I’ve been looking for a while for a way to work Eric S. Raymond’s “The Myth of Man The Killer” into a post here, and finally decided to make a post dedicated to it. Go, read, I’ll be here when you get back. The article he links to (Natural Killers —Turning the Tide of Battle) is worth reading as well.
I once read (and I can’t for the life of me find it again) that one of the reasons that humans are “so vicious” is that we don’t have any body language for “dominance” or “submission”, and must therefore express same with words or fists. Balderdash, with extra balder and double dash. Labrat and Stingray can and have gone into the whys and wherefores of humans not having the same sort of fixed social roles as a pack-oriented preferentially-carnivorous quadruped, domesticated or wild, but anyone who has seen almost any form of human social confrontation or other interaction(which apparently does not include ivory-tower academics) can quickly pick up on the nonverbal cues of hierarchy. The “naturally aggressive” either settle down, find a channel, or are eliminated from society; they don’t long continue with their antisocial behavior in a functional society. This has always been the case, as any student of historycan tell you. When this hasn’t happened, there has been a breakdown of social order, and those cases have been both notable and remarkable.
Somalia, in fact, is often used by the anti-gun debaters as an example of what happens where everyone is armed; “naturally”, chaos and brutality result. But the warlords of Somalia and their men are pikers compared to the mercenaries of John, Count of Tilly and the rest of the men who rampaged across the German states for half a lifetime; and they lived in a period where firearms were unreliable and expensive, almost unavailable to the general populace. The fighting of the Thirty Years War acted as a filter, pulling out and concentrating the “natural killers” by the most brutal and efficient process possible – combat in the early gunpowder era. The killers of Somalia, by contrast, are tribesmen, who don’t practice disciplined war with a sideline of oppression, but oppression without discipline. Warfare in tribal cultures has been characterized as two lines of men chanting insults at each other, then flinging javelins at the opposing line and retiring to tell lies about their bravery. “Modern” tribals can often be seen doing the “modern” equivalent – emptying a couple of magazines in the general direction of the other side, and then retiring to tell lies about their bravery.
The great massacres of history have generally been performed upon unarmed victims, by men “just doing their job”, or, as in the case of Germany in the 17th century, gangs of men who have been selected for their ferocity and sociopathy. Somalia is an anarchy, true, but death rides a single horse, not a mechanical combine, there. I’d be interested in seeing exactly how common firearms are among the general populace – I suspect it’s not as much as They would like you to think. Good luck getting that information, though…
I am going to make a claim that the religiously anti-gun people will reflexively deny – that we could arm every adult man and woman not ineligible for reasons of mental impairment, incorrigible violence, or habitual intoxicant, and the rate of antisocietal violence against others would either not change or go down. This shouldn’t be shocking to most of the regular readers here, as we’ve tried that experiment across the country; but let me explain for the people in the back there (say “Hi”. MikeB…)
Let’s start with the premise laid down by ESR and MAJ Pierson – that the vast majority of people are not violent by nature and, if they are to become so, must be made so by careful and prolonged work. Even for many of the naturally violent persons, they can, if allowed or directed, become functional and productive members of civil society (there are jobs that need them). Let us add the second premise, that most people are by nature abiding of the laws and rules necessary for civil society. This can be easily seen to be true, as we live in a functional civil society (more or less). Per ESR and MAJ Pierson, the naturally violent are less likely than most to obey laws and rules. Thus, laws and rules against possession of arms are less likely to be obeyed by the ones most likely to use them inappropriately. As laws tend toward more restrictions on arms, the functional members of society will be less likely to be armed, and the violent ones relatively more likely to retain their arms.
Firearms are, overall, the most efficient and deadly form of personal armament we know of. Certain other arms are more efficient in tight niches, and certain forms of firearm are more efficient than others in various roles, but overall, the firearm is the ultimate in personal armament. Nothing combines the ease of use, simplicity, portability, and effective range of a firearm. In particular, the physical requirements to successfully use a firearm are low. Grade school children can and are taught every day to use firearms safely and effectively, under adult supervision. “God made man, Samuel Colt (replace with JMB, Gaston Glock, &c, as your personal devotions require) made them equal.” Any firearm can be used by someone with one functioning hand, arm, and eye; and there exist firearms that are used by quadriplegics. (Oddly enough, I know this because NJ issued a Firearms ID and a hunting permit to a quadriplegic. NJ leads the nation in disabled firearms owners, I guess). The disparities of height, weight, strength, etc are erased. This leads to a diminished ability for the naturally violent (who are disproportionately young, strong, and more fit) to dominate the older, weaker, and less fit.
As restrictions on arms (and particularly firearms) are loosened, more of the naturally societal persons acquire them, but they are disinclined to use them antisocially. Firearms may be the most efficient weapon, available, but they are far from the only one available. As more of society is armed, the would-be committer of anti-social violence has to factor in the larger chance of death or injury in a confrontation with another person. Even if he discounts this factor, he has a larger chance of encountering death or injury in his antisocial games.
If he does kill a member of functional society, well, unjustified homicide the crime that is unacceptable. There’s a reason that more often than not, a mystery is a murder mystery. We consume fiction to reinforce our societal mores. Murder is the Original Sin in the Bible, and it’s frowned on in every moral code; while justified homicide is, well, justified almost everywhere. More effort is made to catch and punish the criminal who is a murderer than for any other crime, while a killer whose act is “justified” will be punished less harshly or let off entirely. This is entirely sane societal response to homicide. It is a (rarely) required mechanism of society to remove the incorrigibly, violently, antisocial from our midst.
It is not the presense or absense of (fire)arms that results in societal breakdown, but the presnse of killers, born or trained. Guns in the hands of non-killers have no effect on non-killers, but counter the effect of any weapon, from strength of fist on up through firearms, in the hands of killers. In any particular encounter, of course, there are more factors than the firearm. After all, it was Caleb’s generous donation of coffee that set a youth on the path of righteousness, and nobody died or was seriously hurt. But his dinky little pocket pistol was there, and the youth saw it before he changed his mind. Because when someone swaggers up to you and sincerely offers to punch you in the face, there’s a difference between putting your own body on the line with a physical counteroffer, and a counter-offfer consisting of a few grams of lead delivered supersonically. One requires strength, agility, skill and a high pain tolerance, and the other requires a modicum of hand-eye coordination and the ability to lift a pound or so for no more than a minute.