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Harry Binswanger on Gun Control

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CrowEpistemologist
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Then wouldn't the threat not be possession, as such, but depending upon whether or not the individual is a threat?

Exactly.

The instant that attention becomes fixated upon inanimate guns instead of the values of the animate people who wield them... objectivity is lost.

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I frankly don't see much reason why an individual should ever want to own a nuclear weapon (notwithstanding asteroid mining, or what-have-you, if anything like that works out). I don't expect that it would be a common scenario, if that's what you mean by "an extreme example of hyperbole."

As to whether the difficulty of manufacturing a nuclear weapon factors in, I don't know. An individual rich enough wouldn't necessarily have to engineer or manufacture his own nuke, but could buy it from some other, specialized concern.

Which is my point if and when using a functional nuclear device were to be used to mine an asteroid, the action of the individual to mine would not seen as a use of a weapon, mining does not violate rights.

If some 'specialized concern' transferred a device to a particular individual that action could in itself be described as the action that a governement should control.

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Possession alone is never a threat.

There is always a context for possession, so "possession alone" is actually impossible. Certain people possess. Some people may be mentally unfit to use a gun responsibly, and *their* possession is a threat. Are they only a threat when they begin shooting or directly threatening?

As for how can anyone can even get a nuke, it's not hyperbole, given that a weapon exists and some people are rich enough to acquire one. I mean, people can afford private space travel already, rockets, research, and all. I should read the whole Binswanger article before saying more. Beyond that, DonAthos is representing my position accurately. And when I post next, I'll also try to address some things FeatherFall said in the previous thread (it'll take some time)

Edited by Eiuol
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Which is my point if and when using a functional nuclear device were to be used to mine an asteroid, the action of the individual to mine would not seen as a use of a weapon, mining does not violate rights.

If some 'specialized concern' transferred a device to a particular individual that action could in itself be described as the action that a governement should control.

It amounts to the same thing.

This "specialized concern" is ultimately another individual or collection of individuals. If we say that we're authorizing the government to control that individual's disposition of his property -- in ways that we would not do with Pez dispensers -- then, again, we're talking about gun control.

Though trying to introduce hypothetical examples is always fraught with peril, allow me to posit one example, and maybe we can illuminate some aspects of this issue.

Suppose that outer space nuclear mining is a thing, and that there is a private business which manufactures these explosive devices (which can also be used as weapons).

Now say that I live on earth and I'm rich, and I'd like to buy one of these nuclear devices for my own personal use on earth -- and they'd like to sell it to me. If we'd like for me to have a defined motive, let's say that I've read these recent threads here on Objectivism Online (archived into the far future, because our writings are all so brilliant that scholars into the far future have looked back on our efforts in awe)... and I was moved by CrowEpistemologist's argument that "civilian weapons are completely irrelevant in the face of the US government."

Suppose I want to be able to defend myself against the future possibility of a tyrannical government, and so I would like to possess a nuclear weapon so that, should the government turn tyrannical and initiate force against its citizenry, I would have the capability of mounting a meaningful response in the name of self-defense. I may even hold out some hope that my mere possession of such a thing will function as a deterrent against said tyranny.

Is there any problem with my purchase and maintenance of this weapon? Ought there be?

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It amounts to the same thing.

This "specialized concern" is ultimately another individual or collection of individuals. If we say that we're authorizing the government to control that individual's disposition of his property -- in ways that we would not do with Pez dispensers -- then, again, we're talking about gun control.

Though trying to introduce hypothetical examples is always fraught with peril, allow me to posit one example, and maybe we can illuminate some aspects of this issue.

Suppose that outer space nuclear mining is a thing, and that there is a private business which manufactures these explosive devices (which can also be used as weapons).

Now say that I live on earth and I'm rich, and I'd like to buy one of these nuclear devices for my own personal use on earth -- and they'd like to sell it to me. If we'd like for me to have a defined motive, let's say that I've read these recent threads here on Objectivism Online (archived into the far future, because our writings are all so brilliant that scholars into the far future have looked back on our efforts in awe)... and I was moved by CrowEpistemologist's argument that "civilian weapons are completely irrelevant in the face of the US government."

Suppose I want to be able to defend myself against the future possibility of a tyrannical government, and so I would like to possess a nuclear weapon so that, should the government turn tyrannical and initiate force against its citizenry, I would have the capability of mounting a meaningful response in the name of self-defense. I may even hold out some hope that my mere possession of such a thing will function as a deterrent against said tyranny.

Is there any problem with my purchase and maintenance of this weapon? Ought there be?

This still goes to proving my point, no government can rationally legislate against physical objects, we can only govern by responding to actions of individuals.

