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Why the gun is civilised

We have said this kind of thing here many, many times, and will say it many, many more times, but I think this puts it particularly well:

People who argue for the banning of arms ask for automatic rule by the young, the strong, and the many, and that’s the exact opposite of a civilized society.

The rest of it – the posting is by “marko” and is entitled “why the gun is civilized” – is equally eloquent. It is quite short and anyone who is inclined to will have more than enough time to read it all.

It is particularly refreshing to read an American arguing against gun control without once mentioning the US Constitution. I am not opposed to the US Constitution, most of it, but I think that Americans should spend at least some of their time explaining why most of it is right, instead of just taking it for granted as a stack of unchallengeable axioms. When they do argue without relying on this document, it certainly makes it easier for us foreigners to link to them. [M]arko’s argument is not American only; it is universal.

19 comments to Why the gun is civilised

  • Thomas

    Err…he’s a freshly minted American.

    Marko Kloos is a German immigrant who served in that natin’s armed forces before emigrating to the U.S.

    Yes, Herr Kloos a good writer. I agree with many, but not all of his articulated positions. Many of his posts can be found at http://www.thehighroad.org and/or http://www.thefiringline.com.


  • The linked article is very eloquent. “It’s just not civilised” is something I’ve said often, when reading the latest news about someone attacked while “helpless” friends or relatives look on. I’ve also said it when I’ve seen kids running amok on trains and everyone ignores them because they are afraid. The children are not afraid because they live in a world with no consequences — which is what a world with no guns is when you’re young or strong.

    Then there is this bit:

    a single gay guy on equal footing with a carload of drunk guys with baseball bats

    I can imagine the response: “If everyone could have a gun it would be a car full of drunk guys with guns.”

    I’d love to have a good counter-argument to that. I suppose aggressive, drunk people with guns will have a short life expectancy, but that is unlikely to convince my opponent.

    This seems to be a problem with utilitarian arguments. No-one knows what the real outcome would be. Usually I try to argue from some kind of first principle, like non-aggression: preventing me from defending myself is aggression against me.

  • I’d love to have a good counter-argument to that. I suppose aggressive, drunk people with guns will have a short life expectancy, but that is unlikely to convince my opponent.

    The counter argument is obvious… when a bunch of guys go gay-bashing, they are not looking to put their own lives at risk, they are just looking to beat someone up at next to no risk (that is why ‘a car load’ of guys… it makes resistance impossible) for the buzz it gives them.

    However if the gay-bashing turns into a gunfight, all things being equal one gay guy and one gay basher will end up being shot (or more realistically, most ‘casual’ gunfights end up with everyone firing wildly and no one actually getting shot because after a few rounds go off, everyone runs away).

    Nevertheless, that is a VERY effective way of turning a ‘feel good moment’ (on the gay-bashers part) into potentially their last experience on earth, which enormously changes the dynamics. That would have a dramatic effect at reducing consequence free violence.

  • RAB

    I have been attacked in similar circumstances.
    I was trying to hitch a lift back to my flat in the Meadows, Nottingham after the buses had finished and a car full of drunks thought they’d beat up a longhair( I’m not gay. Having long hair was offence enough in those days!)
    Well I’m pretty fleet of foot, so I legged it.
    But this is discussion is pretty pointless. The possibility of British citizens being allowed to carry guns is zero.
    Not least because the general population are dead against it. We have been forcibly disarmed for so long in this country, that no guns in private hands is automatically taken as the “civilised” position.

  • Thanks, Perry — put in those terms (increased risk to cowardly criminals) it is obvious.

  • J

    I think Perry’s argument is the pertinent one, but I’m not sure there’s much evidence that it works like that in all societies. It is not a general truth that better armed societies are more polite and civilised. Nor (that I can easily think of) is it the case that societies have generally become less ordered when guns are prohibited.

    What is far more important, is the will to resist. If you lack the will, having a gun won’t change anything. If you *have* the will, then it’s very annoying to find the state inhibits you from using it, by preventing you from arming yourself. The argument for gun ownership is therefore (in my opinion) best based on personal liberty than some utilitarian claims about improving society.

