Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Jim Henley's faith in guns as a guarantor of civil rights has been shaken by the news that residents of Iraq had plenteous guns -- and no civil rights. How can this be? He's dragged reluctantly to the conclusion that hunting rifles in private hands, or even, as in Iraq, Kalashnikovs, are no match for an organized modern army. (Gee, I could have told him that).

So, if guns don't guarantee liberty, how, then, can libertarians justify their gun fetish? Henley finds a way:

...gun rights as canary in the coal mine. On this theory, the right itself is less important than the possible loss of it - that is, when a government ceases to trust its citizens (if we can still use that term) and a people cease to trust themselves and their neighbors to responsibly wield potentially lethal force, that society has become chronically . . . cowardly? decadent? distorted? This argument I accept wholeheartedly. We are talking about a process that unfolds over time, but when we see Britain first confiscate guns and then propose curtailing jury trials, things suggest themselves. Ask a western Canadian about Canada's gun restrictions and you can probably get a list of similar baleful developments.

There's only one problem with that argument: Henley is writing from inside a country where the right of habeas corpus has been effectively suspended, where dissent is being increasingly stigmatized, where a government espionage apparatus is being increasingly directed at the online activities of its own citizens, and where proposals are in the air to define even peaceful protest as "terrorist activity" with draconian penalties, including loss of citizenship -- all by an administraton which fetishizes gun rights. Ashcroft demands the right to know what books you're reading at the library, but your gun purchase records are sacrosanct.

Henley promises next to deal with guns and crime, at which point he might deal with the awkward fact that American urban neighborhoods with widespread guns tend to be those where law-abiding residents have the least liberty in practical terms -- say, the liberty to walk safely on the street at night...

Update: Jim responds, saying that this argument "suffers ... from more attention to party politics than to structure." Since I never mentioned party politics, I have no idea what he's talking about -- as Jim mentioned later in his own piece, politicians of both American major parties voted for the PATRIOT act.

The case is simple -- Jim proposes that, so long as gun rights are secure, other rights will be secure as well. Current events show that's just not so. End of story. Party politics have nothing to do with the argument, and bringing them up is just a strange sort of displacement.

But then again, that's how this started. Jim observed that in Iraq, firearms by themselves were no guards of liberty -- and responded, not by trying to find other guards of liberty, but by trying to find another way to justify the libertarian gun fetish.

On the other hand, while party politics have nothing to do my argument, they do have something to do with the events -- it's Ashcroft and Co. who set the match to the Bill of Rights; the worst you can say about the Democrats is that they're hanging around the bonfire, afraid that people will think they're not cool kids if they don't show up. Which is something of an embarassment for a lot of soi-disant "libertarians", who have been voting for years for the major party with the least commitment to personal and civil liberties. But again, I could have warned them about that. Oh wait, I did.


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