What premise could exist that denies anyone's right to self defense, the means notwithstanding?

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Suppose I want to be able to defend myself against the future possibility of a tyrannical government, and so I would like to possess a nuclear weapon so that, should the government turn tyrannical and initiate force against its citizenry, I would have the capability of mounting a meaningful response in the name of self-defense. I may even hold out some hope that my mere possession of such a thing will function as a deterrent against said tyranny.

Is there any problem with my purchase and maintenance of this weapon? Ought there be?

Yes, there would be a problem, and you yourself pinpointed it when you explicitly stated "for use here on earth" and rejected the asteroid-mining or other extra-terrestrial useage. Why? Because geographic or spatial context is the key to weapon control. (see for details) Here on earth, it is mostly impossible to pinpoint the use of nuclear weapons to specific areas (unless you are, say, in the middle of the desert or ocean, and contaminants are contained.) Under your scenario, use of nuclear weapons to fight a tyrannical government would not be compatible with the non-initiation of force principle, because its use would be impossible to pinpoint to the intented target without spillover effects onto innocent third parties.
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Wrong! And this is the trap so many Objectivists fall into! This is pure rationalism!

"Principles", in of themselves, tell you nothing. Principles tell you how to use and interpret facts, but they are not facts.

What?!

You just complete contradicted the entire Objectivist ethics system there.

Principles are derived for perceivable facts and are based on reality. That is the entire cornerstone of Objectivist ethics! Principles are essentialized facts of reality that are used to guide your life. They take a broad range of facts and through unit economy condense them into a useful statement so you can grasp all those facts as once, and when needed use them to deal with reality by unlocking all the data and context when you use them. Ideas detached from reality are the core of Objectivists argument against Plato or his religious brethren.

I would also think you would know this given your screen name. Principles are essenatlized facts into a statement to deal with the crow epistemology!

Edited by Spiral Architect
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Statistics are collected facts of reality, and as such are facts of reality.

Statistics are NOT facts. That was the point of my previous post. They are generalized statements of potentialities. At best they either tell a scientist that an event can occur under certain circumstances and he should investigate the actual cause of it.

If statistics were facts then they would be 100% since you would have a direct link to cause and effect (like water will boil at 212 degrees). By definition statistics are potentials since they are not 100%.

They are also useful if you are ignorant of something and need to make a quick judgment call.

For example, statistically speaking if I play slot machines I have an 8% chance of winning. If I play blackjack I have a 40% chance of winning. This does not tell me that I am guaranteed of winning money one day out of three days at the table. The only useful information it provides is that if I go to the casino with my parents I’m better off playing blackjack since I may get more time out of it. Even that is no guarantee as I can attest, I’ve spent hours at the table and also have had my ass handed to me in 10 minutes.

Statistics are generalized metaphysical facts about potentials. They become science fact when you directly link cause and effect to the events that make something happen (or not).

Another example is travel by plane versus travel by car. Planes are statistically safer the cars as more people die in car accidents. It is not a fact you will be in a car crash or a plane crash, only that more people do die so there is a potential that needs to be investigated. A quick investigation of the facts reveals that plane crashes, outside of random emergencies, go down due to equipment failure. Car accidents are primarily a product of distracted driving or poor driving habits. Getting on a plane with a reputable company that does their PMs and pre-flight checks helps you eliminates the fear of a plane crash and proper driving habits deals with the threats of car accidents.

In both cases the statistics give a potential but once cause and effect are learned you can act appropriately with real knowledge. In this case the root cause is people flying planes use good habits to insure a safe trip and car operators do not. In fact most people just jump in tothe car and go oblivious to how they are driving or how others are driving. If pilots did this planes would be crashing every day too. Once you learn real cause and effect you can act accordingly to eliminate the threat shown by the potential generalization observed in the statistic.

Edited by Spiral Architect
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I believe it was Mark Twain who said some thing about there being "lies, dam lies and statistics"? In general when ever I hear some one (especially in the popular media) using supposed "statistics" to try and bolster their position on some thing my bravo sierra detector unit starts beeping at me.

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Statistics are NOT facts. That was the point of my previous post. They are generalized statements of potentialities. At best they either tell a scientist that an event can occur under certain circumstances and he should investigate the actual cause of it.

One sense of statistic is something like "10,000 people are murdered with guns each year", and that would be a fact. Another sense of statistic is "you have a 1% chance to get murdered by a person with a gun". Such a number would be based on something like (# of people murdered with guns) / (US population), resulting in a percentage.

