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Fighting the Fire, while Feeding the Flames

May 30th, 2011 by Jim May · 19 Comments · Uncategorized

Today is different
And tomorrow the same
It’s hard to take the world
The way that it came
Too many rapids
Keep us sweeping along
Too many captains
Keep on steering us wrong
It’s hard to take the heat —
It’s hard to lay blame
To fight the fire —
While we’re
Feeding the flames

— Neil Peart “Second Nature”, from the album “Hold your Fire”by Rush


Billy Beck is beating the drum over the murder of Jose Guerena in Arizona, and rightly so.  What I wish to highlight here is the horrible spectacle of mainstream minds raising the alarm over the increasingly violent intrusions of the government into our lives, even as their underlying ideologies move them inexorably towards that end-of-road.  To judge by the reaction around the blogosphere, both Left and Right are aghast and angry over Guerena’s death — but I will show how, in fact, both “sides” are, at root, complicit in it.

For conservatism, it is the dominant author of drug prohibition, the aegis under which the police have been so militarized in capacity and discretion — but without any of the military’s discipline or restraint.  It is conservatism that, at root, sanctions drug prohibition as a perfectly logical expression of its premise that individual human beings cannot be trusted to be moral, and that society exists in order to constrain individuals and their vices.  There exists plenty of evidence in this regard, which in the interests of brevity I leave to the reader to dig up; I suggest the First Things blog, and “The Conservative Mind” by Russell Kirk as starting points.

How about the Left, then?  The simpletons who operate in the box of conventional politics would, in expectations that Lefties oppose drug prohibition and (notwithstanding Wisconsin) are usually at odds with police, point to this article at the Daily Kos as evidence of the Left’s reaction to Guerena’s murder.

There is plenty of anger there, and overall the article is spot-on in many of its questions.  But alas, note these qualifiers sprinkled like cyanide dust throughout it, undercutting its intended message and reminding us of the internal logic of Leftism:

Is the life of one Mexican-American worth less than the lives of others?

Already, the standard Leftist re-framing of the atrocity in terms of their overarching political goals — in this case, by frightening Mexican-Americans.  Poisoning the well already!  It would appear that, in “skywriter”‘s eyes and those of all the Daily Kos authors, the life of this particular American was worth more than that of this other American.

If that were true, I’d be siding with the cops but it is not.

Really, now?  “skywriter” is referring to whether Guerena had begun shooting first.  Note the context of that statement in the facts that “skywriter” himself presents right there in his article: the residents of the home had good reason to believe that they were about to be invaded, and Guerena had his wife and child to defend against this threat — but somehow, the moment he actually DOES this, “skywriter” comes down in favor of the cops.  These facts, as they are, make it clear that Guerena would have been entirely justified in opening fire, regardless of the fact that they were cops.

But not for “skywriter”.  Again, the underlying logic of Leftism manifests itself.  Apparently, “skywriter” is bothered much less by the home invasion etc. in the name of the conservatives’ drug war, than he is by the prospect of Guerena refusing to be a victim, in which case he’d be “siding with the cops“. No, No, Jose, you are a “Mexican American”, you are supposed to be a victim! Individuals have no right to fight against the government, that’s what voting is for!

So once again, who thinks that Lefties are inherently “anti-cop”, or opposed to “law and order”?  Look past those trees, there’s quite a forest back there folks.  They are “anti-cop” when it suits their deeper fundamentals, and “pro cop” likewise.  A rather credulous Leftie I know was defending the cops in much the same way that conservatives often do when there’s a police shooting — because Scott had a gun, of course, and that should never be allowed.  Poof, there goes “anti-cop”.  Priorities, you know.  I wasn’t the least bit surprised. No one should be.

Why is there two levels of justice in the United States? One for the wealthy and another for everyone else? Would SWAT have gunned down a man in a wealthy neighborhood?

Why does there continue to be particular disrespect for people of color by law enforcement, 40 years after civil rights legislation became the law of the land?