    I also think these arguments overestimate people’s fear of death. Your average alpinist, climbing at over 7000m must generally reckon on a 1:30 chance of death. On Everest, it’s about 1:16. A space shuttle astronaut has odds of about 1:50 I think. These odds are worse than those of a soldier in a combat zone, similar or worse than a conscripted infantryman of the Napoleonic era (discounting non-combat deaths).

    Thrill-seekers and the desperate do not necessarily have the same view of the risk of death that we do. That’s why arming people often increases the death rate, rather than decreasing the crime.

  • If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s the argument ad constitutionem. Goodness knows that as an anarchist I’m not exactly a fan of the United States nor any other grouping of states, but if you’re going to talk about what the ‘Founding Fathers’ believed you should really be talking about why they believed it, not arguing that they did believe it. Such arguments have nothing to do with the way those who want to seize your property for “society” view the world.

  • MuzzleBlast

    Yes, an eloquent post. Another favorite is J. Snyder’s essay:

    http://www.rkba.org/comment/cowards.html (A Nation Of Cowards)

    with similar sentiment plus the idea that until society is willing to refuse victimization and stand their ground against the victimizers, no amount of legislation or policing is going to do as much good as being armed to defend one’s rights and personal dignity.


  • RobtE

    Brian –

    Yes, an argument that doesn’t rely on the US Constititution is particularly welcome. The problem with relying on the constitution is that it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, linguistically speaking.

    The HQ of the NRA in DC have inscribed above the door the motto, “…the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.” That initial ellipsis is important. What it replaces is the whole Constitutional justification of the right to bear arms.

    To have an argument that doesn’t rely on the necessity of a “well-regulated militia” removes the whole problem of that ellipsis.

  • J –

    I agree with most of what you say (especially the bit about guns being largely ineffective for self-defense if one is not prepared to use them) but do you have any numbers to back up your last claim?

    Thrill-seekers and the desperate do not necessarily have the same view of the risk of death that we do. That’s why arming people often increases the death rate, rather than decreasing the crime.

    That is, do you have any examples of times when arming people has increased the deathrate rather than decreasing the violent crime rate? Or are you simply speaking from assumption?

  • Paul Marks

    Most of the “gun control” people do not actually want to ban or uninvent firearms – they want a government monopoly of them.

    Although, in reality this means a “government and criminal” monopoly.

    Those who doubt this are quite welcome to put “gun free home” signs on their doors and window in cities like Washington D.C. or Detriot.

    Lacking a firearm not only means that one lacks a means of warding off an attack by thugs against oneself – it also makes helping anyone else difficult.

    There are still “have a go heros” in Britain – but they end up having their heads kicked in (litterally) by the gangs of drunken thugs they challenge when they go to someone’s aid.

  • Jered

    It’s my first comment. Howdy.

    I just told Marko about this post over on his blog.

  • J


    No – and in retrospect I mis-wrote. I cannot think of an occasion where a whole society has acquired easier access to arms and an increase (or for that matter a decrease) in violence has been measured as a result.

    What I should have said is that I belief people’s relative lack of fear of death may explain why mainly well-armed societies are very violent rather than very polite. Of course many well-armed societies are very polite rather than very violent, which is why arguments for or against weapons on utilitarian grounds are weak – a lack of strong evidence.

  • spidly


    it does hold up:
    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.

    putting aside that the militia is any male 21 or older

    an open market of ideas, being necessary to the political to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and post blogs, shall not be infringed.

    you’d never think that a state agency hiring professional bloggers would give the state license to ban individually owned blogs, would you?

    there is a statement of the necessity and then the prescription…. because – therefore. not including the first part of the sentence means nothing. who cares – may as well say “to protect against evil spirits and martian beasties, the right……” you may disagree with the reasoning but the statement is clear “… the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    If you want to argue that “the people” is the same as a collective state agency, better look at the 1st amendment:
    “…or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
    Guess the state can have a big may day parade and say we have no right to assemble on an individual basis?

    amendment 10 also makes the state/people distinction clear:
    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    you might want to read federalist 46 as well (madison…wrote the 2nd amendment and all)

    “Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.

    And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes.

    But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.”

    PS please read federalist 41 if you ever get the desire to rationalize a law with the fictitious “general welfare” clause

  • spidly


    in case you missed it is clear from federalist 41 that the state government and the militia are wholly separate.

