Chad Perrin: SOB

11 March 2009

Heinlein’s Law of Arms

Filed under: Liberty — apotheon @ 08:08

Robert A. Heinlein, author of such seminal works as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers (nothing like the movie of the same name, which was created by people who hated the very things Heinlein held dear), once said:

An armed society is a polite society.

It has its (sometimes humorous) implications that rudeness becomes rare when one may have to back up one’s acts with one’s own life, but this is not where the really important implications arise.

The gun of the citizen is akin to the sword of the honorable knight: it is a symbol of responsibility, of duty. It is the tool of the trade of protection — protecting the innocent from the guilty, protecting oneself from the predations of the wicked, protecting individuals from the mob and the civilized from those who would unethically press any advantage.

God made man, but Samuel Colt made them equal.

To a nontrivial degree, gun control laws in the United States (and the colonies that preceded the founding of the US) have their basis in racism. For examples, look back to the French Black Code of 1751. They have evolved well beyond this point, of course. These days, the line drawn between the oppressed class and the privileged class is not one of color, except insofar as it is still sometimes difficult for men and women of color to achieve entry to those rarefied ranks. President Obama is a pretty clear indicator that any hard and fast rules that support the racist application of gun control laws are null and void these days. Now, instead, Obama is surrounded by men with submachine guns much of the time as a matter of daily expectation, while a white man named Dick Heller who lives in the same city had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to beg to be allowed to own and carry a single self-defense weapon. It clearly isn’t a matter of the color of one’s skin that makes the difference these days — though it just as clearly still isn’t the content of one’s character, either.

It’s amazing to me that people just accept arguments that poor little old women are being “protected” by gun control laws from lascivious brutes who would do terrible things to them. The number of women in this country who think guns are bad, terrible threats to their safety appears to be far greater than the number of men. The simple facts of how relative strength plays into things should be an obvious disputation of that view. When a 120 pound woman encounters a 170 pound man bent on doing ill, she is at a staggering disadvantage if she must defend herself — unless she carries the modern descendant of Mr. Colt’s equalizer.

Ideas that with unrestricted, free ownership of firearms the streets would run red with blood, that law and order would fall apart under a prevailing “Wild West” environment (which was never really as wild as people seem to think, anyway) are disproven over and over again. When the assault weapon ban ended, the streets didn’t run red with blood. When Florida became the first state to enter a new era of shall-issue policy for issuing concealed carry permits, the streets didn’t run red with blood. When Kennesaw, Georgia actually passed a law that “required” (there are ways around it if you really don’t want to) all heads of household to maintain a working firearm, the streets didn’t run red with blood. On the contrary — crime rates dropped precipitously. While Kennsaw’s population climbed quickly, its burglary and violent crime rates remained fairly constant, hovering around zero percent. While nationwide violent crime rates continued to climb, Florida saw an immediate and significant drop in violent crimes after the passage of its shall-issue law. I don’t really know whether there was a measurable change in crime rates after the end of the assault weapon ban, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t change a thing, because the only way it would logically have altered crime at all was by changing what perfectly reasonable, safe activities are considered crimes and which are not: a top-mounted carrying handle and a bayonet lug make a weapon no more, nor any less, suitable for violent crime (nor for preventing such crime) in the general case.

Personally, I think concealed carry permits are a bad idea. I prefer Vermont’s approach: no permit needed. That doesn’t stop me from recommending getting a permit, though — even in Vermont, if only for purposes of legal reciprocity with states that require a permit to carry when you travel. While you’re at it, learn the tradition of the American rifleman, and make the life of a responsible gun owner one of the key requirements of your take on the American Dream.

I want to be a better programmer, a better bass player, a better writer, and a better citizen. Toward these ends, I’m trying to make sure I find the time to study the appropriate knowledge and practice the requisite skills, including improving on my skills and responsibilities as recognized and protected by the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

An armed society is a polite society.

A disarmed society is merely docile, as sheep to the slaughter.

Unfortunately, practicing bass has kinda fallen by the wayside. I’ll have to find more time for that, too. Maybe I can forgo a little more sleep.

