Gun control

The justice system in the UK and abroad

Guns

Postby Caleb » 05 Jun 2012, 03:52

Thinking about this topic, I wonder what people's opinions of guns and gun laws are. I know conservatives in the U.S. are generally pretty pro-guns, probably because of their history, specifically as it relates to the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution that says:

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've also heard the saying that "an armed society is a polite society" many times, and I've also heard the argument many times that if people had been allowed to carry guns, 9/11 would never have happened, etc.

However, the attitude towards guns in other Western nations is somewhat different. What do the members of this board think about guns and gun laws? Should ordinary citizens have access to guns as they do in the U.S.

In theory, I would be in favour of people having guns, but there does seem to be something quite violent about American society. I don't know if I'd put this down to guns per se, but there's certainly something about that place that doesn't quite sit right with me (I mean that I liked visiting the U.S., but I don't think I'd ever want to live there, but I can't quite articulate why). In most cases, I don't think guns are really necessary, but Britain might be at the point where an armed citizenry is necessary (both against other members of society generally, and tyranny specifically).
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Re: Guns

Postby Heather » 05 Jun 2012, 14:16

Funny this topic should come up on the very day my husband is going to a gun range to inquire about gun licensing. Obviously we're very pro-gun. I don't have time at the moment to come up with well-reasoned arguments for gun ownership, so my quick and practical answer is that I live only miles away from violent inner-city thugs who certainly have guns that weren't obtained by normal legal channels, and they would have these guns regardless of how legal or difficult gun ownership is (which varies widely in the states). I'm a weak woman with a family to protect. A couple of guns will level the playing field if we're ever attacked or robbed (and yes, we know how to use defensive technique in the dark and under pressure). That's the sad reality of many urban areas of America. In more rural areas like where I grew up, hunting is just part of culture and telling people to give up a hobby and food source is not going to go over well any time soon.

I wouldn't exactly say that ordinary citizens always have access to guns. Gun ownership would have been extremely difficult back when we lived in Boston. Living 15 minutes away across the New Hampshire border would have made it a piece of cake, and here in the southeast it's going to be relatively easy.

I think I understand what you mean by something being off about American society. I feel it too and can't put my finger on it. I doubt that it's the guns though, as most people either don't own one or don't know how to use it, especially in a defensive situation. It's actually because of this feeling that we're buying guns. We want to be armed against that cultural violence.
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Re: Guns

Postby Michael » 05 Jun 2012, 15:54

There are two main arguments in favor of private citizens owning guns, either by grant of a positive law or by a right enshrined in a national constitution. They are the Self Defense Argument and the Tyranny Argument.

The Self Defense Argument is straightforward.

P1) Every person has a natural right to self defense
P2) To recognize a right is to also grant the right to the means to exercise that right
P3) Guns are a means to self defense
C) Therefore, every person has a right to own a gun for self defense.

The interesting parts of the argument are the second and third premises. Opponents of private gun ownership can argue that the means to self defense can be supplied by an armed police force. They can be challenged by pointing out that the police, no matter how powerful or well funded, cannot be everywhere, and a citizen can need the means to self defense immediately. There is also Cesare Beccaria's argument, that if weapons are banned then only the government and outlaws will have guns.

I would support this argument with a related one about the virtue of self-reliance. While I am no libertarian, I believe that relying too much upon government to resolve problems is corrupting to character and makes a people easily exploited. When you are completely reliant upon an outside power for your security and well being (e.g., welfare) then it is easy to become the slave, literal or figurative, of that power. For their own good and the good of civil society citizens must have a domain of free action in their personal affairs, including self defense.

As a second support to the Self Defense argument, I think that citizens have a role to play in making a peaceful society. It is not just the police and the courts who are responsible for deterring and suppressing crime. A citizenry that looks after the defense of its own homes and neighborhoods goes can do a lot more towards deterring crime than the mere existence of police and prisons.

The second argument, the Tyranny Argument, holds that the best defense of free people against a tyrannical government is widespread gun ownership. This is an argument that, I think, has been largely rendered defunct by the advances in technology. A tyrannical government in the modern age can call not just upon overwhelming military might against even a large group of resisting citizens, but also upon a vast persuasive apparatus that would ensure that the bulk of the population is, if not actively supporting the government, at least non-resisting. As Robert Bork, an American judge and conservative commentator, put it:

"The Second Amendment was designed to allow states to defend themselves against a possibly tyrannical national government. Now that the federal government has stealth bombers and nuclear weapons, it is hard to imagine what people would need to keep in the garage to serve that purpose."
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Re: Guns

Postby Caleb » 06 Jun 2012, 01:47

Michael: That's right. It's impractical to think that citizens could really take on the government through armed force in this day and age (unless the military sided with them, in which case, the citizens wouldn't need guns anyway).

