The Right to Keep and Bare Firearms and Its Place in the Libertarian Thought

Gun Appreciation Day
Paul Weaver via flickr || Creative Commons

The followers of libertarian thought – at least the majority faction of those who believe in the moral imperative of individual freedom – defend an individual’s (i.e. citizen’s) right to keep and bear firearms. Even though they oftentimes produce meaningful examples of benefits thereof, I detect in this line of thought a lack of argumentation on a rational level, weak logical sequences, which supposedly prove rational background to the aforementioned right, and an almost nonexistent philosophical foundation on which it stands. Therefore I am keen to investigate whether this foundation bares any potential fruit in adding to the logical proof of the existence of the right to keep and bare firearms. Or, on the other hand, if it is possibly a slippery idea, trying to find its place in the libertarian thought and masking a fetishism which has no deeper ground than a desire to possess a deadly tool.

The argumentative rudiment clearly lies in the sanctity of private property, and the fact that an individual must be given the possibility to defend their own possessions, so we can define that that which is private, is also truly owned (protected from dispossession). In case property could be effectively dispossessed without legal consequences, we would have to redefine its private status. As this argument is positioned into here and now, the existence of an effective legal system disconnects it from its source – namely, the protection of private property is to be granted to an individual by the state and its apparatuses. However, there are numerous possible outcomes, where these state mechanisms react too slow, do not react at all, or react ineffectively due to lack of interest or special political circumstances. I suspect that such cases are frustrating to those defending the right to keep and bare firearms and urge them to come up with a solution for situations where urgent defense of private property is needed, and can only be executed there and then, by the individual.

In the case of an indiscriminate system of firearms possession, we postulate that anyone could be an owner. There are, of course, certain possible restrictions (as licensing on the basis of physical and psychological testing etc.), although these attributes, in my opinion, neither add to nor take from the story. There is no scenario which could exclude the possibility of the firearms coming in the hands of people who would aim to obtain them with motives other then securing their physical integrity.

An important aspect of the argument promoting the benefits of the right to possess firearms lies in the relationship between the illegal owners of the latter and their aim to use the weapons as the means of coercion. Such individuals possess weapons for one fundamental reason: because the others do not have it. This is basically the reason for possession also in other cases – not merely on the individual level, but on community level (e.g. gangs), state level or international level. Even in the case of nuclear weapons, it is obvious that what makes it an unbelievably powerful asset is its rarity – the lack of possession by others. The rarity of weapons proves superiority, grants the owner a status of belonging to an elite, and elites always define their superior position on grounds of owning assets, the majority does not own.

By allowing other individuals to possess firearms (legal owners), we cannot achieve the disappearance of the criminals’ raison d’etre, much less their willingness to remain illegal owners. The consequence of the universalisation of firearms possession lies precisely in this assumption – the criminal therefore needs, again, a different means of coercion, that the others do not have. They need a higher level of efficiency, disarming the old weapon of its supremacy and introducing the rule of a new one.

The suspicious appearance of the pro-weapon possession ideas leaning towards a fetishist gimmick is also visible as we try to think of potential alternatives to solve the problem. For example, why not promote the termination of a considerably lesser size of state investment in other sectors (especially those proposed by libertarian thought) and invest a larger deal of finances into security structures, i.e. assigning to the state the role of a true protector of its citizens? Why not invest into production of self-defense weapons which would be disabling, yet not fatal? It seems that the gap between the clumsy ineffective dagger and the instantly fatal firearms is way too large of a maneuver space, not to be used for creating new solutions, which would not terminate an individual’s life in case of misguided usa.

These are the questions raising suspicion when they are completely left out (and they usually are) of context in the debate on firearms possession. Because of their absence in the discussion, the security of an individual is a less and less highlighted aspect, yet the light shines ever brighter on the actual possession of firearms – as if there is no other acceptable option. That is especially visible when promoting firearms possession in extremely peaceful environments, where their introduction to the general public would merely mean exposing firearms to potentially dangerous individuals, who would otherwise, due to low accessibility, not have come into their possession at all.

Firearms possession can only increase individual security when the crime rate is sufficiently high, so that we can assume that the usage of weapons by irrational individuals is lower, as is the chance of being hurt by an illegal owner. However, in such communities, the inflow of weapons is ‘organic’, since the pressure of law is considerably lower and the mass crime defeats the rarity of culpability. This brings about an indication that the crime rates can differ from community to community and that it could be useless to introduce solutions on a national level.

Unfortunately, an individual poses potential danger to another individual by their mere existence. Our body is the first object within our reach we can use as weapon. Furthermore, any object can be used as weapon if harm is intended. A crucial aspect of securing the individual’s position in the world is their ability to leave the dangerous areas which pose a direct threat to the citizens by merely residing there, and securing a mobility structure enabling migration to safer areas. A crucial matter is also to make it possible to obtain effective formal protection in case of a potential threat to one’s physical integrity. These solutions demand a higher level of social and political restructuring. A state cannot become a minimalistic administration with a highly functioning security apparatus over night. Nonetheless, these are not shortcuts, since shortcuts can fall dangerously short of reaching the goal, when it comes to deadly objects.

Alen Alexander Klaric