    …local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia….

    government has the right to choose officers to lead the militia but the militia is NOT THE NATIONAL GUARD, it is armed individuals.

  • Paul Marks

    And, of course, an advantage that a right brings (such as providing a militia) is not a reason that government “gives” a right.

    A right to the Founders was NOT a gift from government – it was a limitation on government power by natural (not government created) law.

    Indeed there was a fear that by specifically stating some rights some people at some time might claim that rights were gifts from government and that the people had no rights (that there were no limitations on the power of government) unless they were specifically stated – hence the 9th Amendment.

    The old view of the Common Law (as found as late as some cases of Coke or almost a century later in the BRITISH Bill of Rights) as opposed to the “Paliament can do whatever it feels like” modern view (although the ultra modern view is “Paliament can do whatever the European Union and other international government feels like”).

    As for the “general welfare” – the words are, of course, “for the common defence and general welfare of the United States” at the start of Section Eight, Article One of the Constitution of the United States (they are also to be found in the preamble to the whole Constitution).

    They are the PURPOSE of the powers listed in Section Eight – not a catch all “general welfare” power.

    To say “the govermment has the power to do this [or “spend money on this”] because it is for the general welfare” is the height of absurdity (no surprise that government loves this absurd view – and appointed justices to the Supreme Court that went along with it). It would make the Constitution of the United States (for example the long list of specific powers given to the Congress by Article One, Section Eight) a waste of ink.

    One could simply write “do what you like for the general welfare” and leave it at that.

    Still we must not bang on about all this now – as the original posting was about how nice it was to get away from Constitutional arguments for once.

  • Midwesterner


    In Federalist #29 Hamilton says –

    “The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious, if it were capable of being carried into execution. A tolerable expertness in military movements is a business that requires time and practice. It is not a day, or even a week, that will suffice for the attainment of it. To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss.

    In Federalist #46 Madison says –

    The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.

    If one is going to attach interpretative significance to the Federalist Papers (as I believe we should) then these two statements made by two people generally in agreement on the topic become overpowering in their significance.

    “A well regulated militia” and “a militia” are two entirely separate things. The “well regulated militia” as defined by Hamilton very closely reflects not the citizen militia calculated by Madison, but rather the semi professional state National Guards we have now.

    But if we are to interpret that the 2nd amendment is only to protect “a well regulated militia”, ie the National Guards, then it would become necessary to conclude that the citizen militia has no constitutionally recognized right to arms. Obviously preposterous in light of Madison’s presumption “of citizens with arms in their hands”.

    I am convinced that the 2nd amendment is not a single awkwardly qualified right, but rather two rights in one amendment. The right of states to having semiprofessional armies (the National Guards) and the right of individual citizens to be armed. Any other interpretation leaves the citizen militia without any right to arms.

    Understanding is helped by remembering that ‘regulated’ had a much different general usage back then. Today we think of statutory regulations and infer it means obstruction and restraint. In fact it meant standardized, both by equipment and training. To make regular or uniform. The degree of regulation of a military force was a continuous scale. At one end were the farmers with a fowling or gaming piece, pistol or two and lunch in a sack. At the other end was the regular army. A “well regulated” militia was something close to the ‘regular army’ end of the scale.

    Hope this helps. Welcome to Samizdata.

  • Paul Marks

    That comment was a fine bit of work Midwesterner.

    And, of course, the Bill of Rights involved Madison rather more than Hamilton (who did not really want one).

    James Madison had to take the various demands from the States (New Hampshire was paticularly strong about what became the 2nd Amendment) and help put them in final form.

    Still we will be annoying Brian.

    I hope that at least five of the Justices on the Supreme Court have anything like the knowledge of the matter that Midwesterner does.

  • spidly

    midwesterner – very good.

    Paul Marks – in federalist 41 Madison had to explain what was meant by “general welfare” in section 8. Critics feared that the phrase granted congress to do anything they wanted. But as he explained, the sentence containing the phrase has a semicolon at the end and the enumeration of the limited powers granted to congress toward the general welfare immediately follow.

    Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases. A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms “to raise money for the general welfare.

    ”But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? If the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded, as to give meaning to every part which will bear it, shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any signification whatsoever? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars.