The Nonaggression Principle and a Question

An excellent piece by our old libertarian friend Arizona cirminal-defense lawyer Marc Victor (warning: autoplay audio on that firm site): I Am a Peaceful AR-15 Assault Rifle Owner.

Our society is a sick one, certainly emotionally and arguably mentally ill. It sexualizes children and worships violence. If American society were a young man, we damn sure wouldn’t want it to own an assault rifle.

But the vast majority of assault rifles are safely held by peaceable people like Victor. I would have no problem having well-armed people like Victor as my neighbors (in fact, I have, and I found that they made good neighbors in good times and great neighbors during emergencies).

Victor has a diagnosis for the sickness infecting our society:

The single biggest contributing factor to our culture of violence is that our society no longer adheres to the once basic notion that initiating force against non-aggressors is wrong.

That once-basic notion to which Victor refers is what libertarians call the Nonaggression Principle: roughly, initiating or threatening violence against the person or property of another is illegitimate. All of us violate the Nonaggression Principle every day, so much so that most of us don’t even know we’re doing it.

“Well,” you say, “I don’t violate the Nonaggression Principle every day.” 

See, I told you: you don’t even know you’re doing it. You don’t know because you’re doing it through proxies. Every time a police officer pulls someone over for speeding (nonviolent victimless crime) he is threatening violence against that person and his property on your behalf: the speeder’s compliance is assured only by the fact that the police officer and his colleagues have your license to use force against him.

By giving the government license to use force on our behalf against our fellow citizens who have neither harmed anyone nor threatened to do so, we have abandoned the Nonaggression Principle. And as we don’t respect the Nonaggression Principle in our polity, so we abandon it in our society.

Victor has an AR-15, a military-style semiautomatic rifle that will accept a magazine holding twenty or more rounds of ammunition. Many people would call this an assault rifle (some would argue that true assault rifles are fully automatic). It’s precisely the sort of weapon that Dianne Feinstein would address with her assault weapon ban.

Feinstein would require that Victor give up his AR-15 or register it. Imagine that Victor (or Joshua Boston) refuses to relinquish or register his weapon. What then? The government has two choices: let it slide, or seize the weapon. The law is the law, and if the government lets Victor and Boston keep their AR-15s nobody else is going to surrender theirs. So the government has to seize the weapon.

Agents go to Victor’s door. “Mr. Victor, we’re here from the government, and we’re here for your gun.”

“You can’t come in.”

They can’t let him get away with that. Boom, down comes the door. Victor is held at gunpoint, his safe is cracked, his weapon is taken, and he goes to jail.

And that’s the best-case scenario: so much violence initiated against a peaceful man, all in the name of the public, and at the particular behest of those who would support Feinstein’s law.

So here’s the question for those who favor the government pointing a gun at Victor on their behalf to take away his rifle:

Assuming you could do so with impunity, would you point that gun at Victor yourself?

18 responses to “The Nonaggression Principle and a Question”

  1. Great post and question, Mark. It saddens me that many people are comfortable with, or even enthusiastic about, having folks in uniforms do things to other people that they would never do themselves. Your question gets to the heart of the matter. I have encountered similar attitudes among supporters of the various wars (e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan, Drugs, Iran (TBA), etc.), people for whom aerial footage of bombings are tantamount to pornography. They watch on YouTube with a smile as SWAT teams burst into people’s homes in search of dope. They root for the “good guys” as the “bad guys” are led away in cuffs. Many of these people would not sign up to drop the bombs or kick down the doors themselves.

    It’s almost like a Stanford Prison Experiment by proxy, where the participants at home cheer on the participants in the lab, and nobody stops to question the morality of it all because, hey, we’re doing it by the book. Nobody wants to admit that the book is repugnant and needs to be thrown out.

  2. Well, I think you raise an excellent point that we don’t always think about. And the increasing militarism of the police and the hardware they have is getting scary. But our TV programs glorify all of that, unfortunately.

    I myself wonder if we could do more with gun safety — could we require extensive safety training and that guns in houses with children or people with mental issues be kept in safes as a requirement before someone has a gun? Could we mandate reporting if your gun was stolen? Could we limit the number of guns? Could we limit ammunition that does extensive physical damage, like that which was used in Sandy Hook? I worry that this requirement of keeping guns in a locked safe intrudes into the home, but somehow, saving the lives of children who find guns and kill themselves or others seems very important. I fell like we don’t think about prioritizing what should be most important and we need to take a measured look at the big picture. I don’t know the answers to these questions and hope that we can have a rational discussion.

    I don’t want to confiscate everyone’s guns, but I also think that our society is batshit crazy the way we have encouraged so many guns and so much heavy duty ammunition out there, and that having a semi-automatic gun with hollowpoint bullets is somehow a sign of masculinity, like the Marlboro Cowboy smoking his cigarette. And we are now selling it to women as a sign of power. I feel like we went overboard denying a firearm to anyone convicted of a felony, when a lot of felonies are totally non-violent. I remember how I fought like a crazy woman for a client in the woods of Southwest Virginia to plead only to a misdemeanor, because he needed his rifle to feed his family.

    And the corollary of your non-aggression principle is why do we feel a need to protect ourselves with massive firepower from other people? What can we do to break down the fear of the other that has been built up so much in our society? I feel like we want less violence, rather than more violence.

    Thanks for the discussion.

    • For any of your proposed rules, are you willing to point a gun at the head of the violator? Will you hold at gunpoint the parent who doesn’t keep the gun in the safe? The person who doesn’t report the theft of a gun? Who has too many guns? Because that’s the big stick behind every criminal law: we will fine you; if you don’t pay we will jail you; if you try to escape we will kill you.

      We do have a system of behavior modification that doesn’t depend on the threat of death: the tort system. We should let it work, including removing gun manufacturers’ federally-mandated immunity.

      If everyone followed the NAP, nobody would need any firepower. What can we do to break down the fear? We can teach our children the NAP. But it’s hard to teach our children that initiating violence is wrong when we’re encouraging the government to do it for us. It’s hypocritical, and kids don’t put up with hypocrisy.

      • Ever watch the re-runs of old TV westerns on Encore channel? My Uncle will watch them non-stop. The gun fire, violence, men hitting men, men slapping/punching women, verbal threats, bully-ism followed by heroism with the unjust becoming dead by the guns of the just. The sound of gunfire is almost non-stop, except when punctuated by the sounds of a wounded horse or an abused woman. not to mention crying children. And it goes on like that FOR HOURS.

        That is what we were fed on as kids in the 50’s and 60’s, daily.

        Insane in the membrane, INSANE IN THE BRAIN!

      • And if you refuse to abide by the judgement of the tort system? Oh. Aggression, to enforce the court system.

        • No–the aggressor was the one perpetrating the tort.
          Recovery afterward is defensive–not a NAP violation.

          And, in a proper NAP/anarcho-capitalist world, there is no State with a monopoly on violence. A party refusing to abide by their contractual obligations would be progressively shunned, until they were cut-off completely.

    • It would be absolutely wonderful if we could eliminate the need for weapons of any kind; but as the saying goes, “those who beat their swords into plowshares, plow for those who didn’t”

      Every country where guns have been banned have experienced dramatic increases in violent crime, and paradoxically often increases in gun crime.

      But that is a weak, utilitarian argument.

      The much stronger argument is, as Mark so ably pointed out, the moral argument. That is, you and I disagree on what is “appropriately” armed; I believe it’s have quite formidable firepower safely tucked away if it’s ever needed purely defensively and never offensively.

      You believe guns are somewhat a scourge, and we’d be better removing them gradually.

      The key difference is that your position is based on various “mandates”–laws. And laws are enforced violently, often lethally. My position is quite passive; I wish only to live my life peacefully…but will defend my family if required to do so…and I retain the tools for that purpose.

      Here’s the startling fact though: violent crime is down by 50% in most categories over the last 20 years, accompanied by an astonishing increase in gun ownership.

      So, apparently all those peaceful gun-owners had the right idea after all!
      Contrast that with the murder capitol–Chicago, home of the strictest gun control in America.