Statistics is actually a field with split based upon two fundamentally different interpretations. The flawed end is actually what you're speaking of, Spiral, which is about potentials. That viewpoint is the frequentist view of statistics (more or less a metaphysical generalization). Simply put, frequentism is how often an event occurs among a set of events. So, the slot machine with 8% chance of winning, that only means to a frequentist that out of taking a sample of 100 trials, 8 of those trials were a win. Even if you knew everything about the world, this chance would always be 8%, unless you change the context. Indeed, that is a potential in any case, since causality is often more useful. Unfortunately, context always changes. For example, if there is a 25% chance of rain tomorrow, what does that mean? That a sample of 100 tomorrows were taken, and it rained 25 times? That would be nonsense! Frequentism might work in games of chance like blackjack, but that's about it. Pretty useless if you ask me. This is also the kind Mark Twain made fun of.

The other interpretation for statistics that makes a whole lot more sense is the Bayesian interpretation. This means that statistics are just a measure of certainty, which is epistemological. People can't be 100% certain at all moments about *everything*. For instance, say you ordered a pizza with pepperoni. People are fallible, and you know that once in a while, an order is wrong, even the best pizza maker. You don't know the pizza maker today, so all things being equal, you don't know how reliable he is, but it's a good pizza place. You can reasonably say you're 98% sure that the order is correct without opening the box to your pizza, given that it's a simple order. Keep in mind no measure of frequency is here, nor are we talking about potential. We're just talking about how sure you are. You go home, without opening the box. You open the box finally at the dinner table, and the order is wrong! Thinking back on the situation, despite 2% uncertainty, opening the box at the pizza place is a simple thing to do. Also, you might alter your certainty to 90% for future orders. For a frequentist, the measure is 100% chance of a wrong order (1 wrong / 1 total orders). As you can see, there is a huge difference between the two views. Both imply different actions one should take in the face of uncertainty.

To bring this to gun control, or government policy, most actions will take place in some degree of uncertainty. Most of the time, government shouldn't and can't estimate accurately, and part of human fallibility is that individuals are usually better at such estimations (e.g. choosing for themselves what food to eat). Now, when violence enters in the picture - justified or not - there is a problem here. For a healthy society, there has to be a ban on retaliatory force (I'll try to address this part more specifically later, as I think it is important. The distinction between defensive and retaliatory). This is also a point where, if government is to do its jobs, policy decisions regarding violence must be made, and decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty. Statistics must be used in these circumstances, and not the frequentist version. Only Bayesian stats have any implication what to do today and in the future, while frequentist stats are about the past.

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Just to restate this for clarification -- I really don't know where I fall on this topic, personally. So I'm going to engage your argument in order to probe the issue, but in doing so, I may easily wind up playing "devil's advocate."

Here on earth, it is mostly impossible to pinpoint the use of nuclear weapons to specific areas (unless you are, say, in the middle of the desert or ocean, and contaminants are contained.) Under your scenario, use of nuclear weapons to fight a tyrannical government would not be compatible with the non-initiation of force principle, because its use would be impossible to pinpoint to the intented target without spillover effects onto innocent third parties.

Aren't you describing the use of a nuclear weapon as such? Meaning: if my scenario's use of nuclear weapons is not compatible with the non-initiation of force principle, then neither would a government's use of nuclear weapons against any enemy on earth, foreign or domestic.

This may get us tangled in the (equally contentious) debate as to what responsibilities a person has when defending himself to confine his response to the guilty; what "collateral damage" is acceptable. I know that I've seen it argued that any "collateral damage" is acceptable -- and is morally assigned to the original initiator of force due to his having provoked a response in the first place. That the person who suffers the initiation of force only has the responsibility to defend himself by any or all means, and no other consideration must enter his mind. So in my example, such a person would argue that the tyrannical government is responsible for the "innocent third parties" that I wind up nuking, in the course of defending myself and my rights. Not me.

Further, I have seen it suggested before that people somehow "get the government they deserve" or are somehow considered responsible for their government a priori, so, you know, it's fine to let the bombs fall on enemy civilian targets, because they're not "innocent"; they've allowed this government to exist in the first place.

And... again, as you can probably tell, I'm not personally convinced by either of those arguments either. But it does sound to me like your arguments extend beyond the issue of gun control I'd hoped to explore... and maybe call into question nuclear weaponry entirely (as well as issues of proper self defense and military response).

To maybe help get us back on track (or maybe take us afield entirely), I've been thinking about it... and it seems to me that there's an interesting question here that perhaps relates to positions I've seen you take in other threads, re: "anarchy" (though, as I've expressed to you before, I do not believe that what you typically suggest is actually anarchy).

Anyways, for the moment, let's consider the abstract. Should a man be able to defend himself against his government, should the government turn tyrannical and be the initiator of force? If we answer yes, then doesn't a man legally need the capability to do so? And doesn't that imply access to the same sort of weaponry possessed by the government (or perhaps even greater weaponry), so that his self-defense can be effective?

