Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gun rights: the more things change...


Gun rights advocates always find themselves plowing ground that has been gone over before. Consider the following passage from a very old book. Though from the eighteenth century, it presents a line of reasoning highly relevant to gun control arguments in our time.

     A principal source of errors and injustice are false ideas of utility. For example: that legislator has false ideas of utility who considers particular more than general conveniences, who had rather command the sentiments of mankind than excite them, who dares say to reason, ‘Be thou a slave;’ who would sacrifice a thousand real advantages to the fear of an imaginary or trifling inconvenience; who would deprive men of the use of fire for fear of their being burnt, and of water for fear of their being drowned; and who knows of no means of preventing evil but by destroying it.
     The laws of this nature are those which forbid to wear arms, disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent. Can it be supposed, that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, and the most important of the code, will respect the less considerable and arbitrary injunctions, the violation of which is so easy, and of so little comparative importance? Does not the execution of this law deprive the subject of that personal liberty, so dear to mankind and to the wise legislator? and does it not subject the innocent to all the disagreeable circumstances that should only fall on the guilty? It certainly makes the situation of the assaulted worse, and of the assailants better, and rather encourages than prevents murder, as it requires less courage to attack unarmed than armed persons.

That is from Cesare Beccaria, in his book Of Crimes and Punishment, published in 1764. Human nature has not changed sufficiently to make his conclusion false in our day; it is still true. The crooks who carry guns don't ask for permits. Indeed, to do so would tip off the cops, and so they never will. On the other hand, hampering the law abiding when they feel it wise to  go armed does nothing to prevent crime. The longer I think about the matter, the more sense I see in constitutional carry. That kind of law is probably a bit much to push for in some states, at present, but it may be the best answer in the long term.

As a sidelight on this, we know that Thomas Jefferson was a Beccaria fan. We also know that he had some rather good pocket pistols, screw-barrel types; a museum has one of the pair but the other is lost. There was no one to write him a permit, either. To whom would he have applied? King George?

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