When Is Gun Control Justifiable in a Libertarian World?

In a world in which individual communities decide upon their own laws (panarchy), no general statement about the laws of such communities can be made, and I will not address those conditions. I will address here only the better-known libertarian conditions in which a society is assumed that has adopted a non-aggression rule as fundamental. In this kind of libertarian world under which non-aggression is the rule, gun prohibition (or weapons prohibition generally) as a blanket measure may not occur; because gun ownership doesn’t constitute an aggressive action in and of itself. Furthermore, such ownership is consistent with property ownership and self-defense.

When is gun or weapon control justifiable in a libertarian scenario? It will be in specific cases in which a person’s possession of a gun or other weapons constitutes a threat of initiating physical aggression. Otherwise, the libertarian rule is broad and general: The right to own arms being consistent with non-aggression, it shall not be infringed as long as a person acts peaceably. I’ve borrowed some well-known language from the U.S. Constitution while dropping the language that causes ambiguity and contentious arguments and is not needed in a libertarian scenario. When does owning arms become a candidate for control? That occurs when the person who owns them combines them with actions that are threats to the peace or otherwise is subject to conditions that create such threats.

If the broad right to bear arms were codified in this kind of libertarian society, to be unambiguous it would have to indicate the conditions under which a person loses the right to own arms. One such condition would be an infirmity of mind or body that made that person’s possession of weapons into an unjustifiable violent threat against others. Another condition would be using a weapon or threatening to use a weapon violently against others in ways that are initiating aggression. Holding a loaded gun to someone’s head against their will would be such an act. Stalking a person and making verbal or written threats of violence would be such an act. Exhibiting aggressive violence by assaults, rape, and beatings would be such acts. Finer judgments of circumstances might be necessary, but these examples provide the flavor of aggressions against others that might result in suspension or complete loss of the right to bear arms in a libertarian society. I am also not addressing the question of what sorts of weapons are per se aggressive in nature and might be disallowed in a libertarian society.

Generally speaking, a libertarian society would be making efforts to keep weapons out of the hands of people whose records show that they have already exhibited aggressive behavior or are threatening it. Another general circumstance is when there are grounds for expecting that their possession constitute unjustifiable threats of violence to others. We generally wouldn’t allow a three-year old to brandish a loaded gun in the privacy of our homes, and this would almost surely be disallowed in public even in a libertarian society. We wouldn’t want someone, even a law enforcer, to have a right to brandish a machine gun at a crowd in an effort to capture a criminal among them. There might be a number of mental conditions that cause a person to lose the right to bear arms. There are conditions of drunkenness or drug ingestion under which a person would temporarily or for longer periods lose the right to bear arms because these conditions elevate the threat of aggressive violence. This is why a person might lose the right to drive a vehicle even in a libertarian society if their driving showed signs of possibly causing violence. A person with an open allegiance to or membership in an organization whose mission or means include the initiation of violence against peaceful persons is another candidate for loss of the right to keep and bear arms. This takes in terrorists and criminal organizations.


9:22 am on February 24, 2018