Trigger Locke

by Dwayne Holmes

A recent video discussion posted at The Electric Agora tried to pin down the history and definition of “classical liberalism.” [1] This largely agreed with my own understanding. However, at one point Dan and David addressed Social Contract theory, particularly as derived from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. There, Locke contrasted life in the state of nature with what he thought would be a better life for those who choose civil society, where political power is ceded to a third party. That is to say, people turn over some of their natural authority to a political entity, granting it the authority to deal with specific issues on their behalf. One of the powers granted to this entity (which I will call “the state”) is the use of violent force to deal with wrongs committed against them. Dan and David seemed to agree that given this transfer of power, the social contract underlying civil society is (as Dan states) “…categorically inconsistent with people running around … a society like ours with weapons…” Dan thought there might be some push back on that idea, and (at least from my corner) he was right.

The owning and carrying of weapons (especially guns) is one of those issues where conservatives — libertarians most of all — have invoked liberal values to criticize those on the left for acting illiberally, and it is one of the few issues where I feel their argument has some merit. In any case, I find it interesting that both sides of the gun-control debate invoke Locke, and the particular version of social contractarianism developed from his work. What I will argue here is that even when individuals have ceded their use of violent force to the state, possessing and carrying weapons does not inherently violate the social contract, while attempts to prevent people from doing either could violate the social contract.

Weapons and non-transferred Powers

As Dan and David mention in the video, Locke considers an individual’s need for the state to be somewhat minimal.  However, it is clear that transferring the authority to use violent force to the state is an important part of this compact.

Along these lines, I would concede that where individuals are free to usurp the state’s authority, it would be a failed state. There would be no real authority, beyond the personal authority found in the state of nature. Indeed, the gun-slinging “Wild West” looks like nothing more than humans returned to state of nature.

But it seems a long way to go from people owning or carrying weapons in modern society, to people being free, or acting as if free, to usurp the authority of the state. Connecting the two seems a form of equivocation. And in a way it ignores that people can usurp such roles quite easily, without weapons at all. In the second video, Dan and David discuss growing trends of imposed social control by so-called social justice warriors, which I might argue (I mean look at the name) is the explicit usurping of that authority, employing psychological and economic forces in place of physical force to address perceived wrongs.

So, as far as weapons are concerned, I’ll borrow a cliché from the NRA and say it is not the weapons that violate the social contract, it is people (specifically how they intend to use a weapon) that do the violating.

It seems clear that weapons owned for show (collectors), sport, or hunting fall well outside any purpose that would violate the social contract.  And I would leave it to Dan or David to make the argument why those should count as violations, whether on private property or carried in public spaces. It is also unclear how taking such property away, given Locke’s overt concern with ownerships rights, would not constitute a violation of the social contract on the part of the state.

The same is true for weapons carried in public as part of demonstration in support of gun-rights. This moves beyond mere object of personal property, since as part of civil action, protest, they become part of free speech. Granted such “demonstrations” can seem bizarre, ill-advised, and a bit unnerving, but none of these make carrying weapons contrary to the social contract.

It might be noted that if the population was regularly used to the presence of weapons in public, which was true in earlier times, their presence would seem neither bizarre nor unnerving. I’m going to make a strange connection here, but this particular use (and its associated problem) does not seem unlike some public demonstrations in support of LGBT rights, women’s rights to dress as they want (slut marches), and even public breast-feeding. Any “disturbance” they cause is because they are uncommon and thus, unfamiliar, which is part of the point of the demonstration. This use seems very much in line with how one can affect change in society, under the social contract.

More importantly, none of the above uses, except perhaps hunting, could be activities ceded to the state.

Self-protection and State protection

Of course, many weapons are owned and carried for the purpose of self-protection. The question then arises, are the ownership and use of weapons for self-protection synonymous with usurping the role of state actors who were delegated power to protect citizens or punish criminals? Dan and David appear to argue that they are.

To the common counter-arguments made by gun-rights activists, that state actors may not be available to protect a person in time or could themselves become enemies one must have protection against, the answer was that people can address these issues through appeals to the legislature.

But this seems to dismiss reality for an ideal. While it is nice to think one can simply go to the legislature and order up as many “public protectors” as is needed, real life involves questions of money and physical resources. Small populations and/or large, remote areas present clear challenges to offering such ubiquitous protection. And even large populations in relatively small areas do not necessarily ease that burden. How many people can or want to be public protectors? When can they be available? And how much of an area can they cover sufficiently at all times?

There could be a sensible trade-off between employing so many people towards protecting all, or everywhere, versus allowing individuals some level of personal protection.

Early in US history, where threats from animals and humans were great, owning a weapon was likely more efficient than shrinking the state or taxing its resources to employ as many roving protectors as would be needed. The US Constitution’s Bill of Rights explicitly allowed personal possession of weapons, (it would seem) specifically because they did not have a standing army (as we do today). [2]

Unless one argues that the social contract mandates sufficient standing police and military forces to remove the personal need for weapons, it does not seem inherent to social contract theory that people be denied weapons for their own protection. [3] Rather, it would be a case of societal choice as to how to delineate that task, based on the conditions they face (and how much risk they are willing to accept).

And it is almost an absurdity to think that overreach by a state determined to control the population, and with the means to do so, can be countered by appeals for it to desist.

As it is, these positions taken against weapons, due to the subordination of personal power to the state, does not seem consistent with Locke’s Second Treatise, where he addresses the tentative nature of this handing over of power. [4]

With regard to a person’s right to defense where the state lacks an ability to protect a person in a timely manner (from Chapter III, section 19)…

But force, or a declared design of force, upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief, is the state of war: and it is the want of such an appeal gives a man the right of war even against an aggressor, tho’ he be in society and a fellow subject. Thus a thief, whom I cannot harm, but by appeal to the law, for having stolen all that I am worth, I may kill, when he sets on me to rob me… because the law… where it cannot interpose to secure my life from present force… permits me my own defence, and the right of war, a liberty to kill the aggressor, because the aggressor allows not time to appeal to our common judge, nor the decision of the law… force without right, upon a man’s person, makes a state of war, both where there is, and is not, a common judge…

… and then the person’s right to defense against a state actor (the judicial powers) when it acts against, or allows an attack upon, the person (Chapt. III, Sect. 20)…

…where an appeal to the law, and constituted judges, lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice, and a barefaced wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men, or party of men, there it is hard to imagine any thing but a state of war: for wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer justice, it is still violence and injury, however coloured with the name, pretences, or forms of law…

Later, Locke expands his explanation to a right of defense against the legislature (Chapt. XIII, Sect 149)…

And thus the community perpetually retains a supreme power of saving themselves from the attempts and designs of any body, even of their legislators, whenever they shall be so foolish, or so wicked, as to lay and carry on designs against the liberties and properties of the subject: for no man or society of men, having a power to deliver up their preservation, or consequently the means of it, to the absolute will and arbitrary dominion of another… they will always have a right to preserve, what they have not a power to part with; and to rid themselves of those, who invade this fundamental, sacred, and unalterable law of self-preservation, for which they entered into society.

… as well as the executive (Chapt. XIII, Sect 155)…

I say, using force upon the people without authority, and contrary to the trust put in him that does so, is a state of war with the people… when they are hindered by any force from what is so necessary to the society, and wherein the safety and preservation of the people consists, the people have a right to remove it by force. In all states and conditions, the true remedy of force without authority, is to oppose force to it.

It is very hard to read these passages as not explicitly stating under certain circumstances people have the right to defend themselves (and their property), from the aggression of others and the excesses of state powers, through violent force, if necessary. It also seems to argue that people don’t have to give up the means to do so. At the very least, weapons would seem an arguable (if not patently necessary) thing to possess if one wanted to ensure some means of protection from state actors who are themselves armed with weapons.

Following this, it seems legitimate to consider a state’s attempts to remove the tools needed to protect oneself from potential state overreach as acting contrary to the social contract. I grant that in ideal civil societies individuals would feel so secure that weapons for such purposes would not be desired. But that is different from drawing a line at what is consistent with the social contract.

Threats to Health and Safety

While I do not agree with the arguments made against weapons based on the transfer of power from the person to the state, as part of the social contract, I do believe some forms of regulation are allowed by the state. [5]

It seems clear that anti-gun laws would not even be under discussion if misuse of weapons were not of reasonable concern. Whether used as instruments of intimidation, to enact vigilante style justice, to kill others in acts of rage, or to kill oneself, the US ranks high among Western, first-world nations, in suffering from relatively frequent and undeniably tragic gun-related deaths. [6] Mass shootings in particular are becoming more common (aided by high-power, fast-firing weapons with large ammunition clips).

One of the benefits of living in a civil society is an ability to find solutions to problems (even guns) where risks are deemed to have risen to a certain level. Again, from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, [4] where he discusses political power (Ch. XV, Sect. 171)…

Political power is that power, which every man having in the state of nature, has given up into the hands of the society, and therein to the governors, whom the society hath set over itself, with this express or tacit trust, that it shall be employed for their good, and the preservation of their property… it can have no other end or measure, when in the hands of the magistrate, but to preserve the members of that society in their lives, liberties, and possessions… a power to make laws, and annex such penalties to them, as may tend to the preservation of the whole, by cutting off those parts, and those only, which are so corrupt, that they threaten the sound and healthy, without which no severity is lawful. And this power has its original only from compact and agreement, and the mutual consent of those who make up the community.

This clearly makes regulation compatible with the social contract, while underlining that gun rights advocates are also not acting contrary to the social contract, as long as they believe weapons are not “so corrupt, that they threaten the sound and healthy.”

Thus, it is in the hands of the public to debate that issue, and determine what appropriate remedies might be (the line to be drawn). If parties on either side will not abide by common, majority consensus, then the possibility the government will be dissolved (or war begin) is raised.

As I said earlier, I support common sense levels of regulation, this is especially true given the nature of weapons in the modern era and the number of gun-related injuries and deaths.

However, I do not believe a blanket ban on all weapons is necessary (especially those kept on private property), and would be leery of such laws in a time of militarized police forces, invasive national surveillance, and extensive economic inequality. Oh yeah, and terrorism.

