What's a liberty lover to do? Democrats want the government to restrict the right of self-defense, even if it means considering the confiscation of guns. Republicans want the government to control who may come to the country, even if it means compelling employers to clear job applicants through a national database.
Let that sink in. Two of the most important aspects of liberty are self-defense and the search for a better life. One political party would have the state dictate the terms of the first; the other would have the government dictate the terms of the second.
I ask again: what's a liberty lover to do?
The right to take self-defensive action follows from self-ownership, which means the right not to be aggressed against and the obligation not to aggress against others. As the Levelller Richard Overton wrote in "An Arrow against All Tyrants" (1646):
To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature not to be invaded or usurped by any. For every one, as he is himself, so he has a self-propriety, else could he not be himself; and of this no second may presume to deprive any of without manifest violation and affront to the very principles of nature and of the rules of equity and justice between man and man.
Abraham Lincoln said, "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong." That is intuitively true; that is, we grasp it directly, as we grasp that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Slavery is wrong, and slavery is the negation of self-ownership. The abolitionists called slaveholders "man-stealers." So if it is true that slavery is wrong, this must also be true: if self-ownership is not right, nothing is right.
You cannot believe that your life is your own without also believing that you are entitled to defend yourself from physical attack, even if deadly force is required. Further, if self-defense is legitimate, then the acquisition of the means of self-defense, such as a handgun, rifle, or shotgun, is also legitimate. No one else's right of self-ownership is violated by the mere acquisition or possession of firearms.
Thus the right not to be aggressed against—to self-ownership—entails the right of self-defense, which entails the right to acquire (through consensual means of course) firearms. Forcibly encumbering people's efforts to acquire and possess firearms—most particularly government gun control in all its splendid variety—violates their rights.
Yet most Democrats see no problem in encumbering those efforts. The term gun control has a bad sound these days, so the controllers prefer the euphemism common-sense gun-safety legislation. But it's the same old wine in a new bottle. Most public endorsements of such legislation refer to "universal" background checks and some ill-defined "gun-show loophole." (I've addressed these things here.) But occasionally someone slips up and gives us a glimpse of what is perhaps the real objective.
Recently, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spoke favorably about Australia's gun laws. After the horrible shootings in Oregon, Obama said,
We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours—Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it."
Clinton, asked about Australia's law at a town-hall meeting, said,
Australia is a good example, Canada is a good example, the U.K. is a good example. Why? Because each of them have had mass killings. Australia had a huge mass killing about 20, 25 years ago, Canada did as well, so did the U.K. And, in reaction, they passed much stricter gun laws. The Australian government, as part of trying to clamp down on the availability of automatic weapons, offered a good price for buying hundreds of thousands of guns.
She compared Australia's "buyback" program to Obama's "cash for clunkers" program under which the government paid people to trade-in their old cars. Crucially, she added about the Australia law, "I think that's worth considering. I do not know enough detail to tell you how we would do it, or how would it work, but certainly the Australian example is worth looking at."
What she and Obama left out is that Australia's "buyback" program, unlike "cash for clunkers," was compulsory. It was an eminent-domain action by the state governments. Australia's constitution (like the U.S. Constitution) requires compensation when government takes private property. Thus gun owners were paid through a special tax for the guns they were ordered to surrender. (The program began with rifles and shotguns in 1996 and was extended to handguns in 2003.) In the United States local voluntary gun "buybacks" have had unspectacular results.
Moreover, the programs in Australia netted the government no more than a third of the nation's guns. Clinton's questioner was simply wrong when he said, "Australia managed to … take away tens of thousands—millions—of handguns, and in one year they were all gone." (Emphasis added.) So no matter how you view the subsequent trends in gun violence there (the picture is mixed), the results cannot be attributed to ridding Australia of firearms —because Australia was not rid of guns. Note, however, that the questioner, unlike Clinton and Obama, understands that the government took away — confiscated—the guns.
A word about "buyback" programs: Nonsense! Since governments don't sell guns to the people they rule, they most certainly cannot buy them back the way a corporation buys back shares of its stock.
A mandatory eminent-domain program for guns would of course be unconstitutional in light of the Second Amendment and theHeller case, which held that the amendment merely affirms a pre-constitutional individual right to keep and bear arms. That may be why Clinton had to "clarify" her statement. A spokeswoman said, "Of course not," when asked if Clinton favored gun confiscation. But the fact remains that if you think the Australian law is "worth considering," you're saying that confiscation is worth considering.
One final point: the gun-controllers enjoy portraying full defenders of self-defense as paranoids who irrationally fear that the "government is coming to take our guns." Obama's and Clinton's expression of interest in the Australian confiscation by eminent domain hardly helps the controllers' case. Moreover, it is reasonable to ask what the controllers will call for next when their lesser demands—like bogus "universal" background checks—fail to deliver on its promise.
As for Republicans and immigration, there's little to add to what I say above. Self-ownership logically includes the right to move (as long as no trespass occurs). All of the Republican anti-immigration measures, from Donald Trump's wall and militarization of the southern border, to E-Verify and government checkpoints well north of the border, violate this right. (I should note that Democrats are not markedly better on this issue.) Even Republicans who are considered moderates on immigration want to "secure the border first" and crack down on the employment of so-called illegal aliens, an ugly term for people exercising their rights while lacking government papers.
The moderates justify their "moderation" primarily on the grounds that American employers need to fill gaps in the work force. Let's not deprive agribusiness of crop-pickers or cheat the "American economy" of the best brains in the world, the moderates plead. While it is certainly true that Americans would benefit from non-Americans' freedom to move (open borders)—people create more wealth and provide more gains from trade in capital-rich areas than in capital-poor areas—what's most at issue here is the moral point that people as self-owners have a right to move in search of better lives. Immigration restrictions cruelly lock non-Americans into lives of poverty.
As Bryan Caplan sums up the matter:
The moral claim: Immigration restrictions are unjust. Letting people work for willing employers and rent from willing landlords is not charity. It's basic decency. And even though foreigners wickedly chose the wrong parents, they're clearly people.
The empirical claim: Being just to foreigners would cost us less than nothing. When people immigrate here to work, they simultaneously enrich themselves and us. Though a high-skilled worker enriches us more than a low-skilled worker, the typical low-skilled worker is far better than nothing—and there's plenty of room for everyone.
Thus we are in a sad predicament. The major political parties are enemies of our most basic liberties. What's a liberty lover to do?
This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog.