Debunking the myth: “An armed society is a polite society”

Summary: As the gun lobby moves from expansion of concealed carry to open carry of guns, it is time to examine the nonsense that so many believe about gun. This is one of the delusions that form the foundation of the New America being built by Republicans using their dominance of State and Federal governments. Built on the ruins of the America-that-once-was. This is an expanded and revised post from the archives.

The Story of Omaha lynching
Justice by armed citizens: The Omaha lynching.

Contents

  1. Robert Heinlein’s most powerful insight.
  2. The logic of carrying guns in civil society.
  3. What about life on the frontier?
  4. But the polite Swiss have all those guns!
  5. Research tells the tale.
  6. An insight from Beyond This Horizon.
  7. For More Information.

(1)  Heinlein’s powerful insight.

“An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”
— From Robert Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon.

In books such as The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1965), Robert Heinlein sketched out appealing yet ludicrously improbable worlds. His stories played a formative role in the rise of the libertarian movement, perhaps more so than the novels of Ayn Rand. Heinlein’s were more widely read, and even more often read in full. Libertarianism might be the first political movement mostly grounded in fiction and false predictions rather than history and experience.

Beyond this Horizon
Available at Amazon.

Perhaps Heinlein’s greatest impact came from his deeply held belief that “an armed society is a polite society.” He discusses this often in his correspondence. He explicitly stated it in his 1942 novel Beyond This Horizon, where (male) citizens routinely and openly carry guns. In his 1949 novel Red Planet children come of age in their early teens when they pass the tests to earn a license for open carry of a gun. (Heinlein, as usual, was ahead of his time; in this book both boys and girls carried guns). These are fun stories. The idea is quite mad.

Heinlein’s myths valorize individual autonomy and power, symbolized by open carry of guns. He could as realistically described people sprouting wings. Periods with open carry of weapons often had high levels of violence and rule of the strong over the weak. Open carry often comes from societies with weak or even dysfunctional states. In them organization and structure comes from gangs — not bold free individualists.

Low levels of government authority are often insufficient to maintain order in well-armed societies. The Three Musketeers (see the great film: part one and part two) are based on memoirs of d’Artagnan, Capitaine-Lieutenant des Mousquetaires. He describes an early 17thC Paris stained with the blood of frequent and senseless duels. One of the greatest of the Founders, Alexander Hamilton, died in a senseless duel.

We see the extreme examples of this in ungoverned areas such as parts of Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (states too weak to regulate). We see this to a lesser extent in the worst of America’s inner cities (the state does not care enough to regulate). We see this in the real history of our Wild West (more on this below).

Heinlein’s stories are great fiction. That people taken them seriously is sad.

“A few anecdotes and a good just-so story outweigh a hundred historical counter-examples.”
— From David Brin’s review of Beyond This Horizon at the Tor/Forge Blog.

John Lennon's bloody glasses
John Lennon’s glasses. By Yoko Ono.

(2)  Why carry guns in a civil society?

I recommend this analysis: “The Freedom of an Armed Society” by Firmin DeBrabander (Prof Philosophy, Maryland Institute College of Art; website here), an op-ed in the New York Times from 2012. Excerpt…

“This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

“As our Constitution provides, however, liberty entails precisely the freedom to be reckless, within limits, also the freedom to insult and offend as the case may be. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld our right to experiment in offensive language and ideas, and in some cases, offensive action and speech. Such experimentation is inherent to our freedom as such. But guns by their nature do not mix with this experiment — they don’t mix with taking offense. They are combustible ingredients in assembly and speech.

“I often think of the armed protestor who showed up to one of the famously raucous town hall hearings on Obamacare in the summer of 2009. The media was very worked up over this man, who bore a sign that invoked a famous quote of Thomas Jefferson, accusing the president of tyranny. But no one engaged him at the protest; no one dared approach him even, for discussion or debate — though this was a town hall meeting, intended for just such purposes. Such is the effect of guns on speech — and assembly. Like it or not, they transform the bearer, and end the conversation in some fundamental way. They announce that the conversation is not completely unbounded, unfettered and free; there is or can be a limit to negotiation and debate — definitively.

“The very power and possibility of free speech and assembly rests on their non-violence. The power of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as the Arab Spring protests, stemmed precisely from their non-violent nature. This power was made evident by the ferocity of government response to the Occupy movement. Occupy protestors across the country were increasingly confronted by police in military style garb and affect.

“Imagine what this would have looked like had the protestors been armed: in the face of the New York Police Department assault on Zuccotti Park, there might have been armed insurrection in the streets. The non-violent nature of protest in this country ensures that it can occur.”

That was written in the simpler times of 2012, when protests were the street parties of Occupy and the Tea Party. Now we might be in the early stages of accelerating political violence.

Dodge City, 1879.
A photo from the real Dodge City, 1879.

(3) What about life on the frontier?

