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The right to bear arms

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Is the right to bear arms a part of Objectivism?

Objectivism propounds that the government should be the sole agent of retaliatory force.

Obviously, Objectivism is comptible with the idea of hunting and with the idea of self-defence. However, I think it is completely compatible with Objectivism for the government to restrcit the types of weapons that private citizens are allowed to own.

Did Ayn Rand comment on this issue?

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Objectivism is a philosophy, not a party platform. Fundamental ideas from the philosophy of Objectivism can be taken and extrapolated to answer the question of whether or not people have the right to bear arms.

Explain why you think it is compatible with Objectivism for the government to restrict the weapons that private citizens are allowed to own.

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Is the right to bear arms a part of Objectivism?

Objectivism propounds that the government should be the sole agent of retaliatory force.

Obviously, Objectivism is comptible with the idea of hunting and with the idea of self-defence. However, I think it is completely compatible with Objectivism for the government to restrcit the types of weapons that private citizens are allowed to own.

Did Ayn Rand comment on this issue?

There is one certain result of restricting the types of weapons that private citizens may own: law abiding citizens will have weapons inferior to those in the hands of the criminal element. I can't imagine how any Objectivist would find such a development desirable. And what if things turn really nasty and a dictator seizes power? Do we want freedom fighters to arm themselves only with the weapons government has permitted them to own?

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The right to bear arms simply assures you the right to defend yourself in the event that you are attacked first. The simple idea of having a gun (or a knife or club or mace or anything else that could potentially hurt or kill someone) in your posession does not mean you are going to use it. I could own a gun for my entire life and not fire it once. However, if I am attacked or someone breaks into my house I may use that weapon in retaliation. In other words, just having a gun is not infringing on someone else's basic right to life. It is only when I use that gun on someone who has not threatened me that I have taken away someone's rights. Therefore it is the government's job only to reprimand the person who initiates force with his or her gun, not the person who simply possesses a gun for protective purposes. If the goverment has the right to deny its citizens gun ownership, why then should it not also have the right to seize steak knives for example, another potentially deadly item. Choosing to make guns illegal when other weapons remain legal (and rightly so) would be arbitrary and irrational. So long as someone is not actively using a weapon to harm someone else who has not initiated force the goverment has no moral right to stop them from owning that weapon. You must remember that the potential to infringe on someone's rights is not equivelant to actually infringing on someone's rights.

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The right to bear arms simply assures you the right to defend yourself in the event that you are attacked first.
Well, no, it doesn't. It means you have the right to own and carry weapons, and it does not say what you may use them for. You may well be able to kill deer or sheep with your weapons, or to defend yourself, but those are separable matters of law. The right to bear arms coupled with the right to defend yourself (so far, this hasn't been questioned except that you do not have the right to defend yourself against the lawful use of force) assures you the right to defend yourself if you are attacked.

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Each and every person has the right to bear and own whatever arms he deems necessary and appropriate. Not only do we have a right to defend ourselves, our families, and our property - we have a moral obligation to do so. We don't have the right to initiate force against another person, but we may use whatever force necessary to defend ourselves, family, and property - including deadly force. Not only can we use firearms to defend ourselves, hunt, target shoot, etc. an armed populace also protects us against governmental tyranny. An unarmed populace is a captive populace. No guns - we are virtually slaves.

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Did Ayn Rand comment on this issue?

I don't know what if anything she wrote on the subject, but she was once asked about it in a Q&A session following one of her lectures at Ford Hall Forum in Boston. I forget exactly what she said--this was about 30 years ago--but IIRC she mentioned both the government's monopoly of legal force and the individual's right of self-defense without ever arriving at a clear policy statement.

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There is one certain result of restricting the types of weapons that private citizens may own:  law abiding citizens will have weapons inferior to those in the hands of the criminal element.  I can't imagine how any Objectivist would find such a development desirable.

Many years ago, when I was a libertarian, I met other libertarians who advocated the "right" to private ownership of nuclear weapons.

A question for anyone who advocates unlimited ownership of weapons: Do you believe that all individuals have a right to own any weapon they choose?

If not, then why not? In other words, what principle should guide a free republic in objectively deciding which individuals can own which weapons?

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It seems to me that* the right to one's own life implies the right to act in its defense should the need arise. One certainly has the right and ought to have the ability to carry weapons suitable for the defense of one's person and property from common or government thugs (who do not have any rights, least of all the right to bear arms). I would include pistols, rifles, automatic weapons, and grenades in that category, but the matter is legal, not philosophical. One does not have the right to put others at risk by his own actions but beyond his ability to control: carrying bombs in public or anywhere they could hurt others, or owning high-yield or nuclear bombs or ICBMs. This ceases to be true if the people organize and violently revolt against an oppressive government: in that case, an organized militia may acquire all the weaponry it requires.