More well poisoning, this time against “the wealthy” (whoever they are) and once again, the injection of race.  And again, the implication that “skywriter” is concerned only with the rights of certain special classes, not of individual human beings as such.

Sadly, these manifestations undercut and destroy what would otherwise have been evidence that there might still be a salvageable Leftist in the world.

Individuals on both Left and “Right” are being rightfully alarmed about the rising manifestations of an increasingly belligerent and unconstrained government power, while carefully failing to ask the deeper questions which will lead them to realize how they themselves are, in accordance with the inexorable logic of their ideas, moving us towards it.  Paraphrasing Neal Peart: They fight the fire, while they’re feeding the flames.

Ultimately, nothing short of declaring oneself in favor of the principle of individual rights, completely and absolutely, can truly stop one from contributing to the problem.  There is no logical way to do this while remaining conservative, or Leftist in any respect whatsoever.  Period.

And again: I don’t care how sincerely any individual conservative or Leftist abhors this particular result of their ideology (and conveniently, have each other to blame); as sincerely as you may be screaming “but I didn’t mean THIS!”, you are not absolved. At a minimum, Jose Guerena’s blood (as well as those of many others) is on the hands of ALL those who support drug prohibition…. but we all know that the bloody trail of fingerprints leads far deeper, uphill on the road to authoritarian paternalism and its roots common to both conservatism and Leftism.

6/5 Edited to clear up an ambiguity regarding conservatives’ reaction to the Erik Scott case.

6/18 Edited to add the lyrics.

19 Comments so far ↓

  • madmax

    Jim, this is quality material you are providing. It really makes me wish that an Objectivist scholar would write a book on the evolution of the modern Right; ie on how Classical Liberalism came to be associated with what I am guessing is its antipode – Classical Conservatism.

    Hillaire Belloc, Russel Kirk, Leo Straus are all very different from Classical Liberal thinkers. The inclusion of the legacy of Classical Conservatism in the Conservative big tent was a very unfortunate historical event.

  • Scherie

    Madmax, the book has already been written. It’s called Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea by C. Bradley Thompson.

  • c andrew

    Thanks for pointing out how the premises of both the putative “Left” and “Right” feed the authoritarian police state.

    It’s hard for me to understand how anyone with even a passing acquaintance with just the Bill of Rights could see these incidents as anything less than murder under color of law. But the Drug War apologists excel at that particular form of evasion. Just listen to Sean Hannity try to explain how alcohol prohibition required a Constitutional Amendment whereas the current Drug War does not. (Hint: he rapidly descends to invective and ad hominem.)

    Justice Scalia’s endorsement of the new “Police Professionalism” and the latest ruling out of the Indiana Supreme court are just further symptoms of the underlying rot.

    Unfortunately, there are “objectivists” (small case and scare quotes intentional) who have the same reaction as your credulous lefty whenever a gun is involved.

    Ultimately, nothing short of declaring oneself in favor of the principle of individual rights, completely and absolutely, can truly stop one from contributing to the problem.

    Exactly right.

  • madmax

    Madmax, the book has already been written. It’s called Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea by C. Bradley Thompson.

    No. That book just deals with the NeoConservatives who were originally Leftists. What I am talking is covering the ground from the beginning of the Classical Liberal movement itself; circa 1800. And showing how Classical Liberalism was opposed by the old 19th century Conservatives (ie Belloc) and then showing how the old Liberals became aligned with the new Conservatives.

    Thompson just covers one small piece of today’s Conservatism; the NeoConservatives. Actually, I would argue that the NeoCons are not really Conservatives but just pro-America Leftists.

  • Andrew Dalton

    Jim –

    You make an important point that the Left, despite their reputation, is totally inconsistent and opportunistic in their criticism of law enforcement. After all, what about the huge regulatory state that the leftists clamor to preserve and expand? If one supports expanded regulations, one also inexorably supports expanded police power.