The Wild West sounds great, as told in John Wayne’s films and Louis L’Amour’s stories (my favorite is The Daybreakers). Unfortunately western fiction is no more realistic than science fiction. First, many cities instituted tight regulations to reduce the carnage from an armed open carry society — as in the photo above from Dodge City. More broadly, the real Wild West was a lawless horror show. Predatory gangs (often in the employ of cattle “barons”) dominated vast areas. For example, the wonderful John Wayne film “Chisum” is a prettified version of the Lincoln County War. In reality the bad guys won.  (More details here about gun in the Wild West.)

We provided a cautionary example for Canada, who ensured that the Mounties would maintain order as their frontier developed. For some facts about this lost history, masked by myths, see Myth-busting about gun use in the Wild West.

Guns in Switzerland

(4)  But the polite Swiss have all those guns!

Most men in Switzerland are in the militia from ages 20 to 30. They keep their rifles at home. But they do not have ammo at home; it is keep in government armories — which the far-right propaganda seldom mentions.

Switzerland has strict gun registration plus tight controls on sales of gun and ammo — all of which are more comprehensive and thoroughly enforced than in the US. Concealed carry permits are rarely issued. Open carry of loaded weapons is illegal, with the obvious exceptions (e.g., hunting). Open carry of unloaded guns must meet strict criteria. See the Wikipedia entry — and its supporting links — for more information.

Constitution & guns

(5)  Research tells the tale.

There is a large body of research showing that an armed society is a violent society.  For example: “The ‘weapons effect’” by Brad J. Bushman (Prof of Communication & Psychology, Ohio State U) in Psychology Today, 18 January 20113 — “Research shows that the mere presence of weapons increases aggression.” See the references at the end of the article.

Also see “Is an armed society a polite society? Guns and road rage” by David Hemenway et al. in Accident Analysis & Prevention, July 2006 — Abstract…

“While concerns about road rage have grown over the past decade, states have made it easier for motorists to carry firearms in their vehicles. Are motorists with guns in the car more or less likely to engage in hostile and aggressive behavior? Data come from a 2004 national random digit dial survey of over 2400 licensed drivers. Respondents were asked whether, in the past year, they…

  • made obscene or rude gestures at another motorist,
  • aggressively followed another vehicle too closely, and
  • were victims of such hostile behaviors.

“17% admitted making obscene or rude gestures, and 9% had aggressively followed too closely. 46% reported victimization by each of these behaviors in the past year. Males, young adults, binge drinkers, those who do not believe most people can be trusted, those ever arrested for a non-traffic violation, and motorists who had been in a vehicle in which there was a gun were more likely to engage in such forms of road rage.  Similar to a survey of Arizona motorists, in our survey, riding with a firearm in the vehicle was a marker for aggressive and dangerous driver behavior.”

For surveys of the research, with summaries and links, see these posts…

  1. Guns do not make us safer. Why is this not obvious?
  2. Do guns make us more safe, or less? Let’s look at the research.

Welcome to the Future

(6)  Another insight from Beyond This Horizon.

This Heinlein quote about the future is seldom mentioned by right-wing Heinlein fans.

“Naturally food is free! What kind of people do you take us for?”

(7)  For More information.

See these other posts about Robert Heinlein’s work

  1. How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped, and what we can learn from this — Heinlein saw the USSR’s weakness 3 decades before the CIA.
  2. We live in the crazy years, but can choose a different destiny for ourselves and our children.
  3. How does The Hunger Games compare to other classic stories of children fighting children? — About Tunnel in the Sky.
  4. We are living in the crazy years AND Fahrenheit 451 — About Heinlein’s future history stories, published as The Past through Tomorrow.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about gun violence and regulation, and especially these…

  1. Guns do not make us safer. Why is this not obvious?
  2. Myth-busting about gun use in the Wild West.
  3. Do guns make us more safe, or less? Let’s look at the research.
  4. What are the odds of violence from the Right in America?
  5. The number of children killed by guns in America makes us exceptional, not better.

41 thoughts on “Debunking the myth: “An armed society is a polite society”

  1. An armed society may not be a polite society but it’s a free society – pretty delusional thought huh. Keep up with the insults. This article Is a great example of why we need to remain armed.

    1. Gute,

      “but it’s a free society – pretty delusional thought huh”

      Yes, it is delusional. Stable free societies are like Japan, Canada, Australia, and western Europe — most of whom have tight gun controls or extremely tight gun controls.

      Armed societies: Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, etc.

      Quite delusional.

    2. “This article Is a great example of why we need to remain armed.”

      What — so you can violently suppress disagreement?

    3. If I may ask, why is gun ownership so important to you? Obviously it’s not for safety, since your gun is far, far more likely to be used against you than by you, and it’s just as clearly not for the defense of liberty, since the USA’s hundreds of millions of firearms have done zilch to prevent the erosion of our freedoms.