With regard to the right to self-defence, again, I am in favour of this in principle. I guess if things really are that bad, then sure. I just wonder how and why things are at that point in the U.S. and the U.K. (the U.K. being worse off, in my opinion simply because people can't, and aren't allowed to, defend themselves). There are other countries that have high rates of gun ownership, and yet this just doesn't seem to be a problem. There are other countries that lack both the guns and the problems. I suppose I just wonder if it isn't simply possible to avoid the problems in the first place, and thus, render guns (for self-defence) unnecessary.

I have no issue with gun ownership for hunting. I think that's fair enough.

I used to frequent an American libertarian site many years ago, and this was always a huge issue there. Yet it just struck me as being kind of overblown, really.
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Gun control

Postby Gavin » 05 Jan 2013, 01:34

I'm a great admirer of Dalrymple and usually find myself agreeing with everything he writes.

I also agree with a lot that Sam Harris writes, despite him being widely regarded as (and probably regarding himself as) a liberal. I know Mr Harris admires a lot of Dalrymple's work too, hence I found their disagreement over Harris' book The End of Faith quite sad. This is, in fact, the only time I have known Dalrymple offer any kind regret - perhaps the only time he has ever had any reason to do so. Harris argued strongly against Islam and Dalrymple didn't seem to like that.

Mr Harris is, I think, pro recreational drug use (psychedelic drugs such as LSD and the like), yet he is also a moral objectivist. He is surely proof enough that we should be reluctant to either entirely endorse or condemn people as a whole (perhaps even to label them as "left" or "right" or "liberal" or "conservative"), since they can have complex and unexpected views.

He will undoubtedly have enraged many of his fans yet again by writing this realistic essay about the issue of gun control in the United States. I found it interesting - I hope you do too.
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Re: Gun control

Postby Podori » 05 Jan 2013, 07:05

It was an interesting essay, and refreshingly orthodox in the sense that Sam Harris has written about a subject that he understands. I have a mixed view of his work. His first two books, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, presented an interesting case against religious faith. I read his third book, The Moral Landscape, with disbelief at its manifold logical errors and unrealistic assumptions. By the time I got around to reading his essay "A New Year's Resolution for the Rich" - which is an eloquent piece of economic fallacies - I had ceased to consider him a worthwhile author. His moment had passed, it seemed; but maybe his views on guns herald his rehabilitation.

I enjoyed the essay. On the whole, it was a stream of sound reasoning despite its occasional sophomoric remarks. I found his discussion of the interpretation of the Second Amendment to be markedly superficial, which was unfortunate in an essay that treated its other topics with sensitivity to their depth.

Thank you for posting, Gavin. It was worth the look.
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Re: Gun control

Postby Heather » 05 Jan 2013, 16:27

I thought that was a very good and balanced essay. I'm very weary of the black-and-white gun debate going on in my facebook newsfeed (and virtually every news source I read), with my libertarian friends crying "more guns!" and my liberal friends saying "ban all guns!" (My few conservative friends tend to be older and mature enough to stay out of gun politics and sound bites on facebook). I find it interesting that they're actually coming from the same place but arriving at different conclusions. Both sides are assuming that deep down, people are inherently good. Libertarians take this to mean that virtually everyone can be trusted with a gun. Liberals take this to mean that guns have a corrupting influence on our natural goodness. I believe that it's much, much more nuanced than that (and I reject their initial premise as well).

I find it very interesting that people are so up in arms, as it were, about the proposal of placing armed officers in schools - it already happens! My middle and high schools always had an officer on duty. This wasn't because it was an unsafe area - it was, on average, white, middle class, and respectable. Everyone knew the officer was there and that he carried loaded guns at all times. He'd give talks about violence, drug abuse, gang activity, etc. He'd perform searches on cars and lockers when necessary, investigate suspicious activity, assist with discipline and break up rare fights, respond to threats and evacuate the school of necessary (this only happened once in a building I wasn't in, and it turned out to be a prank call). He was an easy-going but authoritative presence, and I think he was one of the few people who could keep some of the more difficult boys in line. I often heard him joking with them, but they didn't dare disobey a direct order from him. He was probably the only fatherly figure that some of them had. I must stress that my school district was not unsafe or abnormal. My husband and many of my friends had the same experience at their respective schools.