* i.e., the following is mostly my opinion.

Edited by y_feldblum

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By looking at my avatar you can tell I am an advocate of the right to keep and bear arms. I am not as some that believe that one may own any weapon they want. The defining characteristic that should be considered is the area of effect of a weapon. Guns target an individual, which would be necessary for self-defense. Grenades, rocket launchers, and nuclear bombs target an area ranging from a couple meters in diameter to miles in diameter. These have no purpose in self-defense, therefor one does not have the right to own one.

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Grenades, rocket launchers, and nuclear bombs target an area ranging from a couple meters in diameter to miles in diameter. These have no purpose in self-defense, therefor one does not have the right to own one.
So is your position that a person has a right to own weapons only if they are used for self-defense?

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So is your position that a person has a right to own weapons only if they are used for self-defense?

That would be the primary criteria for the consideration of ownership, but they would not have to be used soley for self-defense. I use my guns (an AR15, a Ruger 10/22 and a Yugoslavian SKS) for self-defense, hunting and recreation.

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[self-defense] would be the primary criteria for the consideration of ownership, but they would not have to be used soley for self-defense. I use my guns (an AR15, a Ruger 10/22 and a Yugoslavian SKS) for self-defense, hunting and recreation.

What about those who say that a gun-owning-citizenry is a last defence against tyrannical government?

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By looking at my avatar you can tell I am an advocate of the right to keep and bear arms. I am not as some that believe that one may own any weapon they want. The defining characteristic that should be considered is the area of effect of a weapon. Guns target an individual, which would be necessary for self-defense. Grenades, rocket launchers, and nuclear bombs target an area ranging from a couple meters in diameter to miles in diameter. These have no purpose in self-defense, therefor one does not have the right to own one.

I concur with y_feldblum. Given their widespread destructive power, nuclear bombs must necessarily affect individuals beyond those one is aiming at. For that reason I am not in favor of such armaments getting into the hands of more countries (or individuals) than currently possess them. On the other hand, rocket launchers and grenades do not necessarily result in indiscriminate killing. In the context of a dictatorship, a rocket launcher could be considered a legitimate means of self-defense. I only wish that Jews in the Warsaw ghetto had possessed hundreds of grenades and rocket launchers!

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That would be the primary criteria for the consideration of ownership, but they would not have to be used soley for self-defense. I use my guns (an AR15, a Ruger 10/22 and a Yugoslavian SKS) for self-defense, hunting and recreation.
Let be be more direct: are you claiming that if a person does not intend to use a weapon for self defense, and does not use a weapon for self defense, then they do not have a right to own a weapon? Is self-defense a necessary condition for the right to bear arms?

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One does not have the right to put others at risk by his own actions but beyond his ability to control: carrying bombs in public or anywhere they could hurt others, or owning high-yield or nuclear bombs or ICBMs.
Don't give in totally to the media hype about the unthinkable, infinite destructive power of thermonuclear devices. Low-yield devices have valid potential industrial uses (for example, mining), thus there are contexts where private ownership of A-bombs is legitimate. In exactly the contexts where a person could own 5 tons of dynamite and not pose a clear threat to the rights of others, a person could own a 5 ton yield fission device.

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The government has the monopoly on retaliatory force - why, because the citizens come together and collectively relegate their own private rights to retaliatory force to the government - why, because competing governments are not an option in this discussion (and produce injustice, among other things). So since there can only be one gorilla with the stick, we buy a baby monkey, grow it into a gorilla, give it a stick and teach it to defend us, because the proper government cannot have everyone have their own gorilla and their own stick. That means only the government has the righ to own nuclear weapons, rocket launchers, etc.

However the government does not always have the capacity to live up to its promise in time to protect its citizens. A murderer breaks into a person's home, the guy can't just sit back pacifistically, believing he gave up all of his right to retaliatory force to the government. Yes, he gave it up, but a proper government ought to allow him to also retain small arms for just such emergencies as this. And that's where the right to bear arms comes from. The government grants this right to the citizens, and it itself got the moral justification to grant this right from the citizens themselves, who originally invested the government with it.

But since the government is the final deciding factor, different proper governments will have different equally valid rules about guns. Some may decide to only allow revolvers, some may allow sawed-off shotguns. None, however, may allow nuclear weapons (arms which go beyond isolated offenders), and none may forbid all means of self defense altogether.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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Don't give in totally to the media hype about the unthinkable, infinite destructive power of thermonuclear devices. Low-yield devices have valid potential industrial uses (for example, mining), thus there are contexts where private ownership of A-bombs is legitimate. In exactly the contexts where a person could own 5 tons of dynamite and not pose a clear threat to the rights of others, a person could own a 5 ton yield fission device.

