • Ron H.

            How did you establish that there are “good” and “bad”? You don’t know that killing heretics increases human misery and suffering, nor that allowing heretical speech reduces it. That’s a baseless assumption on your part.

            You are trying too hard to explain something here that you don’t seem to adequately understand.

            But at the same time, you have no right to silence a stranger on the street.

            Good. We have established that there is private property. What if “society” doesn’t own the street? Does society have a right to prohibit my silencing a speaker on someone’s private property?

            you could silence anyone you were able to threaten or beat into
            submission. Because the speaker would have no rights in that place.

            Would I have a right to threaten or beat a speaker into submission? Where did I get that right? Are rights positive and conditional or negative and universal?

          • Farstrider

            “You don’t know that killing heretics increases human misery and suffering, nor that allowing heretical speech reduces it. That’s a baseless assumption on your part.”

            You really think that is in doubt? Also, even if my “baseless assumption” is wrong, it doesn’t bring you any closer to establishing that rights exist in nature, as opposed to invented by humans.

            “Does society have a right to prohibit my silencing a speaker on someone’s private property?”
            “Would I have the right to threaten or beat a speaker into submission?”

            Your phrasing of these questions shows you don’t understand the issue. Rights are invented by human societies. It is not hard to imagine a society in which such rights exist. Indeed, they already do: you can, in some societies, silence a speaker on private property who is making threats, or who is speaking heresy. Nothing prevents a society from making such a determination, or any other accommodation between private property and other rights.

            “Where did I get that right?”

            Again, to be clear, the rights you have are afforded to you by people, acting through a government. I’ve said this a million times. If you have a right, it is because government gives it to you, will defend it, and will punish those who violate it. If you do not have a right, then government will not do those things.

          • Ron H.

            You really think that is in doubt? Also, even if my “baseless assumption” is wrong, it doesn’t bring you any closer to establishing that rights exist in nature, as opposed to invented by humans.

            You really don’t see the problem here, do you.

            You accuse me of not proving a case for natural rights all the while failing to prove the case for rights granted by other people. We agree there are rights, although there is no absolute proof possible, for either argument. You would be in a better position if you argued that no rights exist at all.

            Your phrasing of these questions shows you don’t understand the issue Rights are invented by human societies.

            From a property rights perspective, my questions are pretty clear. Your need to think about what society might allow in each specific case, when there are no clearly understood rules, makes each of these issues confusing and difficult for you.

            … you can, in some societies, silence a speaker on private property who is making threats, or who is speaking heresy.

            In societies that recognize and protect property rights, I can silence a speaker on my property for any reason whatsoever, or for no reason.

            Nothing prevents a society from making such a determination, or any other accommodation between private property and other rights.

            Sure, except that society isn’t available to be consulted in every instance when a conflict arises. No voluminous book of rules can anticipate every possible dispute.

            Again, to be clear, the rights you have are afforded to you by people, acting through a government. I’ve said this a million times. If you have a right, it is because government gives it to you, will defend it, and will punish those who violate it.

            Yes, you do keep repeating that nonsense ad nauseam, but repetition doesn’t give it any more weight. I reject your premise. Do you understand? You have made no progress supporting it in any meaningful way.

            Try something else.

          • Farstrider

            You reject my promise because you don’t understand it. You need evidence that people create rights? It is trivially easy. Read the constitution or a statute. Study some common law. Go to a court. That is where you will find your rights. Not in nature. In fact, these are the “voluminous book of rules” that you claim does not exist. It’s plain as day.

            I understand your point that a society may may rights you don’t agree with. Of course! It also may make art I don’t like. That doesn’t mean there is a “natural art” separate and apart from what humans make.

          • Ron H.

            LOL You’re funny. You are getting ever further from a convincing argument. I reject your promise premise because it isn’t consistent with observations and because you haven’t made a case for it.

