Liberty Without Guns

Georgia has pretty strict gun control laws – not that you would notice.

I have often described the country as a libertarian paradise in many ways – laws are few and far between, and enforcement of existing laws is often lax to nonexistent. Government regulation rarely or never gets in the way of everyday activities, and it is amazing how much more present and real the government feels in the US than it does in Georgia. You can drink a beer out on the street, build a stairway without a handrail, change the wiring in the walls in your own house without a license, and generally dig your own grave in a variety of ways that Americans would find either liberating or terrifying, depending on their inclinations.

But carrying a gun around is not one of them. Most Georgians don’t seem to have guns, or they have them but only for hunting (and I mean like a simple, no-frills rifle – not like, an AK-47 that they use to hunt wolves from a helicopter or whatever bullshit people in America need unlimited firepower for), and my former police students explained that you need a license to own or carry a gun.

No, in Tbilisi, you worry a lot about getting hit by a car when crossing the street, and not at all about getting shot by a psychopath (or by a trigger-happy cop).

*****

I saw this image macro on someone’s fb wall that had a picture of a woman holding a rifle and the text said something like “you don’t support women’s rights if you want to strip them of their right to self-defense.” This is bullshit in like eight different ways, starting with the fact that a rifle is highly impractical for self-defense in the vast majority of situations in which a woman might find herself in need of a firearm.

But also, there’s something to be said for a woman’s right to not have to worry about self-defense. I mean, isn’t it more meaningful for a woman to be able to walk around with confidence because no one is going to bother her than for a woman to be able to walk around with confidence because she knows that if it comes down to a life-or-death situation, she might be able to kill one or more assailants?

You are not safe in any situation where you have to carry a gun to feel safe.

And what about a woman’s right to be protected from the trauma of shooting someone? What about the psychological effects of having weapons training – of practicing and mentally and physically preparing for and rehearsing the act of killing another human being? What about the social impact of living in a society where people are assessed as threats rather than as neighbors and friends? What kind of quality of life can a woman expect to have, knowing that she is one step away from becoming a war zone?

In other words, this pro-gun poster supposes that the burden rests on women to modify their behavior – by acquiring and learning to use a deadly weapon – in order to remain safe.

But wait – doesn’t that sound like something else? The burden on the victim, in this case women? Sounds to me like rape culture.

*****

So if you evaluate gun rights rhetoric in light of the ideas of feminism, and specifically of anti-rape activism, it places the entire issue in an interesting light. We would never say that a woman who wears a burka and never leaves her house, all to avoid being raped, has more liberty than a woman who wears whatever she wants and goes wherever she wants and understands that she lives with some rape risk.

And yet we hear that a man who fortifies his house with enough weapons to re-fight the War of 1812 and carries a gun just to go get Starbucks has more liberty than a man who spends his leisure time reading or jogging and never worries about whether he might have to kill the next person he meets.

It seems like a peculiar kind of liberty that makes us afraid to walk around unarmed.

The fight against rape culture is a fight to move the burden of preventing crimes from the individual to the society. It is a struggle to educate men and women about what constitutes rape, about warning signs that it’s time to intervene, about how to report a rape and how to act in response to a reported rape. It is a struggle to convince people in society to collectively reduce the number of rapes by engaging in positive individual and collective action. It is not a struggle to arm all women so that they can just shoot their rapists.

I would argue that we could make a similar argument against gun culture. If we live in a society, it should not ultimately fall to the individual to protect himself or herself from violent crime or to defend his or her property from incursion. That’s the whole point of society – in a sense, the reduction of the need for individual self-defense is the whole reason we put up with each other.

Maybe you can’t trust your government to uphold its end of the bargain – maybe you live in a high-crime area and law enforcement just doesn’t do its job right – but taking matters into your own hands seems more like a desperate, last-ditch attempt to stay alive than a coherent social philosophy which we should enshrine along with our most cherished ideals. Maybe you sometimes *have to* take matters into your own hands, but your *ideal* should be a society in which crime is discouraged collectively, through education, community-building, and other positive action.

*****

Judging by the example of Georgia, the right to own a gun doesn’t seem to correlate strongly to other rights that we value in a democracy – especially in a modern, egalitarian democracy. To beat this drum one more time, lack of intrusive regulation in Georgia means we pay a flat, low income tax and flat, low VAT tax, we pay anywhere from 10% – 20% of the price for medications as Americans pay, we pay much less for utilities, phone service, and internet, and we invest almost no resources in complying with a set of labyrinthine laws designed to confuse and confound the public and turn the entire populace into criminals.

Meanwhile, public services are more efficient, public transportation is more comprehensive (and cheaper), and essentially the government governs much less, and much better, than the American governmental apparatus. Georgians are strong advocates for their own rights, and angrily reject the types of corruption in their politics that Americans accept without question in our politics. Again, imagine an American politician losing an election over an issue like prison rape – prison rape! It’s as American as apple pie.

