Would Libertarians Vote for Guns?

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’.

2 thoughts on “Would Libertarians Vote for Guns?

  1. @TD: I absolutely agree with you. I too think that liberty should be the highest goal. In some sense that is why I argue that for this kind of reform to come to my country needs to be precisely be preempted by the true establishment of rule of law and property rights.


  2. Let us realise that we’re talking about government, more specifically, the federal government. Do they automatically have the right to arbitrarilly assume absolute control over every situation? Most would answer, No. The founders? Doubly so.
    They saw government as the ultimate threat to liberty. Why?
    Of course, I am generalising; many of the founders were looking for another, more humanistic, king. Most, however, were looking to form a republic of republics where liberty was the highest goal. A compromise was reached:
    There would be a central government whose power was dramatically limited, and would be even more dramatically limited per the Bill of Rights. This was a new thing. Nobody, in notable history had ever accomplished such a thing.
    The big question related to our current issue was, Should we allow the government to attain absolute power through democratic process through force of arms?
    The Second Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights for that purpose: so that the people of any of the particular States would be able to bear arms to defend their property and to be able to form militias to defend the common territory.
    Many of the founders (including Sam Adams and Thomas Jefferson) concluded that this right was necessary for the people to defend themselves against tyranny.
    Supposedly, and the Supreme Court would agree, the purpose of people to band together to defend themselves against the tyranny of the strong central government was eradicated by the War Between the States. I don’t agree.
    You, perhaps, may be confusing liberty with anti-authoritarian. Most authentic libertarians would likely make a distinction between the two. Even most anarchists recognise the use in an arbitrary authority in certain matters.
    My point is that, chaos doesn’t ensue as a result of the lack of government, but as a lack of principle in a society.
    How it is dealt with may very accordingly, but the goal should always be liberty. The highest law of liberty is respect for property, that includes the individual and the fruit of that individual’s labour.
    Of course, we in America have a seriously flawed system, but that should never deter us from the ultimate goal of liberty.


Comments are closed.