            There’s nothing to to understand about the silly notion that there are no rights not pronounced as such by people. I don’t happen to believe that’s true, and you’ve done nothing to convince me otherwise except to repeat the same thing over and over. If that’s all you’ve got, we’re done here. I don’t need to repeat myself.

            Reading comprehension may be a problem for you. If you have actually read the US constitution, you failed to understand it. Perhaps your exposure to it is limited to what you learned in the public school system. If that’s the case, your ignorance is almost excusable.

            In addition you apparently misread my “Book of rules” comment. I didn’t say there wasn’t one, I said it couldn’t possibly anticipate every conflict between individuals and groups of individuals that might arise.

            You should be aware that the Constitution, as a compact among the several states didn’t create any rights, but merely listed some that were widely understood to exist already and prohibited government from interfering with them.

            It’s hilarious you think rights are created by other people writing things down. Anybody can do that – I can, you can – they gain no authenticity or force from being written down.

            No, there are no actual rights evolving from a right to self ownership that I disagree with. There aren’t that many, and they are clear and understandable, and consistent.

          • Ron H.

            But what evidence could you offer for such natural inalienable rights?

            Observation. Most people have a sense that they own themselves. They will instinctively defend their lives, their liberty, and their property without consulting with others on the status of their rights. This is pretty much universal, and doesn’t depend on the number of other people in the vicinity.

            You may be trying to describe so-called cultural intelligence or social norms that have emerge over time as adaptive mechanisms for maintaining some measure of orderly societal interactions among individuals, but you might want to avoid calling them rights.

          • Farstrider

            Most animals “instinctively defend their lives, their liberty, and their property without consulting with others.” Does that mean all animals also have natural rights? And to the same degree as humans? And does it mean that a bear violates my rights when it attacks? That the lion violates the right of the gazelle? That you violate the right of a cow if you cage it, kill it and eat it? You have to answer all of these questions “yes” if your theory is correct. Do you actually think that every hamburger is a murder?
            I think not. Instead, you would sensibly claim that these “observed” phenomena are products of natural evolution, not mystically occurring “natural rights.” So too with humans, which, after all, are just more advanced animals. Specifically, they are advanced enough to invent rights, because they are a human construct, not something found in nature.

          • Ron H.

            Does that mean all animals also have natural rights? And to the same
            degree as humans?

            It’s hard to say for sure, you would have to ask them. Some people believe animals have rights, and I would be convinced if they (the animals) articulated them. Some animals do seem to be somewhat self aware, and many appear to have a sense of self-ownership, but I’m not sure I would compare them directly to natural rights in humans.

            I do believe animals have a right to be treated humanely, but maybe that’s just an obligation some of us place on ourselves out of respect for other living things. Something else we know exists but can’t prove.

            And does it mean that a bear violates my rights when
            it attacks? That the lion violates the right of the gazelle? That you
            violate the right of a cow if you cage it, kill it and eat it? You have
            to answer all of these questions “yes” if your theory is correct. Do you actually think that every hamburger is a murder?

            Those are all good questions: Some people would answer yes to all them, as those animals may be their ancestors and therefore endowed with the same rights as people. I don’t happen to believe that, but I’m unable to prove them wrong, either. It’s one of those first principle belief thingies.

            I think not.
            Instead, you would sensibly claim that these “observed” phenomena are
            products of natural evolution, not mystically occurring “natural
            rights.”

            That’s exactly what I do claim. Our advanced evolution has brought us to self-awareness, advanced abstract thinking, and the ability to articulate our own self ownership as opposed to ownership by someone or something else.

            Specifically, they [humans] are advanced enough to invent rights,
            because they are a human construct, not something found in nature.

            And I can as easily say that humans are advanced enough to be aware of their own self ownership, and grant privileges to each other based on their relative ability to use force.

          • Ron H.

            Rights are human constructs, created by humans. At the same time, some
            rights are better than other rights, but only because they advance the
            human condition.

