Changed my mind on a gun control argument.

Recently I wrote an article about gun control, part of which contained the argument about the need for an armed citizenry to create a sense of mutually assured destruction with the government.  That was a bad argument.  The government has tanks and air superiority, not to mention military training.  Having guns in-hand would not make much of a difference.

That doesn’t change all the other arguments in that post about why guns should be modified, but not banned.  But I have changed my mind on the above argument and it’s refreshing.  :)  I love being less wrong than I was previously.  I’ve never understood the aversion to changing one’s mind.

In celebration, I give you this article about America’s last remaining hero.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • SteveC
  • Mandagator

    As long as we’re sharing relevant cartoons, today’s Cyanide & Happiness is also relevant :)

  • UsingReason

    They really should have a comments section at the Onion. Can you imagine the amazing wingnuttery that would appear there.

    • Smiles

      They do on Google+…and yes, it is terrifying how many people don’t understand what “satire” is.

  • baal

    If you want to prevent the fedgov from sending the troops in, send $$ to the FFRF (I’m not affiliated with them in any way). I doubt the military would follow orders to take out U.S. Civilians who are otherwise just living their lives. I do think that Warriors for Christ (of the One True Faith) would take out civilians with hardly a second thought. Chris Rodda documents via blog posts some of the xtian insanity on her blog, (she is very much a part of FFRF).

  • invivoMark

    There are only two legitimate arguments I have heard in favor of allowing guns. 1) Owning a gun in a high-crime neighborhood can increase one’s safety (a problematic argument, since the near-complete lack of gun regulation in the first place is why one’s safety was at risk, but nonetheless a legitimate argument). 2) Guns are a hobby, and some people just like having/shooting them.

    Any other argument I’ve ever heard against gun regulations has been about why gun regulation is difficult or wouldn’t solve problems (“cars kill more people”, or “mass murderers would still kill people”, or “you can’t define ‘assault rifle’ in a meaningful way”), or why we need guns to stop the government bogeymen from taking over (because our government, apparently, doesn’t already run this country).

    None of these arguments address the indisputable fact that the leading causes of death of young people in America (accidents, homicide, and suicide, in order) frequently involve guns, and the overabundance of guns in America is causing/allowing deaths of thousands of children and young adults every year.

    Strangely, I’ve never heard anyone admit that owning and shooting guns is a hobby that’s so much fun that it’s worth the lives of thousands of innocent children.

    • Compuholic

      I like the quote I heard once from a computer security expert (quoting him loosely): Security is all about making shit happen less often.

      As with all security related stuff: There is never a 100% secure system/society. There is always a trade-off between security and freedom/convenience. So sooner or later there has to come a point when someone has to say: This is just an acceptable level of insecurity. And it is up to the society to find a consensus where the line is drawn.

      Personally I don’t have any issues with personal gun ownership or even recreational shooting. But it should be properly regulated. As an example how it is done here in Germany (although I think our government has gone a little overboard):

      Generally you are not allowed to buy or possess any weapons unless you have a special permit. There are two types of permits: Type 1 allows you to posess weapons, type 2 allows you to carry them in public. Type 2 is out of the question for pretty much anyone except police, security services, etc. Ordinary citizens can only apply for a type 1 permit. In order to do that they need to show that they have a legitimate interest (collecting, sporting, etc.). The also need to be at least 18, must have a clean criminal record, must take a course on firearm safety and must provide proof that they have adequate insurance to cover potential 3rd party damage.

      While I think this is unrealistic for the U.S. I think tremendous progress could be archived by simply banning automatic weapons, big clips and maybe eliminating the right to carry guns in public.

      • invivoMark

        That’s a very good point.

        I don’t actually have any suggestions for specific ways in which guns should be regulated. I don’t even have strong feelings about whether people are allowed to own or carry them.

        But I’m so sick of the attitude people have where all they do is complain about every proposed regulation, exclaiming that it’s infringing on someone’s rights and it won’t solve anything. I would just LOVE to see someone like the NRA start supporting some level of regulation. If some of the proposed regulations are unacceptable, make a counter-proposal! If a certain method of regulation won’t work, propose something that will!

        The NRA, and gun owners as a group, are certainly powerful enough to write all our legislation on gun control, and they could easily do it intelligently. Instead, they leave it up to their hated enemies “the liberals” and then whine about how things aren’t fair.

      • Don Gwinn

        These weapons are flatly prohibited in my state, as is right-to-carry (we’re the last one) and neither of those facts has allowed us to avoid leading every neighboring state in every category of violent crime, including firearms (you can give guns to whoever you want, folks, but we’ve got Chicago. Can’t touch this.)

