TOP 2019-04-02

From Gun Control to Gun Abolition

For libertarians at the Mackinac Center, the most radical ‘unfree’ policy relating to gun control is one where only the government is allowed to own and use weapons. But it is possible to go one step further, to a policy in which firearms are illegal for everyone, including the state[1].

To most people this probably sounds extreme, naïve, unrealistic or impossible. Why should that be? It is profoundly sad that our society is so thoroughly, so endemically violent that we cannot imagine not having an easy way to end somebody else’s life at the jolt of a finger.

Of course people will ask how a country could defend itself from other countries that do have firearms. But my ideas are always written from an international point of view, so when I speak of abolishing firearms, I mean that on a global scale. And my ideas always take a long-term perspective, so I don’t consider it unrealistic that within the next centuries we may go from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to complete nuclear disarmament, and then move on to consider similar treaties for other lethal weapons. Already there are countries such as Costa Rica who have no standing army, entrusting their defence to another country, and others such as Japan with an official policy of defensive war only. I do not think it is unreasonable to think that policies of official pacifism could eventually extend in the direction I am suggesting.

I realise that just because firearms are illegal does not mean people will stop making them, and this is a particular concern now that it is possible to use 3D printers to produce them in your own garage. As it stands, countries in Europe which already have wide-ranging gun control do not have any particular issue with 3D printed gun crimes. Ultimately, what the relatively low crime rates in Europe suggest is that gun control combined with social security and inclusive social policies are an effective way of preventing crime before it even starts.

But even if people did produce their own homebrew firearms, I don’t think for a minute that this justifies the state or anybody else also having firearms so that they can ‘defend themselves’. Firearms are not a defensive measure; they are inherently an offensive one. Defensive measures include shields, armour, an effective use of environmental cover, and others. It seems reasonable that you might equip yourself with such things if you were dealing with an imminent rogue gun threat - but you don’t bring fire to fight fire. What is most important is to have personnel who are trained in de-escalation and non-lethal methods of conflict resolution.

Already there are grassroots community efforts along these lines that aim to resolve conflicts in a non-violent way, such as the CURE Violence model, among others. These efforts aim to do what the official law enforcement is plainly failing at, because time and again we find that police are aggravating or escalating conflicts rather than defusing them. When one party to a conflict has a weapon, it immediately increases the risk that the conflict will end with a fatality when it could have been settled peacefully. And when both sides have weapons, it sends tensions soaring, activating adrenaline that could result in the trigger being pulled entirely by accident.

Naturally, even if they accepted these arguments, many people in the libertarian camp oppose gun control simply because it involves less freedom, even if it makes the world less safe. I am usually a tireless advocate of individual freedom. But here there is no real contradiction, and that is because lethal weapons are designed to curtail somebody else’s freedom. They are by design an instrument for violating somebody’s fundamental right to life and, more deeply, for violating their consent. I reject the notion that weapons are primarily deterrents, and I think the evidence backs that up. People do not advocate that we should erect torture chambers with no intention of using them except as a ‘deterrent’. Since torture is a fundamental rights violation in international law, it follows that no torture chambers should exist. I argue the same logic for other methods of violence.

Suicide is a notable exception to my claim that weapons are fundamentally about violating rights. In countries with lax gun regulations, firearms are an effective and mostly painless suicide method. Consequently I think that gun control and abolition absolutely have to be accompanied by the right to die and hence the legalisation of painless suicide drugs such as barbiturates. This would make the suicidal use of firearms redundant.

Deweaponising our society is not an instant guarantee of world peace. But it is an important basis on which to build effective methods of conflict de-escalation, and for avoiding conflicts altogether.

  1. I am going to remain very vague about exactly which kinds of weapons I’m talking about in this essay, but of course I am focusing on lethal firearms.  ↩