By Carl Watner
[Author’s Prologue: This article was written in April 2005, and remained unpublished until this issue. My reason for hesitation is stated in my opening sentence: how could an advocate of nonviolence extend the argument for property rights to include nuclear bombs? What prompts publication at this time is the appearance of John Gatto’s book, WEAPONS OF MASS INSTRUCTION: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling (2009). First, a bit of humor and an example of serendipity. When I first read Gatto’s book, I took the title to be WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION, which is how I view government, tax-supported, schools. It was only after discussing the book with friends that I realized my error.
Then, as I read the book, I found a section titled “Building Bombs” (pp. 117-119), which made me think of this old article and gave me reason to publish it. Gatto explains that information on “how to produce powerful explosives cheaply and with ordinary materials” was widely available a hundred years ago. Why so?
For anyone who understands what the miracle of America once was (and is no more), that it was a forge to convert slaves, serfs, peasants and proletarians into free men and women, explosives were an important part of self-reliance and liberty. They were important tools in clearing land, digging foundations, constructing ponds, building roads, moving stones, digging gold mines – perhaps in the gravest extreme defending your family’s liberty from agents of the political state. Isn’t that how we got a United States in the first place? Has the possibility of a tyranny here miraculously vanished? But violent conflict aside, and melodrama with it, the tool aspect alone ought to be the common right of free citizens. And whether you agree or not isn’t as important as realizing that less than a hundred years ago, perfectly ordinary people were trusted to handle power like this with responsibility. (pp. 118-119)
Exactly my sentiments, and while one might argue that the only purpose of a nuclear bomb is an aggressive threat, one must keep in mind the similarity of the concluding word of Gatto’s quote and my article: “responsibility” and “responsibly.” Remember, one can make an aggressive threat with a tree branch. Should the ownership of trees be outlawed? As a wag once observed: the reverse side of the coin of freedom is responsibility. It is not the objects we act with, but rather how we act with them that determines whether or not they are invasive and threatening.]
It might seem strange that a voluntaryist who has published many articles advocating nonviolence would write a subsequent one arguing for private property rights in heavy armaments, even nuclear bombs. Odd as this may appear, let me explain the genesis of this article and the logic that links the right to gun ownership and voluntaryist resistance together. First of all: the genesis of this article. My sons, William and Tucker, have been interested in hunting and target shooting for a number of years, and a friend gave us a copy of the December 2004 issue of the National Riflemen’s Association magazine, AMERICAN RIFLEMAN. In that issue Wayne LaPierre, NRA Executive Vice President, had a column in which he mentioned his debate in London, England on gun control with Rebecca Peters of IANSA (the International Action Network on Small Arms). The debate was on video; I obtained a copy; and, as might be expected, Mr. LaPierre and Ms. Peters were asked: “Where would you draw the line in regulating weapons ownership?” If you “allow” small hand-held sporting weapons, what about semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, shoulder-fired rockets, and suitcase-size nuclear weapons? My answer was that ownership rights to properly homesteaded property extend all across the weaponry spectrum; from slingshots to nukes.
I then wondered if any other libertarians had taken this position, publicly or privately. Robert Heinlein, the well-known science fiction writer, noted in his 1966 novel, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS that it is still “some” lone individual, whether in his capacity as a private citizen or government official, that ultimately controls the disposition of nuclear weapons.
“History’s most important lesson is that it has not been possible to make coercion compatible with truth.” – John Langbein in Alfred McCoy, A QUESTION OF TORTURE (2006) p. 204
“Too much power in the hands of individuals — surely you would not want … well, H-missiles for example — to be controlled by one irresponsible person?”
