Disarm the Police

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I begin with
an insight offered by Professor Carroll Quigley (1910—1977),
who taught history to Bill Clinton at Georgetown University. He
had such a profound impact on Clinton that Clinton referred to
him in his 1992 nomination acceptance speech. Quigley is famous
among conservatives for his book, Tragedy
and Hope
(1966), in which he devoted 20 pages to the connections
between Wall Street banking firms and American foreign policy,
which has been dominated by the liberal left (pp. 950ff). But
Quigley was also an expert in the history of weaponry. One of
his books, Weapons
Systems and Political Stability: A History
, was printed
directly from a typewritten manuscript and is known only to a
handful of specialists, was a 1,000-page history of weaponry that
ended with the Middle Ages. In Tragedy and Hope, he wrote
about the relationship between amateur weapons and liberty. By
amateur, he meant low cost. He meant, in the pejorative
phrase of political statists, Saturday-night specials.

a period of specialist weapons the minority who have such weapons
can usually force the majority who lack them to obey; thus a period
of specialist weapons tends to give rise to a period of minority
rule and authoritarian government. But a period of amateur weapons
is a period in which all men are roughly equal in military power,
a majority can compel a minority to yield, and majority rule or
even democratic government tends to rise. . . .

But after
1800, guns became cheaper to obtain and easier to use. By 1840
a Colt revolver sold for $27 and a Springfield musket for not
much more, and these were about as good weapons as anyone could
get at that time. Thus, mass armies of citizens, equipped with
these cheap and easily used weapons, began to replace armies
of professional soldiers, beginning about 1800 in Europe and
even earlier in America. At the same time, democratic government
began to replace authoritarian governments (but chiefly in those
areas where the cheap new weapons were available and local standards
of living were high enough to allow people to obtain them).

to Quigley, the eighteenth-century’s commitment to popular government
was reinforced — indeed, made possible — by price-competitive
guns that made the average colonial farmer a threat to a British
regular. Paul Revere’s midnight warning, “The regulars are out!”
would have had no purpose or effect had it not been that the “minute
men” were armed and dangerous.

With this
in mind, let me present my thesis.


The Second
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution asserts the right — the
legal immunity from interference by the State — of American
citizens to keep and bear arms. This means a rifle strapped to
my back and a pistol or two strapped to my hip, day or night.

It doesn’t
go far enough. It leaves guns in the hands of a subculture that
has proven itself too irresponsible to carry them: the police.

If I were
called upon to write the constitution for a free country, meaning
a country no larger than Iowa, I would require every citizen to
be armed, except members of the police. A policeman would have
to apply for an on-duty gun permit. He would not be allowed to
carry a gun on duty, just like England’s bobbies are not allowed
to carry them.

Every child,
male and female, beginning no later than age six, would be trained
by parents regarding the moral responsibility of every armed citizen
to come to the aid of any policeman in trouble. Unarmed people
deserve protection.

would be also taught that the first person to pull a gun to defend
an unarmed policeman or any other unarmed person deserves the
lion’s share of the credit. Late-comers would be regarded as barely
more than onlookers. This is necessary to offset the “Kitty Genovese
phenomenon.” In 1964, this young woman was attacked and murdered
in full view of 38 onlookers, in their Queens, New York, neighborhood.
Despite her screams for help, no one even bothered to call the
police. This is the “who goes first?” problem.

Anyone so
foolish as to attack a policeman would be looking down the barrels
of, say, a dozen handguns. “Go ahead, punk. Make our day!”

A policeman
would gain obedience, like James Stewart in Destry
Rides Again
, through judicial empowerment. He would not
threaten anyone with immediate violence. He would simply say,
“Folks, I’ve got a problem here. This person is resisting arrest.
Would three of you accompany me to the local station with this

He would
blow his whistle, and a dozen sawed-off shotguns accompanied by
people would be there within 60 seconds.

Every member
of society would be trained from an early age to honor the law
as an adult by being willing to carry a handgun. Everyone would
see himself as a defender of the law and a peace-keeper. Guns
would be universal. Every criminal would know that the man or
woman next to him is armed and dangerous. He would be surrounded
at all times by people who see their task as defending themselves
and others against the likes of him.

The only
person he could trust not to shoot him dead in his tracks for
becoming an aggressor would be the policeman on the beat. The
aggressor’s place of safety would be custody.

There would
be another effect on social life. When every adult is armed, civility
increases. In a world of armed Davids, Goliaths would learn to
be civil. The words of Owen Wister’s Virginian, “Smile when you
say that,” would regain their original meaning.

