Why Citizens Should Be Allowed to Bear Arms

The current debate on armed crime is depressingly predictable. Everyone agrees something must be done. Just about everyone agrees this something must include laws against the sale or carrying or simple possession of weapons. More controls on weapons, the argument goes, the fewer weapons on the street: therefore lower levels of armed crime.

Now, this whole line of thinking is nonsense. Many European nations have strict controls on the carrying of weapons. They also have high levels of armed crime. Indeed, we are reaching the point where we shall need to show proof of identity before buying knives and forks.

If we want to do something about armed crime that has any chance of working, we need to rethink our entire approach. I would suggest that, instead of trying to remove weapons from society, the authorities should allow us to keep weapons for defence and to use them for defence.

I am not talking about the right to carry baseball bats or pepper sprays, or even various kinds of knife. These have their uses for defence – but not against a determined criminal who may be younger and faster and more experienced in close fighting. I am talking about the right to arm ourselves with guns – and to use these where necessary to protect our lives and property.

This is not a new approach. It is, rather, a return to the old policy of countries such as Britain. Until the end of the 19th century, anyone in Britain could walk into a gun shop and, without showing any licence or any form of identification, buy as many guns and as much ammunition as he wanted, and could carry loaded guns in public, and could use these for selfdefence. The law not only allowed this, but even expected it. We were encouraged to take primary responsibility for our own protection. The function of the police was simply to assist.

We should go back to this old approach. We should go back because it is a question of fundamental human rights. The right to keep and bear arms for defence is as fundamental as the rights to freedom of speech and association. Anyone who is denied this right – to keep and bear arms – is to some extent enslaved. That person has lost control over his life. He is dependent on the State for protection.

The default reaction to this argument is to cry out in horror and ask if I want a society where every criminal has a gun, and where every domestic argument ends in a gun battle? The short answer is no. The longer answer is to say that more guns do not inevitably mean more killings. There is no evidence that they do. What passes for evidence is little more than an excuse for not trusting ordinary people with control over their own lives.

Take armed crime, both professional and domestic. Britain had no gun controls before 1920, and very low rates of armed crime. Today, Switzerland has few controls, and little armed crime. Those parts of the US where guns are most common are generally the least dangerous. There is no necessary correlation between guns and armed crime.

Focusing on professional crime, gun control is plainly a waste of effort. Criminals will always get hold of guns if they want them. At most, it needs a knowledge of the right pubs to visit. Plainly, the maniacs who carried out the recent drive-by shooting in Manchester do not seem to have read the Firearms Acts 1920-97. They do not seem to have noticed that most guns are forbidden, and that the few that are allowed must be licensed. All control really does is to disarm the honest public, and let the armed criminals roam through them like a fox through chickens.

Indeed, free ownership of guns may often reduce armed crime. The current round of official gungrabbing began after the Hungerford massacre back in August 1987. But the wrong lesson was learned then. Just consider what might have happened had someone else beside Michael Ryan been carrying a gun in Hungerford High Street. He might have been cut down before firing more than a few shots. As it is, he killed nearly 20 people before armed police could be brought in to stop the shootings.

Think of the burglaries, rapes and other crimes that might never happen if the victims were armed, and therefore able to deal with their aggressors on equal terms. Anyone can learn to fire a gun. And nothing beats a bullet. As the old saying goes: “God made men equal, and Smith and Wesson make damn sure it stays that way.”

But let us move away from armed burglars and rapists and the occasional lone psychopath. We need guns to protect us from the State. So far from protecting us, the State is the main aggressor. A low estimate puts the number of civilians murdered by states this century at 56 million – and millions of these were children. In all cases, genocide was preceded by gun control. How far would the Holocaust have got if the Jews in Nazi Germany had been able to shoot back? How about the Armenians? The Kulaks? The Chinese bourgeoisie? The Bosnians? In all previous societies, guns and freedom have gone together. I doubt if our own is any different.

I conclude with our own society. Our authorities have so far done nothing to disarm violent criminals. There is nothing they can do in the future to disarm them. This being so, can you seriously agree with the argument that you should be disarmed, and therefore powerless to defend yourself and your loved ones against the armed street trash who are beginning to turn this country upside down?

Laugh at me. Call me mad. Call me evil. But just remember me when you or your loved ones are being raped, or mugged, or dragged off never to be seen again.