    (This assumes that the regulations actually have legal force, rather than being mere suggestions, which of course they are not. See the recent examples of federal armed raids on sellers of raw milk to see that these regulations do come down to the barrel of a gun.)

    As you point out in the last paragraph, this is another example of ideological causation. The Left supports runaway police power in fact, as a consequence of their ideas, even if they deny it in words.

  • Two--Four

    […] Jim May paraphrased Neal Peart in the matter of Jose Guerena, but my line comes from Bowie. Go read it all.

  • Pat Hines

    Drug prohibition isn’t a genuine conservative value. It came out of the turn of the century, 19th to 20th, progressivism. It is, and always was, a position of the left, just as alcohol prohibition was. The first head of the FDA, an ardent progressive, wanted to prohibit anything containing caffeine as well as other drugs.

  • Mark Alger

    @Pat Hines;

    Absolutely correct. Prohibition of any type is an earmark of the Right ONLY to the extent that soi-disant Republicans have been ideologically polluted by — scorn quotes — “progressive” values. Liberty — the TRUE conservative value — finds anathema in the state presuming to dictate to any citizen the disposition of his self. His body, his mind, his soul.

    Glenn Beck has just argued we should “reinstate” the death penalty for cop-killers. Never! Not until it’s INstated for killer cops.


  • madmax

    Drug prohibition isn’t a genuine conservative value. It came out of the turn of the century, 19th to 20th, progressivism. It is, and always was, a position of the left, just as alcohol prohibition was. The first head of the FDA, an ardent progressive, wanted to prohibit anything containing caffeine as well as other drugs.

    This is true.

    But a true Conservative would argue that the local community should have the right to ban drugs, prostitution, gambling. And lets face it, under a reinvigerated Christian rule, all communities would ban those things because Conservatives as Christians do not believe that you should have the freedom to do what is immoral.

    The only people opposing the victimless crime laws are the libertarians and the Objectivists.

  • Mark Alger

    But a true Conservative would argue that the local community should have the right to ban drugs, prostitution, gambling.

    That being so, what that conservative seeks to conserve is not ordered liberty of any recognizable stripe, for what he is arguing is the existence of a “compelling public interest” which can/may/will/shall override individual rights.

    WHICH, when you unpack it and examine it, is a damned-be-damned anathema to any free people.

    I’ll grant you that very few people HAVE examined the notion, thus its prevalence in modern jurisprudence. But that is a fault in those who understand its ill nature and have not sufficiently well exposited it.


  • Jim May

    Drug prohibition isn’t a genuine conservative value. It came out of the turn of the century, 19th to 20th, progressivism. It is, and always was, a position of the left, just as alcohol prohibition was

    You need to familiarize youself with a LOT of what passes under the name “Conservatism”. I provided some starter information (e.g. First Things). At some point I need to put together an arsenal of them for the day when I find myself in the debate which lies just a few steps from this point in the discussion: what is conservatism, really?

    I’ll tell one thing that conservatism is NOT — is is not the opposite of Leftism. On the contrary, conservatism and Leftism are much more alike in their roots that they can stand to admit, in both their logical destination and in many particulars of the scenery along the way. Ayn Rand really throws that fact into sharp relief, just from brute contrast. It’s one of the reasons they both hate her so much; they both need to maintain the illusion that *they* are the only two players on the field. It makes the game easier to throw.

    What conservatism IS: it is religious paternalism, on the road to return to pre-Enlightenment feudalism. But that’s not what grabs my attention the most — what is most important to me, is how many people there are in America who are much better than average in regards to liberty, but call themselves conservatives.

    Fact: to the extent that you are pro-liberty (in intent AND by the logic of your ideas), you are not a conservative.


    Conservatism is changing into its own opposite.

    I really, really wonder about that last one. It’s my secret hope — that Objectivism can co-opt conservatism into its own opposite, just like the Left co-opted liberalism.

