Back in 1929, in The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic, G.K. Chesterton introduced a decision-making principle that came to be known as Chesterton’s fence:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
This is often interpreted as a defense of conservatism in the Edmund Burke sense: evolve institutions gradually, don’t rip-and-replace, because they contain a lot of accumulated wisdom.
Chesterton’s point isn’t so hidebound. The parable of the fence isn’t an argument to fight progress, it’s an argument to seek knowledge. “Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” I.e. tear up the old stuff, but only once you know what you’re talking about. Essentially, Chesterton was warning about the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The case for gun rights is pretty simple: if someone’s trying to hurt you, you have the right to stop them. And by extension, you’re the person who’s in the best position to say how to stop them. We described it this way in OSD 117:
… the nature of gun ownership — the point of it, really — is that it decentralizes decision-making about self-defense. Who’s allowed to defend themselves, and how they should do so, becomes a loose emergent consensus rather than a top-down decision.
That’s the sort of illegible local knowledge that Chesterton warns would-be fence destroyers not to miss. The nature of top-down plans is to run roughshod over the actual needs and actual experience of the people closest to the ground. And not necessarily because that’s even the intent. It’s just a knowledge problem — even for an all-powerful, perfectly benevolent central decision-maker, there isn’t a way to gather all the local, on-the-ground facts to make the right decision. …
So it’s not that a gun control law even needs to deliberately tear down that people have a right to defend themselves. It’s that the law sees a fence in a field labeled “gun rights”, bulldozes it with good intentions to be replaced with a new fence called “gun control”, and lacks real knowledge of why the old fence performs better at safeguarding people’s ability to defend themselves.
— Open Source Defense in Osd 226: Chesterton’s Fence