            What evidence do you have for ANY of those three assumptions?

  • Paul

    I’m not sure that all the work is being done by the social science here. Given that there is not good evidence regarding the extent to which access to guns increases or decreases the risk of violent crime, we then need to rely on a principle of how to decide under conditions of uncertainty. (I’m assuming that no one really doubts that allowing individuals to possess nuclear weapons would be very bad). A principle that favors greater restrictions on guns seems much more plausible if there were no pro tanto moral right to own a gun. If there were a pro tanto moral right to own a gun, it seems far more likely that the right would be decisive under conditions of uncertainty.

  • M S

    I guess I don’t see how defeating bad rights based arguments entitles you to claim that all rights based arguments are bad. Lets say person X claims to have a right to private property, and he therefore has the right to kill anyone who sets foot on his property. You can, correctly, argue that he doesn’t have that right. You cannot argue that you have therefore demonstrated that rights-based arguments to private property fail or that there are no circumstances under which it is morally permissible to take a life.

    Also, I don’t think the reductio is doing nearly as much work as you would like. The fact that I may not be allowed to kill all of my neighbors in order to protect myself doesn’t tell me (1) whether I have the right to protect myself at all, (2) if I have such a right, what I am allowed, at a minimum, to do to protect myself, or (3) how to answer 1 or 2. You seem to think that the reductio shows that the answer to (3) has to be utilitarianism, but you don’t provide any kind of justification for that; instead you simply assume it like a kind of default answer (it’s not).

    Finally, just as a matter of context to see where you are coming from here, where do you think that rights-based arguments are successful? In what context is it okay to focus on rights instead of a “cost-benefit analysis”? Depending on how broadly you define a “social scientific question”, the argument you’ve offered here could be applied to pretty much anything.

  • DST

    “Should Bobby be permitted to possess this atomic bomb? Surely not. The reason is simple: the risk to others is simply too great.”

    You’ve just used a utilitarian evaluation of the situation to attempt to argue against a rights-based analysis. If you want to actually engage those arguing for a rights-based approach, you need to engage in a rights-based analysis yourself.

    While ownership of nuclear weapons might be prohibited under such an approach, such a prohibition would most easily and naturally be based on the fact that such ownership is per se an aggression, as it threatens everyone around the bomb owner. In other words, a prohibition on on nuclear weapons protects the rights of others against aggression.

    You’ve essentially assumed your conclusion by conducting a utilitarian analysis in the above quote, and then showing how that leads to a utilitarian solution.

  • hamilt0n

    Imagine a world in which any human contact kills everyone on Earth, especially the poor and oppressed. Should shaking hands be allowed? Should the police physically restrain a man who threatens to shake the hand of any man who trespasses on his property?

    Libertarians often defend the right all men to shake hands as they please–sometimes two or thee at a time! But is there really an *absolute* right to shake hands?

    The case for shaking hands shouldn’t be made on the basis of philosophical arguments about rights, obviously.

  • Tim Hsiao

    I have a paper in the October 2015 issue of PAQ which deals in part with this objection. A nuclear weapon is certainly an *effective* means of self-defense, but it is not a *reasonable* one. The reason why individuals don’t have a right to own a nuclear weapon is because nuclear weapons are disproportionate means of *individual* self-defense. That’s what underlies the appeal to risk: nuclear weapons are risky because their destructive potential is inherently difficult to control. That’s a function of the weapon itself. Handguns, by contrast, can apply easily and reliably apply discriminate force that matches the level of threats that individuals are likely to face when threatened by criminals. The fact that they are sometimes misused doesn’t mean that they aren’t reasonable means of individual self-defense. That has to do with the weapon itself, not the operator.