I also believe those supporting regulation do a disservice to their own cause by demonizing weapons and gun-rights advocates. It creates unnecessary friction by taking a parental or despotic role with respect to others’ (rightful) desire to hold on to their possessions, as well as means for self-preservation. In particular, commentary on accidents in the home (as reason to restrict their possession in total), seems to ignore the many other objects for which accidents occur at home (or in public, how about cars?), as well as an important concept of classical liberalism that people are supposed to be allowed to make mistakes.

I fear gun-control has become part of the modern era’s Disneyfication of the US. Making sure that every space is built for the safety of children (and the lowest common denominator). Where any risk is deemed to threaten “the sound and healthy,” freedom itself goes out the window as an intrinsic risk factor. Training wheels and padded walls for all.

That is not to say that gun-rights advocates don’t have their own problems. Some argue from idealistic scenarios, rather than facing reality. As a reverse mirror to the gun-control advocate, almost no risk is deemed high enough to impose regulation. That any pragmatic safety measure put in place by the state is an infraction of all liberty. Intriguingly, this level of freedom-loving, “risk-aversion”-aversion is usually held only for guns, and often not for other rights, such as free speech (perhaps the pen is mightier than the sword?).

And to be frank, I do feel the US public’s obsession with guns for personal protection, and violence as first solution to problems, seems unhealthy, though that is arguably more a symptom than a cause.

My argument here was not to settle the debate on gun control, only to note that factions on both sides of the issue can work consistently (or not) within the frame of the social contract. It all depends on the context.

Notes

  1. Daniel Kaufman and David Ottlinger’s video at meaningoflife.tv and Electric Agora on Classical Liberalism. (relevant section is 36:48 – 41:28, with specific quote around 37:34): https://youtu.be/hkp-0T94oLk and second video discussing social justice warriors: https://youtu.be/IG2f2aFxrQ
  2. The US Constitution’s Bill of Rights contains the famous 2nd Amendment (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution), which states: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
  3. Dan went further to argue that civil society under a social contract is not meant to totally guarantee safety. While I agree that is true, when married to the obvious concern for rights of ownership and being able to pursue one’s own goals, that would seem to construct an argument for accepting the risks of gun-ownership, rather than risking the failure of the state to protect you. The intriguing argument, that a gun-owner should consider the possibility of Dan running around with a gun, sort of begs the question. Many actually. Should we worry about Dan running around with a gun? Why? Is he a criminal? Will he try to usurp the role of the state? Will he carelessly fire his gun in random directions? In reality, most gun owners would presumably be similar to how I assume Dan would be with a gun, careful and not likely to cause an incident.
  4. John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government at Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7370/7370-h/7370-h.htm
  5. The majority of gun-rights advocates understand and agree with some form of regulation. For example, you don’t store bullets in your oven, you don’t have firing ranges on crowded public streets, you can’t own (or fire) a howitzer in your back yard, you can’t own an ICBM, et cetera. So, the precedent of restricting weapons ownership and use is set and acknowledged based on general safety guidelines. The debate then has to be on what is the minimal restriction required to reduce incidents and impact of gun-related violence, without negatively effecting rights of gun owners.

Mandatory checks before purchase, and even some waiting time, seem reasonable. So are training and storage requirements (gun safes, trigger locks).

It would also seem understandable to regulate the power of weapons (and ammo) allowed to be stored in one’s home, based on the kind of home one has. A cheap high-rise apartment is not the place to have an ammo dump, and high-powered assault rifles (which could tear through all your neighbors’ walls). That would not restrict one’s ability to own higher powered weapons stored in a weapon-appropriate facility.

And what of the open carrying of weapons?  In an age of mass shootings in public spaces, how are people supposed to identify a “demonstrator” carrying a rifle into a fast-food joint to protest a right to own weapons, from someone coming in to shoot up the joint? It seems rights and restrictions could find some sort of common ground to separate the two, without effecting the legitimate gun owner. Public “demonstrations” of that sort could be limited the same way other demonstrations are limited. The person has to give public notice to appropriate authorities, and ask permission. Or legally limit what people can carry (size, rate of fire), how they can carry (unloaded, tagged, muzzle-blocked), and where they can carry weapons when “demonstrating”. The same could be said for personal protection. There are limits to the utility of different weapons in different venues, and so limiting weapons based on venue (outside of open war and so end of society) does not seem draconian.

6. Statistics comparing gun-related deaths: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-related_death_rate

36 Comments »

  1. But the implicit context of your discussion leaves out much. It is, as is all liberalism, based on the fiction of a society of individuals, contracting together. Not a society of v large corporations ceded citizen powers, massive financialisation, and pervasive corruption of the process of government by the inflence of vested, moneyed interests. Where then is the congress of citizens exercising their control over the state’s use of force? Communitarian aguments produce a different emphasis. The US Constitution is a hodge podge of different kinds of argument, against a background of specific historical circumstances, and a range of intellectual arguments extant at the time. While Locke was a very important figure, so was Aristotle, on govt, democracy and the role of public virtue. It all depends on valorising the contractual fiction. While discussing Locke is of antiquarian interest, it runs the risk of fixing our democracy in 18th C thinking, when it faces 21st C political-economic conditions.

    You can take two different paths to deal with the gap between the ideal and reality. One is classical liberalism, which deals with human flaws by checks and balances, and casts government as referee; another is the communitarian path; still another is something like a meritocracy. There is also a dialogical approach. It seems to me that these and other approaches have much to offer the debate about gun control, as does the social sciences.

    Best wishes,

    Inigo

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  2. Dwayne, a few things.

    1. Locke is not a totem, and I don’t appeal to him as such. While he is the single most important source for understanding the American system of government, there’s plenty he got wrong, so simply citing him against my arguments, is insufficient.

    2. The reason why people walking around with guns is inconsistent with the social contract is not solely because it represents the individual seeking to regain an authority that he voluntarily transferred to the state, though that is part of the reason. It is because no rational person would agree to make the social contract under such conditions. The whole point of making the social contract is so that the state will protect me from the predations of my neighbors, and this is effected, partly, by its having a monopoly on force. If my neighbors are now walking around carrying Glocks and .357 Magnums, that basic rationale is undermined, and I would be unwilling to agree to the contract. Indeed, in my view, people walking around like this effectively nullify the contract and encourage a kind of escalation that essentially returns us to the state of nature.

    3. Hunters and trophy collectors are either an unintentional red herring or a deliberate distraction. It is very clear that the sort of gun ownership that is problematic, here, is that of owning guns for the purposes of self-defense and especially, carrying those guns around in public.

    4. The social contract is not a guarantee of safety. It is rather a “much better than” scenario than that of the state of nature. The argument then, that there may be occasions when the government can’t get there in time is utterly unpersuasive. The fact is that you are still better off and safer than you would have been in the state of nature, where you’d likely be dead already.

    5. I really don’t think that these fools — and yes, that’s what they are — who want to be able to walk around with pistols have any idea what they’re asking for, and I don’t think it’s an accident that they happen to largely be congregated in places with very low crime rates. If you want to get some idea of what it might be like to live in a place where everyone is armed, think of ground zero of Crips/Bloods territory in LA or the heart of the South Bronx. Unlike most of the people asking and voting for this, I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time in such places — I taught for years in the South Bronx — and believe me, it’s nothing you want.

    Handgun ownership is liking hanging truck nuts under your pickup. It’s designed to show what a real man you are, but doesn’t achieve much else, other than making everything more dangerous for everyone.

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  3. I have mixed feelings here, as I do for anything political right now; but I’ll try not to blast off in all directions as I have in a couple comments I’ve posted on previous articles.

    Part of the problem is that I do think that progressives and the Democratic Party ought to set aside gun-control advocacy if they are to win in the next couple election cycles. It’s fairly a cheap point to give up (for now), since gun control has not been very successful anyway.

    But pragmatics aside, I do think that gun ownership is incongruent with any social contract theory of politics – whether Locke’s, or the more pessimistic Hobbes’ or the more optimistic Rousseau’s. Wearing a gun in public is not like wearing an odd hat, or having a different life-style. A gun signs potential death, and thus signifies the bearer as a potential threat. That’s what they’re supposed to do! That’s why we have police officers wear them. And that’s why some non-police want to wear them.

    Reading those quotes from Locke, it seems to me pretty obvious that he’s discussing what happens when the social contract breaks down. If you “need” to wear a gun for self-protection, you’re basically admitting you don’t trust the ability of society to control violence, and you don’t trust the people you live with.

    Most people who own a gun for ‘self-protection’ generally do not know the laws of the state in which they live; even in states where you will be exonerated for ‘self-defense,’ you can still get sued for wrongful death or other bodily injury. It hardly seems worth it; having a ready escape route or finding some other way to survive the ordeal seems more important and the wiser choice. However, I allow that such gun owners are not really much of a problem, since they generally only buy one gun, usually keep it locked away from their families, and don’t have it central to their lives – in which generally nothing ever happens such that they feel a need to resort to violence.

    But the anti-gun control argument actually has two major sources: gun-hobbyists, who have a fascination for ownership of a collection of guns and are immersed in the culture of the history, manufacture, commerce, and ownership of guns. These, too, can be relatively non-threatening to the society at large; but they are deeply passionate, and thus difficult to negotiate with on gun legislation.

    But there’s a darker faction here still – those who are convinced that the government is fundamentally corrupt and always on the brink of Communist dictatorship (fascism being okay, as long as they get to keep their guns). Or who believe that the US could really be invaded by Russia (no, sorry, they’re our friends now – I mean Mexico – and yes, there are some who actually believe this). Or those who believe that a race war or a religious war on US soil is inevitable, perhaps imminent. And they think that collections of guns will aid them in the coming struggle. Such beliefs are much less credible than the conspiracy theories that Mark discussed in the previous article here. But they indicate a whole psychology, at once baffling, and disheartening – because to hold such beliefs means that you do not believe that there is a social contract here, that one cannot fully trust any but family members and those who share like beliefs and ethnic background.