“My point is that one person is responsible. Always. If H-bombs exist — and they do — some man controls them. In terms of morals there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts. [Book One, Sec. 6]
Hans-Herman Hoppe in his essay on “The Idea of a Private Law Society” noted that in a libertarian society “no restrictions on the private ownership of firearms or other weapons would exist.” [http://www.mises.org/story/ 2265] [paragraph 23] Concomitantly, he observes that the statist provision of law and order “has led to the successive disarmament of the population.” All governments have a natural inclination to disarm their subjects because, as Hoppe puts it, “it is less dangerous to collect taxes from an unarmed man than from an armed man.” In a free society, where protection services are provided by insurance companies and private defense agencies, there would be an incentive for private citizens to be well-trained and certified in the use of weaponry of all sorts. Hoppe points out, that just as home owners with alarm systems often receive insurance discounts, so, too, “those able to certify some level of training in the handling of arms” would be charged “lower premiums reflecting the lower risk they represent.”
The main proponent of private ownership of nuclear weaponry, however, is the libertarian newspaper writer Vin Suprynowicz. In his book, THE BALLAD OF CARL DREGA (Reno, 2002), Mr. Suprynowicz relies on the United States Constitution, and its Second Amendment, to defend gun ownership. For example, he argues, “All federal lawmaking authority is vested in Congress. Is the Congress authorized to permit or ban or allow or infringe the private ownership of arms? … Under our [constitutional] system, th[e federal] government can acquire no right, power, or authority except those delegated to it by the people [via the Constitution].” [pp. 340-341] He concludes that any Congressional regulation of the private ownership of firearms is, ipso facto, unconstitutional. Instead of questioning the legitimacy of the Constitution, Mr. Suprynowicz blithely asserts that, “The founders were careful to note that they found mankind’s natural rights to be pre-existing” and “insisted that the ‘securing’ of those pre-existing rights [wa]s the only legitimate purpose of government.” [p.468]
In summary, Mr. Suprynowicz argues that since the federal government possesses nuclear warheads, it must have derived that right from somewhere. That “somewhere” he finds is in the individual American’s right to own them. In other words, since individual Americans have the “right, power, and authority to own nuclear weapons,” they may delegate that right to their protector, the American government. [p. 341] In response to a reader’s question: “Do ‘I advocate the unrestricted right to own weapons of mass destruction’?” he replies, “No, I acknowledge this pre-existing right of all individuals to own such weapons.” [pp. 419-420, emphasis in the original]
“So long as there is government, there shall be no peace and no justice.” – John Simpson
As a voluntaryist, my starting points are the libertarian self-ownership and homesteading axioms. Each person has the absolute right, by virtue of being a human being, to own his or her own mind and body; that is to control that body and mind free of coercive interference. Similarly, each person, by virtue of his or her owning his or her own labor, owns previously unused natural resources which he or she is the first to claim and transform by that labor. Nuclear weapons are the end product of the application of human labor to natural resources. If they were conceived, invented, and built on the free market (a big assumption, indeed – the development of such weapons was strictly the outgrowth of government wars) then there can be no objection to the ownership and sale of such property. From a straight property rights/property title view point, so long as the property has been homesteaded or voluntarily transferred, there is every reason to argue for unrestricted ownership of weapons, of whatever type. The caveat is that the owner is always liable for their responsible use, just as the owner of a car or a knife is responsible for its safe use and handling. One well might ask: Can nuclear weapons be used responsibly and in a strictly defensive manner? But that question is irrelevant to the considerations of proprietary justice and ownership. (One might well own something, without ever using it.)
At one point, Vin Suprynowicz refers to a “God-given constitutionally guaranteed right to self defense.” [p.376] Voluntaryists would recognize a natural right to self-defense, which includes using their bodies and properties in a defensive manner, albeit, violently or non-violently. If the right to self-defense is “constitutionally guaranteed” does not this imply that such a right might be changed by constitutional amendment? Individuals have the right to use their bodies and property to resist what we collectively view as evil or wrongdoing. As the voluntaryist insight points out, no ruler exists without the cooperation and/or acquiescence of the majority of his subjects. The revolutionary implications which stem from this simple observation are earth-shattering. Non-violent resistance, which flows directly from the self-ownership and homesteading axioms, is the political equivalent of the atomic bomb. From sling shots to nukes to nonviolent resistance, these choices all flow from the individual’s right to use his or her body and property responsibly.