  2. One additional factor for how widespread and ubiquitous guns can harm public health: They make suicide easier. Suicidal people are often in a real low place and even modest obstacles can make them turn off that path. Guns, of course, make it easy. Now, in anticipation of a criticism, this won’t make suicide stop – but it will make it harder.

    1. SF,

      Thanks for the reminder about that. There are studies suggesting this available, fast, effortless, painless (if done right), and non-revocable method increases the number of completed suicides. There are many ways to do it, but few have all those characteristics.

  3. I won’t even approach this from a pro or con side, as each group knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are the only correct one. I will point out, if we are going to cover history, that the reason all males belonged to the militia and had to provide their own arms was to fight the Indigenous population. In effect, an early draft, by the government, to kill off anyone not wiped out in the first biological agent attacks, which then gave the elite of the day more land and wealth. So, by government decree all must be armed, to the benefit of the ruling class. Now, they want the opposite. Both sides need to see how they are being used by the 1% ( just to use a handy label, don’t tar me with the Tea Party brush ).

    1. What you describe sounds like a logical shift in policies without having to cast it in terms of social engineering or whatever. There was more call in the early USA and precursors to have folks armed to deal with Native American groups (and probably more pertinently, runaway/rebellious slaves in much of the country), while now there is no meaningful risk of anything like that.

    2. James,

      “that the reason all males belonged to the militia and had to provide their own arms was to fight the Indigenous population.”

      Sometimes, but not — as you imply — always. Very often militia were employed as a method of defense against invasion. The many European militia (e.g., Denmark, Swiss are the obvious modern examples — although the tradition of reliance on militia for defense goes back to the 15th century. Post-revolutionary Cuba is another.

      “an early draft, by the government, to kill off anyone not wiped out in the first biological agent attacks”

      That is one specific era of history, in one set of lands — those hit by pandemics following first large-scale contact with europeans. Not all were (e.g., India, Africa). Militia were used elsewhere, both before and after than time period.

  4. like it or not, the founders included the second amendment in the constitution to allow citizens to resist government overreach. even liberal luminaries like lawrence tribe concede it embodies an individual right to keep and bear arms. unless an amendment can make it through the constitutional process, a highly improbable event, that’s not going to change. all the yapping on both sides of this issue is simply each tribe talking to itself. instead of this pointless back and forth bandying, why not do something meaningful? violence reduction in the u.s. should focus instead on the seriously at risk population–especially minority youth–who are the most frequent victims of criminal violence. ending concealed carry will not disarm those criminals; a population notably unpersuaded by legal limitations.

    1. Jay,

      “the founders included the second amendment in the constitution to allow citizens to resist government overreach.”

      Let’s not descend into right-wing propaganda. The references to gun rights in the Founders’ writings — with very few exceptions — refer to the States’ militia. Not paramilitary groups, like Weimar’s Freicorps (whom most of the Founders probably have regarded as a major threat, worthy of immediate suppression), not lone gunmen.

      Nor does the history of gun rights in England give credence to this, as it is described as secondary to Parliament’s authority (who is sovereign, and able to legislate with few limits).

    2. Editor,

      The second amendment specifically lists that there be a regulated militia for the security of a free state, and the right to keep and bear arms, and shall not be infringed.

      Second why are you referencing England’s gun rights? The colonies left England, and the thirteen colonies established the bill of rights to protect state and PERSON against government over reach.

      I may be misunderstanding this phrase “with very few exceptions — refer to the States’ militia. Not paramilitary groups, like Weimar’s Freicorps (whom most of the Founders probably have regarded as a major threat, worthy of immediate suppression), not lone gunmen.” maybe if you could clarify.

    3. SSD,

      (1) “The second amendment specifically lists that there be a regulated militia…”

      What’s your point?

      (2) “Second why are you referencing England’s gun rights”

      To understand the effect of laws, look at the experience of other nations. A wide net is useful, but the experience of nations similar to us is esp useful.

      (3) “maybe if you could clarify.”

      I said “The references to gun rights in the Founders’ writings — with very few exceptions — refer to the States’ militia.” Some of the references to gun ownership are vague or lack specific context.

      By the way, that was a well-asked question. Most readers get to material they don’t understand, make a wild guess as to the meaning (often quite delusional) and give a rebuttal to that.

  5. IMO, the spread of 3D Printing is going to make Arms Control an impossibility. I think the same way with Genetic Engineering in the wake of CRISPR.

  6. i’m impressed, although not necessarily in a good way. i’ve responded to a few of your posts. twice you have accused me of being a left wing nut. now i’m “descend(ing) into right wing propaganda”. in each case you managed to miss the point completely. if today was an average day, 30 people, most of them minority youth, fell to gun violence. what in the name of all that’s holy does your invocation of the authority of england’s parliament do to reduce the toll? the bandying over the second amendment merely satisfies the political tribe.

