Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

April 21, 2007

The W-88? That’s perfect for home defense.

by tarran

Often when I discuss victim disarmament gun control with its supporters, I am confronted with the question. “Do you think we should allow people to own machine guns, F-16’s or even nuclear weapons?”

I always answer “Yes, of course”. To me, the question is not how deadly the weapon, but how its owner wishes to use it. If someone wants to waste their time and money building a superweapon that they will then use peaceably, or just admire in a glass case, it is no skin off my nose. After all, so long as they don’t attack other people with them or damage other people’s property, they have a perfect right to enjoy themselves however they wish.

Are there people who wish to own F-16’s and nuclear weapons so that they can kill people? Definitely – members of the Armed Services Committees in Congress, for example. But, without tax-payer funds how many of them could really afford to commission such weapons? Even with economies of scale, an F-16 costs something like $10,000,000 to build and about $5,000 per hour in fuel and maintenance to fly. Additionally, firing the weapons systems can cost up to $1,000,000 per sortie. If forced to work productively to earn their keep, how many of people would have the free time to design, build and practice with such weapons? How many of them would settle for the reduced mayhem of a cruise missile when they can kill a larger number of people with a cheaper and more reliable low-tech truck-bomb made out of fertilizer?

Let us be realistic: without government demand for them, I don’t think nuclear weapons or even F-16’s would exist. They are expensive to build, and of limited use. They require a significant amount of industrial infrastructure, including hundreds of factories,hundreds of engineers, and thousands of workers to build, maintain and support them. In the absence of significant consumer demand for these superweapons, all those resources would be invested in other more profitable ventures, like the flying cars we were supposed to get by the year 2000.

I honestly think the legality of the ownership of squad weapons or fighter jets or ICBMs is irrelevant. A dedicated, would-be mass murderer will have an easier time killing a bunch of people with rifles, hand-guns or homemade bombs than with an F-16. It is far better that we allow these weapons to fail on the market place than to outlaw their ownership.

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  • Ted

    Very well put. I had not thought of it in quite those terms before.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Adam Selene

    But it’s very true. And, actually, so far as I know there are no laws prohibiting the private ownership of nuclear weapons in the United States. There are laws about the sale of certain items to foreign nationals.

    Think about it this way. If the private ownership of nuclear weapons is legal, who is going to sell it to you? The US Government certainly won’t. So, those who wish to possess such weapons to use them, are going to have to purchase them illegally, or build them on their own. That sounds kinda like the world we live in today. Hmmmm, so what’s the difference?

    The key difference is whether we actually believe in the philosophy that underpins the US Constitution, or not. That philosophy holds that the individual is more important than the collective group. It says that individual rights trump collective utilitarianism. The Right to Keep and Bear Arms is not granted by government, rather it is protected by government. There is a significant difference between those two positions.

  • Tom Gellhaus

    I recently decided to use the term “strong property rights” to distinguish this viewpoint, which I agree with. Basically, I believe a person has an inherent right to own, trade, buy, or sell, ANYTHING. Like you said, it is the USE to which something is put, that determines whether someone else’s rights are violated.
    This also includes the right of refusal to sell. To me, eminent domain is NEVER morally acceptable.
    I know the adjective “strong” may put off some purists, who can definitely argue that “property rights” should automatically convey the “strong” character I speak of…but these days with the term being misused too often, the watered-down version (which imho accepts the validity of eminent doman) seems to dominate.

  • Joshua

    To me, the question is not how deadly the weapon, but how its owner wishes to use it.

    There, as they say, is the rub. Until a crime is actually committed, malevolent intent is usually very hard to discern – and until such intent is identified, the law must treat everyone equally. That is, either anyone may legally procure any given type of weapon, or no one may.

    Given that we are rapidly approaching a future when the first evidence of someone’s malevolent intent might be a mushroom cloud over a wiped-out American city, one can be forgiven for very strongly preferring the latter option.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Adam Selene

    Joshua, preventing a citizen from owning a nuclear weapon by passing a law will do nothing to prevent a malevolent person from owning one. This is the perfect reductio ad absurdum for gun control. Ban the possession of nuclear weapons by private citizens and then wait and find out if it prevents the acquisition and use of a nuclear weapon by criminals.

    Certainly the nuclear non-proliferation treaties (essentially international law making it illegal for anyone other than the Big 5 (USA, UK, France, USSR, China) to own a nuclear weapon didn’t work so well. Now that Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, India, Taiwan and possibly others have nukes. I would argue that the proliferation of nuclear weapons generally makes wars of aggression less likely.

    The proliferation of private firearms ownership makes aggressive personal behavior less likely as well. Except to those who want to take them away, of course, who ascribe all sorts of nefarious behavior to individuals.

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