"Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest." ~ John Stuart Mill
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
I'd be very scared if confronted by someone armed, and evidently mad or malevolent.
The first type might well do me harm, fatally maybe, because he or she wouldn't understand or be responsible for the actions about to be taken. A young child, perhaps, slashing a kitchen knife while playing some martial-arts fantasy he has dreamed up. Or an adult in a subway, clearly spaced out on some drug. I'd step well back from the platform edge.
Being ”armed” doesn't just mean holding a gun. All manner of artifacts can be used to kill someone, and natural things too; I'd not venture near a clifftop beside a drunk or an enemy. That's true also of deliberate killings, when the perp knows just what he's up to; governments have often used a piece of rope to break their victims' neck and sever the spinal cord. Other murderers have used piano wires and automobiles and bathtubs. Poisons have been popular.
But water is not poisonous if drunk in moderate quantities, and none of those other weapons is harmful in normal use, any more than guns are. It is perfectly obvious to all but government junkies that people are killed not by weapons, but by their wielders. People.
That gives quite a problem to said junkies. The only way they know, to fix any anomaly, is to write a law. Writing and enforcing laws are their sole occupational skills.
So which is it to be: to ban weapons, to ban people, or to ban both?
Consider the weapons-ban first. Outlaw all knives, all piano wires (and so, all pianos), all guns, all subway platforms and so on. Anything that can be used to kill, make it illegal. Easy; then there'll be no killing, right? Don't count on this, but I fancy that even some government people are going to grasp that there's some limit to feasibility there. How exactly does one vanish a cliff? Remove hands that might be used to strangle?
So they back off a little, and consider banning just one kind of weapon: guns, say. Not a bad choice, because guns are very efficient killing devices. Recently I participated in a fast moving online discussion hosted by a famous ”liberal” newspaper, and several – several – of my adversaries were actually proposing a 100% gun ban.
One hundred percent means total; all guns to be eliminated altogether. Did they mean all government guns, included? They didn't say so, and I very much doubt that they had even thought their silly idea through even that far, but if not, they were actively promoting totalitarianism. In any case, how exactly does one disappear 283 million privately owned guns? It's well known that many Americans like to own guns. So suppose they number 60 million and that 10% of them ignore the law to turn them in. One earnest participant proposed a 50 year prison term for such refuseniks. I'm quite sure he hadn't done the math, so I did it for him: taxpayers would on those figures be stuck with a nine trillion dollar bill. Plus the costs of prosecution. Plus the horrendous loss of liberty openly proposed by such as the Daily Kos, whose writer favors a ”A nice visit by the ATF or state police to find out if he really does still have . . . guns.” William Grigg reckons that in California, such visits have already begun.
Alternatively, the junkies might propose banning the people – those with a propensity to kill. At first blush, that looks a lot more promising. At least it recognizes that weapons aren't animate.
All they then need to do is to identify (in advance, of course) those who are bad or mad; and then lock them up or take them out. The German government famously tried the latter in 1939 with respect to the mentally impaired (though because their care was expensive, not because they were dangerous). Some of the difficulty in defining mental illness for this purpose is well explored here by Reason, while the former (the bad guys) are even harder to identify. And what about those who are normally harmless, but who under the influence of some drug become dangerously aggressive? That question may have been central to the Newtown massacre of one year ago this week, where the drug in question was administered under government supervision. No wonder the focus after that mess was placed firmly on the weapons used.
So even the people-banning solution brings the knee-jerk lawmaker some real problems. To euthanize or imprison the mentally ill brings a whole slew of objections about who is and who is not sick and whether either “treatment” is appropriate in a civilized society, while to spot “bad guys” in advance has so far eluded the best efforts of psychoanalysis.
But wait, the now increasingly desperate lawmaker will plead, we can write laws to ban certain weapons to certain people! Perhaps the problem can't be solved altogether, but that's no reason to do nothing at all! We can do something!
Actually no, not even that is possible. Such laws could be written, but not enforced. We know that, because it's what has already been going on, for the last century. It has failed.
From this page I counted four Presidential assassination attempts prior to 1900, and 15 since 1900. Anti-gun laws began before 1900, and if I'd chosen an earlier year, the ratio would have been larger yet, but the bulk of them were written in the 20th Century, so it may be a fair choice. If they had any effect, it was to quadruple the rate – exactly the opposite of their advertised purpose, or a strongly negative correlation. Nor does the overall murder rate since 1960 (after which anti-gun legislation rapidly increased) show any relationship to those laws. In that year it was 5.0 per 100,000 population; it rose to a high of 10.2 in 1980, then fell back to 4.7 in 2011. There are several theories to account for that curious pattern, but anti-gun laws aren't among them.
So writing laws, of any kind, doesn't cut it.
Since government's whole activity is to write and enforce laws, any solution to the problem of violence must therefore be found outside of government and its laws, and there is good reason to expect that in the coming zero-government society, it will be drastically reduced; not just violence by government agents, which is by far the greatest part, but even one-on-one, individual violence. Here are my reasons.
Violence springs from discontent. The assassins just referenced were politically minded men who thought the presidents were leading the country in a terribly wrong direction. Killers who murder in the course of robbery think they can acquire more wealth that way than by doing regular work. Spousal killers feel themselves trapped, bound to an unloved partner ”until death do them part.” Other murderers kill because they see no hope of justice without taking that extreme measure. There's a powerful, inbuilt taboo in everyone that restrains us from killing a fellow human (and suppressing it is a vital part of government's basic training courses in the military) so such an action is taken only in desperation, no alternative being perceived. And in the current law-ridden society, some of them may be right; there isn't.
When government has vanished, that will no longer be so – or only to a vastly smaller extent. There will be no presidential assassins because there will be no presidents, nor any direction in which they ”lead the country.” There will be no rationale for robbery, let alone for murder in the course of it, because there will be no restrictions to making a good, honest living; there will be no unemployment, for example, nor any rules about who may buy and sell what, or at what price. There will be no government rules about marriage – just voluntary contracts, such as will govern all inter-personal obligations. An efficient justice industry will operate for profit in a competitive manner and for the repair of wrongs, not the punitive vengeance of government; so if anyone has a grievance, no systemic shortfalls will prevent its peaceful resolution.
The well known “no justice, no peace” will be replaced by “justice, therefore peace” and contentment – not because of any change in human nature, but because the present system by which everyone's right to govern himself is over-ruled many times every day will give way to one in which all his choices are his own; in other words, the structure of society will fit his nature, for the first time in ten millennia. Discontent may be impossible to eradicate, but its primary cause will have disappeared.
Yes, it may be said, that's all very well for the coming free society. But what can we do meanwhile, to minimize the slaughter of innocents while government continues to exist and to monopolize schooling?
Sorry, I have no idea. I doubt whether, under that circumstance, any such option exists.