One of the more interesting political philosophers I studied in college was Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Cicero has been called by many the seed of the Age of Enlightenment… a seed planted centuries before “The Dark Ages” were even a thing. Like most political thinkers, Cicero met an untimely end. He was a fierce defender of the Roman Republic, which put him in direct opposition to centralized power in the hands of a single individual. After the death of Julius Caesar and the ensuing power struggle, he found an enemy in Marc Antony. It was the allies of Marc Antony who had Cicero executed and his hands and head presented to Marc as a “gift”.
When we studied Cicero back then, we focused on his mechanics of governmental structure. Freedom was an essential element in Cicero’s work to be sure… but it was a broad-based approach on how a regulatory scheme could be developed that preserved individual liberty.
What we never really discussed were practical applications, specifically Cicero’s statements on the natural right to self defense.
So… on my way back from West Point a couple of weeks ago, I had some “airplane” time that allowed me to revisit one of my old decapitated teachers. While perusing Cicero’s Selected Political Speeches, I came across this:
There exists a law, not written down anywhere, but inborn in our hearts; a law which comes to us not by training or custom or reading, but by derivation and absorption and adoption from nature itself; a law which has come to us not from theory but from practice, not by instruction but by natural intuition. I refer to the law which lays it down that, if our lives are endangered by plots or violence or armed robbers or enemies, any and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right. When weapons reduce them to silence, the laws no longer expect one to wait their pronouncements. For people who decide to wait for these will have to wait for justice, too – and meanwhile they must suffer injustice first. Indeed, even the wisdom of the law itself, by a sort of tacit implication, permits self defense, because it does not actually forbid men to kill; what it does instead is to forbid the bearing of a weapon with the intent to kill. When, therefore, an inquiry passes beyond the mere question of the weapon and starts to consider the motive, a man who has used arms in self defense is not regarded as having carried them with a homicidal aim. (Emphasis added)
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This, of course, got me thinking about a popular refrain you hear from people who are interested in banning certain classes of firearms: “They only have one purpose! To kill!”
This statement seems to have a degree of flexibility associated with it. More politically mature proponents seek to limit their ire towards a specific class of firearms… say “black scary rifles”.
“No one needs black scary rifles! After all, they only have one purpose! To kill people!”
Notice how that rhetoric shifts the burden?
Cicero stated that the mere presence of a weapon was not dispositive of anything. In reality, the only thing it could proffer is that the bearer is prepared to use force for self defense since that is the most utilitarian objective of the gun. In order for possession to become malevolent, the bearer must have an intent to kill.
Modern proponents of gun control want nothing of this nuanced thinking.
They want possession to be the equivalent of intent.
For why should we waste the resources of the State in proving the vagaries of intent? Why should we let the sanctity of the public square be left open to the whims of the individual? With liberty comes a messiness. Not everyone shares the same belief system, and some belief systems might actually go against the forced homogenization of society.
Funny story… but it illustrates a point:
If you have ever been called to jury duty, you know about the process called voir dire, or “jury selection”. Basically, this is where both the prosecution and defense get to question potential jurors and dismiss those whom they feel may be biased. (In reality, the prosecution is looking for those who are more likely to side with the prosecution irrespective of the case, and the defense is looking for those who are more likely to side with the defense irrespective of the case.)
Well… the Judiciary in California felt that this process was both antiquated and too time consuming. (Remember, the vast majority of the judges who sit on the bench are former prosecutors.) They decided they would, instead, go with a random lottery of jurors. Basically, a “you get what you get” kinda thing.
We implemented it, and the DA’s office started losing a boatload of cases.
The judges quickly put a halt to the practice.
There are no “short cuts”. If the carrying of a firearm is a malevolent act, then you must prove it… and circular logic does not work. You cannot say “I think it is bad, therefore it is bad.” Once we go down the road of forced collectivization through criminalization, the tinder box is set for a revolution…
… or the fall of an empire.