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Can Technology End Firearm Rights? July 2, 2008

Posted by federalist in Natural Rights, RKBA.

Paul Robinson’s NYTimes essay “Shoot to Stun” has an important thesis: If less-than-lethal weapons become more effective for personal defense than handguns, presumably that technology would eliminate our Constitutional right to keep and bear handguns.

Robinson is optimistic on stun guns, though at present tasers are not as effective as handguns for personal defense. Taser darts cannot penetrate heavy clothing. A single stun device cannot defend against multiple assailants. And tasers cannot incapacitate a determined assailant long enough for help to arrive. But suppose less-lethal technology finally does produce a defensive weapon that is as versatile, reliable, and effective as a handgun. Would the government then be justified in banning the keeping and bearing of handguns? I suppose they would. After all, as Robinson points out, bullets are a sloppy and imprecise means of defense. There is no natural or Constitutional basis for preserving a right to arms that are less effective and more dangerous than ready alternatives.

Now, Robinson’s essay has some critical shortcomings. For one thing he appears unaware that a majority of United States have passed “Castle Doctrine” laws, which sanction the use of lethal force against anyone forcibly invading a home — without further regard to the presence of an “imminent threat” or to the “proportional” use of force.

Anyone trained in armed defense knows that ideally a handgun is kept only to enable you to fight your way to a rifle or shotgun. Handguns sacrifice defensive power and accuracy in favor of convenience and portability. But Robinson frames his entire essay in terms of the limited capabilities of handguns. Robinson seems to assume that our right to keep and bear defensive arms exists only for the purpose of personal defense against a small number of unsophisticated assailants, and only in a space extending ten or twenty yards from the defender (i.e., roughly the effective range of a handgun). I disagree with that assumption.

I maintain that the preamble to our Constitution’s Second Amendment extends our natural right to keep and bear arms from those suitable for immediate personal defense to any arms that are suitable for militia use. I.e., every person has a natural right to keep and bear arms suitable to defend himself and his property. But Americans enjoy an enhanced Constitutional right (still as individuals) to keep and bear any weapon that a government would provide to a military force in order to defend ground against a military aggressor. Americans are not subservient to any government. They are not legally dependent on their governments for defense (in fact, no government has an enforceable duty to defend its citizens). Indeed, Americans should stand ready as individuals to band together in their own defense against any government, foreign or domestic, that would attempt to forcibly infringe their natural or Constitutional rights. Hence government cannot infringe the extra-gubernatorial right of Americans to keep and bear arms suitable not only for personal defense but also for mutual military defense.

Will technology ever produce non-lethal devices capable of obviating the need for lethal military weapons? If an individual could surround his property with an impenetrable barrier then presumably he would have no need for weapons. However in practice one suspects that any technological defense is susceptible to technological countermeasures. An escalating cycle of countermeasures is ultimately won by the opponent with the most resources. Unless this rule is broken it will remain the natural right of individuals to defend themselves against adversaries (including wealthy adversaries) with “primitive” lethal weapons.


1. Right to Bear Arms: Lethal and/or Non-Lethal? « ReasonableCitizen - July 26, 2008

[…] July 26, 2008 · No Comments The Federalist blog has a posting about the right to bear arms that is worth a read. […]

2. jones - October 29, 2010

i dont feel rtht less leathel is always a fisable option

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