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The (human) right to bear arms

When I posted a while ago about Robert Mugabe's intensifying campaign of atrocities in Zimbabwe, including kicking farmers off their land, razing the homes of the urban poor, and inflicting slow starvation upon his political enemies, I noted that blogger Perry de Havilland thinks Zimbabwe is long overdue for a popular revolution.

In the comments, cubicle pointed out why there hasn't been one yet:

The people their do not have any weapons to fight with. If I remember correctly all of their guns were taken in the 1950's while they were under British rule.
This is actually the point at the core of Perry's own blog post — that to truly help ordinary Zimbabweans, Western powers should ensure that they are able to fight against Mugabe, not give more food aid that he will simply divert to his own supporters. In Perry's own, rather intemperate words:
Clearly the only chance for the people of Zimbabwe is for someone, anyone, to help them to rise up and meet violence with violence. They do not need aid, they need guns and ammunition so that supporters of the MDC can start shooting at anyone associated with ZANU-PF or the 'security' services. Time for Mugabe's swaggering police thugs to be met with a hail of gunfire rather than terrified sobbing.

...If Tony Blair was serious about doing something about poverty in Africa, he would be sending guns to the MDC and to anyone else who is willing to resist and threatening to have some gentlemen from Hereford put a .338 hole between Mugabe's eyes unless things change radically.
Recently (via Charles at Obsidian Wings), Joe Katzman on Winds of Change reached essentially the same conclusion about Zimbabwe, and broadened it into a general principle: Gun ownership is a human right. He writes:
As many of you know, I'm from Canada. We have a pretty different attitude to guns up here, and I must say that American gun culture has always kind of puzzled me. To me, one no more had a right to a gun than one did to a car.

Well, my mind has changed. Changed to the point where I see gun ownership as being a slightly qualified but universal global human right.

...You can thank Robert Mugabe, too, because it was his campaign to starve his political/tribal opponents and Pol-Pot style "ruralization" effort (200,000 left homeless recently in a population of 12.6 million) that finally convinced me. Here's the crux, the argument before which all other arguments pale into insignificance:
The Right to Bear Arms is the only reliable way to prevent genocide in the modern world.
And Zimbabwe is the poster child for that proposition.
Joe's got lots more to say, in an excellent and lengthy post. And I imagine the reaction of some gun control advocates will be "Sure, Joe's arguments might make sense in a place like Zimbabwe. But in more developed countries, we don't need guns to protect our freedoms, because that kind of thing just couldn't happen."

Well, of course, it has. But even if the West's next genocide is not right around the corner, to say its citizens don't need the right to own guns is to confuse cause and effect, like saying a fit person doesn't need to exercise. He's in good shape because he exercises. And private gun ownership has always made Mugabe-style government abuses a messy proposition.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you on some level, but I have to pose a question that I've found pretty damning in the past.

What if the American government DID (and the Democrats wouldn't be surprised by this) suddenly go fascist? Would my owning a handgun—even if all of my neighbors also had hand guns—really make any difference in the outcome? Honestly, I don't think it would.

An army equipped with .45s does not in any way stand up to one equipped with tanks...

I'm not sure this destroys your argument (and I hope it doesn't because it's my argument too) I just haven't figured out a way to respond to that one yet. 

Posted by Brian

Anonymous said...

Yes, tank beats handgun, but it's not as simple as that.

If a government has absolutely no problems with murdering as many of its people as necessary to acheive its aims, private gun ownership alone would not be enough to thwart a modern army in and of itself. But it would certainly make the use of military force more difficult and "messy". And a well-armed but technically inferior force can hold out for a long time, especially if the enemy cares even a little bit about minimizing civilian casualties.

An armed citizenry raises the costs of internal military-backed actions, making all but the most insanely bloodthirsty of dictators think twice about rolling out the tanks in the first place. It's like locking your front door: A thief might still be able to break in, but by making it harder for him, he may decide to leave your house alone. 

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

Brian, I think it would make a difference. How many tanks/ships/cruise missles does the US have? It numbers in the 10s of thousands whereas the number of citizens is in the hundreds of millions.

Imagine every man, woman, and child, in every tree, around every corner. It has the potential to create loads of problems for a conventional military, much the same way that the Vietnamese and the Iraqis have caused trouble for those same tanks and troops, or the way the Afghanis did for the Soviet empire for thirty years.

I think that if there were enough Americans angry enough to raise arms at the government/military of the US, then the US government would be in grave danger of collapsing. And besides, the mere threat of such a scenario is at the least a major deterrent to Bush or any other president "going fascist." And that deterrent is in and of itself important enough to justify the inadvertent loss of life that guns bring about everyday in America, in my opinion. 

Posted by Sagamihara

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank that anti-gun control commenters here for acknowledging and providing examples of how their logic derives from their position, not vice versa.

The argument that gun ownership is a bulwark against tyranny is irrational, ahistorical and demonstrably false. In every place where personal firearms are ubiquitous, take Waziristan as a prime example, tryranny is entrenched. One reason the U.S. can't track bin Laden down is that he is hiding out in a region that worships personal firearms and just about everything is settled at the barrel of a gun.