      We DO want a less violent society. And surprisingly to some, we are getting it with more guns.

      I suppose Heinlein was right–“An armed society is a polite society.”

      P.S. we should talk about the sheer numbers some time–such as kids “finding guns and killing themselves”, or school shootings. They’re tragedies, but statistically they’re rounding errors. If you want to save kids, ban cars, swimming pools, SSRI’s, and CPS.

  3. It’s a reasonable argument. The issue I see is that while the Second Amendment is presented as a defense against government tyranny, it’s more of a last line of defense. The Fourth Amendment should suffice to keep the government out of your home. (Whether it actually does is a different matter; you and I both know that courts have been chipping away at it for decades.) In your hypothetical, if the government doesn’t have a warrant (or consent of the homeowner) then they’re not getting into his home unless we completely throw out the Fourth Amendment. And if we’ve gotten to that point, then the Second Amendment is really of little use.

    Part of the problem is that the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment are often willing to get rid of the first lines of defense in the Constitution. How many NRA supporters also supported the Patriot Act?

    • The staunchest defenders of the Second are weak on the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth. Also vice versa.

      If it’s wrong to hold a gun to Victor’s head, would having a warrant make it right?

      Assume that the government has a warrant when they knock on the door.

    • “How many NRA supporters also supported the Patriot Act?”
      …or the War on (some) Drugs?

      Ah, Martin Niemoller is rolling in his grave…”First they came for…”

      But it’s here now, and I’m heartened by the hornet’s-nest reaction to pending encroachments on the 2A.

      Maybe, just maybe, it will awaken the former hypocrites to their neglect of all those OTHER rights, the ones those people over there didn’t deserve because they were bad.

  4. I’m a libertarian and mostly sympathetic, but have to take issue with this:

    By giving the government license to use force on our behalf against our fellow citizens who have neither harmed anyone nor threatened to do so, we have abandoned the Nonaggression Principle. And as we don’t respect the Nonaggression Principle in our polity, so we abandon it in our society.

    OK, suppose I don’t want to give government that “license”. Aside from voting for Libertarian candidates who don’t have a snowball’s chance, how do I go about refraining? (Without getting those cops riled up so that they come and point guns at me, that is?)

    Point being, you can’t really blame people for doing something they can’t safely not do.

    • Fair enough. The government is violating the NAP in your name. But you are doing everything you can (by voting for L candidates, supporting them, running for office yourself…) to change the system. You are not to blame.

  5. Ah! A Brilliant post, Mark, wish I’d seen it earlier.

    This question: “If you feel so strongly about speeding/evil black rifles/school taxes, would YOU have the moral courage to hold a gun to my head and say ‘pay up!‘?”

    Is the key to exposing the violence and coercion–by proxy–of our system.

    And then, to de-legitimizing the State, or at least 90% of it.

    I had this very discussion at great length on another site with several other libertarians chiming in against one particularly obstinate individual; a purportedly non-violent Canadian, irony of ironies.

    And repeatedly I posed:

    I homeschool my children.
    I do not participate in government schooling and cost that system nothing.
    I therefore withhold that portion of my property taxes.
    Would you come to my house, hold a gun to my head, and demand payment?

    He would not answer. There was furious waving-of-hands, a flurry of “social contract” and other gibberish.

    But you’re absolutely on target Mark: as libertarians, we must strive always to show the “invisible gun in the room”, bring it to the fore, make it visible, and force the collectivists to face their inherent immorality.

  6. The real problem with anarcho-capitalist libertarianism is that it can be argued to a reductio ad absurdem. Once one has freedom from the state, one still doesn’t have true freedom. Our will, interests, and social doctrines confine us. In the end, we must achieve freedom from….. ourselves. We must all, thus die; ‘Libery in Death’ is clearly the logical doctrine here, but I don’t think mass suicide is the answer.

    • Well I must say, that’s ad absurdum alright!

      I don’t see how that follows, David. The NAP applies to interactions between people, and only against coercion, force, and fraud initiation.

      Voluntary interactions are by definition allowed, as is defense against aggression.

      How does annihilation follow?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.