The Right to Own Guns

After the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado the gun control advocates are, as many of us on the gun rights community like to say, dancing in the blood. I don’t have much to say about the incident itself, it was a tragedy that likely couldn’t be avoided. With that said I believe it is a good time to explain why individuals have the right to own firearms since many people on the gun rights fence are currently asking themselves that very question.

When asked why individuals should have the right to own firearms many members of the gun rights community will point to the Second Amendment which states, “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.” Advocates of gun control like to point to the part that talks about “A well regulated militia” while gun rights advocates like to point to the part that says “Shall not be infringed.” If you look at the history of this country it’s clear that the founders, by and large, believed individuals should be armed. One flaw in pointing to the Second Amendment is that, while it addresses the legal aspect of gun ownership, it doesn’t address the reason it can be called a right (unless you believe rights are granted by the state).

How can proponents of gun rights claim gun ownership is a right? To answer that we must first answer another question, who owns you? Any of my friends on the left (namely anarcho-communists) will say that you can’t own yourself because you are yourself. If that’s what you believe then this post isn’t for you and you can stop reading now (you can also continue but doing so may not be good for your blood pressure). On the other hand if you believe ownership is merely an extension of self you can safely continue reading without concerns for your blood pressure. Ownership, under libertarian philosophy, generally means having exclusive control over something. Most rights of ownership can be transfered from one individual to another but the right of self ownership cannot for pragmatic reasons. An individual is unable to surrender exclusive control of themselves. Even in a state of slavery, where one person is said to be owned by another, the “owned” individual has the ability to disobey his master. He can refuse to work, attempt to escape, or even attempt to kill his master.

Due to the nontransferable nature of self-ownership one is also the owner of his or her own labor. Labor can be used to produce goods or exchange for other goods. Being a producer means you take resources and alter them in such a way that other people find them useful. Since your labor created the goods they are owned by you and since you can surrender exclusive control over them they are transferable. This is the basis of economics, individuals trading goods for other goods. Usually individuals trade their goods in exchange for money.

A job is nothing more than an agreement where a laborer trades his or her labor to an employer in exchange for other goods (generally money). When you work for $10.00 an hour you’re really trading an hour of your labor to your employer in exchange for $10.00. We must now briefly address what money is.

Money is a medium to facilitate trade. Without money we are left with a barter economy. Barter economies are incredibly inefficient because they rely on double coincidences. Let’s say we have Murray, Ludwig, and Hans. Murray produces eggs, Ludwig produces shoes, and Hans breeds horses. What does Murray do if he wants a pair of shoes? In a barter economy he needs to trade his eggs for shoes. If Ludwig wants eggs this isn’t a problem, but if he doesn’t want eggs this is a problem. What if Ludwig wants a horse? Murray may be able to trade his eggs for a horse and then trade his horse for shoes. This only works if Hans wants eggs though. Money is nothing more than the most salable good. It’s a mechanism to eliminate the problem of double coincidences that make barter economies inefficient. Once money has been adopted Murray can trade his eggs to anybody wanting eggs in exchange for money and trade some of that money to Ludwig for shoes. When we trade our labor for money we’re really trading our labor for the most salable good so we can buy other goods. If you trade your labor for money then the money becomes an indirect product of your labor and thus you have exclusive ownership over it.

Some of your a probably wondering what this has to do with the right to own firearms. Under libertarian philosophy it has everything to do with the right to own firearms. If you are the exclusive owner of your labor and trade it in exchange for money then you are the exclusive owner of that money. As the exclusive owner of that money you can exchange it for other goods, say a firearm. If somebody uses their labor to produce a firearm then they are the exclusive owner of that firearm. Being the exclusive owner of that firearm they may trade it to another. Since you’re the exclusive owner of some money you can exchange that money to gain exclusive ownership of a firearm.

What do gun control advocates want? They want to prevent individuals from using their labor to produce or exchange for firearms. How can one do this? There are only two ways, by having ownership over another or coercion.

If you are the owner of an individual you have exclusive control. In such a case you also own the product of that individual’s labor and therefore can exchange that labor for whatever you desire. If you want to prevent that individual from obtaining a firearm you can simply refuse to allow that individual to exchange your labor (it’s not his labor since you own him) for a firearm. In effect you can only prevent another from using their labor to produce or exchange for a firearm if you have ownership over that individual. Of course, as explained earlier, such a claim is absurd because one cannot surrender exclusive control over themselves to another. That leaves the second option, coercion.

Coercion is nothing more than using the threat of or actual force to persuade or dissuade another. This is the means gun control advocates generally use. When a gun control advocate demands the state pass legislation to control firearms they are really demanding the state use the threat of or actual violence to prevent individuals from producing or obtaining firearms. The incorrectly named assault weapon ban was one of these threats. While this law was in place individuals purchasing or manufacturing new firearms that met the state’s criteria for assault weapons would be kidnapped and held in a cage. If that individual refused to comply with his kidnappers (the police) they would use physical force, even going so far as the murder that individual if he should resist sufficiently. Many gun control advocates claim they support gun control because they oppose violence but this is patently false because coercion is violence and that is the tool gun control advocates most often employ.

Gun control is an absurd idea because it either requires the ability to own another human being or coercion. Under libertarian philosophy one cannot own another for pragmatic reasons. Under United States law one cannot legally own another because the Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery. This means gun control can only be implemented through coercion, which makes advocates of gun control who claim to oppose violence hypocrites and their philosophy paradoxical.