Dr Sean Gabb is the Director of the Libertarian Alliance. It exists to put the radical case for freedom in social, economic and political matters. Its web address is www.libertarian.co.uk. This article was first published on 7 June 2006 in
The Birmingham Post

Better than Zen


To forfeit reality over a dream - no. 

There is great wisdom in that simple sentence of yours.  Reasonable people can argue and disagree about the specifics, or the modalities, or the extent of (needed) 'gun regulation'.  But on the essence of the matter at hand we seem to agree.   


Yes and no, #2

@ vicenc

There probably is more agreement between us than may be apparent.  I certainly agree with your basic general point that "freedom and democracy" are not possible if the majority of the people are not "proud, selfresponsible and willing to stand up for their convictions".   I would even agree with your implicit assesment that "freedom and democracy" are clearly under threat in western Europe today.

However, none of the above obviates the need for government regulation of cars, guns, and so many other things and activities.  The threat to "freedom and democracy", in the European context today, resides IN THE MINDS of people, and not in the scarcity/prevalence of guns in private homes.  The focus should be on the preservation of freedom-of-political-speech and on the 'quality' of the educational system (in the sense of promoting NONideological education) and 'diversity' of media and opinion.  The notion that individual guns in private homes could stop the slide of 'polities' into unfree societies strikes me as unrealistic.   A mytical 'Hans Bauer' with a gun in his own home would not have stopped the slide of Germany into nazism in the 1930's, and the prevalence of guns in Pakistan (for instance) does not make a 'democracy'.   The 'freedom-problem' and its solution resides in the minds of people, not in their guns nor cars.   

Yes and No #3 - Agreed

On this, I can absolutely agree. What guns, arms and weapons can do when handled on anything else than resolutely democratic, freedom-oriented and non-violent (enlightened) values, we can see every day in the news.

Yes, freedom is in the minds and the general culture. In this sense, the weapons issue is like one of many stones needed to erect a building. As with stones, it can serve very different buildings indeed.
What this boils down to, I guess, is: if this stone is missing, can there be a building (in reality, I mean) where all people feel free and at home?

I think, no. For me, freedom springs from individual pride and pride from many things; one of them the ability to fight.

On the other side, one could be convinced that fundamental, long-term freedom is possible in a totally unarmed society where only police and army carry weapons. This for me is a dream - legitimate, but in reality impossible. It would take a society where everybody is as enlightened as a Zen master.
To strive for such a society - yes. After all, dreams drive evolution.
To forfeit reality over a dream - no. That's an experience I have made in my own life - too much dreams can cost you an arm and a leg. A shot of good-humored, plain realism is always well placed.
But here we leave the weapons issue; so, another time in this blog?

I agree 100% with the

I agree 100% with the author! Just take a look at the situation in the Netherlands, even childrens toy guns are banned but crime involving firearms is a daily occurence!

Since no one else wrote it,

Since no one else wrote it, I have to begin with the Redneck bumper-sticker

"If Guns Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns"

I have to give a lot of credit to the comment of Truth Serum about enforcement afterwards.  The idea of an armed society as described by Dr. Gabb is a bit unrealistic in modern Europe, although I do agree with his reasoning.  However, making sure caught criminals pay the price for their crimes is also a major key to fighting crime and most western countries (North American and Europe) are having problems with the loopholes exposed by unscrupulous lawyers and judicial systems completely unable to cope with the rising crime wave.

Good registration systems that keep tabs on the guns without infringing on a basic right to own and carry them is all that should be required. 

Besides, we have to support the sagging economy of Wallonia somehow.

Lord, grant me the strength to change the things I can;

the serenity to deal with the things I cannot change;

and the wisdom to know the difference.

lawless 4

@ truth serum

I agree that "enforcement is not enough".  That is why I argued for explicit acceptance (in the law) of a right to self-defence.  I even argued for a presumption of a right to possession (and use!) of defensive weapons (at least 'at home'), but this should be accompanied with a concomitant duty and, thus, revoked in cases of clear 'abuse'. 

I do not agree that enforcement "usually" occurs after a crime.  Law enforcement is much more than catching criminals after heinous crimes have been committed.  Law enforcement has a lot to do with taking 'minor' crimes serious, with keeping violent criminals in jail (i.e. make the punishment fit the crime) and with taking the law in general (immigration law etc...) serious.   Of course, after reading Koenraad Elst's latest excellent article over "open borders" on the Dutch part of this website, one can doubt that there can be much law enforcement in den belgique of today, characterized as it is by naive-left sentimentalism among its educational establishment and bishops as well as by selective demagoguery of its king and major politicians (including its current prime-minister).      