    1. Jay,

      (1) I comment to specific quotes of your, giving detailed responses. If you disagree, I suggest that you try doing the same.

      (2) “what in the name of all that’s holy does your invocation of the authority of england’s parliament do to reduce the toll?”

      Let’s replay the tape: “the founders included the second amendment in the constitution to allow citizens to resist government overreach.” You are the one who raised that historical question; I just responded to it. Please explain how your comment “reduces the toll.”

      (3) “the bandying over the second amendment merely satisfies the political tribe.”

      Wow. So you believe the lack of gun regulation in America has nothing to do with that blood toll? The lightly controlled sale of weapons in gun shows, the ease of getting all sorts of ammo, etc — all quite different than in any of our peers. Each to his own opinion.

      So you’ll do whatever it is you are doing to “reduce the toll”. I and others will attempt to roll back the mad profusion of weapons — and now open carry — on America’s streets. History will judge which path was more important.

    2. Jay,

      “i’ve responded to a few of your posts. twice you have accused me of being a left wing nut.”

      I have skimmed your 26 comments here and my responses to them. Please advise what are the two instances I accused you of being a “left wing nut.” I don’t see anything like that. There are no mentions in the 50,000+ comments here of “left wing nut”, nor is that the kind of language I use.

      I have repeatedly asked you to respond to direct quotes, since you so frequently misrepresent what I said. I often have asked you to support your claims, which often appear to be just making stuff up — confidently, boldly.

      Look here at the comment policies of other websites, and the perspectives about comments by those running major websites. Most of these people long ago would have banned you (except for those websites that closed their comment sections as a waste of time). I’ve been patient with you. Don’t exhaust it.

  7. Stable free societies are like Japan, Canada, Australia, and western Europe — most of whom have tight gun controls or extremely tight gun controls.

    I have to disagree. I am Australian and a registered gun owner. We are no longer a very free society and our level of individual freedom is reducing. It is a criminal act to attempt to defend myself inside my own home – yes, I am perfectly serious. It is a criminal act for a woman to use something like Mace to protect herself from a rapist (Mace etc are all illegal). Yet the number of illegal firearms in criminal hands grows at an exponential rate, as does the level of violence utilised by criminals.

    This is a heavily regulated, over-governed, increasingly ‘soft socialist’ state. State power is increasing and the governing elite is increasingly incompetent in the exercise of its power.

    A current example of this incompetence is how the state has regulated electricity supplies in the name of global warming of course. The largest coal and gas exporter in the world which 15 years ago had the cheapest electricity on Earth now has the most expensive electricity in the world. And the grid is now in danger of collapse this coming summer.

    We are increasingly less free here, we are increasingly unstable here. And both trends are accelerating.

    Regards:

    1. Cradock’s.

      “I have to disagree. I am Australian and a registered gun owner. We are no longer a very free society and our level of individual freedom is reducing. It”

      First world problems. In your search for more freedom and stability, visit nations that are true “armed societies” — like Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

    2. Cradock (aka MBailey),

      I see your first comment went into the spam bucket. I left it there, since you successfully reposted it.

      I don’t see why it was blocked, but that sometimes happens — which is why I check the bucket several times per day. Akismet works in mysterious ways and makes occasional errors, but is necessary for a comment section to operate. It blocks one or two hundred spam comments per day.

    3. So let me get this straight: you aren’t free to use your firearm however you choose, and you regard this as evidence of the erosion of liberty?

      Maybe electricity in Australia was priced too low before, and is now reaching a more realistic price. The price of a good or service should reflect the realities of its use, correct? If the cost of coal and gas usage is rising, than its price should rise too.

      I’m sorry your ruling elite is incompetent. As an American, I can certainly sympathize. But how would gun ownership rectify this problem? “Hey, you government officials: be more competent, or I’ll plug you”?

  8. Yes, and in one’s search for the freedom and stability afforded by strict gun control one can also visit the peaceful paradise of old Mexico, where, thanks to very effective legislation the law-abiding villagers are left with rusty shotguns to defend against narcos armed with machine guns and RPGs. Because mass-murdering drug dealers are very scrupulous about making sure they comply with all relevant statues.

    This can go back and forth all day (and often does) with examples and counter-examples. E.g. Vermont has almost no state-wide gun control but low crime. Chicago has strict gun control and half the city is a lawless hellhole with Fallujah-level casualties every weekend.

    The bottom line, if one examines the literature, is that the presence or absence of guns themselves has almost no power to explain violent crime rates. In countries where significantly stronger gun control measures have been adopted in recent decades, the total effect on crime has been . . . nothing. Great Britain, Australia, Jamaica, etc. The trend lines (increasing or decreasing) just continue past the date of the legislation with no inflection. Even the CDC, who is hardly a friend of gun rights, has been unable to demonstrate the effectiveness of any gun control legislation anywhere on violent crime. Social factors vastly dominate the state of gun laws in determining crime rates.