The country has problems – including widespread poverty, underdeveloped regions, and a lack of credible opposition to a growing theocracy – but it would not be at all credible to say that the people of Georgia are lacking when it comes to political and civil rights, liberties, and freedoms.

And somehow they manage it without a well-regulated militia.

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17 Responses to Liberty Without Guns

  1. Talleyrand says:

    “Meanwhile, public services are more efficient, public transportation is more comprehensive (and cheaper), and essentially the government governs much less, and much better, than the American governmental apparatus.”

    Considering that the United States has 140 times the land area and 70 times the population of the Republic of Georgia, don’t you think it’s intellectually sloppy to label the latter’s public transportation as more comprehensive and cheaper than that of the former, especially without any statistics, metrics, studies, etc.? You’re simply stating it as a matter-of-fact, as if the force of your vitriol is a substitute for a substantive case. I could say that the public transportation is more efficient on my house’s avenue than it is in all of France and Germany—which may very well be the case, as it’s only a single bus that’s never late. Technically it is more efficient and comprehensive—not a single house is more than a dozen feet from the bus route! But at what point does it becomes absurd to compare apples and oranges?

    “Georgians are strong advocates for their own rights, and angrily reject the types of corruption in their politics that Americans accept without question in our politics.”

    This is such a straw man argument. Is your opinion really this simplistic or are you merely deeming your readers as desiring to read A + B = C level discourse about incredibly complex political and social issues. Do you think Americans accept corruption without corruption? How do you explain the anti-government, anti-corruption movements on both sides of the political spectrum (i.e. Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street)?

    “And somehow they manage it without a well-regulated militia.”

    Wasn’t Georgia invaded and occupied by a foreign country just a few years ago?

    “To beat this drum one more time, lack of intrusive regulation in Georgia means we pay a flat, low income tax and flat, low VAT tax, we pay anywhere from 10% – 20% of the price for medications as Americans pay, we pay much less for utilities, phone service, and internet, and we invest almost no resources in complying with a set of labyrinthine laws designed to confuse and confound the public and turn the entire populace into criminals.”

    Sure, tiny countries often have impressive economic metrics. But the sheer innovation that comes out of America—the internet, the PC, landing on the moon, scientific and medical research, atomic experimentation, most Nobel prize-winners, the vast majority of humanity’s favorite technology, music, and cinema—is something of a flip-side which a country like Georgia has absolutely none of.

    Have a more balanced argument next time and perhaps your credibility will increase. Right now this reads like a LiveJournal post that my 15 year old self wrote when I discovered Noam Chomsky and thought I was the first person ever to be such an badass anti-American intellectual and say “The Democrats and Republicans are the same party.”

    • panoptical says:

      Wait, are you arguing that public transportation in Georgia is not more comprehensive than it is in America, or that it is more comprehensive, but it doesn’t matter because America is too big to be compared to Georgia?

      As to the first point, every American that I have spoken to about transportation in Georgia has commented that it is more comprehensive here – that is, it is easier to go to more places at more times by public transportation here than in the US. It could be that our collective impressions are wrong – subject to some bias we don’t see, perhaps – but I don’t see any evidence to support that conclusion. Perhaps you do?

      As to the second point, arguing that America is larger than Georgia and so their public transportation infrastructure can’t be compared is assuming that public transportation doesn’t scale up well, but you have not provided an argument to that effect. Does the size of America provide a unique challenge to the manufacture and distribution of buses? None that I know of.

      Also – if size or population really were a barrier to public transportation, then why are Russia and China both beating America in terms of use and availability of public transportation?

      “How do you explain the anti-government, anti-corruption movements on both sides of the political spectrum (i.e. Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street)?”

      I don’t need to explain them, because neither one of them has done anything to end corruption or succeeded in turning a national election. The Tea Party has been excellent at obstructing government by electing a bunch of idiots and assholes, and OWS has been excellent at drum circles, but they’re both small movements relative to the anti-Saakashvili movement in Georgia. The average American is either complacent about corruption, or resigned to it.

      “Wasn’t Georgia invaded and occupied by a foreign country just a few years ago?”

      Georgia was beaten in a border skirmish in which they fired the first shot, but that has nothing to do with the idea of a militia of firearm-carrying freedom-defenders. Even if all of the citizens of Georgia armed themselves with their rifles and shotguns, they would still not have won a fight against the Russian tanks that rolled in. And yet, in spite of their overwhelming military inferiority, Georgia still exists! So, again, what’s the supposed point of a militia?

      “[innovation] is something of a flip-side which a country like Georgia has absolutely none of.”

      This is just chauvinistic bullshit, and also a non sequitur. Georgia has great music, arts, cinema, and dance. Georgia has plenty of scientific innovation, including the Eliava institute, which is one of the few organizations in the world that currently has the potential to develop a cure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Georgia is small and poor and without the resources to fund the kind of government programs that spawned the internet or the moon landing, but that’s because Georgia is small and poor, not because Georgia doesn’t regulate its citizens enough.

