I’ve always had the uneasy feeling that I am placed on rather awkward footing as far the traditional political spectrum goes. For instance, I believe that markets have tremendous potential to tackle poverty, I believe liberty is fundamental to a good life and that people are largely self-interested and that this works out for everybody perfectly well. That places me to the right, but then again I am also anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons and anti-religious fundamental- that takes me to the left and then again think ‘environmentalism’ is over-hyped which also takes me to the right again.
So while I would like to celebrate the “arms rights victory” in Washington DC here with the liberty-loving folks I find myself unable to do it.
For Indian readers– The District of Columbia V. Heller is a landmark Supreme Court decision in which the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit became the first federal appeals court in the United States to rule that a firearm ban was an unconstitutional infringement of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the second to expressly interpret the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to possess firearms for private use. The libertarian argument and therefore consequent celebration runs along the idea that banning anything is a constraint on personal liberty, does nothing to make cities or places safer (there is empirical data) and in fact infringes on the capacity for self-defense.
This is the same argument that I and several others make when we argue for the legalization of ‘prostitution’ (for the lack of a more dignified word) in India or an amendment to section 377 which is used to harass homosexuals in India. In theory and perhaps in practice too (in America) it is an extraordinarily valid line of argumentation. Gun control though is something that I am not convinced about and I could make an argument for its existence from a free-market perspective too. The role of the government, limited as it may well be, is to enforce rule of law. It is probably the only thing the government should do- enforce contracts and rule of law. Small but vital nonetheless because none of these free market things would happen without people who followed law.
One of the first things that struck me in America was how the average person crossed the road. Most people here scrupulously watch the red stop sign, and cross in strange angular ways as designated by designer footpaths. No one ever seems to cross diagonally. Indians do not cross roads that way, in fact in most cases we run across roads weaving through cars and cycles. Lack of rule of law in some sense. Imagine a country where you had the right to arms but saw no value to not randomly go on a killing spree. Imagine a country where laws were not even secure enough to make a bus conductor return your change- hello Cameroon.
Would libertarians still vote for the right to bear arms? While I support the right to defend personal liberty I think in transition economies developing property rights, the enforcement of contract and rule of law supersedes considerations of gun freedom. In fact it could even be a disaster, as we increasingly see in India- especially in those parts where rule of law rapidly earns rents in the form of bribes, delivers gun licences and has children shooting each other because they saw it happen on ‘television’.