    Where there has been a large and significant effect, however, is on suicide rates. As a public health matter that bears looking into and adopting such policy measures as are appropriate such as increasing access to mental health care and providing a robust social safety net.

    As for Western European societies, the jury is till out whether or not they have the cultural pre-conditions necessary to maintain stable democracies, with most of them experiencing totalitarian governments of one flavor or another in recent decades. The current trend toward ever-increasing government surveillance and control of speech and expression is certainly cause for concern. However, the U.S. also is on a similar path, despite the abundance of so-called “freedom-loving rugged individualists” so I don’t think that gun rights have much to do with it one way or the other.

    As for your specific talking point about the horrors of private sales at gun shows, you should know that numerous studies have shown that only about 2 % of guns used by criminals were purchased at a gun show. Some are stolen, but the majority come from straw purchases (which are illegal). I’m not sure I would call a 2 % effect a major contributor to our “bloody toll” but good luck in your valiant quest to abolish it.

    1. phagehost,

      I worry that we are best off under rule of the 1% because so many (most?) comments from the far-right and far-right are so delusional.

      As with comments by gun nuts about the wonderfulness of guns for all. We have had mass produced guns for roughly three centuries. So why are their examples of “armed societies are polite societies” all either fantasy (e.g., Heinlein), fake (e.g., the Swiss), or counterfactuals? Why do they ignore the many (usually horrific) real world examples of armed societies (mostly failed states)?

      “search for the freedom and stability afforded by strict gun control one can also visit the peaceful paradise of old Mexico,”

      So the counter-example to developed nations — almost all of which have stricter gun control than the US (or prohibit widespreads possession of guns) is a tottering second world nation? Truly bogus. And a counterfactural too boot (going for the bonus delusional points). As if arming the rural Mexicans would give them the upper hand against the billion-dollar international drug cartels. Good luck with that.

      Also — I’m not familiar with Mexico. Can you give us some cites showing that the Mexicans are oppressed by the cartels in areas they control? Vs. somewhat more prosperous by the drug money than they would otherwise be. I’ve learned that many of these examples are given by people whose knowledge of such things comes from watching action-adventure shows on TV.

      “This can go back and forth all day (and often does) with examples and counter-examples.”

      It’s a fool’s game due to weak enforcement of US gun laws and the traffic between US areas with strict laws and those without.

      “{Chicago}is a lawless hellhole with Fallujah-level casualties every weekend.”

      You are definitely watching too much TV. Chicago has a population of 2.7 million. Fallujah has at most one-tenth of that — and is a war zone. Chicago had a homicide rate of 27 per hundred thousand in 2016. The one month Battle of Fallujah in 2016 had a civilian death rate of 45.

      “I’m not sure I would call a 2% effect a major contributor to”

      I gave it as an example. I didn’t claim it was a “major contributor.” I reply to direct quotes to avoid such reading FAILs.

    2. FM,

      I don’t think that guns for all is wonderful, as many right-wing commentators would have it (I didn’t say this, so I’d like to gently remind you of your own advice of responding to direct quotes). Nor do I think it’s the awful scourge that left-wing commentators make it out to be. I view guns as a tool, not much different from a hammer. I don’t think that everyone needs to be carrying hammers around nor do I think it terrible if they want to do so for whatever reason.

      My argument, which runs counter to the narrative of both right and left but is IMHO the most consistent one with the quantitative data, is that the mere presence or absence of guns appears to have very little effect on violence either way (and I’m not sure how we can quantify “politeness” so let’s just take it as the converse of “violence” and then we only have to worry about one quantity: violence). Instead, other social and cultural factors are far more important drivers of violence levels. And this comports with our everyday common experience. If I put a gun in your hand, would you suddenly hold up the local 7-11, or shoot your neighbor? Probably not. Likewise a criminal who is willing to murder an innocent victim or a rival criminal, and can’t get their hands on a firearm is probably not going to repent their life of sin and join the neighborhood watch — they’ll just grab a knife or baseball bat (particularly if they can be assured that their victim wouldn’t have access to firearms either).

      As for Mexico, I’m only familiar with the struggles of vigilantes against the Knights Templar cartel in Michoacan. I was a bit surprised by this since the Medellin model seems more common, whereby the cartels keep the locals on their side by trickling down some of the profits. But if the cartels get too greedy and the violence gets too intense, I suppose they can and do manage to alienate the locals. No cites but a quick news search turns up relevant press stories.

      “It’s a fool’s game due to weak enforcement of US gun laws and the traffic between US areas with strict laws and those without.”

      So you’re saying that state and local gun control legislation only burdens the law-abiding and has no effect on criminals who can just get stuff from elsewhere and who aren’t worried about firearms laws when they are already willing to commit murder? Agreed.