15 Comments

  1. Well said.

    Comment by n8 — 11 March 2009 @ 08:22

  2. I agree that Western societies should push for more honor and responsibility. In particular, being a citizen should be seen as something that can be removed and should have a lot more importance than it has today.

    Native americans, Sioux I believe, would burn all the possessions of a murderer or give them to the wife of the murdered. They were exiled and had to bring back an animal they would have killed with their bare hands to make up for the loss and be reintegrated. Sorry, this is a bit of a second-hand story, I believe it is reported in Tristes Tropiques: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Tristes_Tropiques

    Guns don’t help being more polite. Rules and knowing what the rules are helps. Having the feeling you lose something important helps.

    The real problem is that some feel they have nothing left to lose. They don’t feel they are part of anything worth it.

    Comment by Antoine — 11 March 2009 @ 09:14

  3. Guns don’t help being more polite.

    If that’s what you think was said, I can only surmise that you must have missed the point. Start (again) here:

    The gun of the citizen is akin to the sword of the honorable knight: it is a symbol of responsibility, of duty. It is the tool of the trade of protection — protecting the innocent from the guilty, protecting oneself from the predations of the wicked, protecting individuals from the mob and the civilized from those who would unethically press any advantage.

    Comment by apotheon — 11 March 2009 @ 12:29

  4. In a modern society a citizen does not have the prerogative of identifying people as guilty and does not have the prerogative of exerting violence. The fact that protection of the self is not condemned is because the State recognizes no other reasonable course of action and not because it supports it. The monopoly of force, efficient or not, is still one of the foundations of the State.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that I agree with that. It’s just that it is the way that I think things work (though not necessarily how they should.)

    Fred

    Comment by the_blunderbuss — 11 March 2009 @ 02:30

  5. Chad, your approach to this issue is utterly alien to me. I walk the streets calmly, yet I don’t have a gun and can’t really fight unarmed, either. There’s little to be afraid of, except maybe in some particular locations in Helsinki (but I don’t live there). Here, guns are something that people use for (1) hunting (2) in the army or as a police (3) for some other reason. I personally don’t know anyone who has a gun for self-defense. It may be relevant that 4/5 of Finnish males serve at least half a year in the army and hence can use at least the guns trained there.

    Guns simply are not part of normal life, for the great, great majority of people. They are not relevant. They have nothing to do with being or not being a citizen.

    I don’t think that limiting or making guns easier to get would have much of an effect on crime rate (here or there). It is more a cultural matter. Laws don’t matter very much until culture changes, and changing culture through laws is not an easy proposition.

    Comment by Tommi — 11 March 2009 @ 03:15

  6. the blunderbuss:

    In a modern society a citizen does not have the prerogative of identifying people as guilty and does not have the prerogative of exerting violence.

    Anyone who initiates force against me is deemed to be guilty of initiating force against me. To the extent necessary, and to my advantage, to respond defensively, I will do so. That’s all the “guilt” I was talking about.

    Tommi:

    I walk the streets calmly, yet I don’t have a gun

    That was true of me as well, for a while. Only the second clause has changed.

    That doesn’t change the fact that I am more prepared to defend myself, if such is needed. It’s not a universal solvent, to be sure, but it improves my odds. That’s all we can really ask — isn’t it?

    guns are something that people use . . . as a police

    There’s a reason for that — because the world is not as safe a place as we imagine when we calmly walk down the street, going about our business. Statistically, we are unlikely to be the target of violence at any given moment, but that doesn’t mean that we are literally safe from violence.

    As the only halfway decent character in Alien vs. Predator put it, I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

    Guns simply are not part of normal life, for the great, great majority of people.

    For people who carry concealed in the US, they generally intrude in life little or no more than a belt buckle. Consider it equivalent to the seatbelt in a car: most of the time, it just sits there, ignored with the exception of putting it on and taking it off as required.

    Most of the time, I don’t even think about the seatbelt. If I find myself in an automobile collision, though, I’ll be glad I was wearing it.

    I don’t think that limiting or making guns easier to get would have much of an effect on crime rate (here or there).