I personally don't know where I stand on gun control issues. When I was growing up, my dad and all my uncles kept guns (locked and hidden of course), so I know that gun culture can be very reasonable and safe. On the other hand, America is clearly having issues with mass shootings and gang violence. The solution, if there is one, is beyond me, but I'll tell you all this: I live in a city that is half feral underclass, and I became a gun owner two days ago.
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Re: Gun control

Postby Gavin » 07 Jan 2013, 02:53

I don't think I can blame you, Heather. With so many guns already in circulation this seems to be an intractable problem for the USA. I'd probably get a gun too. I think you need to be able and ready to use it though, as Mr Harris emphasises in his essay. It would be nice to feel supported by the law too, but I suppose this would be a secondary consideration if you have a masked thug creeping up your stairs.

Re. Mr Harris' books, by the way, I think he is a good writer. Very broadly speaking, my own views were:

  • Lying - Disagreed
  • The End of Fath - Agreed
  • The Moral Landscape - Agreed
  • Free Will - Disgreed (but very interesting)
  • Drugs (generally) - Disagreed

He's always an interesting read, I find, because he's a clear writer, he often knows first hand what he is talking about and has, I think, a calm manner in prose just as when he speaks in real life. It is usually some kind of aggression or "argument from ego" that ruins what could otherwise be an interesting intellectual exploration between parties, I believe (in addition to the underhand tactics Elliott noted in another post). If he's wrong, I at least don't doubt that Sam Harris is arguing from the right motives and genuinely trying to understand and clarify exactly what is going on.
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Re: Gun control

Postby Heather » 07 Jan 2013, 13:54

We're lucky to live in a state where the law is on our side in the case of a break-in. We're allowed to assume that anyone unlawfully attempting to enter our home has murderous intent, and we're allowed to kill in self-defense without legal repercussions (but we're not allowed to shoot someone in the back once he's out the door and leaving). My husband plans to spend a lot of time training with the gun, much like Harris' regimen. He's already taken a very involved home-defense course. I'm not currently in a position to train with it, but I know how to shoot and how to use our specific gun (some are easier to use than others and this one is very user-friendly), and I'm mentally prepared to use it to defend my family (God forbid).
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Re: Gun control

Postby Robert » 07 Jan 2013, 16:23

The Second Amendment was passed to protect the infant republic from the British army.
So it was a militia or political measure.
Then, as the US developed, personal protection was another issue, as the ordinary person could be many miles from a police presence.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 is adequate to deal with situations that arise. Only add an amendment so that anti depressants prohibit a person from getting a gun. This was the key factor with the sub human responsible for Newtown and the other young shooters. US youth are being drugged up to the eyeballs. Another consequence of the decline of religion.Yes, and curtail the vile sewer pipe of Hollywood.
Please can Piers Morgan be put in Gitmo - the man is dangerous and inflammatory cretin who is doing more damge to UK/US relations than the whole govt. of George III.

Speaking as an english lawyer I would own a gun in the US out of respect to the laws and my fellow citizens
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Re: Gun control

Postby Caleb » 08 Jan 2013, 01:05

That was a very good article by Sam Harris.

Personally, I have no desire to own a gun. There's no need for me to do so. If I lived in America though, I would probably own at least one though if I could.
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Re: Gun control

Postby Gavin » 09 Jan 2013, 20:30

Mr Harris has had to bat off no end of "arguments" of the kind Elliott documented following his article. I don't know how he finds the energy! Maybe he's started to see how a lot of people on the Left tend to operate now. (Have they never heard the phrase "better safe than sorry?")

Sam Harris not only defends his previous piece but also goes so far as to make the case for guns in the UK. As part of this, he uses an interview with two real life characters, "Steve and Nev". I thought this was well worth people seeing, as these are the types of psychopaths that I actually believe are really quite common in UK.

Just go out around the bars on a Friday or Saturday night in any city and see what kind of vibe you pick up, at street level. Is it a happy one.. or one of potential violence, whereby you feel that if you were to look at someone for just a fraction too long, expletives and violent affray might ensue? I'd say the latter. You certainly have to be careful. That's why casualty (ER) departments are overloaded on those nights. (People are drunk, but I do not believe the solution to this is anything to do with the price of alcohol - it's to do with the force of law.)