      “Right now this reads like a LiveJournal post that my 15 year old self wrote”

      Wow, you were still using LiveJournal last year?

      • Talleyrand says:

        “Wait, are you arguing that public transportation in Georgia is not more comprehensive than it is in America, or that it is more comprehensive, but it doesn’t matter because America is too big to be compared to Georgia?”

        The latter.

        “As to the first point, every American that I have spoken to…”

        Every American that I’ve spoken to disagrees. Oh, and my uncle Harry also disagrees. Got anything concrete?

        “As to the second point, arguing that America is larger than Georgia and so their public transportation infrastructure can’t be compared is assuming that public transportation doesn’t scale up well, but you have not provided an argument to that effect.”

        You’re the one making the positive claim, so the burden of proof rests with you. I’m merely saying your claim is too broad and vague to possibly be of any value. Surely you have something more than “every American that I have spoken to” and your own idiosyncratic opinions and tastes.

        “Also – if size or population really were a barrier to public transportation, then why are Russia and China both beating America in terms of use and availability of public transportation?”

        That survey hardly proves your case. Simply because Americans chose not to ride public transportation as often as the Chinese or Russians, doesn’t mean the public transportation is inherently inferior. Perhaps Americans are more likely to own a car (I’d wager they are) and perhaps there’s a national bias against public transportation (I’d wager there is). Of course, those are just my predictions. I’m not making any claims. But you’re attempting to paint broad brush strokes with a point of a feather and looking rather ridiculous doing so.

        “I don’t need to explain them, because neither one of them has done anything to end corruption or succeeded in turning a national election.”

        Well, regardless of your opinion on either the Tea Party or OWS, it’s still a direct contradiction to your claim that Americans accept corruption “without question,” as you said. I wouldn’t have raised a fuss if you hadn’t been so damned sure of your claims, but you’re the blogger, so I guess it’s part of the game to attract attention.

        “So, again, what’s the supposed point of a militia?”

        There isn’t a point. I agree with you.

        “This is just chauvinistic bullshit, and also a non sequitur. Georgia has great music, arts, cinema, and dance. Georgia has plenty of scientific innovation, including the Eliava institute, which is one of the few organizations in the world that currently has the potential to develop a cure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Georgia is small and poor and without the resources to fund the kind of government programs that spawned the internet or the moon landing, but that’s because Georgia is small and poor, not because Georgia doesn’t regulate its citizens enough.”

        If it were a non-sequitur there wouldn’t be a need to respond to it. You seem to think that Georgia can be compared to the United States in almost every way: public transportation, infrastructure, gun rights, tax rates, elections, even internet and phone rates. But this exercise is pointless and only appeals to your pleasure in ridiculing America with the same tired tropes. You offer nothing that I cannot read on the Daily Kos, and at least they link to evidence when they make big claims without needing to be prompted by a jackass like me in the comments.

        You should turn your powerful skepticism onto yourself once in a while.

        • panoptical says:

          “Every American that I’ve spoken to disagrees. Oh, and my uncle Harry also disagrees. Got anything concrete?”

          Well, I mean, that NatGeo survey said that 55% of Americans surveyed said lack of availability was their biggest obstacle to using public transportation, followed by another 30% that cited infrequent service. Only 18% of Americans said that public transportation was easily available to them. So, either you’re talking to some weird Americans, or you’re bullshitting me.

          I get your point about skepticism, but we shouldn’t need to resort to surveys and studies to have a frank discussion about things that are obvious, like the fact that public transportation in America is underdeveloped (because most people take cars) and public transportation in Georgia is basically ubiquitous. Demanding that I cite sources for this kind of claim seems more bloody-minded than genuinely skeptical.

          “I’m merely saying your claim is too broad and vague to possibly be of any value”

          Saying that public transportation is more comprehensive in Georgia than the US is “too broad and vague”? But it seems like you and everyone else knew exactly what I mean. Again it seems like you just want to argue, which in turn makes it seem like you just want to deflect any criticism of America under the guise of skepticism.

          “Well, regardless of your opinion on either the Tea Party or OWS, it’s still a direct contradiction to your claim that Americans accept corruption “without question,” as you said.”

          Okay, you caught me! Yes, a tiny minority of Americans do not fit in with my generalization of the American attitude towards corruption. Shockingly, that does not invalidate the generalization itself, which is that Americans, generally, accept corruption without question.

          “If it were a non-sequitur there wouldn’t be a need to respond to it.”

          What?

          “But this exercise is pointless”

          OH! I see the problem – you didn’t get the point! Your patriotism completely blinded you to the nine hundred words I wrote that were not a comparison between America and Georgia.