    The way certain (religious) conservatives have been reacting of late — as well as a recent effort by some Leftists to try and drive home the differences between conservatism and Ayn Rand, something which deserves much more coverage than I’m giving it in this aside — strongly suggests that they fear exactly that.

  • Jim May

    Unfortunately, there are “objectivists” (small case and scare quotes intentional) who have the same reaction as your credulous lefty whenever a gun is involved.

    I don’t agree with your evaluation of these Objectivists, insofar as I’ll leave the cap on and the scare quotes off. I’ve yet to see a fruitful ending of any disagreement between Objectivists where anyone starts questioning the others’ grasp of Objectivism. That always seems like the “nuclear option” and it happens way too fast, on average.

    That being said, Harry Binswanger never leaves the discussion open long enough to be engaged on the topic (it’s his list, so that’s that), and I am still kicking myself for failing to engage Adam Mossoff on precisely that topic at OCON last year, despite a golden opportunity to do it in the immediate and interested presence of Paul Hsieh and a few others of us who are more gun-friendly. That could have been a very productive discussion.

  • Inspector

    Capital letter or small, scare quotes or not, those in the Objectivist camp who take what I’ll call the leftist-style mentality on guns are incorrect. Glad you could put up a very *correct* piece on the matter, Jim. Hope you get that opportunity again and seize it.

  • c andrew


    You are right that the nuclear option is probably too well used in objectivist circles. My apologies on that. Frustration on this subject leads me to make that possibly unwarranted conclusion. The “possibly” is explained below.

    But what I can’t fathom is why there are Objectivists who look at what goes on, have some passing knowledge of the history of the 20th century as well as America’s own founding, and still come down on the side of gun control. Is it wishful thinking? Re-writing history? Re-writing reality?

    I know that Objectivists use “gun” as a metaphor for the initiation of force. But many of them seem to forget that it is a metaphor; useful in a specific context for a specific reason, but invalid outside of that context. That larger context is best expressed in the phrase, “God made man, Colonel Colt made them equal.” Guns give innocent and physically inferior people the technological means of defending themselves from brute force. A woman with a gun has a better chance of survival even if her opponent has a gun than if both were disarmed and she is dealing, bare-handed, with a man twice her size. The same is true of a black man facing 20 Klansmen. But whether it is a woman at night against a rapist, a black man against a Klan gathering or a free citizenry against a corrupt constabulatory or an over-bearing government, the principle is the same. Self-defense is always moral. Therefore, having the tools of self-defense is also moral. To advocate otherwise is to place the principle over the practical when in fact both are necessary. Man is a being of both mind and body after all.

    Machiavelli pointed out that, “For among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised…” It may be true for princes but it is definitely true for the citizenry. Every genocide of the 20th century, from the massacre of the Armenians to the slaughter of the Rwandans, was preceded by gun confiscation among the victims which was enabled by gun registration and control laws. Gun control was the lynch-pin (deliberate mispelling, for effect) of the Jim Crow South and the gangster-ridden New York under the Sullivan Laws. It is very difficult to hang a black man or terrorize a merchant if he has the means of fighting back.

    With this in mind, civil rights activist Don B. Kates, Jr., pointed out in his book, “Restricting Handguns,” that the first thing he did when entering a new area in the Jim Crow South, was to arm his civil rights workers and letting it be known to the community at large that they were armed. Deacons for Defense did the same thing for black communities targeted by the Klan. Kates also noted that the “pacifist” wing of the civil rights movement often found themselves subject to violent attack that his people rarely dealt with; he said that such former pacifists very often flipped on their premises and began advocating that victims initiate force in intimidation rather than the calm, certain defensive methods that Kates himself favored. This happened enough that Kates thought it significant. I wonder if the two mindsets of pacifism and offensive intimidation might share some premises in classic Randian trichotomy fashion. But that is a subject for a different essay.