In a society where most criminals don't have guns I don't think I would seek to widen ownership (especially as one would be unlikely to be allowed to carry one's gun in the street). The rational thing to do is surely to swallow your pride and ignore people like Steve and Nev and hope you're with a woman who can see the sense of you doing this (though sometimes even ignoring is not enough, since it is read as weakness, like blood to wolves). But I can appreciate all of Sam Harris' reasoning re. the USA.

If I had my way, people like Steve and Nev would be locked up, never to be released. Actually I think we are going to have to build a lot more prisons in the future (and the criminals therein should, of course, work for society, not perfect their pool skills).
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Re: Gun control

Postby Heather » 02 Feb 2013, 14:35

The Newtown Board of Education has voted in favor of armed guards in their schools.

I'm guessing that's too politically incorrect to make the international news!
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Re: Gun control

Postby SeanK » 02 May 2016, 01:02

Just some quick- relevant, I hope- background information. I'm a currently serving police officer in one of the top ten largest cities in the US. I work one of the highest-crime areas in the city, and possibly in the country.

I have been shot at more than once, and criminals with guns are an ever-present threat every day I go to work. (Though I would be the first to say my job isn't that dangerous, as long as you use reasonable care and caution).

That said, I am strongly in favor of gun ownership by citizens.

The self-defense argument is a good one, and not only because guns are "a" means of self-defense- they are the single best means of self-defense for a normal citizen (knives are difficult to use- both practically and psychologically; blunt objects highly variable in effectiveness and range; and other means more than a bit ridiculous- no one is going to be driving a tank to work, due to the gas mileage if nothing else).

A concealed firearm will not alarm anyone, can be readily carried about one's day to day business, has enough range to avoid dangerous and unpredictable melee combat, and can be used with reasonable effectiveness by someone with a modicum of training (though I hasten to add that you must have some training if you are planning to carry responsibly- guns are not toys, nor magic). They are, in their efficacy, almost entirely independent of strength- the old saying was that God created Men, but Sam Colt made them equal. A five foot, 90 lb woman can bring down a 6'6" 220 lb male with comparative ease, using the right firearm.

It is important, of course, that the "wrong" people not be allowed free rein to carry weapons. This is where strict laws against unlawful carry and possession come in. Many (by no means all, or even most) 2nd Amendment absolutists are against these sorts of laws- for example, not allowing felons to carry or possess firearms- but the principle that certain members of society can lose rights by their actions has been enshrined both in common law and common sense for centuries.

It should be noted that I think it is likely that, if we could wave a magic wand and make guns disappear in the US, we would have a safer and less violent society to some extent- not because guns make people more evil, but because the lack of them make evil people less effective. This lack also makes good people doing good work less effective too, but sadly that happens less than the opposite. That said, there is no way to effect such a result- guns will always be with us, and truthfully I think the advantages of an armed society are greater than the admittedly significant disadvantages.

One of these advantages is the "tyranny" argument addressed and dismissed above. In reality, this is still a valid and important argument. First of all, the mere fact that resistance would be difficult against a modern government does not mean that we should shrug our shoulders and make it impossible.

Second, the mere fact that significant (if not necessarily efficacious) resistance is possible has a powerful effect. An analogy might be the concept (in Alfred Thayer Mahan's work The Influence of Sea Power on History in which even a smaller "fleet in being" (such as Germany's during World War I) can, by virtue of its existence, still exert a powerful and potentially decisive effect on the enemy's calculations. Similarly, the threat of an armed uprising, even a short-lived one, can be so dangerous as to prevent tyrannical actions from being taken.

Finally, the mere fact that the US military disposes of nuclear weapons and the like does not imply they will necessarily use them. The US has been involved in numerous wars and so-called "police actions" (as a police officer, I find this formulation particularly amusing) since 1945 and yet has never used them in battle. Simply to threaten to use such overwhelming and utterly destructive force on US soil would be very likely to bring about the downfall of the government. Thus, by presenting a credible threat necessitating massive force, an uprising could force the result wished for without even (at least in theory) firing a shot. More likely, a period of guerilla warfare or similar "direct action" would result in escalation, and eventually the US military would balk, assuming they had any sympathy at all for the resistance forces or their own civilian population.

I should note that such an uprising would needs be the utter last resort- I have read too much of similar insurrections to believe that, even if launched for the best of motives, they would bring anything but tears and lasting horror. Whether the horrors of an insurrectionist war are worse than the horrors of a particular tyrannical government, of course, is left as an exercise to the reader.
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Re: Gun control

Postby Gavin » 03 May 2016, 08:32

Sean, I found that to be a very high quality and interesting first post - many thanks. Please feel free to comment on any other issues at the forum too.
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