But if an individual is "allowed" to be powerful enough to mount a successful defense against his government, turned tyrannical, then how can that government be powerful enough to fulfill its initial function as a guarantor of rights? For if its powerful individuals themselves initiate force against one another, the state may not have the power necessary to enforce justice... and in all cases, criminals would feel emboldened, knowing that they at least have a "fighting chance."

If a populace were sufficiently armed that they felt confident that they could wage war against its government and win... then would that government have the authority necessary such that we can finally call it a "government" at all? Or have we taken a step closer to a practical "anarchy"?

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What?!

You just complete contradicted the entire Objectivist ethics system there.

Principles are derived for perceivable facts and are based on reality. That is the entire cornerstone of Objectivist ethics! Principles are essentialized facts of reality that are used to guide your life. They take a broad range of facts and through unit economy condense them into a useful statement so you can grasp all those facts as once, and when needed use them to deal with reality by unlocking all the data and context when you use them. Ideas detached from reality are the core of Objectivists argument against Plato or his religious brethren.

I would also think you would know this given your screen name. Principles are essenatlized facts into a statement to deal with the crow epistemology!

Ethics? Um, okay... Are you sure you don't mean, "epistemology"? Anyhow...

Anyhow, this is getting confused. One applies a principle to something. Principles applied to nothing at all don't tell you anything. We are not "Aquinus's Angel" in that we do not magically know all of the implications of our principles automatically. Otherwise, simply knowing that "A=A" would make us omniscient.

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But if an individual is "allowed" to be powerful enough to mount a successful defense against his government, turned tyrannical, then how can that government be powerful enough to fulfill its initial function as a guarantor of rights? For if its powerful individuals themselves initiate force against one another, the state may not have the power necessary to enforce justice... and in all cases, criminals would feel emboldened, knowing that they at least have a "fighting chance."

If a populace were sufficiently armed that they felt confident that they could wage war against its government and win... then would that government have the authority necessary such that we can finally call it a "government" at all? Or have we taken a step closer to a practical "anarchy"?

At what point would a government be termed tyrannical? A rational government should or should not let citizens acquire nuclear devices? Is the situation in the US currently that citizens are banned by law from owning nuclear weapons, or is the operating principle that no individual citizen is allowed to own the specific materials that constitute a weapon, is that a distinction without a difference? Edited by tadmjones
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At what point would a government be termed tyrannical?

That is an excellent question -- one that I think probably requires its own discussion to explore. For our purposes here, I think it sufficient that we recognize that there exists some point or threshold where a government is tyrannical, and where self-defense by a citizen, or many, up to and including overthrow of that government, is justified.

Are we agreed on this?

A rational government should or should not let citizens acquire nuclear devices? Is the situation in the US currently that citizens are banned by law from owning nuclear weapons, or is the operating principle that no individual citizen is allowed to own the specific materials that constitute a weapon, is that a distinction without a difference?

Whether there is a law which states clearly that possession, sale, manufacture, etc., of nuclear weaponry is prohibited -- or whether it is de facto prevented by some range of laws and regulations tied to certain elements necessary for those things (e.g. radioactive materials) -- is immaterial. And further, even if one managed to "loophole" his way into the construction of such a device on the grounds that no law as written prevented him from doing so, I have to imagine that some arm of Homeland Security would not wait on formality to confiscate it at the very, very least.

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Instead, it sounds like you are here conceding to those very kinds of things that Eiuol would actually put under "gun control," i.e. license and registration -- that if you'd like some certain kind of rifle or what not, you must first demonstrate your "perfectly legitimate reason" to the state.

I'm not conceding that.

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I'm not conceding that.

Requiring a license and registration might be legitimate (for objects that are not normally used for life sustaining action, like a tank, nuclear devices, etc., and are dangerous if mishandled or lost).

Looks like you already did.

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Aren't you describing the use of a nuclear weapon as such? Meaning: if my scenario's use of nuclear weapons is not compatible with the non-initiation of force principle, then neither would a government's use of nuclear weapons against any enemy on earth, foreign or domestic.

Well, yes, use of nuclear weapons in the given context, per se. One of the things that separate objectivist analysis of political issues from more mainstream analysis is the application of the same prohibitions against violations of rights to governments and private individuals alike.