      The Chicago-Fallujah example was a bit of hyperbole to illustrate how much of an outlier they are by our current acceptable standards, but it’s actually not far off. I was thinking of American deaths during the 2004 battle of Fallujah (we’ve had so many it’s a bit hard to keep track). Numbers from wikipedia: 95 killed over ~45 days = ~63 per month. Chicago in 2017 = 484 so far (source: DNAinfo) over 8.5 months = ~57 per month. Yikes.

      “So the counter-example to developed nations — almost all of which have stricter gun control than the US (or prohibit widespreads possession of guns) is a tottering second world nation? Truly bogus. ”

      So you’re saying that it’s not valid to compare the violence rates in countries with different demographics, geography and cultural history? Fair enough, I agree, but then we have to throw out the Europe-U.S. comparison as well.

      “I gave it as an example. I didn’t claim it was a “major contributor.””

      No but you implied that it was worth dedicating time, money or political resources to address. If it’s not a major contributor those resources would be better spent elsewhere.

      But putting aside the fun point-by-point sparring and getting back to the core of my argument, I think that the high level of armament of failed states is more of an effect than a cause. If you were to take all the AKs, RPDs, RPKs and RPGs out of Somalia and distribute them throughout Pennsylvania (similar population) I don’t think you would get a warlord-run wasteland, nor would taking away every firearm in Somalia turn it into Pennsylvania. Actually, and this is pretty ironic, there are far MORE firearms in Pennsylvania than in Somalia already. c.f. Pennsylvania firearms ownership 34.7 % (https://www.thoughtco.com/gun-owners-percentage-of-state-populations-3325153) versus < 10 % for Somalia (http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/somalia). Granted there are a lot more bolt-action rifles and shotguns in Pennsylvania and far more machine guns in Somalia, but in a way the counterfactual has already been done for us. ;-)

      It might amuse you to know that I don’t watch actually watch any action adventure shows, on TV or otherwise, but in my view what s delusional is to argue for legislation based on emotional knee-jerk responses rather than real-world data. In addition to being totally ineffectual (so far as anyone who’s attempted to actually quantify this stuff has been able to show) many of these measures violate both the natural and fundamental human right of self-defense as well as the second of our enumerated constitutional rights (yes, I’ve seen the attempts by historical revisionists and grammatical sophists to show otherwise but I’m not impressed. Scalia’s opinion in Heller remains the most accurate concise discussion of the 2nd amendment to date. And, I would argue, even if the 2nd didn’t grant an individual right, then we should have one that did). In addition to not accomplishing their stated goals and violating rights, most gun control legislation has the further practical effect of alienating a large portion of the electorate. Down in “flyover country” I’ve talked to a large number of people, mostly men, who would never, ever vote for a Democratic politician for this reason alone. Since the two parties became indistinguishable on most issues, about the only thing that people know for sure about the Democrats is that 1. they are mostly rich people who live on the coast and despise them and 2. want to take their guns away. This comment has already gone on too long so I won’t get into the class aspects of this stuff, but this is one way you get Trump in the White House.

      Ironically, in the end I agree with your conclusion that an armed society does not imply a polite society, it’s your premises I take issue with.

      Mahalo.

    3. Actually FM, I am with Phageghost on his valid point about Mexico. I know you are familiar with the Small Wars Journal website, you should read some of John Sullivan and Robert Bunker’s pieces on the narco wars that are happening south of our border that are being fueled due to poor US drug policies. Rule of law has broke down in many of the smaller villages all over the country with villagers no longer relying on the government “security” apparatus and have turned to acquiring firearms so that way they can defend their villages from the cartels who use violence indiscriminately. Here’s a link to the section on SWJ that covers this topic:

      http://smallwarsjournal.com/elcentro

      A personal anecdote; another Marine I work with became an electrician after he discharged from the Marines. One of his former squad-mates went into the petroleum field with one of the very large international oil corporations. He was sent down to southern Mexico to work on a drilling site down there. One day, a bunch of heavily armed members of one of the local cartels rolled into camp and “appropriated” all of their machinery and gear. He subsequently quit and came back to the US, despite the fantastic pay he was getting from the oil company. I guess he figured dead men can’t spend money.

    4. Major McCloud,

      You might be right about Mexico. Since early 2009 I have published three dozen articles by experts about the low-level insurgency in Mexico. Many made big scary predictions that have not been validated by time. This by Stratfor in 2009 was typical of their dark tone.

      Yet Mexico seems to have weathered the insurgency, the peaking of its oil production in 2004, the global crash in 2008-09, and the subsequent crash in oil prices — all of which were described as a certainly fatal combo.

      I know little about Mexico. It seems an unlikely candidate to become like Switzerland. But their record suggests that the doomsters might be proven wrong yet again.