    That seems to reveal an underlying historical problem here – we have a ‘social-contract’ based form of government, but we have as yet to successfully instill a ‘social-contract’ sense of civic responsibility and trust over large groups of the population.

    However it also suggests that the arguments for laissez faire gun ownership have behind an underlying psychology that weakens their rational authority. Why does anybody want to seem to be a potential threat to others?

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  4. Dwayne, nice to see the position laid out so reasonably that it brings us to exactly where we are: how to regulate. But can’t help agreeing with Inigo Rey — ownership of weaponry by individuals is beside the point. The ignored elephant is ownership of weaponry by ‘corporations’ legal and illegal. If pro and anti could unite against that threat . . .

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  5. Dwayne:

    Just in case it was unclear, the essay is excellent. And raises all the right objections — the only good ones, in fact.

    The forcefulness of my responses are indicative of its quality, not denials of it.

    I look forward to your counterarguments. I could see you winning, but I’m not yet seeing all the possible moves.

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  6. The way the unarmed Turkish population faced down the attempted coup last year shows that having an armed population is not essential to maintaining the social contract (though their success has apparently fired up conspiracy theories). Subsequent events in Turkey might also limit one’s optimism.

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  7. Daniel:

    Thanks for this excellent reflection. Your conclusions – with which I generally agree – seem to be based on your personal experience and judgment that our lives become impoverished when we do not have a social contract that allows us to trust the state to manage the use of force. In some subcultures, however, there are other factors that stimulate “affection” for guns.

    For example, consider the “right of passage” of a child receiving their first fire-arm. Taking their weapon away is then like denying their adulthood.

    Unfortunately, due to the “arms race” stimulated by gun industry provocateurs, we may also be nearing the case that we could argue that it would cost us less as a society to invest in social services that identify and isolate those prone to violence than it is to continue to arm the citizenry.

    Have you read A.E. van Vogt’s The Weapons Shops of Isher? Isher sold weapons that were always guaranteed to fire first in self-defense. Obviously, a time-travel mechanism was involved, and the company’s attempts to escape the reaction of tyrants had an amusing side-effect.

    Brian

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  8. Hi all, thanks for the responses (and kind words)!

    I’ll write a larger response to Dan K and EJ tomorrow.

    Right now, since time is short, I wanted to reply to points made by Inigo Rey and Astrodreamer.

    “While Locke was a very important figure, so was Aristotle, on govt, democracy and the role of public virtue. It all depends on valorising the contractual fiction.”

    You are right that there are other possible views (than Locke and the concept of a social contract) from which to tackle the gun rights question. However, my essay was written in response to a limited issue raised by Dan K (and David O) in their video about Classical Liberalism, where they discussed social contract theory, so I don’t really view your point as a criticism of my argument, which had a limited focus.

    Of interest, in their video, they discuss differences between ancient concepts of the individual (like Aristotle) and modern ones held by people like Locke. And in response to their first or second video (I forget which) I discuss the same contrasting views, describing them as opposite sides of the same coin, or perhaps better conceived as different conformations of a Necker Cube. With that idea you can take an issue of concern for the state (like gun control) and pop the cube between individual or communal schemes and get different answers.

    So I agree with what you say* that this is not a complete discussion of gun control, but as I note it was not meant to be.

    In defense of concentrating on a social contract scheme (outside of replying to their video), that is arguably what the US gov’t was based on, and what many appeals are made to, so I’m not sure it is entirely antiquated or useless. I certainly approach questions of how I want to organize my gov’t from that perspective, and I’d have to hear a good case made from a different one to reject it.

    More interesting to me was your and astrodreamer’s discussion of economics, in particular the role of corporations. This is something I hadn’t really been thinking about while writing, but now I am. It seems like a good subject for another essay.

    Personally, I view the rise of corporations and corporate capitalism as a reinvention of feudalism, and a rejection of (or sign that we have broken with) the social contract. This is something that must be addressed, whatever the underlying scheme (unless one likes feudalism). That we have ceded the use of violent force to corporations, or treat them as individuals, raises many questions about how they fit into political theory. I’m not sure I’ve heard of any system that actively treats business entities as people, particularly as a basis for how society or gov’t can or should function.

    *One thing I might reject is your calling social contract theory a “fiction”. Some frames of reference might be, but this one seems pretty reasonable, even if one can choose another, or fail to achieve a functioning system of gov’t using it.

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  9. Hi Dan K, no problem with forceful replies. I’ll answer by point, without using quotes.

    1) I agree that simply appealing to Locke doesn’t end discussion, and (as Inigo pointed out) that classical liberalism /contract theory do not cover all possible ways to approach the gun rights issue.

    That said, in the video, you and David really seem to be making your argument against gun rights based on Locke’s concept of turning personal power over to the state, in order to achieve a civil society… and nothing else. Certainly not on holes in his theory. If I got your argument wrong, or you misstated it, then I’m willing to accept the error (on either side).

    In any case, since the US gov’t is basically founded on Lockean principles, and he usually gets mentioned when either side goes meta (past founding fathers) on the 2nd Amendment, I feel satisfied with the position I set out. But I’m willing to field criticisms… so let’s move to your points 🙂

    2) Your first sentence repeats your claim, without dealing with the argument I made against it (which I think was solid). The rest, however, brings up an interesting point. Would anyone want, or be able to form, a society if everyone carried around glocks, etc?

    Don’t we already have the answer? While weapons today are higher tech, the process of escalating weapons is not recent. People used to carry melee weapons, then ranged weapons, and on and on until now we have ranged, automatic weapons. When the US Constitution was made, people were free to carry arms, and they chose to form the US anyway. Same for the “wild west”, as people from the early US moved back into a literal state of nature, before choosing to set up cities and states. The “west” was not disarmed, after which civil society was able to be created, and only recently weapons came back to put it at risk. The weapons were always there, and people chose–while neighbors were armed with pistol and rifle–to enter into gov’t with each other. How about the formation of Israel?

    The question really comes down to whether you feel those armed with weapons are likely (or desiring) to use them against you. And I might ask a reverse question. If what you say is true, how can the social contract ever occur? Even if it were down to hands, feet, and teeth, the ability to hurt and kill others remains. It seems arbitrary to point to one type of weapon, to claim *that* in the hands of the people bars us from wanting to join together.

    3) We can leave aside the question of hunters and collectors as not the main issue, but I would reject the claim they are a “red herring.” Placing regulations to effect one group could/would deprive these people of rights which seems pretty important to consider. Having spent time in areas where hunters carried them openly, with no issue, and know one person saved (at home) from an animal attack because they had one, its hard for me to accept they (and their rights) aren’t relevant at all.

    4) This is a repetition of your original claim. That the social contract is not a guarantee of safety, I agree with, but that cuts both ways. That you find one argument, argued by Lock and many gun rights advocates, utterly unpersuasive is interesting, but ignores the fact that they clearly find your argument utterly unpersuasive. My point was that where we draw the line will be based on resources and mutual agreement of what risks to safety we prefer. Your end claim seems a bit empirical. Is there data showing that personal ownership of guns inevitably leaves people worse off, than if all guns are owned by the state?

    5) It’s interesting that you called my discussing hunters and collectors, who legally own guns and sometimes carry them in public, as a “red herring” on the issue, then argue criminals (people in a state of nature, and at war) who primarily use guns *illegally* are what normal people will behave like, if they own guns legally (and carry them openly). Your comment “some idea of what it might be like to live in a place where everyone is armed”, ignores that many of these people already do. No, not in urban locations riddled with crime, but communities where people are armed and there is relatively little violence. You are using examples from where it is not working, for reasons that have nothing to do with the weapons themselves, to tar concepts of how it can work (and is working). This is one of those things that gun rights advocates can (rightfully) see through.

    I’m going to up your ante on this point. I actually lived in the crime riddled areas you are talking about (albeit Chicago). I have a few anecdotes I could throw out, but two will do. I saw one guy gunned down outside my window. And I also saw one guy… uhmmmm… “butchered” is the only term I can think of, by a gang that did not have guns. Guns are not the cause of inner city violence, and their removal is not something that will make it go away (they’ll finally seek peace with each other?). All you would see, where rounding up guns from criminals is successful, is a shift toward different weapons. Frankly, if I was the guy being butchered, I would have wished I had a gun, or they did.

    I already admitted I’m not a big gun enthusiast, but your truck nuts quip, while catchy and even accurate for some, is not accurate (or fair) for all gun owners, even those that want to open carry. And if it were, doesn’t that make my point it is not about usurping the role of the state, or even about self-defense? Yes, it adds danger. If you want to remove something from society that is not actually needed, primarily about vanity, and could end lots of injuries and deaths every year… how about we start with personal ownership of cars and trucks?

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  10. Dwayne: I suspect we are going to go around and around, so I won’t say too much in reply. State of Nature/Social Contract theorizing is a thought-experiment, not an historical account, so the fact that people at the time of the founding walked around with swords and the like is irrelevant. Given that political authority must be continually justified, we must continually ask the question about the state of nature and the social contract. And I, for one, would never agree to transfer my natural right to enforce the law of nature, if I knew that after I did so, my neighbors would continue to walk around with the means and the prerogative to employ lethal force, especially through firearms. And I don’t think that any rational person would, if he or she was really honest with him or herself and really understood what is implicated in such a state of affairs. The very purpose of the social contract is to delegate authority to a third party, *who will then protect me from my neighbor.* Armed neighbors directly interfere with that purpose and thus, undermine the very logic on which the contract rests. And walking around sending the very clear signal that you are prepared to unleash lethal violence upon your neighbor is the very definition of an un-civil society.

    Unfortunately for me — and fortunately for you — it is clear that Americans largely do not agree. Unfortunately for all of us, this means that we can continue to look forward to continued levels of gun violence, mass murder, and accidental shootings unknown anywhere else in the modern industrialized world.

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  11. One other thing, regarding your scenario and remark that “If I was the one being butchered, I’d wish I had a gun.” That sort of rhetoric is something I’d expect out of NRA apologists, but not someone with your intelligence and wisdom. Having been mugged at gunpoint twice — once, while with my girlfriend — I can tell you that the last thing I wish I could have done was have a shootout with my assailants, and if you think that’s something you’d want, all that I can say is that you haven’t the faintest idea what you’re hoping for.