        Automatic weapons have been so regulated as to be effectively banned since 1934 and are banned outright in several states, including mine.
        The Gun Control Act of 1934 created a federal registry of legally-owned machine guns, sound suppressors (mufflers) and a few other types, such as shotguns with barrels less than 18″ long (overall length less than 26″, IIRC) and rifles with barrels less than 16″ long (overall length less than 26″.) It was still legal to own such weapons under federal law, but one now had to register the weapon, undergo a lengthy background check (today it takes a few months) be fingerprinted, and obtain written permission from the local chief law enforcement officer, then pay a $200 tax on every transfer of the weapon, at a time when the weapons in question usually cost less than $20.

        In 1968, the registry was closed to any weapon that had existed unregistered before 1968–a person who found a weapon that hadn’t been registered could not purchase it legally by adding it to the registry.

        In 1986, a last-minute surprise amendment to the Firearm Owner Protection Act banned the manufacture of any automatic weapon for transfer to anyone except law enforcement agencies, military agencies, or manufacturers or dealers. Today, only automatic weapons manufactured and registered before 1986 are legally in the hands of civilians (who have been background-checked, gotten all kinds of permissions and paid a fortune for the privilege.)

        All that aside, while J.T.’s observation about the technological superiority of the U.S. military is correct, it assumes that in a civil war/insurgency, the military would be at least reliably loyal to the U.S. government and willing to bring that technology to bear on the insurgents. If it came to that, I think it would be a lot messier than that. Impossible to say without knowing more about the situation and what led to the conflict than “an unknown number of Americans who own guns vs. the U.S. military.”
        The real people to look out for are the ones who seem eager to see such a conflict, from either side of the “culture war.” There are people out there who seem to have no idea how bad “dirty wars” really are, which is odd considering the number of them ongoing all the time around the world. I guess it just “can’t happen here.”

        • Don Gwinn

          Sorry, “these weapons” means automatic weapons. This was supposed to be a reply to the commenter from Germany who suggested that the United States should ban automatic weapons, large-capacity magazines and right-to-carry.

  • Ahmed

    Are we talking about the same government with tanks and airplanes which lost the Vietnam War against a bunch of people armed with mainly rifles?
    Oh, and then, just recently Afghanistan?


    • Nate Frein

      Y’know…I don’t think that insurgents are particularly worried about legal firearms. There aren’t enough preparationists in the US to have the kind of materiel in place to supply an insurgency. IF the government decides to declare martial law and use it’s own troops against the civilian population, then any insurgency that results will have to get hardware from other sources (i.e. deserting military, black market, etc.)

      • Ahmed

        Doesn’t matter where the guns come from.
        The above article states:

        “[t]he government has tanks and air superiority, not to mention military training. Having guns in-hand would not make much of a difference.”

        So, why didn’t you guys win the Vietnam War? And honestly, I’m going to call Afghanistan lost, too.

    • Liz

      What do you mean by “win”? The US didn’t succeed on imposing democracy in those places. But the other side didn’t do very well either. Very many people died, far more were displaced, and… would you like to move to Afghanistan or Iraq or 1975 Vietnam? I wouldn’t.

      I agree that it would be nearly impossible for someone to successfully impose a new form of government on the US against the will of its people. But someone with drones and tanks and nukes can destroy what we have pretty effectively. In that situation guns aren’t very useful for self-defense. The government can still take you out if it wants to.

  • otocump

    Thank you JT.

  • Val

    Yeah. While the whole “defense against tyranny” thing is the major reason that the 2nd Amendment exists in the first place, it’s not one of my primary arguments in favor of gun ownership, nor did it factor into any of my gun purchases.

    • Lou Doemch

      No, no it is not. That is a willful distortion of the 2nd amendment. The idea that the right to bear arms is some sort of “in case the government goes crazy” get out of jail free card is a modern invention. The 18th century US had no standing army. The right to bear arms was primarily to keep a “well regulated militia” going to defend against the Natives and (as it turned out with the Whiskey Rebellion and Shay’s rebellion) put down local insurrections. Fast forward to the Jackson administrations Indian wars, which gave birth to the modern standing army, and the idea of citizens militias was considered dead as a dodo.

      • Val

        Duly noted; thank you. In light of that, it would have been more accurate for me to have said that it’s “one of the reasons” instead of “the major reason.”

    • RuQu

      The actual text of the 2ns Amendment is:
      “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

      It says nothing of tyranny. It talks of the security of the state. This is from a time when we had no permanent army, and the calling up of the militias from the various states was how the nation was expected to defend itself.

  • baal

    The anti-tyranny argument make some sense if you’re back in the late 17o0s.