But y_feldblum specifically named "high-yield" nuclear bombs or ICBMs as a threat. I think we can honor Second Amendment rights and still be properly concerned about the proliferation of the technology and manufacture of nuclear explosives. Once a citizen has the wherewithal to make a five-ton yield fission device, what barriers other than time and money will stop him from producing a weapon with a hundred times that power? On principle I oppose government moving against citizens who have committed no coercive acts. Yet it can be argued that the very existence of a thermonuclear explosive without proper oversight and scrutiny constitutes the threat of force. Anyone who has paid attention to the news over the past decade understands that suitcase nukes are no longer hypothetical and understands what horror would ensue should such devices fall into the hands of men intent on mass murder.

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But since the government is the final deciding factor, different proper governments will have different equally valid rules about guns. Some may decide to only allow revolvers, some may allow sawed-off shotguns. None, however, may allow nuclear weapons (arms which go beyond isolated offenders), and none may forbid all means of self defense altogether.

I reject the idea that it is valid for any government to ban a weapon that is not inherently a means of mass death. Nukes, anthrax, etc. are indiscriminate in their killing power. Grenades and rocket launchers are not necessarily so. Private ownership of such weapons is a legitimate self-defense precaution -- not so much against common criminals as against tyrannical government.

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But y_feldblum specifically named "high-yield" nuclear bombs or ICBMs as a threat.
What he actually said was "owning high-yield or nuclear bombs": I'm perfectly willing to assume that he meant specificially high-yield nuclear bombs, or nuclear devices used specifically as bombs, and that ownership of low-yield explosives is not an intrinsic threat (he may well disagree: I'm just taking his words at face value). The same amount of gasoline that my uncle keeps in his backyard (on a farm) would unquestionably be a threat in a NYC apartment building. Laws which outlaw the possession of gasoline above certain amounts would have to carefully consider context, same with nukes and ICBMs. We've seen how simple razor blades and airplanes can be WMDs: it's not the objects, but why you use them.

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What he actually said was "owning high-yield or nuclear bombs": I'm perfectly willing to assume that he meant specificially high-yield nuclear bombs, or nuclear devices used specifically as bombs, and that ownership of low-yield explosives is not an intrinsic threat (he may well disagree: I'm just taking his words at face value). The same amount of gasoline that my uncle keeps in his backyard (on a farm) would unquestionably be a threat in a NYC apartment building. Laws which outlaw the possession of gasoline above certain amounts would have to carefully consider context, same with nukes and ICBMs. We've seen how simple razor blades and airplanes can be WMDs: it's not the objects, but why you use them.

Yes, enough gasoline in one place can have the same kill power as a nuke. But the key difference is that it is very difficult to conceal a gasoline storage tank with the explosive power of a nuclear device. In an urban setting, a suitcase nuke could instantly kill 100,000 people. I can't imagine how one could accomplish a similar kill with gasoline without alerting the populace well in advance. As for making laws that outlaw only certain kinds of nukes -- how would that work? "It shall be a felony for anyone to possess a nuclear explosive device greater than X tons in size"? Good luck trying to enforce that! "But, officer, this is only a five-ton nuke." "Okay, run along, kid."

Edited by Tom Robinson

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I reject the idea that it is valid for any government to ban a weapon that is not inherently a means of mass death. Nukes, anthrax, etc. are indiscriminate in their killing power. Grenades and rocket launchers are not necessarily so.

Why do you need a grenade launcher to kill a guy, if a gun will do? The principle behind the "right to bear arms" is that you should have the weapon of smallest possible danger, that can still kill a possible criminal. The government then retains the right to the bigger weapons, and helps you fight off bigger criminals, such as Arab terrorists.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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Why do you need a grenade launcher to kill a guy, if a gun will do?

By the same token, why does a police or military force need anything more powerful than a .38 revolver? If the principle is one must always be restricted to the least powerful weapon, then we should all be content with swords and spears. However, as I have previously observed, powerful weapons such as grenades and rocket launchers in a given context can be vital and legitimate tools of self-defense. When the military and police become the minions of a ruthless dictatorship, do we really want freedom fighters to be restricted to weapons that pose little threat to the oppressors?

The principle behind the "right to bear arms" is that you should have the weapon of smallest possible danger, that can still kill a possible criminal.

No, the principle behind the "right to bear arms" is, in the words of Patrick Henry, “that every man be armed” against both foreign invasion and home-grown tyranny. The idea was to decentralize weaponry so that if the center of power fell, individuals would not be left defenseless.

The government then retains the right to the bigger weapons, and helps you fight off bigger criminals, such as Arab terrorists.

So Germans should have been satisfied that their government had all the bigger weapons? That the only possible threat to their freedom was an invasion from France or Russia?

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