    5. I don’t operate under any delusions that Mexico will become like Switzerland. I was agreeing with PG and his valid point that tough gun laws don’t always translate to reductions in violence no more than tough “drug laws” prevent the spread and use of drugs. I think he makes some very valid points about the variables and how there can be a lot more contributing to violence in certain areas than others. I remember growing up in a community where even high school students came to school with a shotgun or rifle hanging from their gun rack in their truck. The worst violence to break out was a fist-fight in the bathroom or hallway during my 4-years of high school.

      Many of these examples coming from Mexico demonstrate a few very important lessons for us as a society; as violence escalates in communities and government becomes so corrupt it can’t even be relied upon to provide the basic services that developed or developing countries need, no amount of laws is going to change the prevalence of firearms and violence. In fact, quite the opposite is happening in Mexico. I’ll see if I can find one of the articles on SWJ that addresses this issue.

      Our already fracturing political system into self-reinforcing tribe think escalated by rising violent rhetoric talk and action may take us down a very dark path where a lot of those “moderates” my very well “choose a side” and take up arms (and there’s already a very well financed black market for arms smuggling, but I’m sure you know that) if escalating violence and the government’s legitimacy goes out the window. I believe it was on this website that posted a piece about how most of the western democracies are seeing a dangerous shift in how its citizens few their governments and the turn towards authoritarian forms of government may become more appealing to them. (remember when Obama was elected in 2008 and he along with many of his supporters kept complaining about Congress and their lack of action to get anything done?) One distinct advantage to dictatorships, they can get things done efficiently, but not necessarily for the good of the people.

    6. Major McCloud,

      “I don’t operate under any delusions that Mexico will become like Switzerland.”

      That was the context for my belief! Didn’t want to seem like Pollyanna, or mean to imply it was about your remarks.

      “his valid point that tough gun laws don’t always translate to reductions in violence”

      True. But this post was about the exact opposite: belief by far-Right that increasing gun ownership and open carry makes a society safer. He was shifting the debate to ignore the point, without saying so. I find that an annoying tactic, as it almost always shifts the discussion from the new topics I raise onto the tired talked-to-death cliches. Note that’s not what you’re doing here by replying to his comment.

      “as violence escalates in communities and government becomes so corrupt it can’t even be relied upon to provide the basic services that developed or developing countries need, no amount of laws is going to change the prevalence of firearms and violence.”

      Does anybody disagree? I doubt it. Again, see how PG has shifted the debate onto the old rails.

      “Our already fracturing political system into self-reinforcing tribe think escalated by rising violent rhetoric talk and action may take us down a very dark path where a lot of those “moderates” my very well “choose a side” and take up arms”

      I guess anything is possible. But levels of violence in the US are low and (on a generational basis) falling — as they are in most developed nations, and (by many metrics) the world. IMO it’s wildly speculative to predict a reversal at this point.

      Also, today’s “violent rhetoric” and actual political violence are tiny — microscopic — compared to the levels of 1965-1975. America seems to have developed amnesia about that period. Note that that “moderates didn’t take up arms then.” Why would they now?

  9. Here’s a question. Wherever one comes down on the gun issue, one thing that’s clear is that we’ve come a long way since the late 80’s to early 90’s. Concealed carry is legal in almost every state, and the Clinton era law on repeating rifles has come down. So what happened? How did we get here? Whatever it is that the pro gun control faction has been doing these last thirty years has been less that effective. Is there anything that the gun control side has done or failed to do that has helped put us here?

    1. Hi Man,

      That’s a pretty big topic, but I’ll mention some missteps that the gun control community has made that has IMHO helped lead to the steady erosion of public support for gun control since the 1980s (even as rates of gun ownership have declined). At the very least, the things that keep gun owners from considering switching sides.

      1. Ignorant legislators. Many gun control bills are written by people who obviously have no idea how firearms even work. If they don’t know how they work how could they be expected to craft effective legislation? Confirmations of this suspicion abound but here are some classics: http://www.gunssavelife.com/doubling-down-on-stupid-low-information-legislator-of-the-day-two-days-running/, http://www.frontpagemag.com/point/216983/californias-dumbest-senate-democrat-warns-ghost-daniel-greenfield,