The political rocket scientists who suggest pouring arms into Zimbabwe seem unaware of the rather obvious difficulties such a strategy poses. Firstly, if food aid is ripped off by the government, what makes them think the "free" guns wouldn't fall into the same corrupt hands? Secondly, an violent resistance is the only excuse Mugabe needs to increase the slaughter of his political opponents. No, guns are not a solution to political problems.

The irony is that, there is really no need for pro-gun people to make these arguments. The argument for the right to own a gun is simple and powerful.

Free people have a right to own firearms simply because owning a firearm harms no one and in a free society, anything that harms no one should not be prohibited.

All these cockamamie arguments about how gun ownership is good for society are such an unnecessary waste of time. 

Posted by bunkerbuster

Anonymous said...

Great post Gaijin.

I must say that I agree with bunkerbuster about the specific situation in Zimbabwe however. Gun ownership could have helped prevent tyranny from forming there, but it isn't enough now.

The more humane thing would be to send in a serious military force and destroy Mugabe and his thugs quickly and completely. Then you can build a stable society.

I think he is dead wrong on his general views on gun control however. 

Posted by Dave Justus

Anonymous said...

dear bunkderbuster,

"The argument that gun ownership is a bulwark against tyranny is irrational, ahistorical and demonstrably false."

I am sure that you missed this recent article. (I hope you read the entire thing, because it took me 10 mins to find it)

"We argue a connection exists between the restrictiveness of a country's civilian weapons policy and its liability to commit genocide[1] upon its own people."

Gun ownership confers a stistical protective advantage to people and by extensison entire groups of people.

Posted by cubicle

Cubicle said...


"What if the American government DID (and the Democrats wouldn't be surprised by this) suddenly go fascist? Would my owning a handgun—even if all of my neighbors also had hand guns—really make any difference in the outcome? Honestly, I don't think it would.

An army equipped with .45s does not in any way stand up to one equipped with tanks..."

I tend to agree that handguns would not matter much, but you have also showing you lack of knowlege of firearms.

Really the only thing seperating a sniper rifle from a hunting rifle is that it is black. And sniper rifles would help out a lot.

Secondly, there are much less people in the Army than their are civilians, if most civilians owned guns it would make a difference over time, because the tank drivers have to get out sometime.

Anonymous said...

Cubicle claims gun ownership confers a "statistical protective advantage,'' but the essay he cites earlier in his post shows the opposite.

Although the essay is a highly tendentious psuedo-academic attempt to show that gun ownership could prevent genocide, it does regurgitate some references to numerical studies of the effects of restrictions on gun ownership.

Trouble is, those references show that gun ownership lowers some types of crimes and raises others. Moreover, easing restrictions on gun ownership in some places accompanied a decline in crime, while in others, it didn't. Based on this evidence, there is no link between gun ownership and a decline in crime, let alone, as Cubicle conjectures: ``statistical protective advantage.''

The question for gun ownership proponents is not whether firearms have some benefits. Clearly they do. The questions are: are the benefits worth the costs and, more important, what are reasonable restrictions on gun ownership. No restrictions means I'm free to carry a bazooka to a Bush campaign rally or make a dirty radiological bomb in my garage. As appealing as the bazooka solution to Bush is to my childish side, I don't think it would make for rational public policy...

The question then, isn't whether some firearms should be banned, but which firearms should be banned and how to enforce that.


Posted by bunkerbuster

Anonymous said...

Many unpleasant regimes through history e.g. the third riche have had strong popular support. what help is it that the public have weapons if most of them would use them only in support of the regime. Iraq was a very well armed society and did not have a revolution on its own.
In the UK, a very strictly controlled society (e.g. kitchen knives), the IRA managed to arm themselves with a lot of fire arms and also produce enough explosives to mount a strong campaign that eventually achieved real results against the British government.
Guns don’t kill anyone, its the people that fire them.
Guns don’t protect freedom either, without a public that is constantly vigilant, and that includes critisising our own government even in the face of national security.
Saying this, an armed citizenry is very useful in face of an invasion.

The thing that holds the zibabwe oposition back from weapons is funding and ?principle? (dont know). it is very easy to get old ex soviet guns on the international black market.

I would say that its a very bad idea to give an opposition group weapons as this does not result in a stable replacement e.g. opperation cyclone operation ajax etc 

Posted by TT

Anonymous said...

If we apply the absolutist gun rights logic to geopolitics, we come up with the idea that a world in which all nations had nuclear arms would be the most peaceful. Indeed, that's a superficially appealing theory and one that certainly entices Kim Jong Il and many, many others.

The problem, however, is that you can never reach a power equilibrium. Some nations will always have more and/or better nukes or defenses against nukes. Deterrence is never absolute and there needs to be a cost/benefit analysis of deterrence versus proliferation risk.

The same goes for arming Zimbabweans with glocks or American teenagers with Uzis.


Posted by bunkerbuster



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