Ask a political science professor what constitutes a government and he’ll likely tell describe it along the lines of an organized monopoly on the legitimate use of force. There are some permutations, but this is the basic thrust of the idea of what a government is. Except it’s not true. Those of you who read my earlier article may see where this is going. . .

Governments are most free when they don’t have that monopoly. I mentioned Athens, Britain, Florence and America, all states which achieved great political freedom with a well-armed populace. Now, we could get into a hair-splitting contest over the word “legitimate” but I doubt there’s a legion of PS profs to take me to task here. When a government encourages/allows an armed citizenry, it legitimizes their access to the tools of violence.

Firearms represent the ultimate democratization of violence. They’re the great leveler. What is the old saying? “God created man, but Sam Colt made them equal.” A gun is of the greatest benefit to the weakest in society.

A sword is deadly, but requires a fair amount of strength, skill and training to use one. A bow requires upper body strength and a lot of practice. A gun…well, one needs training to use one properly, but the basics are easily attainable with a quick lesson. I’ve seen this process a hundred times and I can tell you this, I can take a person who has never touched a firearm and get them handling a weapon properly and hitting their targets in one short session. Sure, a shooter needs a minimal amount of hand strength but even a heavy trigger is usually under ten pounds. Virtually any human being who can drive a car or ride a bike can use a firearm. Even those with severe disabilities can usually manage one.

Of course, with any tool there are risks, small though it may be. Democracy isn’t always pretty, and it doesn’t always follow the course we’d like. The evidence is undeniable that gun owners – as a group – are a remarkably peaceful and law abiding lot. There will always be the small minority who can’t manage their freedoms responsibly. But much of our position today is due to the emphasis put on training and safety in the gun rights community.

I put it to you thus: Even counting the risk, even with the most apocalyptic predictions our opponents can dream up, the democratization of violence is am almost unqualified human good. It’s a basic question of equality. All men and women may be equal before the law, but how are people to be equal in the face of violence?

It’s men who would have the advantage, and younger men in particular. I say this as one whose position would be least improved by the addition of a firearm. Were all society to be disarmed, my relative position in this continuum would be improved. I am relatively young, fit and have the advantage of military training.

I don’t hold this position out of fear of other people. I’ve seen the elephant in the room. I believe that the broad public ownership of firearms is a positive societal good, for my sisters, the service men who came back short an arm or leg, the minorities threatened with violence by the intolerant and the urbanites dealing with the meltdown of inner city society (I live in Michigan, I know of  which I speak). A firearm is literally the power of life and death, and while some may fear having that power distributed to the furthest reaches of society, I do not. I fear the concentration of that power.

20 Responses to Guns and the Rise of Democracy – Part 2

  1. Just a note – due to an earlier thread my first thought when viewing the illustrating photo is “Hot Brass Boogie.”

    Of course, she may have shot that with a revolver, and we use the illustrations we have, but…

    • Largely because my first part was historical in focus, and Switzerland didn’t fit into that analysis as well. Historically, the Swiss relied on highly trained pikemen to serve as the stable center for maneuver by cavalry, and were largely a professional force. In modern times of course, their gun and drug policies combined with their crime rates have given heart to Libertarians even as their welfare system detracts somewhat.

  2. The polisci term “monopoly on legitimate violence” isn’t about the tools of violence, it’s about police powers and military force. In a functioning state, the state holds the monopoly on the use of these powers and you don’t have bands of vigilantes, warlords, private armies, etc, imposing their own version of the law and/or exercising control over territory. In failed states or non-states, you do.

    As for your other point, I agree that firearms are the most effective tool for self defense, especially for those groups that are at a physical disadvantage to begin with. Your last paragraph is especially dead on. The history of gun control is riddled with racism (for example, the KKK began as a gun control organization) and a lot of gun control measures of the effect of putting self defense out of the reach of poor people. That kind of discrimination should be unacceptable.

    • [The polisci term “monopoly on legitimate violence” isn’t about the tools of violence, it’s about police powers and military force. In a functioning state, the state holds the monopoly on the use of these powers and you don’t have bands of vigilantes, warlords, private armies, etc, imposing their own version of the law and/or exercising control over territory.]

      The government should indeed have control of police powers and military force. However, there’s another component to “legitimate violence,” that being self-defense, or legally “justifiable homicide.” It is constrained under police powers, but not a part of them. If I ever need to use deadly force on someone it won’t be to punish them, to force them to obey the law, or to take vengeance on them. It will be to stop them from using deadly force on an innocent person. Doing so is just as legitimate as enforcing the law or preventing enemy attack.

      In particular, given that no one else in society has a duty to protect me, it becomes my duty to protect myself, if necessary with “legitimate violence.” I can’t do that if the government has a monopoly on it.

      • Don’t get too hung up on it, it’s a technical term in the poli sci world, used in the technical definition of what’s a “state”. Like I said, it’s about police powers and military force. If your country has one government (or one hierarchy of governments, i.e. federal, state, local, etc.) enforcing its laws with police powers, and that same government (or hierarchy of governments) controls the military, then congrats you have a state. If in one region, you have a colonel with a few thousand troops who calls the shots and his word is law, and in this coastal town over here Commodore Bossman is the one running the show, and in various pockets here and there gangs of people get together and form posses and militias and run things however they see fit, then it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a flag and an anthem, you haven’t got a state. That’s the context the term is used in.

        Self-defense and justifiable homicide are legal questions, and not in the same context.

  3. The only thing worse than an armed civil population, is one that is disarmed. If I had my choice between a free and armed society, or an enslaved utopia; I would choose the former. I still think Seigried Knappe in his book Soldat had very interesting and biting comments about Nazism and Communism.

  4. “…an organized monopoly on the legitimate use of force.”

    That’s very close. It’s an organized monopoly on the initiation of force against individuals who do not represent an imminent danger to others. Circumstances under which this is legitimate, or even if it ever is, are a question of normative ethics (hence highly subjective).

  5. I for one do not want any further rise in Democracy. The rise in Democracy that we’ve seen of ther last eighty or so years is causing our Constitutional Republic to tetter on the verge of destruction. I’d like to return, as fast as possible, to the Republic.

    • I believe it was Ben Franklin who said Democracy is a sheep and two wolves deciding what’s for dinner. A Republic forces compromise and prevents rapid rise of power from any one side. Our government is supposed to be contradictory and historically it has worked best when there is a split in power between the branches. The last 3-6 years have shown what certain majorities can do with absolute power.

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