Armed citizenry = anarchy

This article from the San Diego Union-Tribune got me thinking about the argument against gun control:

BAGHDAD – Prominent Shiite and Sunni politicians called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves after a weekend of violence that claimed more than 220 lives, including 60 who died Sunday in a surge of bombings and shootings around Baghdad.

The calls reflect growing frustration with the inability of Iraqi security forces to prevent extremist attacks.

Iraqi civilians already have guns — isn’t that the problem? Apparently the argument is, If more people had guns, there would be fewer instances of people shooting each other.


The way to prevent gun violence is for the state to have a monopoly on the use of force. An armed citizenry — a police force that is out-gunned — results in anarchy.

Anarchy plus an armed citizenry results in scores of violent deaths.

220 deaths in a single weekend, in a country the size of Iraq. Do we really want to create the conditions for that to happen at some point in the future in the USA?


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bill
    Jul 10, 2007 @ 15:35:52

    Bravo ! I love the equation….


  2. Scott
    Jul 11, 2007 @ 11:44:59

    Um, Iraq isn’t in a state of anarchy, it’s a US military police state. It’s the exact opposite of anarchy, which only goes to show that the State “monopoly on violence” is nothing but a imaginary state of utopia. The state can not monopolize violence, it can only monopolize LEGAL violence, which makes self defense illegal and greatly increases things like rape and theft. But mostly rape.

    The problem in Iraq is not that the people have guns. The problem in Iraq is that WE are THERE. If you strip the citizens of their guns, violence will only increase because they will lose their only means of self defense. You simply can not possible rid the world of guns any more than you can rid the world of illegal drugs.

    What would your state monopoly on violence propose to do to a place like this?


  3. Stephen
    Jul 11, 2007 @ 12:00:13

    Iraq is so in a state of anarchy:

    BAGHDAD — In the Ubaidi neighborhood in the eastern part of this city, American soldiers hired a local Iraqi to clean the Porta-Potties at their combat outpost. Before the man could start, members of the local Shiite militia threatened to kill him.

    Today, the Porta-Potties are roped off, and the U.S. soldiers, who could not promise to protect their sewage man, are forced to burn their waste.

    As part of the Bush administration’s troop “surge” strategy, the U.S. unit here had moved into an abandoned potato chip factory hoping to push out the militia, protect existing jobs and provide stability for economic growth. Instead, militia members stymied development projects, cut off the water supply and executed two young Iraqi women seen talking to U.S. soldiers, sending a powerful message about who really controls Ubaidi’s streets.

    The phrase “Shiite militia” glorifies a bunch of civilians with guns, bound to one another by their sectarian loyalty. There is no “police state”; there is only lawlessness, spiralling toward civil war:

    Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament, said the U.S. approach may be successful at weakening Al Qaeda in Iraq. But he said Americans would not be able to solve Iraq’s sectarian conflict or stop clashes between armed groups in Baghdad neighborhoods.

    “The surge has an important effect in fighting Al Qaeda,” the independent politician said. “On the Sunni-Shiite conflict, it hasn’t had any effect…. Extremist Shiites and Sunnis are fighting each other. The Americans can’t stop this.”

    You describe that as a state monopoly on violence?


  4. Scott
    Jul 11, 2007 @ 12:41:01

    Anarchy is the absence of a State organization, not law and order. You can’t have anarchy when a government agent is standing on every corner with a machine gun (let alone multiple state agencies providing armed soldiers as is the case in Iraq). Just because the U.S.’s police State is ineffective at stopping violence doesn’t mean it’s any less of a police state. It only proves that police states, especially those brought on by force rather than “democracy”, usually leads to violent revolt. That is if the State hasn’t already stolen the guns from the people, in which case it just leads to a more brutal and violent police state. (i.e. Rwanda)


  5. Stephen
    Jul 11, 2007 @ 14:04:20

    Anarchy: a state of lawlessness and disorder (usually resulting from a failure of government).

    Under Saddam Hussein, the state had a monopoly on the use of force. Not that anyone would describe Saddam’s state as a good government. But at least people weren’t shooting their neighbors while he was in command.

    The US removed Saddam without supplying enough troops to establish order after Saddam was gone. Thus the US created a condition of anarchy. The citizens of Iraq responded by pulling out their guns and beginning to kill one another.

    Exactly the same thing would likely happen in the USA if, for some reason, at some point in the future, there was a breakdown of authority. An armed citizenry plus a breakdown of state authority = exactly what we’re seeing in Iraq. It’s an instructive case study.


  6. Bill
    Jul 11, 2007 @ 15:02:39

    You can easily have anarchy when “a government agent is standing on every corner with a machine gun” if the citizenry are as equally armed.

    In a fight to the death , two men fight each other with guns = two men fight each other without guns.

    It is very possible to have anarchy when the governing power does not have any way to coerce the population into complying with thier rule.

