“There is no need for guns in modern society. We have non-violent democratic mechanisms for resolving disputes.”
These assertions are casually thrown around during debates about gun control by those who believe themselves to be more civilized and of course, more morally upright. On the surface, they may sound perfectly reasonable. After all, hasn’t society progressed to the point where we no longer need the tools of vulgar barbarity? Nevertheless, they are wrong.
Equality requires force, order demands violence
To understand why, we must first look into the fundamentals of how we order society. The liberal democracy is the world’s primary political system and regardless of practice, is also the official political system in the Philippines. Its underlying principles are ideas of liberty and equality. Few people realize, however, that these two concepts are at odds and cannot harmoniously exist together. Liberty is a pure condition and can be found in nature but equality is imposed by Man and must be established by force. Humans are intrinsically not equal so equality means holding back some while pushing forward others; groups who discriminate are compelled by the state to desist. Equality requires that freedoms are denied.
Any form of government, whether it be democratic or authoritarian, eventually boils down to the use of force against the individual. As author Jack Donavan writes, ‘Order demands violence. A rule not ultimately backed by the threat of violence is merely a suggestion.’ In a democracy, the majority simply delegates the lawful application of force to a smaller subsection of society: police, military and the like. This mechanism of violence by representation lulls people into thinking that they themselves are above the messy business of pulling a trigger. Yet every time we clamor for a law, a tax or more regulation, we are, in effect, asking someone to point a gun at another. Disobedience of the law, taken to its ultimate conclusion, will eventually result in the loss of life or liberty for any dissenter.
Most of us in society go about our lives never having to directly encounter this violence. Our hands are clean of any actual blood. Yet every voter, by the very nature of their participation in the democratic process, is complicit in perpetuating the need for guns in a modern democracy. Guns are the cornerstone of our political system. With no way to enforce the ‘will of the majority’ through the final threat of violence, our governments would be unable to function; the whole purpose of voting becomes meaningless without a gun ready to back up the arbiter’s decision.
The peace-loving gun control advocates who rely on government to push their agenda are thus mired in the deepest hypocrisy. They despise the use of violence yet wield it to achieve their aims. As George Orwell wrote, ‘Those who “abjure” violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.’
The Myth of the Uniform
Having delegated away the uncomfortable idea of administering violence, many take for granted that members of the government would naturally be more competent at the task than ordinary civilians. For example, even the most ardent gun control advocate will usually concede with the idea of allowing police to be armed. Their thinking seems to be that a uniform and special role in society somehow endows a person with abilities above those of ordinary citizens. There is a grain of truth in this since by definition, trained professionals will have received an element of instruction. The mistake is in assuming the extent of the training and that only police can be competent, with no room for the idea that civilian firearms owners can gain equal or better skill through private training.
Nevertheless, it’s well-known in the American firearms training industry that budget constraints mean police officers rarely get the chance to practice after basic firearms qualification. The New York Police Department, for example, require only semiannual re-qualification on stationary paper targets. The few who wish to become more proficient must often resort to seeking instruction in the private sector. One can hardly imagine what training budgets are like in the Philippines, where the PNP has trouble paying its electrical bills and the basic entry-level salary is only slightly above that of the average household driver. In contrast, civilian gun enthusiasts practice monthly, even weekly, spending thousands of pesos of their own money per session to hone their skills.
Gunless society proponents who say only police should be armed have no trouble imaging bloodbath scenarios with firearms-owning civilians. It’s strange that they seem afflicted with selective memory when it comes to remembering the boy who was shot five times by police during a hostage incident, or the infamous Rizal Park hostage crisis. They also seem to forget all the stories of police corruption and intimidation that permeate our society, as well as the suspected police involvement in the Maguindanao massacre. If anti-gun campaigners truly want a safer society, they should in fact be calling for better police training, raising salaries and improving professionalism in the force.
Blunders aren’t limited to the PNP. A confrontation between police and a gunman outside New York’s Empire State Building resulted in nine wounded bystanders. All were hit by police bullets. A study by the RAND Corporation for the The New York Police Department revealed that the average hit rate for NYPD Officers involved in a gunfight was only 18%. Even in the UK, where firearms are issued only to very small numbers of highly-trained members, police have shown appalling lapses. In 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes was accidentally shot by elite SO19 firearms officers who mistook him for a terrorist. An investigation also found that armed British police fired their guns more times by mistake than when responding to threats. These incidents include royal police who were apparently guarding the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s home and royal protection officer who accidentally fired his weapon on the royal train.
Interestingly enough, several studies indicate that armed citizens make fewer mistakes than police. While evidence for this claim may be open to dispute, it is time, at least, to puncture the myth that government agents are the only members of society who can be trusted with arms.
Two opposing world-views
Gun control advocates seem to live for the utopian world where government will one day allow everyone to live in peace and harmony. To them, government is the only agency capable of defending ordinary citizens. But who is the government but a group of individual humans? In other words, anti-gun people insist that someone else takes care of their family. Furthermore, they advocate that everyone else should be forced down this same path.
Ultimately, the gun control debate isn’t about guns but two opposing world-views. One is where people believe that responsibility for your life lies with someone else, and that other people know better about how you should live. That is a world-view of dependence and authoritarianism. The other is one of self-reliance and liberty—that the ultimate duty of safeguarding one’s life and family begins with the individual.
Those who see the government as the answer to humanity’s problems cannot imagine a world where ordinary people provide their own solutions, whether it’s in the realm of one’s livelihood or protecting one’s family. Their mantra is, “Leave it to the government as they have promised to take care of us!” After relinquishing responsibility for their own welfare, it is no wonder that gun control advocates do not see a place for guns in society; they demand that others risk their own lives for them.
The truth is that we alone have the primary responsibility of taking care of ourselves and our families. One can argue that the government can be there to provide support, but safeguarding an individual’s life is not the government’s job.
The place for guns modern society
Just as a trusting young child looks up to its parents for care, ardent believers in government do not see a time when their Protector will fail them. Or turn on them. Many seem to have forgotten that just 70 years ago, the whole world was embroiled in war and our grandparents were fighting governments that brutalized their people and their neighbors. Within a generation, the Philippines, Asia’s first independent democratic country, was corrupted into a dictatorship by a democratically-elected politician. The hard-won freedoms that Filipinos now seem to hold so dear have once before been snatched away by a home-grown tyrant.
If we were to lose our freedoms again, they may not be so easily regained in our lifetime, nor our children’s lifetime. Back in the earliest days of democracy, Plato warned that democracies will always degenerate into tyranny. This has been proven true many times throughout history. From the final demise of the Roman Republic with Emperor Augustus, humanity had to wait one thousand two hundred years before the seeds of freedom would once again spring from the Magna Carta in England.
A popular rhetorical question is to ask whether or not we would want to live in a society where ordinary people go about armed. This is the height of complacency and decadence. Being armed is a prerequisite for freedom. Free speech and the ability to vote are worth nothing if someone can put a gun to your head. This revelation is often met with incredulity or even outright mockery: “Do you really believe you are going to stand up against the might of an army?” It doesn’t matter what we believe. Human history tells us that one day, civilians will have to take up arms against their government or a foreign invader. These words are not meant to spread sedition. They are merely an acknowledgement of history. When that time comes, do we want to be left with nothing but rocks and empty hope?
The place for guns in modern society is at the side of ordinary people. An armed citizenry is the only defense against a tyrannical government, both foreign and domestic. Arms act both as a preventative measure and a corrective measure. If we wish to keep the liberties that come with our modern society, we must maintain the means to defend them.