    In “Atlas Shrugged” there are 4 instances where personal firearms figure significantly in the narrative. I’m leaving out Ragnar’s military class weapons for obvious reasons. In order they are:

    A solitary figure stood at every mile post. Some were young schoolboys, others were so old that the silhouettes of their bodies looked bent against the sky. All of them were armed, with anything they had found, from costly rifles to ancient muskets. All of them wore railroad caps. They were the sons of Taggart employees, and old railroad men who had retired after a full lifetime of Taggart service. The had come, unsummoned, to guard this train. As the engine went past him, every man in his turn stood erect, at attention, and raised his gun in a military salute.

    “Who is that, Mr. Rearden?” he asked.
    “My new bodyguard,” said Rearden.
    “Oh…! A sensible precaution, Mr. Rearden, in time like these. Good night, sir.”
    The motor jerked forward. The red taillights of the car went shrinking down the road. Danneskjold watched it go, then glanced pointedly Rearden’s right hand. Rearden realized that he had stood facing the policeman with his hand clutching the gun in his pocket and that he had been prepared to use it.

    The siege of the gate appeared to be ebbing, as if the spine of the mob had been broken. he heard the distant screeches of their cries–but the shots from the road were growing rarer, the fire set to the gatekeeper’s office was put out, there were armed men on the ledges and at windows, posted in well-planned defense.

    On the roof of a structure above the gate, he saw, as he came closer, the slim silhouette of a man who held a gun in each hand and, from behind the protection of a chimney, kept firing at intervals down into the mob, firing swiftly and, it seemed, in two directions at once, like a sentinel protecting the approaches to the gate. The confident skill of his movements, his manner of firing, with no time wasted to take aim, but with the kind of casual abruptness that never misses a target, made him look like a hero of Western legend–and Rearden watched him with detached, impersonal pleasure, as if the battle of the mills were not his any longer, but he could still enjoy the sight of the competence and certainty with which men of that distant age had once combatted evil.
    He saw a leering, mindless face with a mouth hung loose in a joyless chuckle, and a club in a rising fist–he heard the sound of running steps approaching from another direction, he attempted to turn his head, then the club crashed down on his skull from behind–and in that moment of splitting darkness, when he wavered, refusing to believe it, then felt himself going down, he felt a strong, protective arm seizing him and breaking his fall, he heard a gun exploding an inch above his ear, then another explosion from the same gun in the same second, but it seemed faint and distant, as if he had fallen down a shaft.

    Calmly and impersonally, she, who would have hesitated to fire at an animal, pulled the trigger and fired straight at the heart of a man who had wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness.

    In the first, citizens connected with Taggart Transcontinental, including, (horrors!) schoolboys, brought firearms from their homes to guard the physical integrity of the John Galt Line and the safety of the train running that line.

    In the second, a duly-constituted member of the constabulatory and, by the narrative, an honest man fulfilling his legal responsibilities is, unbeknownst to him, under threat of potential violence from Rearden in defense of his previously unacknowledged values. The only reason violence is not precipitated is the ignorance of the police officer of the actual identity of the bodyguard.

    In the third, proxies of the ruling class are initiating government condoned violence against persons and property and are being dispatched by private citizens as expeditiously as possible.

    In the fourth, a private citizen kills a member of a protective detail who did not threaten her physically but was blocking her rescue of a man unjustly imprisoned. In subsequent narrative, other private citizens initiate action against government guards for the same reason.

    There is no indication in the narrative that Rand thought that the possession and use of firearms by private citizens for the protection of a third party’s private property was in any way a violation of the governments monopoly on retaliatory force. Indeed, the tenor of the passage indicates her unqualified approval of their actions.

    Rearden’s unconscious response to the threat to Danneskjold indicates his willingness to use a firearm in protection of his values though he probably would have regretted that he had to deal with a decent man in that fashion. Is this an appropriate response to the threat comprised by a more-or-less decent man following indecent orders?