Lawless 5

Of course law enforcement encompasses many areas. It's main function, however, is deterrence. In order for potential criminals to be detered, real criminals have to be prosecuted AFTER they have committed a crime.

I guess we are looking at a classical 'Catch 22' situation.

Lawless 3

Enforcement is not enough.


Enforcement usually only occurs once a crime has been committed.  If you are lucky, you only lost your purse...and not your life.


lawless #2

@ truth serum

You are probably right to say that the law will not "impact" the criminal.  But ENFORCEMENT of the law surely will impact criminals.   Enforcement is a matter for the executive part of government.  It follows logically that the legislative part (which makes the laws) should take 'enforcebility' into account when 'devising' laws.   But do they?  Often, I fear, they do not.  

Criminals are LAWLESS

A state can pass as many harsh laws they want on gun ownership, but the law will only impact it's responsible and good citizens.....never the criminal.


Criminals are in the business of breaking laws.


It is foolish to believe that the state, whether it is the military or the local police will even be able to protect you.  Just ask those people who were on that train in France over New Years this past year.


Freedom AND clarity

@ vicenc

I agree that individual freedom is important...very important...but so are clarity and understanding.  When you begin a sentence with "the statistical side is not important" and when you claim that "it" may be valid without specifying what "it" is, you certainly are  not promoting clarity. 

If the State regulates arms, via democratic processies, it is no more "eradicating the idea of freedom" than when it regulates 'cars and trafic'.   Indeed, if you deny the State the ability to regulate 'dangerous things and activities' you are denying 'the 'people' their right to selfgovern themselves via democratic processes.   Democracy cannot be equated with the 'jungle', and democratic politicians can be removed. 

I agree with you that people can be "manipulated" and that "dependence" (on the State) tends to increase the risk for manipulation.  The 'solution' for these problems lies not in individuals taking 'the law into their own hands', but rather in defending freedom of opinion and (self)-critical thinking through 'education'.

I also agree that people certainly have a right to self-defence and even that there should be a presumption to a 'limited' right to defensive weaponry.  But with this latter 'right' MUST go a responsibilty and, if abused, that right could be taken away.  Hence the need for 'regulation'.      




Yes and No

No offense intended (and none taken). I don't deny that States are necessary. I don't deny that humans should leave primitiveness behind. I might differ with you about the degree of State you need; that's a matter for discussion, and there is a lot - particularly when States are perceived as not doing what they should, as over here in ol'Europe.

Where I disagree with you is likening cars to guns; a car doesn't equate the power to defend yourself. I argue from Robert Heinlein's statement that "It may be better to be a live jackal than a dead lion, but it is better still to be a live lion. And usually easier."

I don't believe that freedom and democracy are possible if the majority of people is not proud, self-responsible and willing to stand up for their convictions.

Cars don't help, guns yes, that's why cars are allowed and guns are restricted (let's be fair, you can buy them. A long-barrel rifle is freely available over the counter in Belgium; and in Britain you need 40 GBP and a police statement stating you're no criminal. And in Spain, on one permit, you can have five fire arms).

I think it's good and healthy that people own, train and bear arms - psychologically, culturally, socially. Look at democracy in Switzerland, which is an eternal thorn in the UE's bureaucratic buttocks. How do you argue with a fiercely independent people where evey male between 18 and 42 has full army gear, automatic rifle and 40 rounds in the wardrobe?

It is telling, in my view, that the most liberal Western countries in terms of arms and arms bearing are the two only nations to be born out of rebellion. It seems they trust their citizens; whereas the rest, born out of feudal kingdoms, doesn't.

Guns and Gabb

Two additional gun benefits: (1) An armed society is a polite society. (2) Often the attacker does not know whether the intended victim is armed. This increases the risk to the attacker. (I don't own a gun.)

A New Voice For Gun Rights In the EU?

Conservative Culture reported on Sean Gabb from the Brussels Journal who (I agree) had a great article.

It is amazing at just how blind libs are when it comes to the facts. When a culture has the toughest controls and laws in regards to weapons and they still find that crime rises what conclusion would one come to?

