“To disarm the people is the most effectual way to enslave them." ~ George Mason
Rather than keep the reader guessing until the end, I'll answer the question that heads this essay right now, before I go any further. Absolutely, positively, without question, without qualification, the answer is, "Yes!" If you don't need further convincing or want to get back to an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," please consider yourself excused. (It is, easily, one of the funniest shows on all of TV. I understand completely.)
A number of events conspired to cause me to examine this issue. In the aftermath of my most recent essay on Plaxico Burress and his bogus conviction for shooting himself, I received quite a bit of positive feedback. One of the most interesting pieces came from a representative of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. JFPO has produced a movie entitled, "No Guns for Negroes." It is one of the most poignant and informative pieces on this subject. (On a personal note, I had not felt the visceral anger that this film engendered in a long time. My emotional state when I first finished reading, "Twelve Years a Slave" was close, though. I will try to not let my emotions spill over into this essay, but I can't make any promises.)
The Issue, True and False
I've heard a disturbingly-large number of people make the following statement. "Plaxico Burress was dumb!" as a way to, apparently, justify his treatment. One person even remarked that Plax deserved to be in jail for being so stupid. (I reckon that was a joke; nevertheless, further editorial comments strewn with curse words redacted.) Frankly, I have no clue if Plax Burress is intelligent or not. I also don't know what his favorite flavor of ice cream might be. Both those tidbits have equal relevance to the issue of gun control generally and what happened to him specifically.
More important though is this. Intelligence tests have a long and storied history in the quest of the State to keep the black man firmly in his place. If people really wonder if a victim of draconian statist violence masquerading as law and order is "smart" or not — and think that issue matters one iota — then the descendants of the racist bastards who initially conspired to strip black folk of the ability to defend themselves can proclaim "Mission Accomplished" and put another shrimp on the barbeque.
The fact of the matter is this: Dating back to the Antebellum South and beyond, the State has enacted laws specifically designed to keep black folk unarmed. This is not debatable, nor a matter of perspective. It is a matter of fact. The jailing of Plaxico Burress should not be viewed as an isolated event, simply the fallout of a careless high-profile citizen. It is the fruit of a racist tree planted in 18th century America, a tree that continues to bear fruit even in 2009. Consulting a paper on the racist history of gun control in Georgia produced by GeorgiaCarry.org, one finds this informative quote from Florida Supreme Court Justice Buford commenting on the practice of developing seemingly race-neutral gun control laws that — in reality — selectively applied only to blacks:
I know something of the history of this legislation. The original Act of 1893 was passed when there was a great influx of Negro laborers in this State drawn here for the purpose of working in turpentine and lumber camps. The same condition existed when the Act was amended in 1901 and the Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the Negro laborers and to thereby reduce the unlawful homicides that were prevalent in turpentine and sawmill camps and to give the white citizens in sparsely settled areas a better feeling of security. The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied.
You can't ask for more honesty than that. But, you may ask, how can I draw a similar conclusion about the laws of the City of New York? Isn't it clear that people like Mayor Bloomberg are genuinely concerned about the safety of all citizens? No. Hell no. How do I know? Let us examine another large U.S. city, Chicago, IL.
Disarmed Negroes, Not Just Fun During Slavery
In a piece entitled, "Chicago, gun control, and racism" we find this nugget:
Between 2000 and 2006, Chicago, home of the handgun ban, saw an [sic] handguns comprise a 43.2% larger portion of all homicides, increasing from 55.5% to 79.5% of all homicide methods. Firearm usage increased 24.7%, from 65.6% to 81.8% of all homicide methods. …Meanwhile, for the rest of Illinois, firearm usage decreased 16.0%, from 72.3% to 60.7%. (Handgun data not available.)
What does this mean? It means in the City of Chicago, where draconian gun-control quite similar to that of New York City exists, crime has increased. Not only that, but the crime has increased selectively in black neighborhoods. (You'll have to read the whole article to glean that tidbit.) Wouldn't that mean that one should do more to disarm criminals? If it were possible to disarm criminals selectively — and only in that event — such an obvious conclusion might make sense. Of course, such selective disarmament is nigh impossible. A better approach — an approach grounded in logic — is reflected by three points I made in an essay from quite a while back. That essay attempted to speak to anarchy, but the points I made relate directly to why widespread ownership of guns by law-abiding citizens must necessarily drive violence down. This issue is important enough that I'll restate those points in their entirety here:
- The fog of war is preserved.
- The argument from morality is honored.
- The opportunity cost for violence remains appropriate.
The primary result of any coercively implemented government attempts at disarming evil people is the disarmament of law-abiding citizens. Gun-control advocates, like those mentioned by Richard Poe in “The Disarming of Black America,” seem to believe that an authoritarian crackdown on having firearms will reduce violence by making everyone equal, i.e., equally unarmed. The fact of the matter is this can never, ever happen. The example of Kennesaw, GA provides a direct proof of the falsity of this premise. Cesare Beccaria, a legal theorist from the 1700’s (who some believe greatly influenced Thomas Jefferson), explains why with this unassailable logic.
Laws that forbid the carrying of arms…disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes…Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants.
Stated differently, those who respond to laws, such as turning-in unregistered weapons, are, by definition, law-abiding citizens. They are not the ones about whom we have to worry! Those who have no plan to obey the laws are unimpressed by such pleas. Worse yet, they expect that those they hope to prey on will respond to such requests. As a result, they know that their victims are unarmed. Few things can embolden a person who has the tendency to aggress against another like knowing for a fact that he is safe to do so.