          Well, let me try and fix that. The point is that a society can function without enshrining the right to keep and bear arms as one of its most cherished ideals. The point is that liberty doesn’t die when you require gun licenses or registrations. The point is that even in a poor and slightly unstable country, the people don’t need to stockpile weapons in order to feel safe and happy and free. The point is that America’s way of taking individualism to absurdly ridiculous levels has costs in addition to its benefits. The point is that some countries that have more restrictive gun laws have less restrictive laws about many, many other things. The point is that liberty is not an all-or-nothing proposition, and that Americans need to color their liberty with a little more responsibility, sometimes.

  2. Kamisol says:

    I don’t know why I read this blog, I think i’ll stop. Reading someone from New York pontificate on American values is about as insightful as reading someone from the Yukon complain about Toronto. The writer isn’t the type of American who spent much time on BLM lands.

    That said, “Again, imagine an American politician losing an election over an issue like prison rape – prison rape! It’s as American as apple pie.”

    Not sure what that means, but I am guessing that you are equating the Georgian prison abuse scandal with Saakashvili’s party losing the elections in 2012. Revulsion at the abuse certainly played a role, but I still think that the grade-D media response to a scandal that unfolded on Facebook and Odnoklassniki did far more harm than anything else. Who says that prison rape is as American as apple pie?

    Oh, and, “Most Georgians don’t seem to have guns.” Can’t you get actual numbers? I hung out in villages where nearly every family seemed to have either a shotgun or a rifle. I would guess that gun ownership levels (as a percentage of households who own a gun) are probably similar to that of the United States.

    And, “You can drink a beer out on the street.” Didn’t the government just ban open containers?

    • panoptical says:

      “I am guessing that you are equating the Georgian prison abuse scandal with Saakashvili’s party losing the elections in 2012.”

      Oh, yeah, I didn’t mean to do that. I was trying to refer to the Cabinet-level resignations that took place in the wake of the prison scandal, but just misstated what I was thinking. Probably due to overall tiredness. But yeah, I do think the prison videos played at least some role in the election, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was the deciding factor.

      “The writer isn’t the type of American who spent much time on BLM lands.”

      Very true, and if you only want to read the opinions of someone who has, I won’t blame you. But America is far too big for one person to have a native-level understanding of more than a few of its many regions, so I reject the idea that someone needs to have experienced life in a particular area of America in order to offer a reasonable opinion about America as a whole. In any case, I’ve lived in rural areas (not for nearly as long as I’ve lived in Georgia), I’ve gone to firing ranges and experienced gun culture in the South, albeit in a very limited way, and I’ve done a lot of research on the issue and followed news stories about the legal and social aspects of guns and gun culture.

      But if there’s a particular objection you have to my assertions about America based on your presumably greater experience of BLM lands (which I had to google), I’d love to hear that instead of this ad hominem nonsense that you’re bringing.

      “Can’t you get actual numbers?”

      Not really. I doubt that there exist reliable, public statistics about gun ownership in Georgia.

      But that being said, I’m not convinced that a percentage of households that own a gun is the best metric to use for a reasonable comparison. It doesn’t really capture things like the number and type of guns any given person has access to, the number and type of guns any given person or group of people is likely to be carrying at any given time, etc. Even if every Georgian village home had a rifle or shotgun that got dusted off to scare away the odd stray wolf now and again, it wouldn’t address a comparison between what violent crime looks like in New York or Chicago and what violent crime looks like in Tbilisi. A rural Georgian who goes hunting being able to have a hunting weapon is evidence of a reasonable balance of regulation. The rates of gun violence in the US are evidence of a failure to find such a balance.

      In any case, when we talk about culture, we have to talk about impressions. “What is it like in Georgia?” is just as valid a way to approach the problem as “How many homes have one or more guns?”

      “And, “You can drink a beer out on the street.” Didn’t the government just ban open containers?”

      I haven’t heard of such a thing, but thanks for the warning!

  3. sarahcobham says:

    I think the point in this is that there is something darker and more insidious going on within the Georgian culture that is able to self-regulate. Unfortunately the feudal traditions which existed in Georgian villages in the past which had a system by which those who lived within those communities would self-police, has continued in many cases and transferred into the cities. So, for example, as it was explained to me, if a member of a family did something outside of the considered code of conduct of the village, then that family would be ostracized and separated. Their children would not be ‘allowed’ to marry into village families (bride kidnapping takes place in a large majority of places still – it’s one of those Unspoken things that many Georgian’s themselves are in denial about) and often a beating or revenge killing would (and still does) take place. All this was/is designed to keep order. Whether guns, khanjali, fist, boot, stone or wood is used is immaterial – it is the ATTITUDE which prevails at grass roots which is the issue here. And the ATTITUDE is still very much that the Georgian citizen has it in them selves to collectively police their own communities. This means that either by agreement or intimidation individuals take on roles to be part of the collective. Look no further than the gruesome tales told in the traditional folk songs accompanied by the dances which reinforce this mentality. I can certainly understand why it is that such resentment against the state is expressed angrily when politicians, it seems like voice pieces from the west, try to impose restrictions on the people of Georgia. (Hence the outpouring of bitterness at the Saakashvili abuses which were exposed so violently just before the the October elections in 2012)