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  12. Hi EJ, although I disagreed with some of your comments, I also agreed with many.

    “…progressives and the Democratic Party ought to set aside gun-control advocacy if they are to win in the next couple election cycles. It’s fairly a cheap point to give up (for now), since gun control has not been very successful anyway.”

    Total agreement. This was/is Sanders’ position and why many Trump supporters said they would have voted for Sanders instead. Hillary’s position on guns was a no go for them. This supports the position I was arguing.

    “I do think that gun ownership is incongruent with any social contract theory of politics… Wearing a gun in public is not like wearing an odd hat, or having a different life-style.”

    In some ways it really is. It depends on what kind of community you are in. But let me point out that here you have immediately conflated gun ownership with wearing a gun in public. The two are not the same thing.

    “A gun signs potential death, and thus signifies the bearer as a potential threat.”

    By which I can only imagine you have never been out with hunters, or out in the woods where other hunters are. Unless you just mean handguns? Anyway, yes, they can very well be worn to indicate one is a potential threat. Same goes for swords, knives, bats, field hockey sticks (somewhat popular here), and so on. Where is the line drawn on what (potential) weapon is *too much* for the social contract?

    “Reading those quotes from Locke, it seems to me pretty obvious that he’s discussing what happens when the social contract breaks down. If you “need” to wear a gun for self-protection, you’re basically admitting you don’t trust the ability of society to control violence, and you don’t trust the people you live with.”

    You are right that he is talking about what happens when the social contract breaks down. But your last two sentences are inaccurate. It would be that you don’t trust the ability of society to control violence *everywhere and instantaneously*, and don’t trust *some* people that you live with. These are both reasonable assumptions in just about any society.

    Unless your point was to stress “need” to mean one desperately must have one because one is under imminent threat? In that case I agree. Most people feel they “need” to have one in the sense it would be useful to have (rather than other weapons) in case the situation arises.

    Not sure if you’ve ever been attacked or lived in an area where criminals are active. Police will sometimes say “officially I can’t tell you this, and I’ll deny it, but you should get X, Y, Z.”

    “But there’s a darker faction here still – those who are convinced that the government is fundamentally corrupt… But they indicate a whole psychology, at once baffling, and disheartening – because to hold such beliefs means that you do not believe that there is a social contract here”

    I totally agree with this. In a sense all hard anti-gov’t people reject the social contract theory. That is a problem, but I’m not certain it effects my argument whether guns (even open carry) are consistent with social contract theory. It only argues that those who are not willing to be part of society will likely crave guns… which mostly makes sense according to Locke since they are stuck in a state of nature.

    “…we have a ‘social-contract’ based form of government, but we have as yet to successfully instill a ‘social-contract’ sense of civic responsibility and trust over large groups of the population.”

    Right! But that gets to a different question, which could be considered and extension of their second video: when did we lose the social contract (or did we)? I think we have abandoned classical liberalism as the model for gov’t, and that the social contract has been broken (in some cases), felt to be broken (in others), and impossible (in still others, like those you mentioned).

    “Why does anybody want to seem to be a potential threat to others?”

    Sure, why would someone want to seem one at some kid’s birthday party, or to everyone in a fast food joint while one is just trying to pick up a burger? But a woman who works or lives in a rough neighborhood might want to. It’s all about context.

    I still find it equally interesting, when people feel no threat (totally at ease) if they see a cop with a gun, but immediately feel threatened by someone who is not a cop with a gun. Doesn’t that, more than anything else, say something about the health of the society one is living in?

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  13. Hi Dwayne,

    Great essay, I also got the impression that David/Dan were drawing heavily on the Lockean concept of turning power over to an authority. Additionally, *even if* they weren’t exclusively relying on him, you still showed that one of the major social contract theories could plausibly be compatible with gun ownership.

    So, thanks for this!

    Just one thought, though. You said:

    “It is very hard to read these passages as not explicitly stating under certain circumstances people have the right to defend themselves (and their property), from the aggression of others and the excesses of state powers, through violent force, if necessary. It also seems to argue that people don’t have to give up the means to do so. At the very least, weapons would seem an arguable (if not patently necessary) thing to possess if one wanted to ensure some means of protection from state actors who are themselves armed with weapons.

    Following this, it seems legitimate to consider a state’s attempts to remove the tools needed to protect oneself from potential state overreach as acting contrary to the social contract. I grant that in ideal civil societies individuals would feel so secure that weapons for such purposes would not be desired. But that is different from drawing a line at what is consistent with the social contract.”
    ___________________________

    Here, you are making the argument that, since resistance to a corrupt state is something Locke thinks people should be capable of, a state taking the tools that would make a people capable of protecting themselves (here, I take it you mean firearms) arguably constitutes a state overreach of power according to the Lockean social contract.

    However, I think this argument can be criticized because it, to borrow your words, “… seems to dismiss reality for an ideal.”

    Suppose that the state were to remove all knives from circulation because statistics showed that a massive amount of deaths (from accidents, mass knifings, etc). occur annually. Would this be an overreach of power on the part of the state because it is taking away a tool that people could use to protect themselves from the state? My answer would be no, precisely because these tools *wouldn’t* make a people capable of protecting themselves from a state which has military-grade weapons. Removing knives would make people no less capable of defending themselves from the state than removing rocks. As such, banning knives because they happen to cause a lot of deaths annually wouldn’t, in my opinion, constitute an overreach of power by the state.

    Similarly, like knives, firearms (even assault weapons) do not make a people capable of defending themselves against the U.S, when we have the most advanced military force in the world with drones, anti-personnel vehicles, vast amounts of high-tech explosives, mass surveillance technology, militarized robots, and nuclear weapons.

    If the U.S military were to actually turn against its citizens, firearms would be just about as useless as slingshots. As such, removing them from the public does not take away the people’s capacity to protect themselves from state oppression. *In reality,* they wouldn’t have the capacity to do that *even if* they had firearms. Removing weapons is like removing knives, then, and wouldn’t constitute an overreach of power.

    Would love to hear what you think!

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  14. Hi Dan, somehow I accidentally liked your reply but didn’t mean to.

    “Given that political authority must be continually justified, we must continually ask the question about the state of nature and the social contract.”

    I totally agree with this, but I’m not sure how that disallows using examples from different time periods or different locations. Caveats can be placed on them for relevance, but an argument has to be made regarding that caveat.

    “I, for one, would never agree to transfer my natural right to enforce the law of nature, if I knew that after I did so, my neighbors would continue to walk around with the means and the prerogative to employ lethal force, especially through firearms.”

    I’m fine with the fact that you would not agree to such a thing, though it raises the question what you would/will do if gun rights advocates get all they wish for and people are carrying arms around? The implication here seems to be that you would take back your rights and return to the state of nature (arguably your assuming you are already in that state).

    I gave arguments for my position. Including examples. I in no way argued that people have the prerogative to use lethal force, by which I can only take it you to mean taking the initiative with the use of force. If you mean the ability to use lethal force in self-defense at all then I would never agree to live in such a state (guns or no guns). That would be an absurdity lower than a state of nature. If it is only for guns, all other self-defense being ok, then the question is once again raised why that particular weapon is not allowed.

    “And walking around sending the very clear signal that you are prepared to unleash lethal violence upon your neighbor…”

    That is only in the eye of the beholder… I guess? Having grown up around people that owned guns, responsible people, I never felt that “very clear signal.” I always took it as wanting protection from animals or people that might attack you.

    “Unfortunately for me — and fortunately for you — it is clear that Americans largely do not agree. ”

    Not sure why it is fortunate for me. I could have sworn I had a whole section in my essay discussing my support for gun regulation, and that could include (if people wanted) not allowing open or concealed carry. I think the national obsession with guns and violence is unhealthy, and the resulting deaths are terrible. I wish no one wanted to have weapons for self-defense. At the same time, I am not so put out by the mere presence of weapons, even if intended for self-defense.

    “That sort of rhetoric is something I’d expect out of NRA apologists, but not someone with your intelligence and wisdom. Having been mugged at gunpoint twice — once, while with my girlfriend — I can tell you that the last thing I wish I could have done was have a shootout with my assailants”

    Perhaps it is not a lack of intelligence, wisdom, rationality, or self-honesty… but that experiences in my life seem to have resulted in a very different view of weapons (and guns in specific).

    On my “scenario”, oh I have more. Muggings. Sure. Never used a gun. Wouldn’t want to. Not arguing people should feel like they need them. But for what it’s worth I was not talking about a mugging. Not intended to be a mugging. It was a brutal attack with just about one of two ends in mind, death or (at best) gross mutilation. Nothing else. After seeing that I sure wanted to have one.

    In any case, I was not trying to equivocate between muggings and murder. I was pointing out that you can take away guns, and the gang violence you are talking about does not improve. The need for defense does not improve. Inner city violence may very well be a sign that the social contract has failed, but guns (while they may amplify the problem) are a symptom, not the cause.

    The NRA can be faulted (and should be) for not dealing appropriately with the contribution of guns to injuries and deaths, but I also see progressives (like Clinton) using gun-regulation (among other things) as a proxy for dealing with underlying, systemic problems that cause this violence.

    When someone in a community of responsible gun owners, hears someone on the left treating guns (in the face of examples that you or I gave) as if they are the root of the problem, that they should be the focus of a solution, they can see the disconnect in the argument and that only leaves them with someone saying that the protection they have against those crimes should be taken away.

    I suppose these are more practical points then theoretical.

    I guess I’ll have to leave others to judge whether my arguments make sense or not.

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  15. Dwayne,
    The argument of the article is that bearing guns is consistent with Lockean social contract theory, and I don’t see the logic in this. If then we want to modify that position, that takes us down alternative lines of argument; but again, I don’t see ownership of guns as consistent with any strong social contract theory.

