Going Unarmed Is an Antisocial Act

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

All States provide protection. That is the primary justification for their existence.

The reality can be a bit more complicated, of course.

To be sure, there have been times and places where governments have actually provided protection. George Washington’s army actually provided protection against--well, I guess it was against the government that had previously provided protection for the colonials--and was still providing it for those colonials who remained loyal to the king . . . against George Washington’s army! Of course there were other colonials providing their own protection, maybe even against both of these--and some Indians as well--known as militias.

Armies going around protecting people typically do not provide this service for free; protection can be a hazardous business, and high risk implies great cost. Any farms in the area will be stripped clean, and money will be sucked out of the economy. Other bad things can happen too, such as rape. After a while, one might wonder if the protection (or protection racket?) is worth the cost. The state’s propagandists have the job of convincing you that it is.

Still, the fact remains that there are bad people out there who prey on others, so protection is needed. I think we can reasonably take this as a given.

The libertarian solution to the protection problem is twofold: market-based protection, and self-defense (which includes vigilance committees). There are a couple of problems, though.

It may well be that the market can provide protection services, and relatively efficiently, too. Even now, with ubiquitous state “protection,” a market for true protection still exists. This would certainly become a very big business, with lots of providers, absent state protection.

However, “when seconds count, a cop is only minutes away.” This applies just as much to market-based defense as to state-provided defense. In other words, the protection is not very good. And it’s not very cheap, either; not near as cheap as buying a gun.

The other problem is that, when you hire protection out, you create a tendency toward the creation of states. This point is arguable, but I think the case can be made.

Free Riders

When people start carrying firearms concealed, the risk goes up for predators, because they can never quite be sure their selected prey is not armed. When the risk goes up, some of them find another line of work, and others get killed. The number of predators is reduced. People who don’t carry concealed then harvest this benefit. They are free riders.

The same effect occurs with market-based defense. If you hire a company to defend you, your neighbor, who does not, becomes a free rider. Certainly, there will be attempts by free market providers to defend only those who pay them, but typical events where defense is needed usually do not include a break in the action to determine what company (if any) is responsible for defense of the person under attack. The providers will just have to show up and defend, and then after the event is over, try to recover their costs.

In both cases there are free riders, but the incentives created in these two scenarios are different. In the first, the individual carrying a firearm does not care that others derive benefit from his carrying it, or he may even be pleased it happens that way. In the second case, the purchaser of protection services wishes the free rider would also contribute, so his own cost would be reduced; and the providers wish to expand their market. Naturally, after a while, the providers would start thinking that their service is so important that the free riders should be forced to pay. And their clients who do pay would agree with them. This is the beginning of the state, and is more probably the historical genesis of the state, than the other hypothesis--that bandits simply came in and took over.

Of course, the state has no problem with free riders. It just taxes the shit out of everybody.


People who do not defend themselves are passive consumers of protection. The state likes passive people, and it promises protection. Of course, the same people who are passive consumers of protection are likely to be passive consumers of “education” or information as well. The state promises that service, too. After a while, with this information provided by the state, the consumers start to think the only way protection can happen is when the state provides it; or they might think the only way it can be provided “fairly” is via the state; or they might think that competing providers like vigilance committees are evil in some way. If you want to see an example of the perfect state, read Ira Levins’ This Perfect Day. In that book, everybody is a passive consumer.

One might even go so far as to suggest that passive people are necessary for the state’s existence.

Propagating Mayhem

When a person is attacked, he has a choice: either fight off the attack, or submit. The former course increases risk to the attacker, who may well end up dead. (Interviews of violent criminals in prison reveal over and over, that they fear armed victims a lot more than they fear cops.) The latter course decreases risk to the attacker, and his success encourages him to continue preying on people, as a rewarding pastime. He just has to be careful to get it done quickly and efficiently, because “when seconds count, a cop or free market protector is only minutes away”. He may develop the incentive to simply kill his victim as the most efficient method. Dead people make poor witnesses.

From a societal point of view, the latter course is definitely substandard. We want predators stopped, and it doesn’t much matter how they are stopped. The more successful predators there are in a society, the uglier that society is.

Actually, there is a third choice available to a person under attack, and that is escape. However, that too does not increase the risk to the predator, even if he is unsuccessful in his attack. Not all people are in a position to escape, either; think of a mother with small children.

The Government Protection Dole

Those libertarians who favor market-based protection over self-defense, I wonder what they are doing for protection right now? Are they buying their protection on the market, or getting it from the state? How is a market alternative ever going to grow, if you don’t support it with your patronage? This reminds me of libertarians who decry government involvement in schools, but still send their kids to a government school. Faint-hearted libertarianism, I suppose. “Do as we say, not as we do.”

Most libertarians expect the Federal Reserve to finish up its destruction of the dollar, thus precipitating a total collapse of the economy; and soon, too. How are people on the government protection dole going to survive this? Having no experience or tools or infrastructure for self-defense, will they be any better off than the inner city folks on the food dole?

The Bottom Line

Self-ownership means we can do anything we please with ourselves, as long as we do not actively harm someone else. Unless I’m mistaken, self-ownership does not compel us to take the more socially acceptable course in defense, which is self-defense and vigilance, rather than purchase on the market. There is no duty or obligation to choose one over the other.

That said, we all have an incentive to see society work well and safely. We want to see the population of predators dry up. Thus, even absent an obligation, there still is (or should be, without the Ministry of Propaganda confusing things) social pressure to defend yourself.

For what it’s worth, “studies have shown” that the safest course in an attack, for the victim, is self-defense.

Do the right thing. Arm yourself, and go about your business armed. Join vigilance committees, or their modern-day equivalents such as Neighborhood Watch, and help form them if you need to. Act as a free person would act.

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 79