    • Chris Freiman

      Interesting. At first blush, though, I’m not sure if this makes much of a policy difference. Suppose we live in a comic book world where the Flash exists. Let’s say he is very hot headed, such that there is a serious risk of him going on a lightning-quick stabbing spree, killing roughly 50,000 people with a knife in the blink of an eye. A knife “can apply easily and reliably apply discriminate force that matches the level of threats that individuals are likely to face when threatened by criminals” but we have just as much justification for restricting the Flash’s possession of guns as we have for restricting people’s possession of nukes in the actual world because the expected (dis)utility of such possession is roughly the same.

      • Rob Gressis

        I don’t have the intuition that The Flash should not be allowed to own a knife. I guess I’m supposed to?

        I take it that The Flash could also kill 50,000 people with his fists in the blink of an eye. Do you think we should amputate his arms and legs on the grounds that failing to do so would have very high expected disutility?

  • David Morris

    Just seems to be attacking a straw man argument. To say “We have the right to guns because guns are property” definitely leaves a lot of unanswered questions. But providing a strong counter example(nuclear weapons) doesn’t mean much, you have to look at the more sophisticated versions of these arguments. Empirical data and value judgments are so intertwined, it isn’t like one is doing heavy lifting and the other isn’t.

  • Justin C.

    This argument doesn’t quite work. The reason he would be wrong to detonate the bomb or release the poison is that he would be aggressing against others who did not aggress against him.

    I could easily imagine us as a species many hundreds or thousands of years from now in which nuclear arms are owned be private organizations or entities as deferents that are never used.

    Isn’t that the situation that states are currently in? And hasn’t it led to greater peace than ever before in history?

    As a matter of expediency, I would admit that private ownership of nuclear arms would make my nervous today. But in hundreds or thousands of years?

    Who knows? They could be somewhat commonplace at a future point in history, and only sound principle would allow for that if there were in fact true benefits to be reaped from their ownership, whether as a deterrent or as an industrial space-aged device.

    Who knows? Controlled nuclear explosion could feasibly be used in spacecraft propulsion systems.

    This may seem far-fetched first, but there is no doubting that this is indeed the direction that humanity will head if it is to survive.

  • Greg Diderich

    A rights based way to defend the position that he should not have a bomb is the same as the pig farm argument. If your neighbor builds a pig farm and you can’t use your property anymore for what you bought it for, you are due compensation. If your neighbor builds an A-bomb and it’s too dangerous to live on your property anymore, he owes compensation. Likely he can’t afford the compensation to relocate the entire city, so he’ll have to dismantle the bomb.

    • Ron H.

      What if the pig farmer lived there before you moved near him? (or her, if you prefer)

      What if he already had a bomb at that time?

      If you move near the end of an airport runway can you sue for damages because of the noise and cracked windows?

      • Greg Diderich

        No. That question is pretty well explored in the literature I think.

      • Greg Diderich

        I thought I replied to this already, but maybe not. If the pig farmer or airport was there first, then you are buying the property as is, and have no claim. If the bomb was there first, but it was unknowable that it was there? Probably it is worth reading more in the literature to see what others have written. I’m guessing there is still a claim. Maybe it is against the seller of the property for not disclosing such things…If they knew.

  • scp

    According to Judge Napolitano, in the Constitution’s original meaning, there’s a difference between arms and armaments. I don’t recall the exact definitions, but my understanding is that arms would be weapons that are commonly used for individual self defense whereas armaments would be weapons that have no common non-military use.

    If that’s correct, the nuclear bomb would be an armament, and not protected by the 2nd amendment. Perhaps the risk-border that you’re searching for is the difference between arms and armaments. Perhaps the Constitution already found it.

    • Since the Constitution authorizes Congress to issues of Letters of Marque and Reprisal. One can assume it was expected that individuals would own battle ships. Seems it breaks the distinction between arms and armaments.