    However… there are many so called ‘traditions’ within a free-range society such as Georgia which really do need policing. The reporting and conviction of rape cases for example. http://iwpr.net/report-news/rape-cases-hard-bring-georgia or giving protection to women who suffer from domestic abuse. Georgia has one of the highest domestic abuse statistics in Europe, ( See my blog with all the corresponding articles to support it here http://sarahcobham1.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/children-of-sun.html )

    I have read the Stephen Jones piece about ‘Georgia through a glass, darkly’ and agree with alot of what he is saying about seeing Georgia as a reflection of what we, in the west, want it to be. However, whilst ever there is a culture that assumes men can own guns, can hold them, can use them to ‘protect’ themselves, their women, their territories, their pride and that this assumption is above the rule of law there is a very very big need for laws to be in place.

    I have a different interpretation than you to the image of the woman holding the gun. Of course it’s a metaphor and of course the language is being manipulated by the pro-gun lobby in america and shamelessly so, However, Georgia’s war of 2008 is alot closer in the memories of her citizens than the American civil war. Women were raped systematically by Russian soldiers – as all women are in war – if you read Andrew Meier’s ‘Black Earth’ you will know that women, if they could get hold of them, strapped grenades to their bodies with the full intention of killing themselves to prevent themselves from being raped and used as weapons of war http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/4078677.stm and that women have always known that they are powerless and potential victims in any conflict situation.

    Yes in an ideal world have all the men educated and respect women, have them see women as human beings, not as commodities, sexual objects, or conquests and spoils of war. Yes, remove the orthodox church there in Georgia for whom it suits the power status quo to have women subservient and silent constantly intimidated by the assumptions of community self-regulation. Yes have more women in pole positions in the Georgian Government and try very hard to stop the ideology and the rape-culture that is so ingrained in war-torn nations but for God’s sake, don’t take the metaphorical gun away from the woman if it’s all she has. Let her defend herself, or let her kill herself. If the tribal, feudal mentality is still there and if, as I know from personal experience, the only way to defend yourself from very real and violent death threats which are used as a way of attempting to control another human being, is to get the police and the law involved then for God’s sake, have those laws in place. It is these laws which underpin a civil, civilized society and protect those who are victims of the dominant group.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “we pay anywhere from 10% – 20% of the price for medications as Americans pay, we pay much less for utilities, phone service, and internet”

    You neglected to mention that Georgians earn 10-20% of what Americans earn. How much are non-Tbilisi based Georgian English teachers making now? 280 Lari per month? That’s about $167 per month, or about 4.5% of what first year teachers earn in my home state. If you really start to dig around in the numbers, I think you’ll find that Georgians pay proportionally higher rates for medications than Americans. Does $60 for a battery of cold medicines sound cheap to you? Tell that to someone who earns 300 Lari per month.

    “Also – if size or population really were a barrier to public transportation, then why are Russia and China both beating America in terms of use and availability of public transportation?”

    Perhaps these countries, and Georgia, are beating the U.S. in public transportation availability because their citizens are too poor to afford automobiles. Have you ever taken a bus or subway in China? I have and promise you that doing so over the course of several weeks will have you champing at the bit to buy a car, which is exactly what most Chinese people would do if they had enough money. Do you know how much cars cost in China? Look up a used car on Craigslist and then multiple that price by 4, 5, or 6 and you’ll find the price for the same used car in China.

    Why does China beat the U.S. at public transportation? It’s because secretaries earn less than $300 per month for working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. Are you aware that someone in China who earns about $600 per month at a bank has to cough up a bribe equal to 10 years of salary to even get the job? No, China, Russia, and Georgia don’t beat the U.S. in public transportation because they’re more noble or care more about the environment. They beat the U.S. in the availability of public transportation because it’s a necessary factor for their societies to function.

    • panoptical says:

      “You neglected to mention that Georgians earn 10-20% of what Americans earn. ”

      The point is that Americans pay way too much for medications, not that medication is more affordable for Georgians.

      Georgia imports medications from three continents, and even with the cost of manufacture in countries ranging from India to Germany, and the cost of shipping, these medications still retail, in nominal dollars, for 10-20% of what identical American medications retail for. How do we explain that discrepancy? Cost of labor in America only goes so far. Regulations and government-enforced local-market monopolies drive prices up, which is why even in Canada medications are way cheaper than in America.

      “Does $60 for a battery of cold medicines sound cheap to you?”

      No, it sounds like fraud. You don’t need medicine for a cold, and honey and ginger do as much to relieve symptoms as the crap pharmacies sell (Except Sudafed, which wasn’t even available in Georgia last I checked).

      “Perhaps these countries, and Georgia, are beating the U.S. in public transportation availability because their citizens are too poor to afford automobiles…They beat the U.S. in the availability of public transportation because it’s a necessary factor for their societies to function.”

