Category Archives: Eleutherianism

What to Do

In discussions about gun violence on news sites and gun control blogs, I’m often asked what my solution to the problem is.

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The incident at Newtown, Connecticut brings particular poignancy to this question.

First, let’s put this problem into perspective. The current U.S. population is somewhat over 318,000,000, according to the Census. Adding in non-resident visitors and uncounted aliens and rounding for ease of calculation, I’m calling it 320,000,000. Of that number, roughly 30,000 die per annum from gunshot, of which deaths two-thirds are suicides. That works out to 4.7 / 100,000, a rate that we hadn’t seen since the early 1960s.

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The chart here shows data from 1976 on.

This means that your chances of dying by gunfire in America in raw numbers are one in about 10,600. If you don’t shoot yourself, your chances improve to one in 32,000. The numbers vary from city to city, but in our centers of population, murder victims tend in large percentages to be people with criminal records themselves, so if you’re not a criminal, your odds get even better.

But certainly, 30,000 is too many. The answer to this problem in the eyes of some is gun control, but as regular readers know, that is something that I regard as a violation of the rights of good people. Is there another answer?

Submitted for your consideration are my suggestions for reducing violence of all types, including firearms violence, in this country:

1. End the War on Drugs.

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We’ve had a number of efforts at prohibition of substances, going all the way back to attempts at drying up the nation in the nineteenth century, but our current efforts at banning classes of entertaining drugs other than tobacco and alcohol got going for serious in the 1970s. In the forty years since, we’ve wasted a trillion dollars, and half of all federal prisoners are in for drug crimes.

As we saw in the 1920s during the Prohibition of alcohol, we are seeing again: Banning a substance only encourages criminal smuggling, gang warfare, collateral damage, and the ruining of lives of many who merely possess the forbidden fruit. Addiction should be treated as an illness, not a crime, and all recreational substances should be regulated in the manner that our two legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol, are. All who were convicted for mere possession should be immediately released and pardoned to remove the stigma of a criminal record.

2. Incarcerate violent offenders for longer terms.

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Once drugs cease to be a criminal matter, we will solve the problem of overcrowded prisons. This will create room for violent offenders. Criminals who use a firearm in the commission of a crime can have extra time added to their sentences.

3. Improve schools.

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As a teacher, I’ve gone on at length here about education reform. To sum up, we need to spend more money to pay teachers what they’re worth, to reduce class sizes, to repair and upgrade facilities, and to offer a wider selection of classes. The goal here is to provide all students with a chance to succeed. It seems obvious, but the more educated a population is, the less crime that population commits.

4. Improve access to mental health services–with the caveat that privacy must be protected.

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In these incidents of mass shootings, some shooters are seeking revenge against those whom they perceive as having wronged them, but the typical case is a young, white, male, loner with mental health problems. Unfortunately, such individuals don’t often see themselves as needing treatment. I suspect that part of their reluctance involves a fear of being reported, so making privacy a guarantee is important. Of course, young men who head down the road to becoming a mass shooter reach a point of no return. That leads me to the next two points.

5. Stop making these shooters stars.

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As author and space scientist, David Brin, argues, we should treat these mass shooters in the same manner as the Ephesians wished to treat the arsonist who burned down the Temple of Artemis. His name was to be erased and never recalled again. This, of course, will require the voluntary cooperation of news organizations, since we cannot do right by violating rights. But as long as America has a love affair with wacko killers, those nutcases will have motivation.

6. Address bullying.

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Here in America, the intellectual loner is not a popular type. But a core value of our nation is that we all should be free to express our own individuality. That is one of the key messages that should be taught until the concept is absorbed. We can be ourselves without demeaning others. At the least, it should be clear that attacking others will not be tolerated.

But there’s more. We’ve created a culture in schools where someone who acts in self-defense is treated the same way as the person who started the fight. One solution to this is to teach martial arts–Krav Maga, for example, since it’s free of the religious overtones of Eastern systems–and make it clear that human beings, even students, have the right to stop physical violence used against them.

These are my answers to the problem, realistically assessed, of violence in our society. We will not eliminate all of it. Violence is in human nature, and Americans are more violent as a culture than other societies, but we can go a long way along reducing it. And we can do so without violating our rights.

How Many Do You Need?

One common meme among the gun control freaks is the idea that a gun’s magazine should be allowed to hold no more than ten rounds. (Or seven, if you have the misfortune to live in New York.) Things like this:

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send them the vapors. And if you have the temerity to say that round limits make no sense, they will sneer that you must be a bad shot if you need more than ten rounds to drop a deer.

There are many things wrong with this point of view:

1. Hunting

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In many states, hunters are limited to five rounds, not ten, indicating what the control freaks would like to see, perhaps–on their way to banning everything, that is. But the constant reference to deer shows a lack of awareness about what firearms are for. Yes, hunting is one purpose. Self-defense is another. To bring hunting into every discussion implies that this use is the only acceptable purpose to which a firearm may be put. However, people defend their lives with firearms, and that needs to be considered.