This may get us tangled in the (equally contentious) debate as to what responsibilities a person has when defending himself to confine his response to the guilty; what "collateral damage" is acceptable. I know that I've seen it argued that any "collateral damage" is acceptable -- and is morally assigned to the original initiator of force due to his having provoked a response in the first place. That the person who suffers the initiation of force only has the responsibility to defend himself by any or all means, and no other consideration must enter his mind. So in my example, such a person would argue that the tyrannical government is responsible for the "innocent third parties" that I wind up nuking, in the course of defending myself and my rights. Not me.
Of course that is where the logic of the question leads, and it's true that it is an issue that has long divided objectivists from libertarians. You have on the one hand some objectivists which allow for nuking of civilian population centers to break enemy morale, and you have some libertarians who are unfortunately bitten by the virus of pacifism. My own view is probably somewhere in the middle.

The non-aggression principle itself says nothing about retaliatory force one way or the other, but for justice considerations, I think that discrimination in the use of retaliatory force must be essential. I think you can measure certain variables (such as the extent of the collateral damage, the probability that the action taken will actually stop the aggressor, the absence or reasonableness of alternative modes of stopping the aggression, etc.) when innocent shields or collateral damage is in play, and along the continuum, the justification for causing the collateral damage increases or decreases as the variables change.

Further, I have seen it suggested before that people somehow "get the government they deserve" or are somehow considered responsible for their government a priori, so, you know, it's fine to let the bombs fall on enemy civilian targets, because they're not "innocent"; they've allowed this government to exist in the first place.

Yeah I'm not exactly convinced on that either, but that's a different topic.

And... again, as you can probably tell, I'm not personally convinced by either of those arguments either. But it does sound to me like your arguments extend beyond the issue of gun control I'd hoped to explore... and maybe call into question nuclear weaponry entirely (as well as issues of proper self defense and military response).

Right, but without these considerations I don't think it possible to come up with a theory that coheres with our other more foundational views.

To maybe help get us back on track (or maybe take us afield entirely), I've been thinking about it... and it seems to me that there's an interesting question here that perhaps relates to positions I've seen you take in other threads, re: "anarchy" (though, as I've expressed to you before, I do not believe that what you typically suggest is actually anarchy).

Anyways, for the moment, let's consider the abstract. Should a man be able to defend himself against his government, should the government turn tyrannical and be the initiator of force? If we answer yes, then doesn't a man legally need the capability to do so? And doesn't that imply access to the same sort of weaponry possessed by the government (or perhaps even greater weaponry), so that his self-defense can be effective?

Well again, I think it's true that if it is permissible under a certain context for one person to have something, then it's permissible for someone else under the same context. But I don't think well of considerations like "you have to be able to take on the military" because I don't really think the military is a homogenous entity that should be weighed against civilians in an analysis of gun control.

But if an individual is "allowed" to be powerful enough to mount a successful defense against his government, turned tyrannical, then how can that government be powerful enough to fulfill its initial function as a guarantor of rights? For if its powerful individuals themselves initiate force against one another, the state may not have the power necessary to enforce justice... and in all cases, criminals would feel emboldened, knowing that they at least have a "fighting chance."

If a populace were sufficiently armed that they felt confident that they could wage war against its government and win... then would that government have the authority necessary such that we can finally call it a "government" at all? Or have we taken a step closer to a practical "anarchy"?

On this, what immediately pops into my mind is an argument against anarchy that John Locke used. A lot of my counter-arguments are based on Locke's arguments for republican government against Hobbes, which we have just taken and used them against Locke's own conclusions. To Locke, without a government there was a power of enforcement problem. In order to enforce the laws of nature, you have to have the ability to enforce the laws of nature, and in a "state of nature" you just have a bunch of individuals running around enforcing things on their own. They're not a unified force, they're too weak, they'll just be overrun by gangs and so forth.

Well it's certainly true that if people who want to enforce justice lack the ability to do so, and the people who want to enforce injustice have all the power, that's going to be a problem. First, there's no reason that in the absence of monopoly, you can't have organization. The alternative to government providing all the shoes is not that each person makes their own shoes, that's why we have the division of labor. But if you're worried about not having sufficient force to resist an aggressor, well, a monopoly government is a much more dangerous aggressor than just some gang of bandits or other because it's unified all this power in just one point in the whole society, so that would seem like a reason not to have a monopoly and, in the context of gun/weapon control, not to prohibit private individuals from owning them.

Does that mean you’ve taken a step closer to anarchy, well yes, in the sense that, the whole point of advocating limited government is that having various “checks and balances” (of which I think private weapon ownership is a part) and “separation of powers” provides a superior political structure for freedom, then a free market political structure is just taking these constitutional principles to their logical conclusion. But then limited government itself is a step closer to practical anarchy, since on this view, limited government is designed to imitate the mechanisms of the market.

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Looks like you already did.

