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L. Neil Smith's
Number 561, March 14, 2010

"The state is death."

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Archimedes’ .45
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Recently, somebody directed my attention to an article, "Socrates' Gun" by Daniel Johnson on the website of the Salem (Oregon) News, questioning just about every aspect of the character of individuals who make the choice to exercise their unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right to openly carry personal weapons in public.

For some reason, Mr. Johnson appeared to be particularly upset by a photo he'd come across on a firearms website of people with guns on their hips, enjoying a barbecue in what looked like a park somewhere. He went to great lengths to explain how phony and affectatious they looked to him. To someone who has seen sights like this hundreds of times over the past forty years, it seemed perfectly natural and relaxed.

You can see the photo in his article. He describes one person, wearing a red baseball cap, white cargo shorts, and a polo shirt as "ludicrous". I guess he's never watched CSI or any of its spinoffs, where characters commonly wear plainly visible guns with civilian clothing, including shorts (it's hot in Las Vegas and Miami) and baseball caps. What I'm seeing here is Mr. Johnson's ignorance and bigotry.

What ever happened to multiculturalism?

And maybe just the slightest touch of what the late Jeff Cooper famously called "hoplophobia", an unreasoning, hysterical fear of weapons.

I don't know what Mr. Johnson expected. Given that (A) these folks are going to carry weapons whether it offends his tender sensibilities or not, (B) they are neither GIs nor cops and do not wear uniforms, and (C) local law may actually forbid carrying their weapons concealed (which I'm certain Mr. Johnson would find far more comforting), what else are they supposed to do? How else are they supposed to look? Would it be less offensive if they were wearing tuxedos? Or bib overalls?

Unquestionably the latter. People like Mr. Johnson invariably like to imagine that those who are interested in guns and self-defense—not to mention the Bill of Rights, national sovereignty, and keeping the fruits of their labors—are an unwashed, illiterate rabble, most of whom live in tarpaper shanties somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Survey after survey has shown that the average gun owner is better educated than the average non-owner, has a better-paying job, and I would guess is probably smarter. A startling number of gun owners are professionals. It's likely that your own lawyer, doctor, or dentist owns guns and shoots.

Mr. Johnson seems to have led a rather sheltered life. Most of my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances for forty years have been armed, one way or another. There are just about a hundred million like them in this country. And they are hardly the insular and ingrown group the popular media are fond of portraying. They include the lawyers, doctors, and dentists I mentioned, also artists, teachers, librarians, computer designers and programmers, radio performers, laborers and contractors, veterans and former war protestors, those who are well off, those who are not so well off, those who are well educated, those who are not so well educated. I myself am the author of more than thirty books and a four-time recipient of highest literary award in my field.

Mr. Johnson claims he is not attacking gun owners and carriers, but instead is "trying to show how non-gun people often see the gun aficionados strutting around with their armaments."

Strutting? While it is unquestionably true that armed individuals tend to walk differently than those who are unarmed, it is hardly "strutting". It is simply the upright, unfrightened posture of a free human being, rather than the round-shouldered crouching shuffle of a perpetual victim. Muggers and other violent street criminals tend to avoid individuals who walk as if they were armed. There has even been instruction offered in how to walk that way, even when you are not armed.

Then, apparently believing he's scored a point, he asks, "a fundamental question to which I am still seeking a reasonable answer: Why do ostensibly civilized people feel the need to arm themselves with weapons to kill (when necessary or provoked) their fellow citizens?"

Set aside the fact that he's answered his own question with that parenthetical phrase, Mr. Johnson and I are of about the same age. How can he forget the skyrocketing crime rates of the 60s, when one person in three was statistically certain to become a victim of violent crime? How can he forget billions of dollars and thousands of cops that were thrown at the problem to absolutely no effect? How can he forget the news conferences politicians conducted, congratulating themselves and attempting to claim credit whenever the crime rate dropped a percent or two—clearly within the statistical noise—or the silence when it went back up again the next day? How can he forget movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish which, most likely contrary to the intentions of their creators, inspired a generation to arm themselves against violent crime and bring those numbers down in double digits, no matter how much the authorities disapproved, blustered, and threatened?