Libs would say we need ID's for knives and tougher laws. Sean on the other hand seems to be a breath of fresh air. The basic premise is that the State can't prevent a crime, only punish after the fact. It is therefore the right of the individual to be able to protect themselves in the event a crime occurs while the police are not present.

Someone send this author an NRA membership patch for sheer guts to speak the truth in a land that tolerates crime more than such conservative views. Kudos to Sean.

The issue is Freedom

I don't think that the statistical side is important here. It might be valid, but that's not why states forbid arms.

The question is freedom and the pride of Man before God and State.

By criminalising the very idea of bearing arms, by catering to the coward in the soul of people, the State eradicates the idea of freedom.
Individual freedom is born of pride and strength. Which is born of the will to fight and, if necessary, die for the ones who are dear to you. Which is only possible if you are armed.

By disarming people, the State creates an easily cowed and manipulated, increasingly dependent population.
For that matter, the (post)modern State has created forms of dependency  and limits to the individual freedom which border slavery.

So, arguments about if it's good or bad to bear arms might be valid, but miss the point.

More important is the psychological side.

If anything, people should be obliged to bear (and use in defence) arms; that'll teach them Freedom. And the State, a bit of respect for its citizens.
But then, I might be a bit Spanish and a bit old-fashioned; we were always warriors at heart, and the capability to "shoot back" was always important to our self-esteem.....

More question marks?


I beg to differ with you on this point.  I do not think that the 'democratic' quality of governance, nor of any political system, has much to do with the degree of gun control.  In fact one can observe numerous NONdemocratic countries in the world where there is little - if any - 'gun control', and there are also a number of democratic countries with significant gun control.  There simply is no observable correlation between democracy and 'absence of gun control', and neither is there a correlation between totalitarianism and gun control.

The 'democratic deficit' of the European Union does not result from the varying degrees of gun control in the member states, but rather primarily from the behavior of its 'elites' and, secondary from the behavior of the voters.  To illustrate, if Belgian politicians pass laws that criminalise the expression of certain opinions, that has nothing to do with the degree of gun control in that country, but rather with the evolution of the 'broader culture' (which is largely instigated through the educational system and media 'elites').      

Perhaps a more reasonable hypothesis would be that,  in a given democratic culture, democracy has a better chance to survive (longer) the more 'individualistic' its people tend to be.  Because 'individualistic' people tend to be more 'resilient' against populism and cultural orthodoxies over time.  For this hypothesis to be useful, however, the concept of "individualistic" would need to be further more clearly defined.     


"Gun control" always equals "people control"

I am familiar with the statistics on people killed by government that the author cites.  They exclude those killed in wars between nations.  The author R J Rummel coined the term "democide" for murder by government. 


Marcfrans misses the point when he says "The issues of (1) wars between states and of (2) depredations by totalitarian communist/fascist governments against their own people, have nothing to do with the question of the extent to which democratic polities should regulate arms."  The German people were disarmed under the democratic Weimer government not the totaliarian Nazi regime.  It is civilian disarmament which allows a free people to be enslaved.


After reading this piece I have to wonder what happened to Mr. Gabb.  Since the European Union is becoming more unfree with each passing day (something made possible by the unarmed state of the population) I fear that he has been arrested and is now sitting in a cell.



Question marks?

In modern urban societies, one could make a serious case for the right 'to bear arms', but one could equally make a serious case for strict regulation of that right. 

If it is true that there is no "necessary correlation between guns and armed crime", it is equally true that there is no such "necessary correlation between 'gun control' and armed crime".   If armed crime has been increasing in European countries, that is more likely related to a number of 'cultural factors', such as (past) immigration policies and (current) legislative/judicial reluctance to pursue 'repressive' policies w.r.t. crime, than to gun control measures. 

In any case, the argument made about (56 million) "civilians killed by governments" over the past century is not a serious one.  The issues of (1) wars between states and  of (2) depredations by totalitarian communist/fascist governments against their own people, have nothing to do with the question of the extent to which democratic polities should regulate arms.   It is hard to believe that the author would even dare to make such an 'argument' and still expect to be taken seriously.  

But, it remains of course true that , when governments are lax vis-a-vis criminals, the argument for the 'right to bear arms' strengthens.  It is equally true that SUCH (lax)  governments are not likely to agree.