Firing Blanks? Libertarians & Gun Control

Lee Jenkins January 9, 2014 11
Firing Blanks? Libertarians & Gun Control

Why are British libertarians a bit wobbly when it comes to packing heat?

For American libertarians, gun ownership isn’t even totemic, it’s a no-brainer. Without the means to protect yourself and your property, every other civil liberty is a mere platitude.

Yet for British libertarians gun controls are a bit of a sticky wicket. Far from being an obvious right or necessity, firearms are a source of consternation on this side of the pond.

Are Brits just more squeamish, or are there deeper factors at play?

History is a hugely influential factor in civil liberties in general, and gun control in particular. The US and many European states have a tradition of the citizen soldier; the private citizen expected to maintain a firearm and be ready to answer a call to arms at a moments notice. Given that citizen soldiers were the midwives of the American Republic, so it should come as no surprise that gun ownership has an almost spiritual resonance there. Even after independence, the US expanded voraciously across a continent, with settlers coming into constant conflict with tribes, Mexicans, Canadians and even other settlers. The speed of American expansion meant that Federal authority simply couldn’t keep up; a lack of government therefore made personal weapons a necessity. The link between limited government and personal weapons was established early in the American narrative.

In Europe some degree of central authority had been established long before the sight of black powder weapons on the battlefield. However on a crowded continent the proximity of rival powers made war practically incessant up until 1815 and the Congress of Vienna. Continental powers didn’t have Britain’s luxury of the sea and a navy between them and their rivals. When war came there was a scramble to get fighting men assembled as fast as possible. This was especially true for smaller powers with big ambitions, such as Prussia, Sweden, Poland and Hungary. Therefore it was normal practice for weapons to be kept at home rather than in central arsenals.

Britain’s experience with wars between the 1600’s and the end of Napoleon was dominated by the navy and small expeditions by a designated army. The average individual in Britain would have had very limited exposure to firearms, if at all.

It is also far easier for the likes of the US to defend an existing arrangement than it is for somewhere like Britain to try to fabricate one. For the last half century the trend across the Western world has been the steady erosion of civil liberties and the steady increase in the power of the state. Having had no tradition of mass private gun ownership means that to introduce one to Britain would not only require a legislative expansion of civil liberties, but also a cultural shift of no small scale.

The final factor, linked to the above, is that of perception. In states with a history of gun ownership, private weapons are seen as a right, and in some cases even a duty. In Britain they’re associated with criminals and cantancerous old farmers. Expressing and interest in wanting a firearm to defend your home immediately raises suspicions that you’re a bit odd and maybe even planning some grizzly killing spree. Because normal law abiding people in the UK don’t tend to have guns, we never hear about the attempted rapist thwarted because the woman had a weapon in her possession. We don’t see guns very often, and only hear about them when something terrible happens. This is a powerful combination and goes a long way to explaining why guns have an almost solely connotations image here.

It’s an usual state of affairs when libertarians are content with a situation whereby, by and large, the only people with guns are criminals and the State.

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  • therealguyfaux

    The US Constitution, it has been said, promises rights to citizens as against the State with the Amendments in the Bill of Rights– and offers the Second as the ultimate enforcement mechanism: the “check-and-balance” of last resort.

    A point to ponder in the debate. In the meanwhile, consider that, if there are situations in which the State cannot (or more cynically, WILL not) defend your right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law by other private citizens, you will have to avail yourself of some “self-help.” To the extent that the State prevents you from doing so, they are complicit in that deprivation.

  • Yasin Aydin

    I think guns are a step too far but what should be legalised is pepper spray. It’s crazy that they’re classed (to my knowledge) as being under the same bracket of carrying a gun if you were stopped and found to have pepper spray.

    • John

      Pepper spray is classed as an offensive weapon, possession of an unlawful firearm is far worse (in the eyes of the law).

      And what’s wrong with guns?

      • Yasin Aydin

        ah ok, the police officer was talking rubbish then.

        What’s wrong with guns? People.

        • John

          Well bugger me! Pepper spray is classed as a section 5 firearm… Sorry I just assumed outright that there was no way our system was THAT retarded. My apologies!
          (that being said the police are notorious for not knowing the full laws, especially when it comes to weapons, or ‘weapons’)

          But we don’t go around punching everyone we come across do we? And with a punch the likelihood of killing someone is very, VERY slim, add the very real aspect of deadly force…

          If you wanted to cause trouble, even if you were armed, would you do it if you knew the person you were assaulting could kill you outright? Maybe you could get the jump on him/her and kill them outright, well what about the bystanders? They could take you down!
          The cost to benefit ratio is skewed considerably because anyone, from the university student waiting for the bus to the 86 year old widowed pensioner, could be packing heat and kill/maim you had a chance to even start running.

          • Gwyn Jones

            Our right to be armed is enshrined in our Bill of Rights 1688/89.And was jealously guarded until yhe end of the First World War. In the 1900’s there are documented cases of police persuing Russian anarchist bank robbers in London borrowing pistols from armed by-passers. The establishment passed a fireaems (rifle & pistol) certification act in 1921 to curtail our rights. It was sold as an anti-crime measure by the Blackwell Committee. Decades later when it eventually saw the light of day it was to deny rights to “intellectual malcontents with an automatic pistol” and one could add “with a yen for individual liberty !”
            The majority opf pistols were still held for personal protection until the 1950’s when a policy (not law) of not allowing certificates for arms for self defence was introduceed.
            Our present banning of a large number of types of firearms is patently unlawful and the MP’s who voted for it should be put on trial for the treason of giving illegal advice to the monarch anf making her break her coronation oath to respect our rights and liberties.
            Those who doubt this should read “Does the Trigger Pull the Finger ?” by Richard Law and Peter Brookesmith.

            Gwyn Jones

          • John

            All true, though I wish it was not :/

            However our constitution says something along the lines of “as allowed by law”; this means it has to go through the House of Commons, and the House of Lords, not just signed off by the Monarch.

          • Gwyn Jones

            Allowed by law means just that. The new version of the coronation oath that was sworn to by all monarchs from William III and Mary II on was not to give the people anything new. It was as a result of the Roman Catholic James II and to a lesser extent Charles II’s attempt to disarm the Protestants and re-establish Roman Catholicism as the state religion. In the 1830’s a copy of the secret Treaty of Dover was found in the public record office where Charles II accepted moneys from Louis XIV to do just this.
            As allowed by law meant that the ownership of arms was a basic right and the new coronation oath reiterated this.
            In his Commentaries on the Laws of England Sir William Blackstone was of this same opinion. He stated that the possession of arms was essential as the ultimate remedy by the people for the protection of their rights and liberties if all other efforts proved fruitless.

            Gwyn Jones

          • John

            Sorry, but it was purely to stop the Monarch from being too powerful, not the whole Government. It also only applies to protestants like you mentioned… So… probably not best platform from which we can stand on. :/

            Never fear! Facts are still on our side!

            Now we need to get the sheeple to stop being so damn emotionaly-focused….

          • Gwyn Jones

            This might be of interest to you.

        • Barry Da Crab

          What’s wrong with people – people. That’s why we need guns. People who are anti-gun are pro-rape.