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Self-defense and gun ownership

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  • Self-defense and gun ownership

    Second Amendment advocates implicitly argue that it's wrong to deprive people of a proper means of self-defense. And that a proper means of self-defense in a society with any form of government requires the use of firearms because if that government were to become tyrannical there is the threat of civil violence through the public's damaging use of firearms. The right to bear arms then keeps the government in check, robbing them of an incentive to dip into tyranny via the threat of public militias.

    ​​​​​​The argument, then, isn't just for personal self defense, but national self defense against civil tyranny.

    Any opinions on this argument? Arguments for and against the Second Amendment have always been in my peripheral interests.

  • #2
    I think, practically speaking, the argument is wildly off base. A gun is a good method of self-defense against other individuals of roughly the same skill at using that gun. It's rather ineffective against squads of well-trained, professional warriors. Let alone the insanely destructive non-conventional weapons the government has--chemical and biological weapons, tanks, the technological capability to track your every movement and non-face to face conversations, the ability to shut off power grids and water supplies, the ability to manipulate or destroy our wildly un-diverse food sources (read "cornfields"), etc. It's a frighetening fact of modern industrial societies that the average individual can't produce his own food, acquire energy sources, or fix most common tools that are depended on for normal life--engines, cooling units in refrigerators or freezers, integrated cuircit chips found in electronics--let alone produce new ones. The government could render 90% of the population helpless without using a single bullet or being within reach of your bullets.

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    • #3
      I'm in favor of (reasonable) gun rights, but I find the appeals to the Second Amendment to be bizarre in the extreme. The right is safeguarded in the Bill of Rights specifically because of the existence of the colonial militia and the need for its members to be armed--it has nothing to do with personal safety and the rights of the individual, and everything to do with eighteenth century national security issues. This is explicit in the wording of the Amendment: "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." I think it's an abuse of the meaning of the text to argue that these militias were intended to be used against the government, since the whole point was the government being able to raise armies at need.

      I also agree with Brian concerning the absurdity of claiming that private gun ownership could serve as a check against a tyrannical government, given the types of weapons that modern militaries possess.
      Last edited by Hypatia; 08-10-2019, 12:02 AM.

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      • #4
        I agree that it's silly to think even a massive union of well formed public militias could stand toe to toe with a tyrannical government. The argument, however, isn't concerned with the public being able to stand toe to toe with the government. From what I understand, pro gun people are arguing that a government would be less likely to become tyrannical if the public brandished firearms even in a losing battle. I guess an analogy would be this: a thief with a firearm would be more likely to pilfer the house of someone without a hatchet at his bedside than someone who does keep a hatchet at his bedside. Even though a firearm is incredibly more lethal than a hatchet, the hatchet still can do harm, and the thief would rather not risk the damage.

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        • #5
          Hmm, I am not convinced. Historically, the threat of uprisings doesn't seem to have prevented governments from being absolutist--the key seems to generally be separation of powers, whether between branches of government, between a king and a powerful nobility, or other models. In any case, if a government were to actually become tyrannical in this day and age, it would probably also be with the backing of considerable populist support, so the argument strikes me as doubly problematic. Rather than an armed civilian force standing against a tyrannical government, you could easily end up with the tyranny of an armed majority.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Hypatia View Post
            The right is safeguarded in the Bill of Rights specifically because of the existence of the colonial militia and the need for its members to be armed--it has nothing to do with personal safety and the rights of the individual, and everything to do with eighteenth century national security issues. This is explicit in the wording of the Amendment: "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." I think it's an abuse of the meaning of the text to argue that these militias were intended to be used against the government, since the whole point was the government being able to raise armies at need.
            I don't see any tension here and rather think that the text suggests the opposite. The colonial militia itself was used to rebel against the British government and found a new one, and this was, needless to say, fresh in early Americans' minds. The Second Amendment does not establish a right for the government to maintain a militia; it establishes the right of the people to bear arms. I don't think it's at all a stretch to think that the possibility is being entertained of a militia's being employed against a tyrannical government. This is in keeping with the point of the entire Bill of Rights, which is consistently to explicitly reserve rights to the individual states and to the people against the federal government. None of the first ten amendments are in the business of securing rights for the federal government, to raise an army or to do anything else.

            The amendment itself has two parts, the first part essentially making a claim about the necessity of a militia for keeping a state secure, and the second establishing the right of the people to bear arms. It's a bit of an odd situation because I agree that the claim made by the first portion is not true. That citizens are armed and may form a militia is neither necessary nor sufficient for protection from tyranny. In a given situation a militia may or may not be enough. Understandably the revolutionaries were more inclined to think a militia would be likely to be enough. The prospects are pretty dim today, and it is hard to imagine that any group in the United States could rebel against the country and not look like a collection of fringe nutjobs, even to those who are in sympathy with their concerns.

            Still, I don't think it can fairly be said that the right the amendment guarantees is conditional upon the truth of the first claim. It simply makes the claim and establishes the right. Proponents of the Second Amendment are not committed to employing such arguments.

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