"Like almost all Canadians," Mr. Johnson says, "Brits, Europeans and citizens of many other nations, I don't believe that walking around with a gun in a holster is a socially positive act. I'm trying to understand the mentality of the armed American." He asks for our comments to provide further insight, but rushes to offer his own, instead.

"I see gun-carrying as a form of paranoia—the whole world is potentially out to get me. Even though they are probably a tiny minority, they all look alike and I can't tell them apart," he tells us.

Ignoring the perjorative "paranoia" and the way this statement contradicts itself ("the whole world" versus "a tiny minority") it contains a particle of truth. A gun is exactly like a fire extinguisher: you never know when you might need it. Your whole life may pass without using it. But it is better to have one and not need it than to need one and not have it. Is it paranoid to own a fire extinguisher?

"By carrying a gun, people believe they are exercising their freedom when, in fact, they are losing some of their freedom. They are," he says, "letting their fear of criminals dictate how they live their lives."

Only somebody who doesn't carry a gun would spout nonsense like this. Personal weapons range in weight from a few ounces to a couple of pounds. Some can be slipped in a pocket and all but forgotten before they're needed. For the rest, various means of carry have been invented over the centuries to make it comfortable and convenient. That accomplished, who's afraid, here, and whose way of life is being dictated?

Only the criminal's.

"They are also saying civilized society does not work. Each citizen must look after their [sic] own safety."

What utter fatuous nonsense. Civilized society works best precisely when each individual looks after his or her own safety. That's the way it is. That's the way it has always been. That's why civilization began to break down in the 60s, when people were conned into believing they could rely on the police (who, according to the courts, have no legal obligation to protect us). And it's why, despite all of the troubles we're going through now, our civilization will survive.

"Why," Mr. Johnson suggests, apparently believing that he's being absurd in order to make a devastating point, "aren't gun-carriers pushing for the disbandment of police forces across the nation? At a time when the economy is in such parlous condition, the savings to the taxpayers would run into the tens of billions of dollars," he concludes.

Indeed they would. And speaking only for myself, I have suggested for years that municipalities be forbidden to maintain police forces. In the first place, experience demonstrates that they don't do any good. Given something like the War on Drugs, or their proclivity for executing innocents on the street, they actually make things worse. Their pretense of investigating themselves is joke. Far better to rely on county sheriffs' departments that are more directly responsible to voters and usually see their jobs as making sure the right person got shot.

But Mr. Johnson presses on disingenuously, despite his myriad of protestations to the contrary: "I am really trying to understand what is behind the gun mentality. You don't see citizens in Canada, the UK or the EC pushing for gun ownership ... Only in the U.S. does this phenomenon exist. But perhaps," he winks, "I am missing the obvious point—compared to other developed nations, perhaps the U.S. is that scary."

I'd say to Mr. Johnson that before you can ask an honest question, you have to learn how to ask the question honestly. I was prepared to believe in his sincerity until that crack about America being "scary". The true situation is very different than people have been led to believe.

First and foremost, the only "scary" parts of America are inner cities that have been under the exclusive control of people just like Mr. Johnson—left wing socialists—for generations. If you excise those cores from your statistics, you will discover the magnitude of a lie that has been told about America, to America, by its own media for decades. A lie even vaster than Social Security or Global Warming. Excluding those inner cities, we are the most peaceful, productive, prosperous, progressive, and best armed culture in the history of mankind.

And little old Vermont, which lets you carry any gun you want, any way you want, for "any lawful purpose" has the lowest crime rate of all.

Of course socialist governments lie all the time, about everything. For decades, socialist Britain lied about their supposedly minimal violent crime rate, particularly with regard to IRA-related events—shuffling each occurrence of crime from one category to another, wherever it would look best for public consumption—until the widespread weapons prohibition following Dunblane drove the rate up so high it could no longer be ignored or lied about. Much the same thing happened in socialist Australia after Port Arthur. It is almost certain that Mr. Johnson's socialist government in Canada is lying to him.