One of the underlying assumptions in every environment where citizens have been disarmed via state coercion is that certain people, and only these people, are qualified and empowered to partake in certain practices. For example, the police are always armed. No one in his right mind would suggest otherwise. What objective moral criterion makes a policeman different than a regular citizen in this regard? Is it the uniform? Unlikely — uniforms provide no qualification in and of themselves. Is it the training? No — anyone can be trained. Is it via the consent of the governed? No — I am unqualified and unable to bestow a right away that I do not have.
Stated hypothetically, I cannot reasonably suggest that an acquaintance of mine (call him “Bob”) can have a gun, while simultaneously requiring that another acquaintance (call him “Rob”) cannot be armed. What is different about the police, and who made it so? Bob, Rob, and I are of the same species, sharing the same natural rights and privileges, and endowed with the same frailties. Only mysticism or irrationality can justify my elevation of one or the other to a status that we each cannot obtain on our own. (As an aside, some may recognize this quality of anarchy as a direct — but somewhat simplified — restatement of the concept of universalizability.) Whatever one prefers to call it, the same conclusion can be drawn.
When a criminal knows his victims are unarmed, his opportunity cost for violence is artificially lowered. Furthermore, and maybe more importantly, when those ostensibly authorized to “serve and protect” know that they — and only they — can inflict “lawful” violence upon others, they have a tendency to overreact when faced with a choice to use violence. Each time we hear about a citizen being shot multiple times by groups of police, or policemen actually breaking the law by selling drugs or other contraband, this truism is fully illustrated. Yet, when no one has an advantage — and generally only then — everyone is enticed to act accordingly.
When I was a kid, although there were occasional fights, most of them amounted only to shoving matches. Often, even the most ardent emotional dispute would end up with two kids staring each other down face-to-face and nothing more. Thinking back upon these “interactions,” the simple wisdom of one of our sayings about them strikes me. We would often say to anyone watching one of these staring matches, “One of them is scared and the other one is glad of it!” That, sports fans, is the essence of appropriate opportunity cost. Basic logic dictates: if you know you're going to have to pay for the aggression, you are generally slower to take part in it.
Anyone who thinks the opportunity costs for criminals looking to act out violently in Chicago is not reduced by widespread citizen disarmament is sadly, and cataclysmically, mistaken. (If recent biting essays from Will Grigg on the tendency of law givers to infringe upon their subjects don't convince you that opportunity costs, not only for criminals, but also ostensive law-enforcers, affect behavior, I don't know what will.)
A Psychological Perspective and a Historical One
When a buddy of mine read the essay from which the above three points were taken, he remarked to me that the terminology, "fog of war," made him uncomfortable. Thinking of our society as a place where war between citizens is a constant possibility should make one uncomfortable. Here's the important point, stated as an equation: Being Armed <> Being Violent. Being armed is not equivalent to being violent. In fact, exactly the opposite is true of the vast majority of citizens. However, and this is where it gets dicey, those who wish to infringe don't really care that much about being peaceful. Quoting myself from yet another essay on the Right to Bear Arms:
Have you ever met a bully? Almost everyone can remember that kid back in high school who took advantage of the nerds and/or the weaker kids. Generally, he was bigger, but not surprisingly — if you understand his pathology — this guy never accosted the kids who could readily defend themselves. Why? Bullies are cowards…Gun-free zones — and any other places where people are known to be less able (or less willing) to defend themselves — tend to attract bullies and/or psychos.
No one should be worried about peaceful citizens becoming psychotic Rambo-clones the instant they obtain a gun — at least no one who rationally thinks about this. Everyone should be concerned about losers who want to infringe upon you knowing they can do so without the threat of specific, immediate, response. (As bad as it might sound, I wonder if Derrion Albert would still be alive today if he had been toting a burner. We'll never know.) One more example from history seems appropriate. This comes from a Wikipedia article on United States v. Cruikshank. To wit:
On Easter Day 1873, an armed white militia attacked Republican freedmen who had gathered at the Colfax, Louisiana courthouse to protect it from a Democratic takeover. Although some of the blacks were armed and initially defended themselves, estimates were that 100–280 were killed, most of them following surrender, and 50 were being held prisoner that night.
In the aftermath of the massacre, two of the shooters were indicted. (Two? Sure, the law can protect a brother!) After a series of appeals and all the normal constitutional grandstanding and precise reading, the Supreme Court overturned the convictions. Furthermore, the Court ruled, essentially, that the laws of the nation did not apply in the case of individuals infringing upon one another. Quoting directly, “The fourteenth amendment prohibits a State from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; but this adds nothing to the rights of one citizen as against another.” I actually agree with that statement. What troubles me, however, is how that ruling was used to allow for paramilitary groups to attack blacks with impunity. Returning to the article, we find:
In the short term, blacks in the South were left to the mercy of increasingly hostile state governments, who did little to protect them…The Cruikshank case effectively enabled political parties’ use of paramilitary forces.
I don't want to shoot anyone, and, honestly, I never have. I agree wholeheartedly with whoever first uttered the powerful phrase, "There is no way to peace; peace is the way." I don't expect that many who are reading this essay feel differently. That said, when and if someone attempted to infringe directly upon me, I suspect I'd feel way better being able to defend myself versus having the legislature (or the cops) on speed dial. Your safety and freedom is your responsibility. It always was. It always will be. This sentiment is expressed more eloquently in a piece entitled, "76 Reasons to Have a Gun" with "a right exercised is a right retained." Those who endeavor to take the ability to defend that safety and freedom away from you do not have your best interests at heart. They never did.
Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he's not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.