    As Jack Webb had Joe Friday remark in an old Dragnet episode (referenced because when I heard it, I couldn’t see any way around the logic of it, and have remembered it ever since), a hand gun exists for single purpose – to kill another human being. That’s why wearing one openly in public clearly signifies the willingness to kill someone with it. That’s not true of any other weapon you discuss – not even swords, since there have been plenty of fencing incidents in history that ended in minor wounds or none at all.

    “It would be that you don’t trust the ability of society to control violence *everywhere and instantaneously*, and don’t trust *some* people that you live with. These are both reasonable assumptions in just about any society. ” To the first remark: not necessarily. To the second: not at all. Not necessarily, because in a society founded on laws, all I need is to trust that the system of justice will effectively balanced my interests and any threats to it according to due process, however long that takes. And there are so many other ways that problems of self-interest, competition, and trust play out (especially economically), that don’t require and consideration of resort to lethal violence.

    “Not at all” because of course we have many societies on record, and existent today, where these assumptions are simply not held by the population at large, exactly because they are seen as either unreasonable or inconsistent with the values of either the national or a local society. In much of China, the presence of a hand gun is recognized as a threat to one’s self, one’s family, the stability of the immediate community. In the holster of a police officer, however, it is recognized as both symbol and potential tool of the maintenance of state interest in the community. That used to be true in parts of Europe; in Britain, until recently, it was even true that the police themselves did not carry handguns (since these were understood to invite shoot-outs by criminals, and most British did not want to be threatened with state-sanctioned lethal force).

    No, this is not working, Dwayne. Pragmatically, we have to accept changes that have occurred in societies since the founding of the US constitution; but it is dangerous to be locked into explanations of these changes as though they were justifications for them. To explain the ownership of a gun with ‘I don’t trust some people around me’ does not justify that ownership. And the counter-argument, that such ownership increases the likelihood of violence, I think to be a pretty good one.

    And yes, I have lived in a ‘bad area’ and been mugged. I’ve sometimes daydreamed about having a gun that night; but then I realize that I would have suffered by it.

    And I actually did own a shotgun once; I rather whimsically thought I would take up skeet-shooting, believe it or don’t. And I thought it was safely kept in the basement. I was wrong; a visiting sixteen year old nephew found it and promptly put a hole through a work-room wall. I had the thing taken away by the cops, and they left my nephew off with a warning. It didn’t take, and he was busted a couple years later for illegal possession.

    One problem with owning a gun is, you either want to shoot it or you don’t. If you don’t, why have it? If you do, what excuse can you find for it? – some answers to that question are more than a little troublesome.

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  16. Hi Dan T, thanks for the compliment!

    Your argument is one I was thinking someone might make, though I hadn’t heard anyone start with a “lower order” weapon like a knife. It is usually “US gov’t has nukes so you don’t need guns.” I like the fact that you started with something else, something that obviously would not work as a defense, to set the precedent.

    I’m not sure I can deliver a solid blow to that sort of argument, except to point out that you have made it contextual. You did not say because the government could defeat knives or rocks they had the right to take them away. You said it was based on a reason that they “cause a lot of deaths” *and* they would not contribute meaningfully to defense.

    Remember, I agreed that the impact guns have had on public safety/health* open them to regulation of some kind, and (I will add now to make clear) that would stand even if the gov’t had nothing better than guns (and so they could clearly be used to defeat the state). Sure, that the state does have more powerful weapons, the utility of guns against the state is less, and so less “reason” to hold on to them versus something else. But there still has to be a problem first!

    The question then becomes, how can they be managed to minimize risk. Using your knife example, if we saw a certain category of knife (size, shape, or material) was the largest contributing factor, wouldn’t you agree that we should regulate on that, rather than a set ban on all knives? Or perhaps limits based on where they are kept or who has access to them (what would chefs do, or will there only be military chefs?)? That is how I think guns should be treated.

    But let me address the issue of differential power between state weapons and those owned by individuals, as granting added reason to take away weapons (they are useless anyway). I see three problems with this:

    1) Despite all of these super-weapons, you will notice that the military has not given up possessing all lower class weapons… right down to knives. Yeah, no soldier can beat a missile system with a knife in some head to head contest. But that is not what gun rights activists are arguing is possible. If the state moves against the populace, presumably the populace would defend itself like any other modern military unit caught without other defenses, for whatever reason. They would make due with what they had, and the more the better, changing tactics as needed. And if finally surrounded they would “at least” go out guns blazing, or whatever, rather than giving in to an oppressor. Heck, with all that we have, you notice we (and Russia) have not been able to take out other militaries (and local populations) armed only with firearms. And sometimes we arm opposition forces with less than what their target has.

    2) State action against the population, does not mean just the federal gov’t or military forces. Yeah, your neighborhood would likely lose against an invasion by a military division. But what if it is corrupt local or state police? Or a limited group of federal forces/agents? It could just be a case where you need to survive for a short while until you get protection from larger gov’t agencies or forces. It always seemed odd to me that there is a rush to nukes v handguns scenarios.

    3) Most of those things you list as belonging to the gov’t are (to me anyway) signs we are giving up on the social contract. At the very least they are signs of an unhealthy obsession with warfare as a solution. Yeah, maybe no individuals should have them, but should the state? I’m not sure the state should be made so powerful it can demolish all its citizens at will (all other weapons being useless). That is dangerous. Mass-surveillance is particularly problematic and anathema to liberty.

    * I just wanted to note that you said “caused” in your knife example. I don’t think it is useful to say that weapons “cause” deaths, unless a weapon killed someone by itself (maybe exploded or something). It is more accurate to note that it was involved in, contributed to the extent of damage, made it worse than it would have been otherwise. So to me weapons “impact public safety and health.”

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  17. Hi EJ, you are right that my argument covered both open carry and home ownership. But it also allowed for regulation (based on Locke, just not the ceded powers part) which could be for either case. Given that they are two different things I don’t necessarily think arguments against open carry impact home ownership.

    “…consistent with Lockean social contract theory, and I don’t see the logic in this.”

    I gave my logic, which others have used (I’m not the first to come up with this). To be honest, I haven’t seen you argue where the logic is wrong… except if it is granted that guns have only one use, which is to usurp or threaten to usurp the power of the state, in order to harm or intimidate. Despite acknowledging different uses, you keep coming back to that argument.

    Maybe this is a permanent sticking point, between you (and Dan K) and me. I don’t agree that openly carrying weapons (and certainly not home ownership) is limited to (that) one use only.

    “…a hand gun exists for single purpose – to kill another human being. That’s why wearing one openly in public clearly signifies the willingness to kill someone with it. That’s not true of any other weapon you discuss – not even swords, since there have been plenty of fencing incidents in history that ended in minor wounds or none at all.”

    Ok, now there is another division. Are you only talking about handguns? These are different than rifles. In any case, hand guns do not exist just to kill other human beings. They are more efficient a weapon in close quarters, but that is true for animals as well. If you mean (since quoting Dragnet) that in big cities, where wild animals are unlikely, the purpose (of open carry) handguns is against humans… ok. That still does not define if they are for defense or offense. Willing to kill someone if they threaten ones life when law enforcement is not around, is different than willing to kill others whenever and whatever the reason.

    And I’m not sure why you somehow removed swords from the list? Because they *can* be used for something else? I mean here you specifically bring up sport. There are gun ranges, for sport, in cities. In truth, the only reason swords exist is to kill people. That is specifically why they were made (not against animals). Given all the arguments I have heard (including non use against defense against the state) there is no reason for people to carry… or own… swords. And what about knives? I’ve been in places where carrying those are illegal for the same reason you just gave for guns. Did those laws go too far?

    “…all I need is to trust that the system of justice will effectively balanced my interests and any threats to it according to due process, however long that takes.”

    This is in direct conflict (logically) with the quote I gave from Locke.

    “we have many societies on record, and existent today, where these assumptions are simply not held by the population at large, exactly because they are seen as either unreasonable or inconsistent with the values of either the national or a local society.”

    ? How does this conflict with my position? I argued that it is up to a society to draw the line based on their perspective. That there are societies that choose stricter regulation, does not argue that some may choose looser regulations (or none) and remain consistent. If you mean there are societies that find weapons inherently of one use, that is about as useful as telling me some societies feel that sex has one purpose and base laws on that.

    “… in Britain, until recently, it was even true that the police themselves did not carry handguns (since these were understood to invite shoot-outs by criminals, and most British did not want to be threatened with state-sanctioned lethal force).”

    I thought this was a good idea, and the argument made practical sense. I liked that model. That does not remove the legitimacy of other models.

    “Pragmatically, we have to accept changes that have occurred in societies since the founding of the US constitution… To explain the ownership of a gun with ‘I don’t trust some people around me’ does not justify that ownership. And the counter-argument, that such ownership increases the likelihood of violence, I think to be a pretty good one.”

    Again, I agreed that due to practical considerations, gun-regulation makes sense. The argument was that it did not come from the ceding of powers. Here you make the case based on increased use of violence… ok. That is consistent with my argument. Though I will note that I gave way more reasons than “I don’t trust some people around me” in my essay, I only used that as one possible statement, adjusting your comment regarding self-defense.

    “One problem with owning a gun is, you either want to shoot it or you don’t. If you don’t, why have it? If you do, what excuse can you find for it? – some answers to that question are more than a little troublesome.”

    I agree, if you don’t ever want to shoot a gun, you shouldn’t own one. And of those that do want to shoot one, some might have excuses that could be troublesome. Unless you are suggesting it is the majority, and no regulations could help beyond a straight ban (including just for open carry) this doesn’t do much. Most cops don’t need their guns, (especially when off-duty) the same logic would apply to them. Yet somehow…

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  18. Dwayne,
    well, I’m not going into prolonged argument here. We’ve made our cases, and may be at an impasse.

    However, as a student of semiotics, I will note that, no, the sword and the hand gun are simply not in the same lexicon anymore. The signification of the sword has changed massively over the centuries, and the introduction of guns was one reason for that; but so were the class distinctions that swords implied (which guns do not) and ceremonial uses to which swords have been put (and guns are not). By Locke’s day, swords were also becoming something of a bit of fashion, worn by men who didn’t know the first thing about fencing – an ornament, which became more true as the following century progressed..