    The defense of the mill and its workers is straightforward defense against aggression. The fact that the mob was acting as a government proxy doesn’t change the morality of the defense only the appropriate moral condemnation of the rulers.

    Dagny’s killing of the guard and the subsequent actions by her cohorts indicate that mere passivity is no argument against defensive force. If someone refuses to move and thereby obstructs action to save one’s own life or the life of a third party, it appears that force employed to remove that obstruction can be considered defensive in nature.

    Now some Objectivists who are dubious about the 2nd Amendment would argue that these actions in “Atlas Shrugged” took place in the context of a failing and tyrannical state and that, absent that context, or in the situation of a properly functioning state, the government should be able to regulate firearms to the extent thought necessary.

    I have five questions for them.

    1. Who decides what necessary regulation is and by what principle?
    2. Does one forfeit the right to immediate self defense if one delegates that right to even a properly empowered government?
    a. If so, why?
    b. If not, how can one proscribe access to the means of self defense while upholding the principle?
    3. Do your answers to 1 and 2 change in the context of a state sliding from legitimacy to illegitimacy?
    a. If not, why not?
    b. If so, how do you address the problem of registration, control and confiscation that preceded 20th century genocides?
    4. If free speech alone is necessary and sufficient in the fight for liberty, what is your recourse if censorship is imposed?
    5. On a scale with a completely legitimate state on one end and and completely illegitimate state on the other, where would you place the current government of the United States?

    The incident that sparked this current exchange, the killing, under color of law, of Jose Guerena has aspects of Atlas scenarios 2 and 3 in it. I’m sure that there are some decent cops in Pima. But they are following indecent guidelines. As such, they become a mob of government proxies. They create a situation where a law-abiding citizen is left with two unsavory options; Kill duly constituted representatives of the government in self-defense or let them kill you. According to my nephew, who served as a Marine in Fallujah, the armed services have more constraints on their house-clearing techniques in a war zone than SWAT teams do acting against citizens of the United States.

    In the tactical situation Guerena found himself, he would have had the safety off and his finger alongside the trigger guard until he had identified his targets whereupon he would have moved his finger to the trigger and began firing. And given the Keystone Kops performance of the assault squad, he probably would have inflicted significant casualties. In fact, if he had fired first I doubt that the feckless LEOs would have had the fortitude to stand against him; he might have even survived the encounter. The fact that he had his safety engaged tells me that he had identified his opponents as law officers and chose to safe his weapon rather than fire on “friendlies.” That is the level of professionalism that the Marines instill. The grotesque irony here is that the man trained for the purpose of “breaking things and killing people” showed more restraint than those ostensibly charged to “protect and serve.” This is further highlighted by the fact that the LEOs involved denied medical care until he bled out. This seems to be a programmed response in Law Enforcement. Look at the delay of the firetrucks at Waco for a glimpse of the same mentality. And the same rationale used in both cases, the “safety” of the responders.

    In the newgroup debates that followed the Waco killings, there were a significant number of Objectivists who thought that the BATF and the FBI were completely justified in their actions. Part of that stemmed, I believe, from the acceptance of the government agitprop that the Clinton administration put out there which was accepted uncritically even though there were plenty of sources available to refute their claims. [1] And Koresh was not exactly the most sympathetic victim for folks who view religion with a jaundiced eye to begin with. But in swallowing government claims about what occurred at Waco and the defamation employed by AG Janet Reno, they played into the hands of non-objective government. They also forgot about Rand’s point in “Censorship: Local and Express.”

    It is not very inspiring to fight for the freedom of the purveyors of pornography or their customers. But in the transition to statism, every infringement of human rights has begun with the suppression of a given right’s least attractive practitioners. In this case, the disgusting nature of the offenders makes it a good test of one’s loyalty to a principle.

    Government always targets the least sympathetic individuals first. Then they expand their scope. First they went after white separatists for gun charges. Then they went after a non-mainstream church leader. Now they go after honest citizens who are working 12 hours shifts and kill them for protecting their family from home invaders.