I think here we may need to make a distinction about getting a license. Being required to get a license is not the same thing as being required to demonstrate a good reason why you might need a gun. In many areas, gun licenses do require this, but it's an additional add-on. Suppose we are all willing to stipulate that if someone commits a violent crime with a gun, he has forfeited the right to purchase a gun in the future. Or suppose we are willing to agree that people who have been proven mentally deficient and potentially dangerous should not be allowed to purchase guns. The practical implementation of either of these would mean the licensure of gun owners and gun sales, to ensure that the customers of such a sale meet the requirements. Here, we're not asking for a positive reason why the buyer needs the gun, only making sure he isn't someone forbidden to buy a gun.

The question is fundamentally about the rights and status of the innocent individual. For someone where there's no concrete reason to think he or she might be a danger, can we still legitimately restrict gun sales in some fashion? Does he need to provide a good reason for buying the gun, or only prove that there's no specific reason to deny him a gun?

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Does that mean you’ve taken a step closer to anarchy, well yes, in the sense that, the whole point of advocating limited government is that having various “checks and balances” (of which I think private weapon ownership is a part) and “separation of powers” provides a superior political structure for freedom, then a free market political structure is just taking these constitutional principles to their logical conclusion. But then limited government itself is a step closer to practical anarchy, since on this view, limited government is designed to imitate the mechanisms of the market.

Anarchy, practical, anarcho or otherwise, is a nonprincipled stance and this passage I think illustrates that point. Markets can only function optimally in a society with a strong, or highly principled governemnt stucture. To say that it would be possible to blend market effects with the institution of government is to divorce the concepts (market and governement) from their 'meanings'.

A rational government would be one of laws not man, obviously people would perform the functions of government but only to the extend of carrying out the laws(in bureaucratic fashion).

Markets , division of labor, come about because individuals will voluntarily associate with one and other if they feel their rights will be protected and secured by a stable government.

Human nature is immalleable, no?

A proper government based on rational ethics and politics is possible, would it arise from competing ideas or structures? Possibly but it seems to be putting thecart

before the horse.

Marketsw on the other hand are the aggregate result of voluntary trade betweens millions of individuals, and are fallible. Markets do not necessarily bring about the best or most rational choices, hence the need to base human institutions of governance on 'hard' principles, eg the US constitution( ultimately minus some contradictions).

Edited by tadmjones
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Well, yes, use of nuclear weapons in the given context, per se. One of the things that separate objectivist analysis of political issues from more mainstream analysis is the application of the same prohibitions against violations of rights to governments and private individuals alike.

All right, I'd just like to be very clear about this. (I'd like to be very clear about everything, if possible, even beyond a general desire for clarity, but because there are so many "moving parts" to a discussion like this.)

If I understand you right, you're saying that a private citizen cannot possibly employ a nuclear weapon in self-defense because there would be too much "collateral damage"; "because its use would be impossible to pinpoint the intended target without spillover effects onto innocent third parties."

But isn't it also true that a government's use of a nuclear weapon "would be impossible to use to pinpoint the intended target without spillover effects" in that very same manner?

So I read you as saying that nuclear weapons should be permitted to no individual or group (including governments/countries) on Earth whatsoever -- because their use is not "compatible with the non-initiation of force principle." Do I have this right?

Of course that is where the logic of the question leads, and it's true that it is an issue that has long divided objectivists from libertarians. You have on the one hand some objectivists which allow for nuking of civilian population centers to break enemy morale, and you have some libertarians who are unfortunately bitten by the virus of pacifism. My own view is probably somewhere in the middle.

The non-aggression principle itself says nothing about retaliatory force one way or the other, but for justice considerations, I think that discrimination in the use of retaliatory force must be essential. I think you can measure certain variables (such as the extent of the collateral damage, the probability that the action taken will actually stop the aggressor, the absence or reasonableness of alternative modes of stopping the aggression, etc.) when innocent shields or collateral damage is in play, and along the continuum, the justification for causing the collateral damage increases or decreases as the variables change.

I'm probably "somewhere in the middle" with you. I'm certainly no pacifist... but if the alternative to pacifism is given as "all's fair in war," I don't know that I can concur with that, either. In "The Objectivist Ethics," Rand said:

Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.

And, speaking as Galt in Atlas Shrugged:

It is only as retaliation that force may be used and only against the man who starts its use.

While I think that it's true that some amount of collateral damage may be unavoidable in the prosecution of one's right of self-defense, especially in times of war, Rand's quotes certainly seem to agree with your position that "discrimination in the use of retaliatory force must be essential."

Does this take nuclear weapons off the table completely? I don't think that it can. Supposing a situation where some enemy nation itself has nuclear weapons, I think that there are cases where a retaliatory nuclear strike (or a preemptive one, depending on context) may be justified -- as being the only thing that can reasonably be expected to effect a defense of one's life.