      That’s not a reason. That’s a motivation. The Chinese government didn’t have to build public transportation infrastructure; it could have left its citizens to be poor rural farmers rather than factory workers and city-dwellers. It could have decided that its citizens were going to build themselves cars in their factories, rather than building consumer electronics to sell to the West, and then they’d all have cars and we’d be making our sneakers and iPads in Africa or something.

      The point is, the Communist Party decided they wanted a modern economy and so they built a modern public transportation infrastructure. Of course that doesn’t prove that China is noble or cares about the environment, but it does prove that it is possible to build a modern transportation infrastructure in a large, populous country, which was the only reason I used it as an example.

  5. Very interesting conversation. I know I’m about 8 months too late, but I would like to add my comments anyway.

    According to some statistics I found on the web, Georgia is 72nd in the world in private gun ownership, with 7.2 privately owned guns for every 100 citizens. The U.S. is first, with 89 per hundred. Switzerland, another nation that is considered to be very free both economically and socially, is fourth with 45.7 guns per hundred citizens. Is there a strong, direct correlation between freedom and gun ownership? Probably not appreciably for the short term. But I think that over the long run, countries with higher legislative regard for a person’s right to self defense tend to have a better overall track record for personal liberty.

    “You are not safe in any situation where you have to carry a gun to feel safe.”

    Well, speaking as a gun owner, and also as a one-time victim of kidnapping and rape and attempted murder, I have to say that fear does not enter into the equation for me. Fear is something that you (hopefully) address internally. It is an emotional thing that you can overcome over time and with a lot of effort. Taking measures to protect yourself, whether through martial arts training, installing a home security system, or owning a gun, simply is a way of empowering yourself to defend what matters most to you IF the worst should occur. Acknowledging that a) there are bad people who do bad things to good people and b) it is not always possible for a law enforcement officer to reach the scene of an attempted crime in time to intervene, just seems like common sense.

    Owning a weapon or otherwise having the capability to defend yourself, your family and your property, in whatever way you see fit is not an act of fear. It is an act of empowerment. The truth is that you can not be sure that you are safe in *any situation. Life is not predictable. Criminals are out there. We can pretend they don’t exist, but that does not change the fact that they do. We can hope that if we are ever the target of violence, we will have the means and time to call the cops and that the cops will show up in time, but there is no guarantee. This holds true whether we are in rural Mississippi or Chicago or Tbilisi or Bangkok. The relative safety of an environment does not guarantee freedom from aggression or harm. I was sitting peacefully in my apartment in one of the safest cities in the U.S. when I was kidnapped by an unarmed intruder. Due to the immediacy of the situation, I was not able to grab my cell phone to notify the authorities. I’d been trained how to use a gun, but I didn’t own one. If I’d had a firearm, I am sure I would have been able to fend off the intruder before he forced me into the backseat of my own car. To deny people that basic right of self defense seems to me an egregious denial of the individual’s human value. At the risk of sounding redundant, I’ll rephrase the point again. Owning or carrying a weapon for self defense does not mean that you are constantly in fear; it simply means that you are willing to protect yourself (and others) if the need should arise.

    “Even if every Georgian village home had a rifle or shotgun that got dusted off to scare away the odd stray wolf now and again, it wouldn’t address a comparison between what violent crime looks like in New York or Chicago and what violent crime looks like in Tbilisi.”

    Chicago and New York City both have very stringent gun ownership laws. Their (Legal) private gun ownership rates are probably lower than Georgia’s. However, they experience drastically high gun violence. Most of the gun related crimes that occur in Chicago, NYC and New Orleans (the three worst U.S. cities for gun crimes) are committed by criminals with guns not registered to them. Now this might be a point in favor of gun laws… if these very cities did not already have the toughest gun laws in the country.

    Finally, the most important question I think any citizen of any country should ask himself before committing to one side or the other of the gun debate: Do you want the cops and the soldiers to have all the guns? With incidences happening daily in the U.S. involving sociopathic cops and routine traffic stops or victimless crimes that end in someone getting a bullet to the brain, I’d have to say, emphatically, no. I don’t know what cops are like in other countries, but it seems to me that any profession that conveys a sense of authority over average citizens is going to attract a good number of sociopaths and power hungry people with a questionable sense of morality. That being the case, I can not imagine why anyone would seriously want only cops to have guns.

    • panoptical says:

      It doesn’t matter what laws cities have on the books when anyone, no matter how demonstrably criminal or insane, can easily purchase guns at gun shows in other states and easily cross state lines. Most of New York City’s gun deaths can safely be blamed on states’ rights – big surprise, the same “principle” that brought us slave states and the civil war is still killing kids in New York and Chicago.

      “Do you want the cops and the soldiers to have all the guns?… I can not imagine why anyone would seriously want only cops to have guns.”

      So, your proposal is that civilians shoot it out with the cops during routine traffic stops and victimless crimes, in order to increase our personal liberty? That doesn’t sound like it would work.

