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The Therapy Sessions
Thursday, April 29, 2004

Guns and civilization

Glenn Reynolds via AfricaPundit:
[I]n the face of evidence that an armed populace prevents genocide, the human rights community has largely gotten behind a campaign to ensure that there will be no armed populaces anywhere in the world.

It seems to me that the human rights community has things exactly backward. Given that the efforts of the international community to prevent and punish genocide over the past several decades have been, to put it politely, a dismal failure, perhaps it is time to try a new approach. International human rights law is supposed to be a "living" body of law that changes with the needs of the times in order to secure important goals -- chief among which is the prevention of genocide. Given that the traditional approaches of conventions and tribunals have failed miserably, the human rights community should be prepared to endorse a new international human right: the right of law-abiding citizens to be armed.

I have no problem with that.

When I lived in Sierra Leone, the country was largely peaceful. Most farmers got by on very little, and for them, gun ownership was out of the question (of course, cost was a major factor). The civil war there started on the Liberian border - small bands of armed boys went into towns, looting and raping. Anyone who protested was killed.

Many of those peaceful, nonviolent farmers are dead today.

In the US, we too had a time where a large percentage of our population farmed. Living far from others out in the countryside, they - like the African farmers - were prime targets for bands of criminals. Except the United States never saw the kind of lawless genocide that Sierra Leone may just now be emerging from.

I believe that the prime difference was the fact that American farmers were generally armed. Criminals certainly existed in the United States in the 1800's, but armed bands ravaging town after town did not. Being a lifelong criminal was risky - sooner or later, you were going to end up on the wrong end of a farmer's gun.

There are many risks to having an armed citizenry, but as Sierra Leone illustrates, there are risks to having an unarmed citizenry as well.

Civilization exists because of the gun, and human rights campaigners with allergies to gunpowder would do well to remember it.

Prior to the gun, learning how to kill effectively took many years of work by strong and dedicated men (swinging swords, throwing spears, shooting arrows are not easy). Being a fighter was a way of life. Men who lived this way had to make a living, and that living was generally parasitic: they lived in the countryside, stealing what they wanted. They watched the roads: traveling in those days was risky business. A merchant had no chance against two swordsmen with years of skill. People made a living by knowing how to kill effectively.

The gun, however, was an equalizer. It is easy to use, and it is deadly in anyone's hands. With a gun, an elderly woman with little training could take out a man built like a warrior. Such power has a tendency to make a thief think again.

Before the gun was generally available, only a fool would live beyond the safety of a town. The general availability of guns coincided perfectly with the advance of farmers into the fertile fields of the countryside, where the nearest neighbor might be miles away. The increased productivity of the farmers allowed towns to prosper, and they were able to concentrate on other jobs. People, when armed, were able to spend more time adding to what they owned instead of hiding it.

The problem in Africa is not too many guns. It is too many guns in the wrong hands.

The family farmer with a gun is usually no threat to anyone.

It is the bandit that is the problem.

Try explaining that to the human rights community, which takes no lesson from the fact that it only prospers in societies protected by good people, armed with guns.

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