The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I must admit that I am extremely bad at placing myself in another's shoes. And this leads to a bit of a problem.

Two days ago I wrote a post about the shooting in Tucson, Arizona. It was read by Dennis Sanders, whose blog I often enjoy and who comes close to me in a lot of political beliefs. He responded on this blog and also put up a post on his own blog, referencing mine, which led to some interesting discussion.

One point that was raised was that there are people who hunt for pleasure, and adherence to my usual principles (though Dennis doesn't specifically make this point) should mean that, as long as they don't harm other people, they ought to have the rights to enjoy their pastime. (This, as a rationale for the Second Amendment, would seem unfaithful to its original intent, as other hobbies have no such protection. But it does seem faithful to the libertarian principles I generally espouse.)

This is a hard point to answer. I can't see what pleasure anyone can derive from lying in wait for an innocent animal, who never did you any harm, and shooting it dead when it comes into view. And so, I cannot see how to reconcile my desire to have a life unthreatened by gun violence (much more in the spirit of the "right to life" about which Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence than is the concern for unborn fetuses which those three words, "right to life," usually signify) with these hunters' right to the "pursuit of happiness." The main thing is, I cannot see what limitations on guns would be acceptable to a hunter, because I cannot see what really is the essence of the activity that gives them pleasure.

The saving grace is this: I know I will never see a total ban on privately-owned guns. The Supreme Court's decisions on Second Amendment issues make this clear. So wasting effort on reconciling these two is useless. What is necessary is reconciling the Supreme Court's position on the Second Amendment with the demands of a safe life. And that is a very different, and difficult, thing.


Asclepius said...

...or even the act of marksmanship, which is something I frequently enjoy through a handgun. The pleasure I derive from it is in the sense of skill that one develops over time. I haven't hunted much, but there is a sense of joy in killing your own deer, dressing it, and eating the meat. It keeps you close to the land in a kind of way that we've lost due to commercial food systems (which I am, by no means, criticizing).

Not to mention that it keeps the deer population from going buck-wild, pun intended.

We need good, sensible gun laws which do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of wackos who do things like this.

And yet, at the same time, we cannot let those who would abuse a morally neutral tool such as a firearm to interfere with the rights of private citizens to use these things for non-criminal means.

Opinionator said...

Asclepius: I can't really object to anything you have said in your post. As I said, I can't share your positive feelings about it, but your points are valid.

But I wonder what sort of gun laws can be written which "do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of wackos who do things like this," while "...not let[ting] those who would abuse a morally neutral tool such as a firearm ... interfere with the rights of private citizens to use these things for non-criminal means." I would very much like to hear what ideas you and others have. It just seems to me that the potential of using firearms for criminal means is so great that reconciling it with the right to use them for non-criminal means is extremely difficult.

Asclepius said...

I agree that this is a difficult thing to reconcile. As long as there are guns (and... anything else), there will be those who abuse them.

It's a great lose-lose situation.

On the one hand, extremely tight gun owner laws (Chicago, D.C.) actually correlate to no change in violent crimes. In Chicago, I know people currently breaking the law because they live in bad parts of town and need them for safety. Strict gun control only works if you can actually reduce the overall number of guns in circulation, but with millions of them out there (and I wonder, how many hundreds of thousands in Chicago), gun-related crimes will continue.

All pragmatism aside, the question you pose is one that does not carry preeminent importance. As one who shares your libertarian views on a great number of things, I hold that if something is morally neutral, we do a great disservice (an injustice, really) to a populace by withholding it from them, despite the fact that some people will abuse them.

Alcohol and marijuana are two examples of what I'm getting at: neither "good" nor "bad" (in and of themselves, from a classical philosophical perspective) both have the potential to be abused.

And because they can be abused, there is a constant cry to ban them outright, even though they might be applied to "good" or merely "neutral" purposes.

We're a reactionary society in the West nowadays, always looking to find the root cause for any specific tragedy. So to ensure that the Jared Loughner's of the world don't end up causing more damage, we target the morally neutral tool they chose to use.

Notice how the concept of Free Speech -- a moral good -- is not exempt from this emotive lack of sound reasoning. Because of the "crosshairs" from Palin, the talking heads in Washington are clamoring on about how this sort of rhetoric should be banned, even though anyone with at least a thimble full's worth of honesty would yield that Palin wasn't actually supporting taking out someone.

And yet, it's enough in our society to believe that because Jared might've interpreted this in the wrong way (and it's coming out now that he most likely never even laid eyes on it) that we need to end this type of political expression through law.

So in the end, it's not a matter of reconciling the potential for the abuse of firearms with the right to bare arms. Freedom is our ability to choose that which is good; and in any system where you give an individual the right to choose the good, you must live with the consequences: ultimately, there will be those who choose evil.