The doctrine
of citizen’s arrest would be inculcated in every child from age
six. Then, at the coming of age, every new citizen would take
a public vow to uphold the constitution. He or she would then
be handed a certificate of citizenship, which would automatically
entitle the bearer to carry an automatic. Note: I did not say


In England,
where the police have not carried guns for well over a century,
violent crime remained low until the mid-twentieth century. This
changed when the government began banning the private ownership
of guns. This development is presented in full academic paraphernalia
by Prof. Joyce Lee Malcolm in her book, Guns
and Violence: The English Experience
(Oxford University
Press, 2002). Dr. David Gordon summarized her findings in a recent
book review in The Mises Review.

proceeds by a learned study of violent crime in England, from
the Middle Ages to the present. In her survey, a constant theme
emerges. As guns became more prevalent, violent crime decreased.
This trend culminated in the nineteenth century, when death by
murder was rare but guns were widespread. The seizure of guns
during the twentieth century has been accompanied by a marked
increase in violent crime. At present some types of violent crime
are more common in England than in America. As usual, the statists
have their facts exactly backward.

Quigley would have understood the following bit of historical

in the eighteenth century should by now come as no surprise. “[A]t
the very time that the individual right to be armed was becoming
well established and guns were replacing earlier weapons, the
homicide rate continued its precipitous decline” (pp. 88—89).

But Professor
Quigley’s most famous student and his wife would not understand

will not earn a reward for correctly guessing Malcolm’s conclusions
about the nineteenth century. Once again, the number of guns increased
while violent crime declined. “The nineteenth century ended with
firearms plentifully available while rates of armed crime had
been declining and were to reach a record low” (p. 130).

So far,
we have a vast example of an inductive argument. Increases in
the prevalence of guns have always accompanied decreases in
violent crime. Does this not strongly suggest that guns in private
hands deter crime? The twentieth century, especially its latter
half, gives us a chance to test our induction, since ownership
of guns during that period came under strict control. If it
turns out that violent crime increased, then as Hume once remarked,
“I need not complete the syllogism; you can draw the conclusion

And of
course violent crime did increase. “Scholars of criminology
have traced a long decline in interpersonal violence since the
late Middle Ages until an abrupt and puzzling reversal occurred
in the middle of the twentieth century . . . a statistical comparison
of crime in England and Wales with crime in America, based on
1995 figures, discovered that for three categories of violent
crimes — assaults, burglary, and robbery — the English
are now at far greater risk than Americans” (pp. 164—65).

Gun control
advocates, faced with these facts, will at once begin to yammer
uncontrollably, “a correlation is not a cause.” Indeed it is
not; but in this instance, a strong correlation holds in two
ways: when guns increase in number, violent crimes decrease,
and when guns decrease, violent crimes increase. Further, a
plausible causal story explains the correlation: the prospect
of armed resistance deters criminals. This is about as good
as an inductive argument gets. But I do not anticipate that
those who wish to take away the right to self-defense will alter
their position. They aim to make everyone totally dependent
on the all-powerful state.


police, now fully deserving of protection by gun-bearing citizens,
would gain immense respect. They would rule by the force of law,
meaning respect for the law, meaning widespread voluntary submission
by the citizenry. This is properly called self-government under
lawful authority. The policeman’s word would be law. He just
wouldn’t be armed.

A criminal
would not escape from the scene of the crime by shooting the cop
on the beat. He would not get 20 yards from the cop’s body.

would regard a law enforcement officer as they regard their mothers.
They would do what they were told with little more than rolling
their eyes. If anyone physically challenged a police officer,
he would risk facing a dozen Clint Eastwoods who have been waiting
for two decades to get an opportunity to make their day.

To make
this system work, the courts would have to enforce strict liability.
Injure the wrong person, and (assuming you survive the shoot-out)
you must pay double restitution. Kill the wrong person, and you
must pay the ultimate restitution: eye for eye, life for life.
But no faceless bureaucrat hired by the State would do the act.
A group of armed citizens will execute you under the authority
of the court. Remember, the police are unarmed.

The fact
that citizens in no society think this way is evidence of how
well the defenders of State monopoly power have done their work.
They want their agents armed and the rest of us unarmed. A free
society would reverse this arrangement.


There are
those who will reply that my proposal is utopian, that civilians
do not have sufficient courage to come to the aid of an unarmed
policeman. Furthermore, they will complain, the common man is
not sufficiently self-disciplined to live under the rule of law
as I have described it. Both objections have validity. I can only
respond by pointing out that a society in which its citizens possess
neither courage nor self-discipline is not a free society. I am
not here proposing a technical reform that will produce a free
society. Rather, I am describing why freedom has departed from
this nation ever since, for lack of a better date, 1788.

18, 2003

North is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.
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