2. Power

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Not all cartridges are equal, and handgun rounds are much less powerful than rifle rounds. In fact, while a handgun can be used to good effect, unlike what Hollywood wants us to believe, one shot is unlikely to get the job done. A woman in Atlanta, for example, fired six shots at a home invader, five of which hit the man in the face and neck, and he was able to get away, only to be caught later when the cops finally arrived in the area. The woman’s revolver was a .38 Special, a common and worthy self-defense piece. Whatever the typical effect of X rounds of Y caliber happens to be, in this case, five weren’t enough. Had there been a second invader, even more would have been needed.

3. Defense

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The attacker chooses the time and place of the attack. But we as good citizens are obliged to wait. This gives the attacker a tactical advantage. The gun control freaks ask me how many rounds I need. A good answer to that is that I don’t know. That’s precisely the condition that a defender is in. Before the action starts, there is often no way to anticipate how many attackers there will be or how many rounds will be required. The reports that I’ve seen suggest that a gunfight will be over most of the time after three or four shots, which is why I accept necessity and carry only one gun and a spare magazine, typically, but that is not a guarantee. While we all make concessions to what’s practical, I see no reason to tell you how many rounds you may have.

4. Rights

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When gun control freaks ask me why I need X number of rounds, my answer is that the question is wrong-headed. I don’t have to justify to the government why I want so many of whatever. It’s the government’s job to explain what need it has for requesting me to limit myself and beg my permission to enact such a limit.

But since some people are obsessed with limiting magazines to ten rounds, I have a proposal: Let’s make it a separate crime to use a magazine of more than ten rounds in the commission of another crime and apply an extra ten-year sentence for using such a magazine in a criminal act. That way, we all may have as many rounds as we find appropriate, but those who misuse a firearm will receive additional punishment for their evil ways.

On the Origin of Rights

Regular readers will know that I spend a great deal of time talking about rights, particularly gun and marriage rights. But in the course of writing these articles and in discussing the concept elsewhere, I’m often asked where rights come from. There are several typical notions to answer that.

1. Law

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The Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest codifications of law that we have. It’s stated purpose is to establish justice in the land. There is also a great deal of talk about the gods, but we’ll get to that later, and it’s not the main point of the Code. The idea here is that the law creates the rights of the people whom it governs. I hear that view expressed by those who tell me that I have no rights that the Constitution doesn’t grant me.

The problem here is that what the law gives, the law can take away. That makes rights essentially no better than privileges. Now certainly, a contract establishes rights held by the parties involved. And civil rights are those that we have by virtue of belonging to a given society. But if we apply that same reasoning to something like freedom of expression, we rapidly will end up in a situation where only such speech as our leaders accept will be tolerated.

2. Consensus

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The Magna Carta arises out of a tradition called common law. That came from the Germanic tribes of northern and western Europe that valued tradition and the agreement of people who were closely related to each other. The notion of a trial by jury is from the same tradition–in other words, a group of one’s fellows must agree on a verdict.

That isn’t unique to Germanic cultures–including English-speaking nations. The ancient Greeks had a similar idea, and there we have examples of how consensus can go wrong. Citizens who were lost popularity were ostracized. Socrates was executed after the public will turned against him. Consensus turns rights into a game of popularity.

3. Divine gift

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This invokes images of Charlton Heston coming down the mountainside. It has the advantage of elevating rights out of political squabbles and implies a permanence to rights. But there are two problems:

If those rights are the will of a divine being, that makes them acts of capriciousness, rather than reason.

If rights come from God or one set of gods, what of people who worship other gods or no god at all?

4. Existence

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John Locke was one well-known exponent of this idea, but it goes back to ancient thoughts of the Stoics and others. The concept here is that we are born with the power of choice. In a state of nature, we have no obligation to take anyone else into account. Living in a society creates expectations of restraining one’s actions for the benefit of others, but a fundamental core of rights always remains with each one of us individually.

The difficulty here is in determining the measure of restraint necessary. But as I discussed before in my first article on Eleutherianism, the principle here is the most liberty possible for everyone. We secure that by first determining whether anyone is harmed by an action and what is the minimum action to rectify or prevent that harm. A gay couple enjoying the benefits (and burdens!) of marriage cannot harm anyone outside that relationship and is, in fact, a good for society by making relationships more stable. Guns, alcohol, and marijuana are more problematic, but simple requirements like prohibitions against driving drunk or discharging a firearm randomly within a city can handle the potential wrongs. We’re often told that we can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, but that presumes that no actual fire is burning, and it ignores the fact that we don’t leave our tongues or brains outside the theater–though many filmmakers wish we would, seemingly.

The idea of natural rights is also connected to the belief in rights given to us by divine will, but not necessarily so. My argument is that we have rights by virtue of our being able to choose. In principle, it is not required for us to justify our actions. It is the burden of government or society to explain why our actions must be restrained and to beg our permission to do that. But fundamentally, government and the law should defend our rights before, above, and beyond all else.

More of my writing can be found here.