What do you make of that?

Well again, I think it's true that if it is permissible under a certain context for one person to have something, then it's permissible for someone else under the same context. But I don't think well of considerations like "you have to be able to take on the military" because I don't really think the military is a homogenous entity that should be weighed against civilians in an analysis of gun control.

I didn't/don't mean to speak to the "homogeneity of the military," or lack thereof, or the likelihood of the US military, as presently constituted, waging war against US citizens. A "classic argument" against gun control (as I'm quite certain you know) is that private arms are necessary to defend oneself against tyranny -- and possibly, at times, to wage revolution. So I raise this point, at least in part, so that this discussion can be situated in familiar contexts.

But okay. If you're saying what I think you're saying, then you don't think that the "military" ought to have legal access to any weapon that a "citizen" cannot, and vice-versa. Which means that nuclear weapons are either permitted to "one and all," or somehow to be eliminated entirely, with respect to every institution on Earth. (Or at least that every actor would be beholden to the same restrictions.)

Do I have this right?

On this, what immediately pops into my mind is an argument against anarchy that John Locke used. A lot of my counter-arguments are based on Locke's arguments for republican government against Hobbes, which we have just taken and used them against Locke's own conclusions. To Locke, without a government there was a power of enforcement problem. In order to enforce the laws of nature, you have to have the ability to enforce the laws of nature, and in a "state of nature" you just have a bunch of individuals running around enforcing things on their own. They're not a unified force, they're too weak, they'll just be overrun by gangs and so forth.

Well it's certainly true that if people who want to enforce justice lack the ability to do so, and the people who want to enforce injustice have all the power, that's going to be a problem. First, there's no reason that in the absence of monopoly, you can't have organization. The alternative to government providing all the shoes is not that each person makes their own shoes, that's why we have the division of labor. But if you're worried about not having sufficient force to resist an aggressor, well, a monopoly government is a much more dangerous aggressor than just some gang of bandits or other because it's unified all this power in just one point in the whole society, so that would seem like a reason not to have a monopoly and, in the context of gun/weapon control, not to prohibit private individuals from owning them.

Does that mean you’ve taken a step closer to anarchy, well yes, in the sense that, the whole point of advocating limited government is that having various “checks and balances” (of which I think private weapon ownership is a part) and “separation of powers” provides a superior political structure for freedom, then a free market political structure is just taking these constitutional principles to their logical conclusion. But then limited government itself is a step closer to practical anarchy, since on this view, limited government is designed to imitate the mechanisms of the market.

I'm beginning to feel like this discussion of gun/weapon control -- especially that part of the discussion that we conduct -- might spiral inescapably into the question of "government" and "anarchy." And frankly? That excites me, because I've long wanted to engage you on the topic.

In "America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business," Ayn Rand said:

The individual does possess the right of self-defense and that is the right which he delegates to the government, for the purpose of an orderly, legally defined enforcement.

I wonder. Must an individual delegate his right of self-defense to some external agency? Is this delegation a choice that a man actually makes? Is it a choice that he makes once? Daily/moment-to-moment? Or is it something that is rightfully forced upon a person, whether he would choose it for himself or not?

When Rand says that it is "for [a] purpose" -- it leads me to believe that this is an appeal to man's mind. And the content of that purpose is "an orderly, legally defined enforcement." But is that enough? Is the trade of one's "right of self-defense" in an indivdual's interest merely for "order" or "legal definition," which it seems to me is available equally to such "orderly" states as the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany.

Or should one only be willing to delegate his right of self-defense to a government which is committed to the principles of objective justice; i.e. a "proper government"? And of a "proper government," Rand-as-Galt says:

A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force.

Given that no actual government on Earth has ever been "proper" by this standard -- but every instance of government has been an initiatior of force against its own people -- then would it make sense for any individual to be willing to delegate his right of self-defense to such an authority? And if we consider arms to be part-and-parcel of one's "right of self-defense" -- and in the context of "gun control" (as Eiuol has argued for, and I think quite well) part of that which one "delegates" -- then would it make sense for any individual to voluntarily cede his right to arms?

Further, I wonder if one's delegation of the "right of self-defense" is meant to be absolute? Meaning: post-delegation, does one still have the "right of self-defense" that one had initially? Is it gone completely? Has any part been retained? I know that some have drawn distinctions between an immediate application of "self-defense" and the administration of what we'd normally call "justice," as even in a state with a proper government, there will be criminals against which an individual would have to defend himself before the government is able to respond. Is the resolution of gun control (in a proper state) to be found there? Can we draw a sensible distinction between those weapons "proper" to personal and immediate self-defense versus the weapons "proper" to those aspects of "self-defense" that we consider to be delegated absolutely to the government?