And for what it's worth, Canada passed a gun registration law a decade or so ago, and its people, especially in the west, told the government to bugger off. Chagrined politicos are in the process of repealing it right now, so it won't remain an embarrassment to its advocates.

In closing, Mr. Johnson feels compelled to quote Socrates, rather patronizingly, about the unexamined life not being worth living, as if gun owners and self-defense advocates hadn't ever bothered to sit down and think out their position. "Perhaps," he suggests, "it's time for pro-gun people to seriously examine why they believe what they believe."

Instead of Socrates (who meekly swallowed poison at the behest of the white belts and plaid polyester pants of the Athens Junior Chamber of Commerce) he should think about Archimedes of Syracuse. Interrupted by a Roman dogface who was part of an invading force, he absently told the thug, "Go away, I'm working," and the thug shish-kebabbed him with a gladius. If Archimedes had owned a .45—or his own gladius—he could have surprised the Italian interloper, and we might be another thousand years further advanced as a result of discoveries he made afterward.

But as usual, I digress.

Thanks to individuals like Mr. Johnson who seem unable to observe the objective reality of the world all around them or to draw rational conclusions, and who appear incapable even of reading the clear, simple wording of the Bill of Rights, we defenders of freedom have been forced by relentless political persecution to examine and reexamine our principles every single day for at least the past fifty years.

Those who hold to these principles have suffered more than half a century of ideological water torture: a steady drip, drip, drip of bigoted and ignorant editorial opinion, selective and dishonest reporting, propaganda-filled "entertainment" programming, and constant political attacks from the very entities, politicians, bureaucrats, policemen, from whom the Second Amendment was written to protect us—and who, therefore, have no legitimate right to participate in the debate.

Our principles have endured, because, unlike whatever it is that moves and guides our social and political opponents, they are drawn from objective reality and constructed in an unassailably logical manner.

To a man—and a woman—those Mr. Johnson calls "ludicrous" are perfectly comfortable wearing a gun on their hip or under their armpit, and there is nothing of affectation about it, but rather necessity and familiarity. Anything else he think he sees here lives in his own head, and not in the real world. For two million years it has been natural and human to be armed, strange and perverse not to be. An armed individual is a free individual. Anyone to whom weapons are prohibited—and who obeys the prohibition—is a serf. Like almost all Canadians, Brits, Europeans and citizens of many other nations.

Many people have admitted that the idea that their neighbors may own and carry guns frightens them. I always reply that their fear does not constitute a mortgage on my rights. Similarly, Mr. Johnson's objections to open carry are essentially aesthetic in nature, and his sensibilities in that connection give him no right to put limits on others. In the end, I doesn't matter what he believes. He has nothing to say about anything I do, unless I initiate physical force against him.

Let's return to that barbarous barbecue for a moment. A handgun doesn't make it that much easier to kill another person. That's not the point. There are a dozen other things that people bring to picnics that might be used to kill; Trevanian showed us in his novel Shibumi how to kill a man with a drinking straw. Handguns make it easier to defend yourself, which is a very different thing. They also make it possible for women, children, and the elderly to defend themselves no matter how big and strong their attacker may be. And this is bad because ... ?

And here's the paradox: cultures that encourage the means of self-defense seldom need them. Despite movie mythology, the American west was so crime-free we still remember the names of individual criminals. Cultures that suppress the means to self-defense become snakepits. Once again, I refer the reader to Britain and Australia which now have the highest violent crime rates in their respective hemispheres.

In the end, Mr. Johnson assures us that he only wants to make the world a better place. I say that civilized people arm themselves because, as Robert A. Heinlein put it, "An armed society is a polite society." It's worth noting that it's also, by and large, a classless society.

So if Mr. Johnson wants a better world, he can start by getting a gun.

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Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

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