  • geoih

    Your reductio absurdum is just that, absurd. The costs of constructing an actual atomic bomb are tremendous and quite beyond the resources of a single person. Enriched uranium and plutonium are some of the most expensive materials in the world and require huge infrastructures to refine and manufacture. Atomic weapons are like armies and navies. That’s why only States, with the power to coerce and rob, have been able to make them (and even then, some of them seem to have problems doing that). I’m no more worried about my neighbor having an atomic bomb in his garage than I am that he has a fully functioning aircraft carrier or a battalion of tanks.

  • JdL

    The author appears to have missed the obvious. Bobby has the right to defend himself, and to kill anyone who threatens his life. But he does NOT have the right to kill innocents. An atomic weapon will kill perhaps 100,000 innocents; a gun zero, unless Bobby has been sloppy in his use of the weapon, in which case he should likely be prosecuted.

    I see BleedingHeartLibertarians is sticking to its miserably low quality of articles.

  • Pingback: How Property Rights — Properly Understood — Limit the Spread of WMDsHigh Quality News | High Quality News()

  • Romell Parks-Weekly

    Personally, I think that where many of us Libertarians fail is in being too legalistic with our principles. Situations are different, and principles should have enough bend in them to accommodate those nuances. Technically, the Constitution doesn’t allow “gun” ownership, but for “arms” ownership. One could argue that everything that carries the label of a “gun” is not an “arm” or, at least, a “personal firearm” under that definition. A missile could be called an advanced bullet, and the silo it shoots from a type of gun. CLEARLY, though, we don’t accept that definition. So the reality is that some weapons are not personal firearms but military-grade weapons intended for massive casualties. Civilians aren’t military personnel, nor do they go through the training of the military and, therefore, shouldn’t be allowed to possess weapons that exceed a certain… I don’t know… lethality. To that end, civilians shouldn’t be allowed to have missiles, atomic bombs, or assault weapons, whether they bear the name “gun” or not. Because again, “gun” isn’t in the Second Amendment anyway, so this really can’t be a semantic legalism.

    And besides that, the Second Amendment expressly lays out militia readiness being the chief concern, not simply general rights to gun ownership. Truth is, the Amendment needs to be amended for our generation to make this an easier issue to grapple.

    Of course, this is a philosophical opinion; but it makes the best sense to me. We have to put on our thinking caps and be reasonable with our principles, but Libertarians so often seem incapable of doing that because they’re trapped in the legalistic application of a generic principle that wasn’t conjured with every possible scenario in mind.

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  • Jim Davies

    Mr Freiman’s argument hinges on the statement that ” bomb control—depriving Bobby of his bomb—deprives Bobby of a means of self-defense.” However, that is false.

    First, making use of the bomb would (as he admits) would almost certainly kill Bobby. Some “defense”! A nuclear bomb simply does not fit the category of a self-defense weapon.

    Second: even if somehow it did, its use to prevent unwanted visitors “entering his house” would be grossly out of proportion to the aggression the visitors might use. Bobby’s property may be at risk, but as stated in the fable his life is not. Therefore, he is not justified, in libertarian ethics, in taking theirs. He is justified only in preventing them stealing what belongs to him, using minimal necessary force.

    Third, and most of all: using a nuke to zap trespassers would necessarily kill thousands of uninvolved neighbors who have posed Bobby no threat at all, and so would make him the aggressor, many times over, instead of the defender.

    It is, as Mr Freiman admits, a fable. What is not a fable is that several governments do actually possess nuclear weapons, by the thousand; and all three arguments above apply to them too; except possibly the first if they have, like the US FedGov, built themselves bomb-proof shelters. Unlike “Bobby”, governments have no rights, so the first step to take is to deprive them of those weapons.

  • garegin

    Ahh. The slippery slope of utilitarianism. In all seriousness this parable proves the point that all guns are aggressive by nature. The point of a gun is to injure, kill. The reason that classical liberals were pro gun is because they are an equalizer. It’s better for everyone to have weapons to create a balance of power.
    But more powerful the weapons, the deadlier the “balance”. Atomic weapons are not different from pistols in nature. The difference is that they kill more people.