    Some have argued that given that Jose Guerena is so squeaky clean that surely this incident will spark reform and rein in this dangerous manifestation of the police state. Well, some made the same argument about Donald Scott. [2] That was almost 20 years ago. And the only change has been to get more and more of the same violence initiated by agents of the government without probable cause, without repercussions, and without redress.

    There are some Objectivists who find the 2nd Amendment troublesome. They think that it undercuts an appropriate government monopoly on retaliatory force and thus compromises the rule of law. I think they need to check their premises.

    [1] The best book I’ve found on this topic is “No More Wacos: What’s Wrong with Federal Law Enforcement, and How to Fix It by David B. Kopel and Paul H. Blackman. Their issues can also be applied to local law enforcement, particularly those aspects of it militarized by Federal inducement.


  • c andrew

    Why is there two levels of justice in the United States? One for the wealthy and another for everyone else? Would SWAT have gunned down a man in a wealthy neighborhood?

    The Donald Scott case answers “skywriter’s” rhetorical question in the affirmative.

  • Inspector

    c andrew,

    Marvelous post! I agree with you on this!

  • Jim May

    C Andrew. Great post, there is a lot of food for thought in there.

    Regarding your five questions, I agree that those questions have not really been addressed very well in some Objectivist circles.

    However, until I get another chance like the one I missed at OCON (Boot!), I cannot and should not impute motives to these other Objectivists. They should be allowed to make their case on their own terms.

    I simply am not convinced by the arguments I’ve seen so far; the weak point in it is the leap from “carrying a gun” to “an *objective* threat”. The basis of differentiating gun carry from carrying other implements that could be used as weapons (hammers, knives) so far is the claim that a gun is a device specifically designed as a weapon. That raises a host of issues, not the least of which is the notion that *design intent of an object* is a factor which can override basic propery rights. I see this as a very shaky basis for the leap to “objective threat”, due to the fact that past deisgn intentions do not dicate current intentions of use for any given tool or object. We can repurpose anything. See “Make:” magazine.

    Physical shape is physical shape; as design is a function of the maker’s intent, and intent is not “in” an object (there be intrinsicism), it does not follow that “design intent” follows through to the intent of a particular person holding the device. The obvious counterexample there is carrying a stick or a rock, neither of which has any maker at all (and therefore, no “design intent”). I therefore cannot accept the “designed as a weapon” argument as a step towards the “objective threat” conclusion.

    Now, one point that does distinguish guns from other implements is that unlike nearly all devices that might be repurposed as weapons, guns are ranged weapons by design. They can kill at considerable distance. There are no non-weapons I know of that could be repurposed into a ranged weapon without considerable design intent. Oddly, none of the O’ist anti-gunners have ever raised that point.

    As for history, the problem here, is precisely what you cite: history is not over. There is nothing unique to our situation which protects us from the same pitfalls that have occurred in the past. We can and should be wary of the U.S. government, the largest and most powerful organization in human history, getting out of control. We can and should have answers to the question of when the threat it poses becomes sufficiently large and immediate that the decision to actively and physically oppose it becomes a moral option. It is, in my view, all too clear that given the technologies now available (the one wildcard not present in earlier history), we should consider the fact that tyrannies may become far more difficult to remove once ensconced (imagine Joss Whedon’s Alliance government, but on just this planet) which would necessitate being ready to act earlier in the process than we think is prudent.

  • Inspector


    Really, though, I think that approaches like the one you’ve outlined seem to ignore the fact that carrying guns is perfectly legal in many states of the union. And often doesn’t even require special license. This means that hundreds of thousands if not millions of people routinely carry guns and go their whole lives without using their guns to commit crimes of any kind.

    The fact that it can be done and there is ample evidence that it IS done should be sufficient to prove the fact that possession and carry of a gun does not *itself* imply any kind of threat or use of force.

    And this isn’t empiricism, either, since this is an established fact that can never be un-proven.