    “The right of the people to keep and bear … arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country …”
    – James Madison, I Annals of Congress 434, June 8, 1789

    Notice that the anti-tyranny argument is in the context of a militia and with training. The personal right could be argued either way from this quote (and other similar text from the relevant time period) but the anti-tyranny part was clearly in the context of State militia. Keep in mind that military tech was something like a musket & relatively small cannon. The early US/colonists didn’t like getting pushed around by the British troops (c.f. 3rd Amendment about not quartering troops in private homes), and an armed militia would be a reasonable defense. Also note the the early US didn’t have a standing army. The founders distrusted them.

    The modern equivalent of anti-tyranny of the 2nd amendment as described here would be State national guards. Were I a 2nd amendment activist (I’m not), I would argue for disentanglement of the national guard from the rest of the federal military while demanding equal access to modern federal army technology (Missouri with nukes, Tom Delay, with nukes…xtian taliban, with nukes…).

    • Nate Frein

      Keep in mind, too, that the second amendment was worded in a way to satisfy the southern state’s particular “need” for a militia: Keeping slave uprisings down.

      • Lou Doemch

        Bingo! You cannot separate anything in the politics of early America from this issue. Not just keeping slave uprisings down, but being part of a runaway slave search posse was pretty much part of growing up for white southern men.

    • invivoMark

      Except that militias aren’t what most people think they are. They aren’t civilian-led armies that don’t answer to the government. The Militia Acts of 1792 explicitly stated that militias are under the command of the President. Militias were never intended to be a check against tyranny, but a check against invasion and civil uprising.

    • M

      Please read what Lou said above. The 2nd Amendment isn’t anti-tyranny at all and never was. We simply didn’t have a standing army at the time, so the militia was all we had. It was called up during times of crisis to serve as the national army (the Whiskey Rebellion, Native American revolts, War of 1812, etc). All people were supposed to have their own guns so if/when the militia was called up, the government wouldn’t have to supply them arms. In practice, this didn’t work out, and Andrew Jackson was so frustrated by the number of men he got during the War of 1812 that didn’t bring their own guns he set up a standing army when he was later elected president (1828, I think?).

      When the War of 1812 showed us that militias tend to perform very badly against professional armies, the militia system died a well-deserved death. The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms should have died with it, but didn’t. That doesn’t mean ban all guns- it just means that it doesn’t make sense for there to be a Constitutional Right(TM) to them.

  • Soren

    Founderstein has a blog on the fact that the constitution does not allow for treason.

    And citizens rising against the government is treason – that is what happened in the civil war. The secessionists committed treason.

    Which brings me to another point

    The government is composed by citizens, the army is composed by citizens.

    JT’s statement “(..) the need for an armed citizenry to create a sense of mutually assured destruction with the government.” is hogwash. The government is elected by the citizens, and the military is guided by the government.

    • Nate Frein

      And, of course, if you read for comprehension, you would see that JT’s entire statement was that he no longer believed that “(…) the need for an armed citizenry to create a sense of mutually assured destruction with the government” because people’s arguments on this blog had convinced him otherwise.

  • Daniel McHugh

    I tend to think that if our society ever reaches a point where it is necessary for The People to rise up and overthrow the government, then odds are the government would have been disregarding large portions of the Constitution for some time already… and that the first five amendments would be among the first things such a government would trample. A corrupt, tyrannical government is no more bound by law than any other criminal entity; the second amendment does not constitute adequate protection against such a government.

    As far as protection against tyranny goes, the first amendment is far more effective. All the armed resistance in the world makes little difference unless somebody’s there with a camera and a notepad to record and report on it- and as has been amply demonstrated, the most effective victory is a victory in public perception. I would hope that, if it ever came down to a popular uprising, it would be modeled after the Indian revolution or the Civil Rights movement rather than the wars in Vietnam or Iraq.

    It also bears mentioning that military training in the 18th and early 19th centuries was a lot less involved than it is today. Militias could be called out, trained, and deployed before an enemy army could reach its target- in today’s world of mechanized and airborne warfare, the army is upon its target before anybody who could muster to defend it has any idea what’s going on. It took days, weeks, even months to move armies from one city to the next in the Founders’ time. That’s why we have professionally trained ‘militias’ like the National Guard- the training part can be done ahead of time, so that the force can be assembled and mobilized within hours… which might still not be fast enough.

    An insurgency of the kind seen so many times in the last century in Iraq, Afghanistan (twice, against two different superpowers), Vietnam, and so on, with a decentralized force equipped with small arms and improvised munitions… possible, but undesirable and likely to do more harm than good in the long run. However, a militia comprised of armed but untrained individuals with no chain of command and no established plan for deployment is pure fantasy. That kind of armed response had its coffin nailed shut somewhere around 1939.