    I’m aware, and was when I wrote my reply, that some people use hand guns for target practice. That doesn’t change the evident use to which it was designed, and which is re-enforced throughout our culture, in films, books, television, behaviors, and public discourse. No one owns a Glock nine or a Beretta .25 for target practice. That’s the real import of Joe Friday’s remark – he was simply stating what we all know in this culture, and, frankly, I think it’s getting close to dissimulation to argue otherwise.

    If I were to see a man walk down a street with a sword my first thought would likely be, ‘well, he must be an actor, I wonder what play he’s in.’ If he were to tell me, ‘no, I want to be able to kill someone in self-defense,’ I might suggest he get a gun (but I’d also worry about he’s stability, and suggest alternatives).

    But when I see a man wearing a hand gun, I know what he intends to do with it given some provocation; I just don’t know what exactly that provocation might be, so I would certainly feel uneasy about it.

    Possibly I can park a motorcycle in my bedroom and sleep on it; that is clearly not what it was intended for.

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  19. Dwayne

    Enjoyed reading this, and the discussion, but you will understand that, like the discussion which the OP arose out of, there is just too much which I don’t relate to in terms of assumptions and method for me to meaningfully participate. You know about my attitude to Locke, etc.. My general view on gun control would be that it is obviously prudent to have restrictions on who can own and carry weapons and what kinds of weapons. You (and just about everybody) would agree with this. The details need to be negotiated (and renegotiated) as the details of any contentious and serious legal question need to be negotiated – and settled politically. I would always want to put the focus on pragmatic and commonsense (more or less utilitarian) considerations while being sensitive to and respectful of the long-standing local customs and traditions of well-functioning communities. I understand, however, that the nature of the debate in America is such that 18th-century ideas of natural rights and the Constitution are inevitably going to play a big role.

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  20. Mark: A funny attitude, given that the classical liberal tradition is at the center of “long standing local customs and traditions of well-functioning communities” in America, which is the country we are talking about.

    That you have no use for social contractarianism doesn’t change the fact that the American system of government is built upon it, so it really isn’t possible to credibly discuss these issues in the American context without it being front and center. Utilitarianism is all very well and nice, but its not the primary basis on which the American system of government was founded.

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  21. I find the notion that walking around with a pistol does not send an inherently hostile signal bizarre, bordering on unbelievable. Why on earth would a person need to walk around doing his daily business with a pistol strapped to him, if he was using it for target practice?

    This seems like special pleading, at best. You walk around wearing brass knuckles and the message is obvious — “Don’t fuck with me, or I’ll bash your face in.” You walk around wearing a pistol and the message is equally obvious — “Don’t fuck with me, or I’ll shoot you.”

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  22. db,

    Pardon my tardiness in my reply. This is quite a fundamental issue. Indeed, some people consider Draco’s decision to banish weapons within the walls of the city as a kind of birth of Western civil society. So with such a weighty question, I took some time to ponder.

    First some ground clearing. On the public display of weapons:
    ” I’m going to make a strange connection here, but this particular use (and its associated problem) does not seem unlike some public demonstrations in support of LGBT rights, women’s rights to dress as they want (slut marches), and even public breast-feeding.”
    You anticipate me well. I find this very strange and for reasons I would have thought obvious. Homosexuals, “sluts”, and hungry babies are not actually dangerous. They are only believed to be dangerous by prudes and hysterics who think that society is one decolletage away from anarchy. Guns are *actually* dangerous as even their advocates allow. I can also tell you that as a person in an open-carry state, when I was doing my grocery shopping and came across a man visibly displaying two hand guns, with a don’t-tread-on-me belt and a “Hillary for prison” t-shirt, I felt fairly sure of what he was intending to project. So, I warrant, would you.

    More important is the following:
    “To the common counter-arguments made by gun-rights activists, that state actors may not be available to protect a person in time or could themselves become enemies one must have protection against, the answer was that people can address these issues through appeals to the legislature. But this seems to dismiss reality for an ideal.”
    I maintain that when I say we are better off the legislature and official channels in general, I am forgetting none of the frailties and imperfections of government. Local and city governments can be very slow to take on the police, who are often popular with their constituents. They can be corrupt and unresponsive. They can be merely incompetent. However we better off with them than an armed citizenry. In explaining why, I will charge you as a guns rights activist to do as I was charged to do and not compare an idealized armed-citizenry of responsible and sober gun owners to a more realistic and imperfect public gun-control effort. So long as we allow the widespread sale of fire-arms, some weapons will fall into the hands of violent criminals, the suicidal, the mentally-ill, paranoid anti-government groups (with which America is quite flush at the moment etc.). The result will be continued high rates of deaths from gang violence, mass-shootings, suicides, in-home gun accidents etc. The police will continue to face the daily prospect of being shot and so assume an increasingly defensive and aggressive posture, causing degraded faith from the public. So long as guns are available to the average citizen, these things will to happen. Background checks and the like can only accomplish so much. If millions of guns are on the streets, they will fall off trucks, get lost, get illegally resold etc. There is no way to ensure they will only find their way into the hands of good people. That is a public-policy fantasy. Compare the equally un-idealized gun-control scenario. In this scenario citizens who are in danger and far from police will have to wait for public protection and could die. Corrupt and incompetent policing will continue to be common. Citizens targeted by un-lawful police action could not defend themselves etc. This scenario very much requires the citizen to assume some risk. However it strikes me that this scenario is massively preferable to the former scenario.

    But what strikes me as even more important and, frankly, disturbing is this:
    “Following this, it seems legitimate to consider a state’s attempts to remove the tools needed to protect oneself from potential state overreach as acting contrary to the social contract.”

    And especially this:
    “However, I do not believe a blanket ban on all weapons is necessary (especially those kept on private property), and would be leery of such laws in a time of militarized police forces, invasive national surveillance, and extensive economic inequality. Oh yeah, and terrorism.”
    Statements such as these speak to a deep pathology in American politics at the present. There seems to be a fundamental loss of faith in legitimate government. There can be no use of the government without at least some confidence in its ability to carry out its duties faithfully. But this kind of “leery” politics, as you aptly characterize it, imagines the people entrusting the government with civil powers but then holding a gun under the table as it doesn’t trust it to use them. It’s a kind of society as Mexican-stand-off. The police point their guns at the people and the people point their guns back at the police and seem to say “Go ahead and govern, for now…” Gary Wills captured this Schizophrenia well in his classic NYRB piece of 95:

    “The Standard Model [ie the Constitution as read by guns-rights activists] finds, squirrelled away in the Second Amendment, not only a private right to own guns for any purpose but a public right to oppose with arms the government of the United States. It grounds this claim in the right of insurrection, which clearly does exist whenever tyranny exists. Yet the right to overthrow the government is not given by government. It arises when government no longer has any authority. One cannot say one rebels by right of that nonexistent authority. Modern militias say the government itself instructs them to overthrow government – and wacky scholars endorse this view. They think the Constitution is so deranged a document that it brands as the greatest crime a war upon itself (in Article III: ‘Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them…’) and then instructs its citizens to take this up (in the Second Amendment). According to this doctrine, a well-regulated group is meant to overthrow its own regulator, and a soldier swearing to obey orders is disqualified from true militia virtue.”

    Imagine instead a land in which the police are armed and the citizens are not. The police can be and sometimes are corrupt, lazy, ineffective and bureaucratic but for the most part administer their their duties and uphold the law. In this land there are far fewer suicide deaths, deaths by gunshot, mass-shootings etc. We can call this fantasy land “Britain” or “Germany”. Now the question remains, and I think about it a lot, why wouldn’t we prefer to live there?

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Dan

    “Mark: A funny attitude, given that the classical liberal tradition is at the center of “long standing local customs and traditions of well-functioning communities” in America, which is the country we are talking about.”

    I was thinking of this more at the level of behavior: actual customs in actual local communities. The nature of local communities in America varies more than in many other countries, I would say. You yourself draw attention to some of the differences. And the classical liberal tradition impacts on actual thinking and behavior more in some of these contexts than others.

    As I reject the metaphysical framework associated with this tradition and within which this discussion is couched and within which the American founding documents were written, I just felt that I couldn’t (as I put it) “meaningfully participate” in this particular debate.

    “That you have no use for social contractarianism doesn’t change the fact that the American system of government is built upon it, so it really isn’t possible to credibly discuss these issues in the American context without it being front and center.”

    I ended my comment by acknowledging that “the nature of the debate in America is such that 18th-century ideas of natural rights and the Constitution are inevitably going to play a big role.”

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  24. Hi all, sorry about my late reply, I’ve had some things come up I have to work on. I will have a longer reply later tonight or tomorrow. I should note I feel the thread has run a bit OT, as several seem to have missed the trees (what we use to ground the legitimacy of gun laws) for the forest (what we should have for gun laws given XYZ). My reply will try to put things a bit back on track (of the former), while hopefully addressing some of the major concerns people seem to be having (the latter).

    Here are some short replies….

    ………………….

    Hi Mark,

    thanks, yes I understand your concern (given your previous comments in the other thread). You might like my longer reply which may take that a bit of that into consideration. It seems of course that we come to about the same practical conclusions, despite different starting points. I will admit I am somewhat accepting of Locke’s concepts, and tend to use them. Hume was also “18th century” and many of his ideas are still useful so I don’t worry about when ideas occur. 🙂

    On the Constitution, well anyone discussing US law is sort of forced to refer to it, since it is the basis of laws for the nation. Of course, the constitution can be amended… like say adding a Bill or Rights that allows for gun ownership. So everyone advocating for gun-rights is not exactly a “keep your hand off the Constitution” purist. 🙂

    ……………………

    Hi EJ,

    “That doesn’t change the evident use to which it was designed, and which is re-enforced throughout our culture, in films, books, television, behaviors, and public discourse.”

    Outside of “behavior” (because people have guns), the same holds true for swords. I mean our culture is all over the place with swords being used as weapons. D&D and the movies would not have been nearly as fun if stories were all about actors carrying swords as props. 🙂

    “No one owns a Glock nine or a Beretta .25 for target practice.”