In any event, even a proper government cannot predict the future to guarantee that its citizens will not suffer from future tyranny. So would a proper government seek to eliminate its citizens' ability to defend themselves against such a thing in the first place? Or is one of the hallmarks of a proper government that it will undertake the defense of its individual citzens' right to self-defense, now and in the future, by not reducing any individual's means to defend himself; i.e. that it will not seek any form of gun/arms control?

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DonAthos said

In any event, even a proper government cannot predict the future to guarantee that its citizens will not suffer from future tyranny. So would a proper government seek to eliminate its citizens' ability to defend themselves against such a thing in the first place? Or is one of the hallmarks of a proper government that it will undertake the defense of its individual citzens' right to self-defense, now and in the future, by not reducing any individual's means to defend himself; i.e. that it will not seek any form of gun/arms control?

My two cents is that a proper government would not be seen as an entity that grants anything to individuals citizens other than the protection and recognition of their rights, and therefore would not seek control of objects. It would be the agency vested with the ability/responsibility of stopping the actions of individuals that seek to infringe on the rights of others.



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My two cents is that a proper government would not be seen as an entity that grants anything to individuals citizens other than the protection and recognition of their rights, and therefore would not seek control of objects. It would be the agency vested with the ability/responsibility of stopping the actions of individuals that seek to infringe on the rights of others.

Understood.

Let me ask you then, in the first place, whether you're comfortable with the language of Rand that I'd introduced in that post: that "[t]he individual does possess the right of self-defense and that is the right which he delegates to the government."

If it is the case that an individual "delegates" his "right of self-defense" to the government (though I might suggest that this is only proper in relation to a government that is, itself, properly constituted), then what is the nature of this "delegation"? Does the individual thereby "lose" anything of his "right of self-defense"? Could this extend to arms?

And, if the government is "the agency vested with the ability/responsibility of stopping the actions of individuals that seek to infringe on the rights of others," then isn't it necessary in practice that the government must be more powerful than the individuals by which it is vested? Is it the case that an individual (or group of individuals) could become so powerful that their government would no longer be able to stop their actions (whether rightly or wrongly)? And if so, then is there a case that arms control of some kind is necessary so that a government can effectively govern?

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Understood.

Let me ask you then, in the first place, whether you're comfortable with the language of Rand that I'd introduced in that post: that "[t]he individual does possess the right of self-defense and that is the right which he delegates to the government."

I would be comfortable in stipulating that an individual would recognize that principles of law should be used to solve disputes in a civil sense, and that the govt on different levels is tasked with apprehending criminals domestically, and the military of the govt tasked with protecting national interests. As far as ownership of arms per citizens the govt involvement would only be to apprehend those that use arms to infringe on rights.

If it is the case that an individual "delegates" his "right of self-defense" to the government (though I might suggest that this is only proper in relation to a government that is, itself, properly constituted), then what is the nature of this "delegation"? Does the individual thereby "lose" anything of his "right of self-defense"? Could this extend to arms?

Not in the sense of owning objects.

And, if the government is "the agency vested with the ability/responsibility of stopping the actions of individuals that seek to infringe on the rights of others," then isn't it necessary in practice that the government must be more powerful than the individuals by which it is vested? Is it the case that an individual (or group of individuals) could become so powerful that their government would no longer be able to stop their actions (whether rightly or wrongly)? And if so, then is there a case that arms control of some kind is necessary so that a government can effectively govern?

By what do you mean an individual or group becoming powerful?(or so powerful?) If the government is the principle of law , carried out by people acting according to the law, and its function is to protect the citizenry, who then is the citizenry protecting itself from in this case ?If it is from a rogue band of irrational nihilists then citizens should want the govt to use whatever means necessary to counter the threat. If it is to protect individuals from the actions of tyrannical govt , I think they call that revolution.

Edited by tadmjones
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DonAthos said

In any event, even a proper government cannot predict the future to guarantee that its citizens will not suffer from future tyranny. So would a proper government seek to eliminate its citizens' ability to defend themselves against such a thing in the first place?

[...]

We've gone over this point--that guns are necessary for individuals to own in case our government (and by extension its military) went "rogue" such that we can defend ourselves.

I hear this argument again and again. It's preposterous.

In the Iraq war, the US army destroyed 2000 Iraqi tanks in about 100 hours. A bunch of unorganized civilians with pop guns are nothing compared to our modern military. Nothing.

Civilian weapons in this day and age are completely irrelevant to the protection of our country against tyranny. What are discussing is the right of hobbyists to collect the collectables they want to collect, nothing more.

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