      2. Nonsensical laws. This is closely tied to point 1, above. You mentioned the Clinton AWB that helped him get the 1994 Republican congress. Well, that was a noble sacrifice — certainly having Newt Gingrich as speaker was worth banning those dastardly assault weapons, right? Actually what it banned were cosmetic or ergonomic features that made guns look “scary” and “evil” even though a ban-compliant weapon could be produced that was functionally identical. E.g. they banned bayonet mounts and telescoping stocks. Yes, to prevent the horrible scourge of bayonettings that was causing blood to run in the streets of every American city back in the early 1990s. This convinced most gun owners that gun control proponents 1. didn’t know what the hell they were talking about and 2. enjoyed making gun owners jump through hoops like trained dogs just because they could. Not a good way to win friends on the other side. Another example (this could go on for dats): California requires all kinds of special magazine releases on semi-auto rifles like AR-15s to make them more difficult to operate. This is a giant pain in the ass for law-abiding gun owners, and puts them at a disadvantage if they ever have to use them for self-defense, but it takes about 5 minutes with a screwdriver to convert the magazine release back to normal. So . . . if you’re willing to commit murder, why not take the extra felony count on the off-chance you get caught, briefly convert to “drive-by mode”, then switch it back when you’re down the street? That’s exactly what the San Berdoo shooters did (with the exception of converting back, since they died) and that applies to virtually every feature regulated by the California anti-“assault weapon” laws. So, again, the impact on the law-abiding gun owner is large, but the only effect on criminals will be on those too stupid to operate a screwdriver.

      There are those who would cynically argue that the inconvenience to law-abiding gun owners is a feature not a bug, since the inconvenienced class is typically politically right-wing not “enlightened progressives” and, worst of all, many of them work nasty blue-collar jobs that make them dirty and unfit for polite company at gala fund-raisers. I, on the other hand would never stoop to such base speculation about our scrupulous and honorable representatives . . .

      3. Negotiating in bad faith. When the Brady Bill was passed, it was sold to pro-gun types as the last major piece of gun control legislation that would be needed — the last big compromise and then they would be left alone. But of course, that’s not what happened since it’s a ratchet strategy that, as internal communications among gun control groups show, only ends with complete civilian disarmament. Of course, such an objective is officially denied by most gun control groups: “we only want a few, ‘common sense’ regulations!” (although I’ve just illustrated what their version of “common sense” is. These are mostly people who’ve never worked a real job a day in their life and who would, I suspect, not be judged to have an overabundance of “common sense” by, say, a lifelong cattle rancher). That soured many otherwise moderate folks and organizations on any further compromise and hardened attitudes into zero-sum, maximalist positions.

      Now, the relevant question is: to what degree have these things been picked up on by the general public as opposed to pro-gun types, since the decline in support for gun control appears to be broad-based and not narrowly concentrated among gun owners (a group rather inclined to take a dim view of gun control in the first place and which has been declining numerically over this period)? That I don’t have an answer for but hopefully this helps illustrate some places where the anti-gun folks have unnecessarily “shot themselves in the foot” or “scored an own goal” to use a less on-the-nose idiom.

    2. Phagehost,

      “That’s a pretty big topic, but I’ll mention some missteps that the gun control community has made that has IMHO helped lead to the steady erosion of public support for gun control since the 1980s”

      Note that the topic addressed in this post is much smaller than in your comment. Heinlein was referring to societies with widespread open carry of weapons. Nobody in the developed world does that today, or has done so for well over a century. That is

      You are referring to a much wider subject — about the role of guns and control of guns.

      Also — I recommend that you write shorter comments. Your is 761 words. That’s the length of a post. I doubt many — if any — read comments of such length. I don’t.

  10. “Libertarianism might be the first political movement mostly grounded in fiction and false predictions rather than history and experience.” — More like Marxism (dialectical materialism)

    1. John,

      I disagree. Marx laid out a complex historical and logical foundation for Marxism. Much of it proved to be incorrect (not unusual for theories in the social sciences), but it was hardly fiction. And much of it remains analytically useful and used today, such as class dynamics.

      Libertarianism lacks anything remotely like the foundation of Marxism (however flawed) in history and logic. It’s just fiction, top to bottom.

  11. You went to great lengths in your article to disparage and degrade your opponent and you offered several examples based on second and third hand accounts and cherry picked to provide one side of a debate but you never, not once did you in the entire article provide anything like direct testimony or concrete evidence to support your article. Given this I must therefore assume you are one of the asinine left liberal kooks who has absolutely no idea of how to use facts and or demonstration to support your thesis. Typical left leaning communist/socialist/tyrannical tactics. You Sir should look in the mirror and quote this to yourself: “Je suis Part of the Problem”

    1. Scott,

      If only calling people names would provide useful information! What a different world it would be.

      Also, I suggest you re-read the article without your thick ideological blinders. You don’t appear to have understood it.

  12. You got it completely wrong .. word “polite” means “measured, free of excessive, composed” .. and those are behavioral patterns present in people who know they can be killed any time.

    Polite does not mean free of violence, it just mean – cautious not to start violence.

    1. Hamilton,

      “and those are behavioral patterns present in people who know they can be killed any time.”

      You must be kidding. I suggest that you spend some time in America’s most violent inner cities, or in failed states. Not much “politeness.”

      “Polite does not mean free of violence, it just mean – cautious not to start violence.”

      Which is my point. The high rate of violence in most armed societies means that people with weapons are “starting” violence.

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