Gunned Down

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There has been considerable discussion in print, by radio commentators, and on cable television news programs about the recently argued case McDonald v. Chicago. A Chicago resident wanted to have a handgun for self-defense in his own home but was pre- vented from doing so by city laws prohibiting such ownership. He asked the Supreme Court to strike down the prohibition.

Such laws or regulations typically originate in this way: a city experiences a spate of crimes involving guns — some deadly, some not. City officials hold meetings to talk to residents about the unacceptable level of gun violence. People attending the meeting plead with, or yell at, city officials to do something to stop the violence, to make the streets safe, to get the guns off the streets, to keep children from being killed. Officials agree that gun crime is unacceptable and promise they’ll do something to stop the violence. Intensely restrictive legislation (some- times an outright ban, such as in Chicago) regarding gun ownership, carrying, and possession is passed. But crime continues, or escalates. No one is safer. The process is repeated. Residents are without recourse or right to protect themselves.

In begging city government to “do something” about their security, urban citizens end up ceding a natural right that even a most un-libertarian philosopher would never cede.

In “Leviathan,” Thomas Hobbes wrote that man’s most fundamental right is to use his own power, as he wills, to preserve himself. Individuals cede all their rights to the Leviathan, the commonwealth, except the right of self- preservation. “A covenant not to defend myself from force, by force, is always void.” After witnessing the English Civil War, Hobbes wrote of a way to secure a society from civil unrest. But as much as he may have desired security, he would not cede the right of self-preservation, as so many of our cities’ residents seem willing to do.

I don’t know whether Mr. McDonald has read Hobbes. I doubt that Hobbes’ work would be found in any Chicago public school curriculum. But by most accounts McDonald is living pretty close to the state of nature, wherein life for most men is “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short” — especially for the gang members against whom he is trying to protect himself. McDonald simply wants city government to respect his exercise of his natural right of self-preservation. The current “covenant” preventing him from doing so is void. He should have his gun.

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