      Cops abuse their authority, and that is terrible, but an armed populace has literally no chance of making that situation any better. When civilians arm themselves, cops just arm themselves more. You bring an assault rifle, they bring full body armor, tanks, tear gas, and soon drones. All you gun people accomplish is to put cops on edge, which increases the danger for the rest of us.

      Ironically the only chance the public has against police brutality is more surveillance. Cops get caught when civilians catch them on camera, and putting a camera in every phone has done more for individual rights than the NRA ever has or ever will. We should just equip every police officer with cameras – dash cams, helmet cams, even lapel cams – and store the feeds on a server in a civilian agency under judicial control.

      The interaction between liberty and security is complicated, but what’s not complicated is that guns make everything worse. Our priority as a society should be figuring out how to get rid of them.

  6. “So, your proposal is that civilians shoot it out with the cops during routine traffic stops and victimless crimes, in order to increase our personal liberty?”

    Um… did I say that?? No, I didn’t think so.

    “When civilians arm themselves, cops just arm themselves more. You bring an assault rifle, they bring full body armor, tanks, tear gas, and soon drones. All you gun people accomplish is to put cops on edge, which increases the danger for the rest of us.”

    Most of us “Gun People” don’t even bring our weapons out of our homes. They are for self protection at home, and that’s pretty much it. Sometimes they’ll get taken to the shooting range for practice. The cops are there, too, so we get to know each other a bit. You can’t seriously be suggesting that the government’s constant domestic arms race is caused by private gun owners having assault rifles. That’s just crazy. If a weapon exists, the state will want it. If it does not exist, the state will fund the invention of it. This is true whether the state allows its citizens to bear arms (U.S.) or not (China). It’s a matter of power and control, certainly not matching gun owners tit for tat. If that were the case, the police departments would have stopped at AK’s.

    “It doesn’t matter what laws cities have on the books when anyone, no matter how demonstrably criminal or insane, can easily purchase guns at gun shows in other states and easily cross state lines.”

    Criminals buying guns across state lines. These are criminals. They are going to get guns somehow, regardless of what the law says. So an NYC resident (WHERE GUNS ARE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO BUY/OWN) crosses over to, let’s say New Hampshire (where guns are pretty much unrestricted and there is VIRTUALLY NO GUN CRIME) to purchase a weapon at a gun show, and then (ILLEGALLY) crosses back into NYC and (ILLEGALLY) keeps the weapon in his car or home. And then he (ILLEGALLY) uses it in a crime. Obviously, legalities do not have any impact on this sort of character. And meanwhile, in many other American cities with less gun restrictions and more legal gun ownership, there is FAR less gun crime per capita. So it would appear it DOES matter what laws cities have on the books. The less laws restricting guns, the less crime. If guns were made illegal tomorrow in the US, would they just disappear? Think everyone would turn theirs’ in? Of course not. There’d be a huge black market, and guns would still be available to criminals… but not to the rest of us who might need to defend ourselves from them.

    “The interaction between liberty and security is complicated, but what’s not complicated is that guns make everything worse. ”

    No, actually, guns make everything better. We can defend ourselves. We don’t have to rely on someone else to do it for us. Just the fact of *having a firearm and showing it is enough in many cases to prevent an assault on your person.

    “Our priority as a society should be figuring out how to get rid of [guns].”

    Ok, maybe while we’re at it we can get rid of computers and the wheel. Dude. Things don’t just disappear without government intervention. And if government intervenes and gets rid of guns, it’ll only be ours they “get rid of”. Then the government will have twice as many guns. So you don’t really want society to “figure out who to get rid of them”, you just want only authorities to have them. You want us to have to cross our fingers and pray that the cops will get there in time to save us from the rapist or the thief or the murderer. That just doesn’t sound good.

    I agree with you on officer surveillance. I’m a big supporter of it. But the fact that I live in the only country where citizens are capable of defending ourselves against a domestic tyrant… that feels, not exactly promising, but better than the alternatives, especially seeing the way things are going.

    • panoptical says:

      But the fact that I live in the only country where citizens are capable of defending ourselves against a domestic tyrant… that feels, not exactly promising, but better than the alternatives, especially seeing the way things are going.

      The *only* country? Not even wrong.

      If you believe this, you have been lied to in a way that I can’t fix. First, American citizens are in no way capable of defending themselves against a domestic tyrant. An American domestic tyrant would have drones and nukes, waterboarding and Gitmo, the CIA and the most powerful military the world has ever seen. What would you have?

      Second, I happen to live, right now, in a country where citizens actually defended themselves against domestic tyrants several times in the last few decades, starting with voting to secede from the Soviet Union, and most recently in deposing a fraudulently elected tyrant through peaceful protest in the Rose Revolution. Then there’s Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Ukraine – four more countries in which citizen uprisings have deposed tyrannical leaders in recent history, and that’s just off the top of my head.

      This is why American exceptionalism is so poisonous – it’s one thing to ignore the world; if you want to live in ignorance, that’s certainly your most fundamental right as an American. It’s another thing entirely when you actively invent lies about the rest of the world to cover up the dismal truth about your own dysfunctional society.