    Criminals overwhelmingly reported a far greater fear of private citizens who own guns than they are of the police. This was the outcome of a survey of convicted criminals who, by definition, have been caught by the police and not killed by a private citizen who owns a gun — and they still report greater fear of the private citizen.

    This is why greater prevalence of (legal) firearms leads to lower violent crime rates. Statistics bear this conclusion out, measuring before and after crime statistics in places where gun control laws have undergone significant changes. It’s true that cultural factors play a part, but those are mostly measured across geographic divisions, whereas the factors related to legal gun ownership as a causal influence are more properly measured across finite periods of time, particularly in cases where other factors either don’t change significantly or change in a manner that demonstrably contradicts the final outcome (such as the increasing population of Kennesaw coupled with the low violent crime rate).

    Laws don’t matter very much until culture changes, and changing culture through laws is not an easy proposition.

    Changing laws through culture may be easier than you think. The problem is that changing laws in a predictable and intentional manner isn’t what’s likely to happen. The most significant cultural changes tend to be non-mainstream, accidental, and overwhelmingly negative when politicians set out to change culture through legislation.

    That’s why prohibition (both the alcohol prohibition of the early 20th century in the US and the drug prohibition of the late 20th and early 21st century in the same country) has proven so disastrously negative in its effects, overall.

    Comment by apotheon — 11 March 2009 @ 06:14

  7. Anyone who initiates force against me is deemed to be guilty of initiating force against me. To the extent necessary, and to my advantage, to respond defensively, I will do so. That’s all the “guilt” I was talking about.

    I’m currently studying Ninjitsu, I’m not even proficient at it but I know that a well placed strike can quickly disable or, should you choose to do so, even kill a person. In the event of being attacked I also know that I will use whatever force and method necessary to stop the attacker and put and end to the situation. I also think I am better off knowing how to defend myself than not knowing even when the chances of an attack against me are lower than what the local news programs and TV shows might want me to believe. So I think that, in principle, I agree with you.

    The thing is that weapons (firearms) are, I feel, too immediate. Do I want a society where everyone has the ability to defend himself to the point of being able to strike someone dead? Not necessarily, but I could certainly live in one. Do I want a society where the measure of force applied to defense is the force of a projectile shot from the barrel of a gun (and only that force) or even the menace of such force? Not really.

    Then again this point is moot by the mere presence of guns. If someone has access to them in order to defend himself, I need access to equal or greater force because their mere existence increases the threat level I must reasonably be prepared to face. This is true even in a society where civilians do not carry guns and all the guns are carried by the police or the army.

    Having said that, I still feel uncomfortable with the alternative.

    Fred.

    Comment by the_blunderbuss — 12 March 2009 @ 05:03

  8. The thing is that weapons (firearms) are, I feel, too immediate. Do I want a society where everyone has the ability to defend himself to the point of being able to strike someone dead?

    If it’s a good society where everybody is happy and friendly with one another, I don’t care. If it’s one where everybody’s evil and nasty and likes killing people, no, I don’t want everyone having the ability to defend him/her self with lethal force. If it’s anything like the real world, where killing is relatively rare, but bad people do prowl the edges and rot does invade the heart of society, threatening life and liberty — well, then, yes, I absolutely do want everyone (who hasn’t demonstrated a need to be shot or locked away) to have access to lethal force for self defense when needed. It is in part that access to the means of self defense that helps deter the would-be predator.

    I’d be just as happy with nonlethal tools such as pepper spray and Nerf bats, if they were as effective both as deterrent and as direct means of stopping a determined attacker. They aren’t, so I’m happy to have a firearm in case of need. When a firearm isn’t necessary, I can fall back on nonlethal force (such as years of exposure to a number of martial arts, including aikido), but not everyone has the same experience, and there are times when that’s just not enough.

    even in a society where civilians do not carry guns and all the guns are carried by the police or the army.

    I’d say especially in such a society. Disarming the populace is a popular preparatory stratagem for plans of genocide and tyranny, after all.