    The closer we are to equallity of force the closer we are to anarchy.


  7. Scott
    Jul 11, 2007 @ 15:59:34

    ha, okay, that’s a very statist definition of anarchy. I’ll take your version of “anarchy” any day when the opposite is the “might makes right” rule of a tyrant. The United States seemed to prosper quite well when the citizens’ guns outnumbered those of the State probably tenfold in the 18th and 19th centuries. (Except for, of course, the blacks who weren’t allowed to have guns, and suffered greatly for it)

    We didn’t have near the violence then as we do now that the Federal government has raised the World’s most powerful standing army to coerce it’s citizens (indeed other nation’s citizens as well) into complying to their rule.


  8. Greg
    Jul 11, 2007 @ 17:10:34

    Off topic (I don’t think this one needs me to weigh in) but have you heard that your church isn’t actually a church anymore? Thus sprach Benedict:

    One wonders where it is you spoke last weekend…

    Hope all’s well with you and M. I have a couple souvenirs from the dark continent for you, though I don’t know when I’ll be able to hand them off.



  9. Jamie
    Jul 11, 2007 @ 19:42:34

    Not that anyone would describe Saddam’s state as a good government. But at least people weren’t shooting their neighbors while he was in command.

    I really don’t think that comparison does anything for your case. Doesn’t it only show that Iraq is no better off without gun control than it was with gun control (of a sort, under Saddam)?

    On a (related) tangent: Are you familiar with the experiment in Kennesaw, Georgia, with making gun ownership mandatory for all heads of households? I’m not sure how well known this story is (for all I know, maybe you’ve commented on it when I wasn’t paying attention), but Kennesaw has had this particular law on the books for 25 years, and it resulted in an immediate–and lasting–drop in violent crime. (See story on WorldNetDaily.)

    How does a situation like this affect your gun control argument?


  10. Jamie
    Jul 11, 2007 @ 19:44:33

    P.S. Not that this is particularly significant, but Kennesaw is very close to where I live, and it’s where I’ve gone to school for the past 5 years. Nice town–and sure not the Wild West that one might expect in a town with so many guns.


  11. Stephen
    Jul 12, 2007 @ 10:44:38

    Hi, Greg. Nice to have you back in Ontario.

    I hadn’t heard about that Catholic pronouncement. I could argue that Benedict isn’t a Pope since Protestants don’t cede him that authority, but I don’t suppose my position will cost him any sleep.

    What really fascinates me is the claim that this won’t affect ecumenical discussions!


  12. Stephen
    Jul 12, 2007 @ 10:57:49

    Doesn’t it only show that Iraq is no better off without gun control than it was with gun control (of a sort, under Saddam)?

    There is no condition worse than anarchy. People live in a constant state of fear. They can’t carry out the smallest task without incurring a real risk of violent death.

    Under Saddam, most people carried out their daily activities in security.

    But my broader point is, this is what happens when (a) the citizenry is armed and (b) government breaks down. Your Kennesaw illustration is germane to a consideration of gun ownership so long as the state exercises effective authority over the nation. Perhaps I’ll address that topic in a separate post.

    I have heard people argue that when government fails it is best that citizens be armed. That’s the argument I’m attacking here. When government fails, an armed citizenry results in anarchy … and scores of violent deaths in a single weekend, in a single city.


  13. Knotwurth Mentioning
    Jul 14, 2007 @ 00:18:49

    *cough, cough* Hurricane Katrina crisis…

    Seems to go pretty well with that last statement. Although one has to ask how, when government fails, it is supposed to stop the citizens from having guns…


  14. 49erDweet
    Jul 16, 2007 @ 01:28:21

    Actually, Stephen, I hold that slavery is a much worse state to be in than anarchy.

    Not to put too fine a point on it but in my view during a period of anarchy an armed and informed citizenry is in a much preferable position than that of an unarmed and ill-informed group. If I had my choice — well, you can see where I’m going. I’m taking some direction from the Iraqi blogs I read from time to time. Many of them don’t seem to be a discouraged or negative as do you. Could you be missing something?

    Your POV may be spot on about Iraq, but it may also only be your vision from afar and colored by your personal biases. Time will tell whether you are right, or whether GWB did the right thing. Though I’m anxious for it to be over, I’ll not support pulling the plug before the fledgling Iraqi government has a fair chance to survive for more than a week.


  15. Stephen
    Jul 16, 2007 @ 14:53:24

    • Knotwurth:
    The state should prevent citizens from getting guns while it can — i.e., while there is a viable state in place. The whole post is written with a view to the USA, and those who argue in support of gun ownership there.

    • 49er:
    History is a long time. I hope you’re right, and Iraq graduates to become a viable democracy some day. It looks like civil war lies in their immediate future.


  16. 49erDweet
    Jul 16, 2007 @ 23:13:17

    Again we agree


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