    We appear to live in different universes. In mine, if you can’t bother yourself to get to know people that own weapons, you can simply google (or youtube even better) to watch people using those for target practice, talking about using those for target practice. Sheesh.

    And by the way you can also do the same to find people using swords as weapons. The guy that saved someone from a fight on a subway using his katana is sort of a classic. And no, he doesn’t carry it because he’s an actor.

    For what its worth, I was at a talk where it was recommended that homeowners get swords for home defense, rather than guns.

    Yes, guns are wayyyyy more often used for self-defense than swords. The point is both can be used for both.

    “But when I see a man wearing a hand gun, I know what he intends to do with it given some provocation; I just don’t know what exactly that provocation might be, so I would certainly feel uneasy about it.”

    This gets to a totally different problem. When I see a man wearing a handgun, I tend to assume he is a plainclothes policeman, or off duty policeman, or any of the array of people (and much more numerous) that are allowed to wear weapons on or off duty and you simply cannot tell them from any other person (less numerous) who happen to be wearing one. And then if it is a person who is not one of those, I assume they are responsible citizens unless they are carrying a gun in a provocative fashion or acting strangely.

    Do you have this problem with off duty police carrying them? They are not on the job and so exactly in the same role as a civilian.

    If you view and treat other citizens as potential maniacs until (you know for sure) they are given a badge, I would argue there is no grounds for a social contract anyway.

    ………………

    Hi David,

    “some people consider Draco’s decision to banish weapons within the walls of the city as a kind of birth of Western civil society.”

    I would love to see that argued (perhaps in another essay).

    “They are only believed to be dangerous by prudes and hysterics who think that society is one decolletage away from anarchy. ”

    Well I agree, I just go one further… because as I said in my note they can be used for demonstration in more restricted ways that would make them as safe as anything else.

    “I will charge you as a guns rights activist to do as I was charged to do and not compare an idealized armed-citizenry of responsible and sober gun owners to a more realistic and imperfect public gun-control effort. ”

    I have a whole section devoted to *not* treating it as idealized.

    But the idea that it is all or nothing for the citizenry is idealized, particularly given your guns falling from trucks ideas. We have a massive amount of arms around the country in the military, the police, corporations (which are allowed near standing armies in addition to protection and prison guards), as well as an uhhhhh… gun industry. I mean unless you are also arguing that guns should not be made by these industries to be shipped elsewhere (or used in all the other areas I mentioned) it is still a leaky sieve where someone else can get them.

    In any case, you can simply look up the stats. By nation, it is not the case that increase in per capita gun ownership, matches increases in deaths. The US is an outlier suggesting that guns alone are not the reason. I mean that was even part of Michael Moore’s documentary on the subject.

    “Statements such as these speak to a deep pathology in American politics at the present. There seems to be a fundamental loss of faith in legitimate government. There can be no use of the government without at least some confidence in its ability to carry out its duties faithfully. But this kind of “leery” politics, as you aptly characterize it, imagines the people entrusting the government with civil powers but then holding a gun under the table as it doesn’t trust it to use them. It’s a kind of society as Mexican-stand-off. The police point their guns at the people and the people point their guns back at the police and seem to say “Go ahead and govern, for now…” ”

    Let me say for the record, I agree with most of that comment in general (certainly the sentiment), and your quote is actually wayyyy better than the one you gave from Wills. Nice piece of writing.

    Yes I find it odd (and you can find this among lots of gun-rights advocates *as I mentioned in my essay*) that people act as if they trust the gov’t to regulate so many things while at the same time taking a very hard line as if we are in end times against it, and so guns must be protected.

    But what does that have to do with the list I gave? I specifically mentioned cases that were not powers or privileges given to the government by the people. They are things that have been enacted *against* the will of the people, beyond the scope given to them by the people by law. Looking at the list I forgot to include drone strikes on citizens.

    I mean, the entire mass surveillance project was uncovered by a whistleblower that proved intelligence communities (in alliance with the executive) had broken laws, and acted to subvert legislative oversight of their actions (they literally lied to congress and it is on video). When finally brought to light the programs were ruled unconstitutional, and yet no one involved was prosecuted for constitutional violations, because those in charge held the power to prosecute.

    My point was, and this is something I alluded to in previous threads, that in the US classical liberalism has been abandoned as well as the social contract broken. I think the rampant desire for guns (esp. against the state) and to demonstrate such rights is a manifestation or symptom of this problem, and not the cause.

    To act like this is somehow normal gov’t seems strange.

    “Imagine instead a land in which the police are armed and the citizens are not”

    Or that both are not armed? EJ already gave an example of that and I said I liked that model. But that would not change that it has to be based on an agreement by the people to get there. In any case, I can also imagine a land where both are armed and there are far fewer of all of those than the US suffers. And instead of imagining, I can simply look up stats of countries where that is true.

    The US has some big problems. Guns are making those problems worse, but are not the solution.

    ………………

    Sheesh, that was supposed to be short. My “long” reply will likely be shorter.

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  25. Dwayne,
    I’m afraid I find your reply disingenuous. A,s is usually understood in conversation, cultural significations are not absolutes, and cannot be held to the strict logical standard of universal claims. Your subjective reading of someone packing heat doesn’t negate mine, but reinforces it, since to make either claim stronger we would have to introduce additional material that no one would be comfortable with. having to do with all manner of cultural assumptions. Ultimately, since my claim is about cultural assumptions themselves, and yours is an effort to find strict logical universals, frankly, my point would most probably be justified. I suspect a Bayesian would compute it very nearly 1.

    But you’re committed, and this conversation has exhausted itself.

    So I’ll just go take a nap on my motorcycle. https://www.google.com/search?sclient=psy-ab&site=&source=hp&q=man+sleeps+on+motorcycle&btnK=Google+Search .

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  26. Hi EJ, given that your hyperbolic claim, was (easily) proven to be false, I’ll take your calling my reply disingenuous with a rather large grain of salt… especially when you repeat your sleeping on a motorcycle analogy as if it had any relevance to the argument I was making. Let me know when there are national clubs devoted to sleeping with bikes.

    “Your subjective reading of someone packing heat doesn’t negate mine,”

    I wasn’t claiming it did. I was getting at the difference between our subjective reads. The fact that you have not responded (twice now) about off-duty police, who are usually more likely to be open-carrying than anyone else (especially before open carry laws) is telling.

    “Ultimately, since my claim is about cultural assumptions themselves, and yours is an effort to find strict logical universals…”

    Wrong on both counts. What you are trying to do is pass off your personal assumptions as cultural assumptions, in direct conflict with how much of society views the subject (if one can separate gun fantasy from gun reality). And you have me arguing against the claim made by a fictional character about what guns just *are* (based on some iron-clad logic equating origin to only purpose), where I am using points about varied cultural practices and beliefs about guns.

    “But you’re committed, and this conversation has exhausted itself.”

    Committed to what? Perhaps you will understand what I am committed to in my longer reply. The conversation (at least the one I wanted) has not exhausted itself, because it never got started.

    Though I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel exhausted. Tilting at windmills usually is. 🙂

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  27. Hi all (esp. Dan K, David O, and EJ),

    Despite an explicit statement that I was *not* trying to settle the gun control debate, and my initial replies where I admitted there were other ways the issue could be analyzed, several commenters have responded as if I was using Locke to settle the debate.

    So I want to pull some of this back on track.

    *The Theory Behind Gun Rights (in the US)*

    My essay was a response to commentary (by DanK and DavidO) that seemed to pin gun regulation (perhaps gun abolition) to Locke’s discussion of ceded powers to the state, as part of the social contract (leaving the state of nature).

    As I argued, and I think solidly, that position is wrong. In Locke’s view, possession of guns would not be contrary to the social contract, particularly based on the ceding of personal power to the state, though I went on to point out (which some gun rights advocates fail to quote) he opens regulation on grounds of threat to safety and health, albeit limiting the state to where it is absolutely necessary.

    What I had hoped to generate was a discussion of whether: 1) I was right about Locke’s position based on his writings, 2) there are any logical problems with Locke’s position (as DanT argued, and DanK suggested), or 3) there are other views of the social contract that would be a preferred basis for gov’t and so the gun-rights issue (hopefully advancing what that is). On that last point, I suspected I would see an argument (especially from David) that Mills’ conception of the social contract (perhaps with emphasis on Utilitarianism) was preferable to Locke.

    In short, I was hoping to expose the workings/limits of Locke’s concepts, to generate a discussion of background beliefs regarding the social contract, its applicability to gov’t, and gun rights in specific. I was taking social contract theory as a given, since the US gov’t is arguably based on it (esp. Locke’s), but recognize that gov’ts can be organized another way… only that would be a pretty tough sale, requiring some changes to the Constitution, and a much larger discussion.

    I happen to (roughly) agree with Locke’s view of the state of nature and what leaving that to create civil society provides. Not as some metaphysical reality (as Mark suggested), but as a practical, thumb-nail sketch of how things work when trying to assemble and operate a gov’t… with a view toward maximizing individual rights.

    What it looks like from responses, is that most people just don’t hold with Locke’s views. This is ok, but then that would be the worthy discussion, not hammering me as if I am wrong about Locke’s views, just because they generate an opposite conclusion from other working beliefs.

    For example, from the bleak, dismissive way DanK writes about people when armed, or those wanting to arm themselves, that doesn’t read like the neutral, basically good people that Locke discusses (as DanK and DavidO describe in the video). Rather, that sounds like Hobbes, with guns being a destructive vehicle for our, base brutish nature.

    And EJs writings seem based on a communal Virtue Ethics (perhaps Aristotelian) model, as opposed to social contract theory, where guns are a source of corruption that society should not allow. Having strong sympathies for VE, I liked some of what he said (believe it or not), though I’m not sure it is a good working base for government.

    Finally, DavidO seems to be making the Utilitarian, or “better society”, argument I thought he might, without admitting whether I was right about Locke.