    Comment by apotheon — 12 March 2009 @ 08:51

  9. I agree with you on several points, although I’m curious about your opinion about something I said Chad. It’s this…

    Do I want a society where the measure of force applied to defense is the force of a projectile shot from the barrel of a gun (and only that force) or even the menace of such force?

    What I was trying to express is that I feel (perhaps from lack of training in the area) that I have less control with regards about the potency of the force applied when using a firearm than (let’s say) when using Aikido or Ninjitsu (which apparently is spelled Ninjutsu in English?) I can certainly aim, but I can’t choose the force of the proyectile nor back away at any point after firing. It is true that a strike is fast enough that you can’t actually back away after striking, but I can surely choose how will I strike and where.

    Maybe what I’m concerned about is that people should receive the proper training for the handling of firearms prior to being able to carry them (I suppose.) Partially from the idea that even when armed myself, I can be killed be the incompetence of another gun wielder.

    I feel like I’m not expressing myself very well today. You’re free to try to extract some meaning out of this any way you can interpret it. Glad to see you are writing here and I hope you are feeling somewhat better.

    Fred.

    Comment by the_blunderbuss — 13 March 2009 @ 05:56

  10. guns are something that people use . . . as a police

    There’s a reason for that — because the world is not as safe a place as we imagine when we calmly walk down the street, going about our business.It makes the news if police actually kill someone, accidentally or not. It is not like the police actually use the guns that much, for shooting at least.

    This is why greater prevalence of (legal) firearms leads to lower violent crime rates. Statistics bear this conclusion out, measuring before and after crime statistics in places where gun control laws have undergone significant changes. It’s true that cultural factors play a part, but those are mostly measured across geographic divisions, whereas the factors related to legal gun ownership as a causal influence are more properly measured across finite periods of time, particularly in cases where other factors either don’t change significantly or change in a manner that demonstrably contradicts the final outcome (such as the increasing population of Kennesaw coupled with the low violent crime rate).
    Can you provide links or citations? Death penalty, for example, does nothing to deter crimes. Nothing statistically meaningful, anyway, from what I know.

    There was alcohol prohibition in Finland, too, at one point. There was more illegal alcohol and, hence, more poisonous alcohol consumed, which are certainly bad things. I would not be inclined to generalise that to restrictive gun laws.

    Anyways, the idea that gun ownership somehow gives citizenship or is utterly bizarre, from my point of view. It is something I might be inclined to explore in a roleplaying game, not something I’d expect to see in modern society.

    Comment by Tommi — 13 March 2009 @ 08:09

  11. the blunderbuss:

    What I was trying to express is that I feel (perhaps from lack of training in the area) that I have less control with regards about the potency of the force applied when using a firearm than (let’s say) when using Aikido or Ninjitsu (which apparently is spelled Ninjutsu in English?)

    One has less fine-tuned control over the management of computer resources when using a high-level programming language like Ruby than when using a very low-level language like assembly language (about as low-level as it gets without just breaking open the hex editor), but I don’t want to implement a regular expression engine with assembly language just to have a simple text search script, or that I want to do Web development in assembly language. I have less precision using a car to get from point A to point B than walking, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t use anything but shoes as vehicles. There’s less precision using a lever than using my hands directly, email than in-person discussion, or — as you suggest — a gun than a well-applied wrist lock. They still provide important benefits, though.

    (re: ninjutsu — the term “jutsu” basically means “technique”, and “jitsu” is to “jutsu” as “thru” is to “through”, in that it’s the way people started spelling it out of some kind of phonetic laziness; the first vowel sound in “jutsu” is more ? than ? or ? when pronounced in the original Nihongo)

    I can certainly aim, but I can’t choose the force of the proyectile nor back away at any point after firing. It is true that a strike is fast enough that you can’t actually back away after striking, but I can surely choose how will I strike and where.

    It is also true that sometimes certainty of effectiveness is more important than fine-grained control over the specific effect. Sometimes, when stopping an attacker is necessary, there simply is no room for error in the attempt to stop him — so the swiftest, surest means of stopping him is more important than the one that provides the most fine-tuned control over how he’s stopped. When your life depends on your effectiveness, you may not want to take the chance that you misjudged the other guy’s level of skill, because by the time you figure that out it could be too late. Then, of course, there’s the simple fact that being righteous doesn’t necessarily mean you have greater skill than the other guy.

