Tuesday, October 03, 2017

"What's the case for citizens being able to access crossbows?"

"Progressive Christian" Randal Rauser posed this question in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre: "What is the case for citizens being able to access (semi) automatic weaponry?"

I'm not an expert on this debate, but here's my off-the-cuff response:

i) To begin with, have you ever noticed that gun-control debates parallel debates about theodicy? Every time there's a natural disaster that kills a lot of people, atheists rehash the problem of evil. Likewise, every time there's a gun massacre, liberals rehash the gun-control debate. 

What this fails to consider is that sophisticated Christians already have a theodicy or set of theodicies to address the problem of evil. A new example of natural evil doesn't change the argument. By the same token, people who support gun rights often have arguments based on principle. A new massacre doesn't change the principle. 

ii) Like many other things in a free and open society, private gun-ownership is a tradeoff. It's inevitable that legal access to guns will led to some tragedies. Sophisticated advocates of private gun-ownership have already taken that into account. Just as we make allowance for the fact that driving cars inevitably results in many fatal accidents. Pointing to a freeway pileup doesn't change the position. The alternative to private gun ownership is a police state. 

iii) The right of self-defense is calibrated to the threat level. What you need to defend yourself depends what you're up against. Take the old adage about "bringing a knife to a gun fight". 

Suppose we recast Randal's question in medieval terms: "What's the case for citizens being able to access crossbows?"

Well, if you have longbows while Viking marauders have crossbows, that puts you at a disadvantage. If the assailant's weaponry is superior to yours, then you can't defend yourself. If the criminal class has better weaponry than private citizens, then private citizens are no match for the criminal class. There's deterrent value if crooks know private citizens may be able to respond in kind. 


  1. Actually, historically, in most fights, longbows came out ahead vs. crossbows :) Crossbows were great in siege warfare but no so much on the open field, though the crusading armies seemed to have used them effectively.

    1. There were tradeoffs:


  2. How far does this track? Crossbows to revolvers to automatic rifles to grenade launchers to nukes.
    Naturally, what is available to governments is not financially feasible to the average citizen. But the financial aspect aside, if citizens can afford the weaponry, is there a point where the principle breaks down in favor of minimizing casualties by crazy people?
    This is something I have struggled with and I am curious where you would draw the line (if at all).

    1. I'm no expert on guns or related concerns, but here are my thoughts:

      1. As far as I understand, the basis for the 2nd amendment is deterring tyrannical gov't and deterring crime or (put more positively) for self-defense (including of oneself, loved ones, and certain properties).

      2. For self-defense, nukes would be overkill.

      3. For tyranny:

      a. Nukes might be arguable based on the principle of deterring tyranny. However, one thing this might assume (among other things) is the US gov't would be willing to use nukes on its own citizenry.

      b. Isn't there sometimes an "in common use at the time" interpretation to the 2nd amendment? I don't know if that's a fair interpretation or not. It might not be.

      However, if it is, then nukes aren't in common use today. No one in America save the gov't has nukes.

      c. Maybe if we lived in an America where the majority of individuals including criminals and criminal organizations had their own private nuclear arsenal. Say miniaturized nukes they could carry around on their persons. Then I guess nukes could be on the table.

      If that's the case, though - and presumably such nukes would be dependent on computer chips and open to some kind of a wireless network - then maybe an appropriate deterrent would not be more nukes, but an app or program that could hack into the nuke and disable it.

      d. In other words, deterrence of tyrannical gov't doesn't necessarily require symmetrical weaponry, per se. Just because the gov't has nukes doesn't necessarily mean we need to have nukes too. Sure, it could require that. We might need symmetrical weaponry in many cases.

      However, sometimes we can deter tyranny via asymmetrical means as well. It's not as if the Colonials or Revolutionary Army c. 1776 were a military match for the Red Coats. Rather, they had enough weaponry (among other things) to be able to wage guerrilla warfare for a long enough period of time as well as found other means to defeat the tyrannical Crown (e.g. allies in the French).

      4. In addition, there are arguably moral lines we shouldn't cross. For example, a tyrannical gov't could have biological or chemical weapons and even use them against their own people (e.g. Assad in Syria, Saddam Hussein in Iraq). Suppose the US gov't becomes tyrannical and also possesses biochemical weapons. As such, should we the American people who are faithful to the Constitution likewise be able to stockpile biochemical weapons with the intent to possibly use them against gov't soldiers (who would presumably be fellow Americans, say, like in the Civil War)? I'm not sure, but that seems like a hard sell to me.

      5. Nukes and biochemical weapons (as well as other weapons) could affect the innocent and guilty alike. If someone uses a nuke against a tyrannical gov't, then it could potentially kill innocents as well.

      Of course, that's a risk with any weapon. But it seems much easier to target an enemy and not target innocents with a knife or handgun, say, than with nukes or biochemical weapons.

      So maybe a criterion for what arms we have the right to bear ought to be if a weapon can't discriminate between enemies and non-enemies? I don't know.

      Then again, I suppose someone could say what if we had a syringe with a biochemical agent, would that be permissible? However, this would go to the moral question of whether biochemical weapons should be allowed in the first place.