Mankind is not a Herd

Harry Binswanger, who has written about and promoted Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy and taught philosophy courses at U.T. Austin CUNY Hunter College, now writes on the gun control issue in Forbes magazine.

“The answer I’ve come to is radical: reject entirely the collectivist mindset. Don’t look at populations; don’t ask: among 300 million Americans, would law X result in more lives being saved than lost? That sort of cost-benefit analysis is amoral; lives are not balanceable one against the other. And, in practice, it leads to endlessly battling statistical studies. I realized I should not take a God’s eye perspective, looking down on the flock, seeking to preserve the herd. Mankind is not a herd.

*  *  *

“The principle is ‘individual rights’–your rights and mine.

“Rights define the proper limits of state action. They recognize the areas within which the individual is sovereign, entitled to act on his own judgment, free from interference by his fellow man and by the state. The fundamental right is the right to life. Its expressions are the right to liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. As the Declaration states, government is established ‘to secure these rights.’

“To secure them against what? There is only one thing that can deprive a man of his life, liberty, or property: physical force. Only guns, clubs, chains, jails, or some form of nonconsensual physical contact can kill you, injure you, or negate your ability to act on your own judgment. The proper job of government is to protect the individual’s rights by wielding retaliatory force against the force initiated by criminals or foreign aggressors.

*  *  *

“. . . the government may not descend to the evil of preventive law. The government cannot treat men as guilty until they have proven themselves to be, for the moment, innocent. No law can require the individual to prove that he won’t violate another’s rights, in the absence of evidence that he is going to.

“But this is precisely what gun control laws do. Gun control laws use force against the individual in the absence of any specific evidence that he is about to commit a crime. They say to the rational, responsible gun owner: you may not have or carry a gun because others have used them irrationally or irresponsibly. Thus, preventive law sacrifices the rational and responsible to the irrational and irresponsible. This is unjust and intolerable.

“The government may coercively intervene only when there is an objective threat that someone is going to use force. The remaining issue is: what constitutes an objective threat?

“An objective threat is constituted by specific evidence of a clear and present danger to someone’s person or property. For instance, waving a gun around (‘brandishing’) is an objective threat to the individuals in the vicinity. Having a rifle at home in the attic is not. Carrying a concealed pistol is not (until and unless it is drawn). Yes, there are always borderline cases, but rational standards, such as ‘clear and present danger,’ can be set.

“Statistics about how often gun-related crimes occur in the population is no evidence against you. That’s collectivist thinking. The choices made by others are irrelevant to the choices that you will make.

“People understand the wrongness of collectivist thinking in other cases. They would indignantly reject the idea that a member of a given racial group is under suspicion because 10 percent of those with his skin color commit crimes. But the individualist approach also applies to gun ownership and concealed carrying of guns: group ratios offer no evidence about what a given individual will do.

“The fact that a certain percentage of domestic quarrels end in a shooting is no grounds for saying your ownership of a gun is a threat to the members of your household. Likewise, the fact that there are a certain number of accidental injuries from guns is no justification for regulating or banning the ownership of guns for everyone. And The tragic fact that the psychotic killer at Newtown used a gun to kill school children is zero grounds for disarming teachers and school personnel.”

See Binswanger’s complete article at this link.

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