    Maybe what I’m concerned about is that people should receive the proper training for the handling of firearms prior to being able to carry them (I suppose.)

    I have yet to see a place where concealed carry permits are issued without requiring a basic standard of certified training — but, regardless of that, the only people who tend to want to carry without training are those who would violate any rules about who is or is not allowed to carry anyway and, in the absence of the ability of anyone to carry a firearm at all, would resort to baseball bats to have an advantage over their victims. When you try to outlaw personal defense weapons, you tend to effectively outlaw only defensive uses of weapons — because those whose purposes are offensive generally don’t care about social niceties like laws anyway.

    Partially from the idea that even when armed myself, I can be killed be the incompetence of another gun wielder.

    I don’t usually go in for this kind of glibness, but . . . maybe we should outlaw cars, barbells, stepladders, and forks, too, if we’re going to take that approach. The sort of attitude implied by an “incompetence of others” justification for outlawing the keeping and bearing of arms is the same sort of attitude that results in the TSA preventing me from carrying fingernail clippers and bottles of shampoo in my baggage if I should choose to use a commercial airline, when the truth of the matter is that the events of 9/11 would certainly have been significantly different if average citizens were allowed to carry firearms with frangible ammunition on commercial flights (as sky marshals do).

    Glad to see you are writing here and I hope you are feeling somewhat better.

    I appreciate the goodwill — and the conversation. I may disagree with some of your arguments (basically because, from my perspective, your premises aren’t well-founded, which is kind of a socially endemic problem worldwide from what I’ve seen), but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the opportunity to discuss such issues as long as everybody tries to take a well reasoned approach to it.

    Life is kind of stressful right now for a number of reasons (some of which haven’t been mentioned publicly), but I’m sure I’ll manage to carry on, mostly as well as I ever do.

    Tommi:

    It makes the news if police actually kill someone, accidentally or not.

    . . . sometimes.

    It is not like the police actually use the guns that much, for shooting at least.

    You might be surprised, actually — such as by how often the police botch a raid in the US. (Note that the linked map is just information the Cato Institute has managed to collect, and police departments are unlikely to willingly share such disastrous errors with critical organizations like the Cato Institute.)

    Can you provide links or citations?

    Not off the top of my head. I have seen such studies, but don’t have them handy right now, and don’t know how easily I could find them again. If I get around to it, I’ll see if I can find them, but no promises. Feel free to just agree to disagree if I don’t: I’ll totally understand, and respect the difference of opinion in the absence of cited statistics. I’ve got a lot going on in my life — I’ve always got a lot going on, it seems, which can interfere with finding the time to find stuff like that, but now is even more hectic than usual.

    Death penalty, for example, does nothing to deter crimes.

    The death penalty is a completely different ball of wax, for a number of reasons — most of which boil down to either other factors skewing and disrupting its deterrent effect or a lack of immediacy and certainty making it fairly ineffective against people who can’t even plan ahead well enough to realize that police radio is faster than a stolen car (for instance).

    In fact, in some cases, the death penalty may actually increase the likelihood of criminal behavior, similar to the way mandatory sentencing laws (like “third strike” laws) may increase the likelihood of a burglar killing a witness. Hell, in some cases, because of all the mandatory appeals involved, murdering someone in a way that guarantees the death penalty may ensure a better chance of getting away with your malfeasance than committing a nonviolent crime. (I’m not saying we should eliminate mandatory appeals, considering the finality of the death penalty as a punishment, of course — just that unintended consequences may lead to the opposite of a deterrent effect in some cases.)

    There was alcohol prohibition in Finland, too, at one point. There was more illegal alcohol and, hence, more poisonous alcohol consumed, which are certainly bad things. I would not be inclined to generalise that to restrictive gun laws.