    Let’s say Locke is washed up, which seemed to be DanK’s suggestion and the basis of arguments by Mark and Inigo Rey.

    Then I’m wondering what people think the issue is. Was he wrong about the way people are in the state of nature (in general they are more brutish)? Was he right about people in a certain setting/condition (the time he lived), but societal conditions have changed and/or technological advances have occurred, making his ideas untenable? If so, what were those changes?

    If it is believed Locke’s theory ever did “work” (let’s say the founding of the US), what separates people (and weapons) of those times, from what we see today?

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  28. *Guns in the US today*

    Whatever “theory” says, there is a difference between the ideal and the real. Whether people have a “right” to something, and that they may “want” something, does not mean it is going to be the best solution to an issue. And arguing what is consistent with allowed policy, is not a promotion.

    The idea of open carry is that (on top of giving one a means to defense) it will deter crime, because criminals will see the signal described by EJ and… IIRC… DavidO. If a person wants to mess with you, they risk injury or death and so will not try. Thus the guns (on display) are supposed to prevent the situation DanK described. A mugger (even with a gun) would have been less likely to have tried in the first place. They’d be better off trying the next person without a gun. It is not about inviting a shoot-out. The downside being (as EJ suggested with armed police) more criminals will want to be armed, and go into a robbery or whatever more violently (esp. if they see you have one).

    Hmmmm, with my other reply, this has already gone long, so let me wrap up here with a summary.

    Given the nature of social conditions in the US today, where people have been pitted against each other for so long, with violence promoted as the best solution to everything… zero tolerance for all… I don’t think that more guns is the answer. Less guns could probably help. Less desire for them would certainly be a great sign. A community considering enacting an open-carry policy, in the middle of a heated dispute between members of that community is really not a good idea. I would vote against it, *despite* my belief that it is consistent with the social contract, and the 2nd amendment (with regulations as in my essay). When a society is on the verge of burning down, it is not wise to add fuel to the fire.

    That said, removing rights that are already in place would be hard. Especially ownership at home. I don’t see how that could be worth the cost, if much of the community itself is not willing. You can’t just vote and it will be Germany. Because of this, I don’t see how I could promote that kind of policy, especially when there are so many more important issues that need to be dealt with*… When trying to achieve that will stand in the way of getting policies enacted that could reduce tensions and so violence (in general).

    One thing I hope is true, is that Locke’s vision of generally benign people is accurate, and the idea that the existence of guns will lead to devastation is wrong. Because now that people are able to print their own guns, and it will only get easier, using laws to reduce their presence will essentially be moot.

    *Including issues of infractions of civil rights coming from the gov’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Dwayne: I do think that I stuck to the original essay in my critique, which was centered around my belief that carrying weapons in public provides a disincentive for a rational person to agree to the social contract. My reason for thinking so is that to carry weapons in public is inherently hostile. That’s the point around which we disagreed and it does seem the relevant point.

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  30. Hi Dan, before I forget… who is your avatar?

    You’re right that point 2 made that case, however points 5 and the concluding paragraph suggested something more was going on regarding *why* you wouldn’t trust others walking around with guns. Why that would be a disincentive. Like I said, that read as if you have a lower view of people than Locke… Or perhaps it’s just people today, or in the US, etc. That is what my latest comment was inquiring about.

    Now it may be that we just will not agree about that one issue: “to carry weapons in public is inherently hostile”

    But I’d like to make a brief case for my (counter)position once again, and see if that is persuasive, or if it at least generates a further analysis why you feel that way (because I am curious).

    1) As background, I really seem to have had a different set of experiences with firearms. I saw people with them at home and in public (gun racks in trucks, gun cases, and holsters) and did not see them as hostile, or suggesting hostility. I (felt I) could differentiate between “good actors” and “bad actors”. Interestingly I had (coming out of my childhood) with more cases of law enforcement misusing their weapons than civilians, and one or two cases where it definitively saved their owners’ lives. Maybe you had different experiences growing up (this is all prior to college)… but for me, your statement looks totally alien. How can it be true when I know people who had them in public who had no hostile intent, and in fact the opposite?

    2) As theory, I don’t see how Locke’s writing could be read as supporting that concept. If people are thought generally benign, then why would the fact that they (or such a benign person) carry a weapon be considered “inherently hostile”? “Hostile” involves an active intent to harm. Using an analogy, bees have stingers which are weapons. Although I know some people who feel that way, I do not see how that would make them inherently hostile. Bees are benign, though their colors and stingers indicate to other animals they can be dangerous if attacked, and so are to be avoided. If this is ignored and they are aroused (you get close to a nest or threaten them) they can get hostile. That to me seems a reasonable way to view a weapon carried in public, especially through a “Lockean” lens.

    3) In practice, I gave three counterexamples for your point 2, which you did not deal with. They clearly involved people that carried weapons openly, and yet people decided to form society and gov’t without relinquishing their weapons (including open carry). Although you dismissed historical accounts, I want to press back that I do not see how the “wild west” can be ignored as a valid counterexample. They carried weapons (handguns) that were roughly equivalent to revolvers today. People certainly did exist in a state of nature (and war) and yet chose to move into society anyway, even without relinquishing open carry. It seems to me this indicates (much like MAD: mutually assured destruction) that weapons do not inherently mean hostility (even if it might indicate paranoia and/or bravado) and actually gives a reason to avoid direct conflict, by going to a third party both agree to abide by. The personal weapon then becomes a reminder (and incentive) not to breach the law, and a means of protection from those who do breach it in a way you have no recourse to that law.

    It would take a lot more to explain, but I think this comes down to what “other” a weapon is meant to protect one from. In a case where everyone knows (or feels) that weapons are meant for protection from agents outside the community then they cannot be seen (or felt) as hostile to anyone within it. The same is true if the “other” may be some unknown element hidden within the community. It is only where people feel no community at all (and no desire to make one), or the threat is the community itself that a weapon is meant as a sign of hostility.

    I would grant that people refusing to stop carrying weapons, when a third party has been agreed to adjudicate claims and use force would create a “disincentive” for one to form a society (it shows less confidence), but I don’t see why it would be a deal breaker, and in some cases it may be a nonissue (militias against outside forces or against wild animals) while in others it might be part of why joining a society is desired (again MAD).

    4) The exceptions. I am still unclear how this idea is held (or how it is treated) when civilians are allowed to open carry already and no fuss seems to be made. Off-duty cops are as good as civilians. Are their carrying weapons “inherently hostile”? If not, why not? Then there are corporate guards (bank, business, money transfer), personal body guards, and detectives which are granted this ability. Do you honestly see a bank guard or guy protecting a money truck as “inherently hostile”? My thought is no one would allow them (because that would be bad for business) if that were the common feeling.

    To allow for a class of non-gov’t weapons carriers as “not inherently hostile”, based on the fact that they are employed by people with enough money they don’t have to carry guns themselves for the exact same purpose (to protect their assets and persons), seems to speak to a long running problem within US society where the normal individual has become demonized (naturally suspect) for doing what those with wealth (including corporations) do all the time.
    ………..

    I am not meaning to be confrontational, but very interested in figuring out what the source is shaping our different views.

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  31. The avatar is Kingsley Amis, in his prime, with obligatory bottle of vino and cigarette. One of my three favorite comic writers, alongside Wodehouse and Waugh.

    Re: (1) I had no opinion, prior to moving here, as no one on Long Island walks around with a pistol or drives around with a gun rack. The first time I saw that was here, and given that the gun racks inevitably came with confederate flag stickers and Oakley wraparound douchebag glasses, and the guns overall came along with right wing attitudes, racism, and all the rest of the loveliness you have down here, I certainly never felt a positive sensation when seeing them.

    (2) Locke doesn’t think people are benign. If they were, we wouldn’t need the social contract. He just doesn’t think they are as bad as Hobbes does.

    (3) I would argue that the Wild West was not a civil society.

    (4) Plenty of fuss is made by those of us who think guns have no place in a civilized society. At least not in the hands of anyone but the police.

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  32. Hi Dan, thanks…

    1) Well that experience makes sense to develop your opinion. My only visit to the real south was Georgia, and the only experience I had with guns down there were wealthy liberals who went hunting and skeet shooting, and I never spent time around locals (the people I knew were transplants). Of course rural Illinois (where I went to college) did have plenty of redneck morons. Again, I might suggest broadening your experience to include non-jackasses. There are many of them and it could help to at least see where they might be different/coming from rather than redneck jerks when discussing the issue (especially these days where we need broader outreach). I know there are people who just shut down listening, once they hear someone using stereotypes about gun owners. If any of the PC issues helped Clinton lose, that was one of the most important.

    On your point about Long-Island, while I assume you are right about gun racks, weren’t there security guards, money transfer guards, body guards, or private detectives walking around with guns? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city in the US where those don’t exist.

    2) To be clear, I said “generally benign”, not always or intrinsically benign, which was meant to suggest… kind of like bees.. they aren’t actively malign as Hobbes argues. I realize Locke is not Rousseau.

    3) I agree (and argued) the Wild West was not a civil society. It was perhaps one of the best examples of a return to the state of nature. My point is that the Wild West ended by people with guns choosing to move back into society, for its benefits, without necessarily getting rid of their guns. This gets to your point about disincentives, that people would not choose to join the social contract if others kept walking around with guns. Whether you would not want to is one thing, but it happened, and while they had arms that were pretty close to today’s common firearm (22, 38, 45 revolvers). So to me the interesting thing is how and why? I suggested an answer.

    4) Clearly people make a fuss about guns. I’m not doubting that, and as I said I liked the (old) GB model where even cops didn’t have guns. What I have heard very little of in the US today, is people arguing that off-duty police, security guards, body guards, prison guards (those aren’t police), money transfer guards, and private detectives should not be allowed to have them. That is usually kept as an acceptable exception, which I always found curious.

    All of this raises another question for me:

    5) Does this hold true for other weapons? If not, why not? And if so, how far does it go? Most redneck jerks I saw (in IL) also carried knives that were clearly for bravado/intimidation, same goes for gang members and tough guys in urban settings. I assume people down south have that as well.

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