      America is the only country in the world in which children are regularly killed in school. America leads the world in incarceration, obesity, and health care expenditures – but certainly not in freedom or liberty or independence.

      As for the rest – you have given a lot of the standard pro-gun arguments, and I’m not inclined to engage with them because the point was to offer an international perspective, not start an ideological battle. You seem to feel strongly that you are only safe (from criminals, the government, etc.) if you are allowed to keep a gun, but in fact the overwhelming weight of evidence from across the world is that your feeling is unjustified, and that countries with a variety of gun control regimes also have things like freedom and security. Perhaps you are right that Americans can never be disarmed, but if that is the truth, then it is a tragic one.

  7. I don’t consider the democratic process to be a form of defense when the enemy has weapons and is in charge of the democratic process. I am certainly not an “American exceptionalism” proponent. And of course, I do recognize that there have been successful grassroots and guerrilla oppositions to tyranny in many countries. But the fact that there are 89 guns per 100 people in the US really seems to give our citizenry an advantage that most other citizenries don’t have. I am not arguing that you can fight tanks with semi automatic rifles, but I am saying that if the government ever decided to start rounding people of some stripe or another up in rail cars to be shipped off to internment camps, the people would at least have the opportunity and the means to fight back. Would they choose to do so, or would they submit to fear and state propaganda? That’s another question entirely and not one I know the answer to. But at least the means would be there, and that seems to be almost unique to the US. There’s a reason Hitler, Mao and Stalin disarmed their respective populaces early on in each of their despotic careers.

    • panoptical says:

      But the fact that there are 89 guns per 100 people in the US really seems to give our citizenry an advantage that most other citizenries don’t have.

      Based on what? Where is the evidence that Americans are more advantaged than worse-armed populations? We don’t do better in school. We aren’t healthier. We aren’t happier. Judging by the ratio of imprisoned citizens to free citizens, we are objectively less free than every other country in the world. I am just wondering how this supposed advantage manifests itself in our real lives.

      I am saying that if the government ever decided to start rounding people of some stripe or another up in rail cars to be shipped off to internment camps

      That actually happened once, and the people were more or less cool with it.

      So maybe guns give the American people an advantage in a number of imaginary hypothetical situations that are stupendously unlikely to occur. If the government started interning people AND the American people decided to rise up against them, we would be better armed than the rebels in Tahrir or Taksim or Euromeidan – but, of course, our government would also be better-armed than their governments were, so it’s not even clear that we would in fact have any advantage at all.

      However, that scenario is, again, staggeringly unlikely. The reality is, American children are dying for your ideology. You are sacrificing real innocent lives for a potential advantage in an unlikely imaginary future scenario. That is, frankly, stupid and barbaric.

      • “That actually happened once, and the people were more or less cool with it.”

        Like I said, there’s no guarantee that the public will stand up against targeting and mistreatment of a minority by the state. In fact, as the events of WWII in both the US and Europe attest, few will be morally upright and/or courageous enough to do so. But at least if the populace is armed, they have the means to do so.

        It is nice to know that you are so confident in the state of Western peace and security that you can not imagine a series of events such as regime change or state-provoked civil unrest that could put the people of a nation in the position of having to defend themselves against their government. Sadly, I do not share this confidence. Even if things seemed relatively safe for now (they don’t; NSA spying, US military dominance, World Bank/UN/IMF imperialism and several other factors seem poised to brew up a perfect storm for tyranny that could affect peoples worldwide), I would not be comfortable in the assumption that stability would last 25 or 40 years more.

        “American children are dying for your ideology.”

        No. Murders are not the result of a right-to-self-defense ideology. It is dishonest to conflate the two. Mass shootings are not the result of a relatively wide availability of firearms. They are the result of a culture that ignores mentally ill behaviors until it is too late, and rewards psychopathic rampages with media infamy. The Chinese school stabbing spate that has been going on for several years now can be attributed to the same cultural problems. The vast majority of Chinese knife owners will never turn their knives against a non-violent person, much less an innocent child. Just as the vast majority of American gun owners will never attempt murder.

        It is criminal to deny a responsible, law abiding person the right to self defense.

        Drunk drivers kill far more people in the US than madmen with guns. But we don’t suggest taking cars away from everyone to combat this. Nor does anyone seriously propose restricting alcohol availability. We tried that once. It didn’t work. Alcohol proliferated. Making and selling alcohol became much more lucrative due to the risk of such work. Alcohol related crime surged. Alcoholism increased. You can see the same economic and social repercussions of prohibition at work in the US drug trade today. And in the US states and cities that severely restrict gun ownership. I’ll reiterate what I said in a previous comment: the US cities with the most gun control are, without exception, places with very high gun crime rates. And if you take our seemingly high national gun crime statistics and remove those four or five cities from the calculation, the US actually has one of the lowest gun crime rates in the world.

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