    Mind-affecting substance prohibition and firearms prohibition aren’t exactly analogous, so of course the effects of such laws will not be exactly the same. There are some things that will be the same, though — such as the fact that outlawing them has the similar effects in each case of:

    1. creating a black market that is more prone to violence than a legal market

    2. making “criminals” out of people who would otherwise be upstanding, law-abiding citizens who do nobody any harm

    3. reducing the effective safety quality control in the manufacture of prohibited goods

    4. eliminating effective, safe means of holding distributors responsible for the ill effects of negligent or malicious business practices

    As for differences . . .

    Prohibition is unlikely to increase the number of firearms in circulation the way it might for alcohol (or other recreational drugs, as in the US), but it does increase the likelihood that a lawbreaker will be better armed than a “good citizen” if they come into conflict, and doesn’t increase the likelihood that there will be a police officer to protect you, whereas drug prohibition doesn’t have the same directly negative effect.

    Anyways, the idea that gun ownership somehow gives citizenship or is utterly bizarre

    I think your use of the word “gives” there is indicative of a fundamental failure of understanding between us. Just as the first amendment of the US Constitution only recognizes, and “guarantees” protection of, a right that exists regardless of any legal constructions, and doesn’t “give” the right, having a gun doesn’t “give” anyone citizenship. It is more a sign of the underlying differences between the citizen’s mindset and the subject’s, and a mark of the fact that one chooses participation in society as a citizen rather than being subjected to it against one’s will, to some degree beyond merely refraining from committing suicide to escape it.

    Comment by apotheon — 14 March 2009 @ 11:10

  12. a white man named Dick Heller who lives in the same city had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to beg to be allowed to own and carry a single self-defense weapon.

    What’s this “carry” you speak of? None of the peasantry can carry in DC.

    Comment by perlhaqr — 14 March 2009 @ 08:01

  13. None of the peasantry can carry in DC.

    Well . . . the theory is that this might be changing after the DC v. Heller decision. I guess we’ll see.

    Welcome to SOB, perlhaqr.

    Comment by apotheon — 15 March 2009 @ 09:54

  14. Chad;

    On police killing people: Cultural differences. It is always a big deal in Finland, and rare. There’s a lot less people in here, too, which might explain the difference, at least to some degree.

    On prohibition: I think a complete banning of guns would be an awful idea. Restrictive laws, not so. For example: Not much criminal activity in the past (shoplifting as a kid or driving too fast should not count; hence, not much) and not suffering from relevant mental disease. Those, I say, are fairly reasonable limits for gun ownership. Perhaps being able to use one might also be a condition. I am not very familiar with the local laws, but I think they are something like this.

    On the entire issue: I consider civilisation and nation etc. to be the things that allow me to walk the streets unarmed and still be safe. To be a citizen, I’d say, one has to be politically active, because that way one can actually change things. Having a gun will not change the society as a whole (barring extreme cases like political murders). Participating in politics just might.

    Comment by Tommi — 18 March 2009 @ 12:00

  15. Not much criminal activity in the past (shoplifting as a kid or driving too fast should not count; hence, not much) and not suffering from relevant mental disease. Those, I say, are fairly reasonable limits for gun ownership.

    Actually, I agree with that — assuming good legal definitions of such statuses. Anyone who suffers from such status of being untrustworthy with a firearm shouldn’t be trusted with a car, bandsaw, or steak knife, either. The protection of, and respect for, an adult individual’s right to own and use any of those things should be the default status, though.

    Perhaps being able to use one might also be a condition.

    I’d have to disagree with that. Should I have to know how to use chopsticks, D&D 4E books, or antique rapiers to be “allowed” to own them, too?

    I consider civilisation and nation etc. to be the things that allow me to walk the streets unarmed and still be safe.

    That certainly makes things safer, in many ways — but safety is not a product.

    To be a citizen, I’d say, one has to be politically active, because that way one can actually change things.

    Having the ability to change things isn’t citizenship — it’s power. Saying that the ability to change things defines citizenship strikes me as being equivalent to saying might makes right. What defines citizenship in a meaningful way (as opposed to a merely legal way) is responsibility, which is kinda the point of the above commentary on Heinlein’s Law of Arms.

    Comment by apotheon — 18 March 2009 @ 01:13

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