Another quote about guns

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10 June 2007

From time to time, I add a quote to my quotes list. When I find a quote that catches my eye, I usually sit on it for a week or two to see if I really agree with it. That way my quote list reflects the ideas I truly hold dear, and not just the things that sounded good at the time.

Recently, a friend sent me this quote:

There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order. — Ed Howdershelt

I’ve been holding on to this quote for a while, trying to figure out what I thought about it. It didn’t really inspire me, but I couldn’t figure out if I agreed with it or not. Just tonight I realized that the quote is based in the notion that the first three ideas can come before the fourth. That is false. Without the power of force behind them, the other three don’t survive. It’s the basic ability to defend against aggressors that enables peace among those with that power. The quote works within a society that has already created a basically peaceful and just environment, through force or the threat of force. (Note that an unjust society can also be created through force; the force is merely the means to the end, not a guarantor of it.) In the raw world, without the protection of pre-existing force, the quote seems almost quaint.

Within such an already-stable society, though,I agree that force should generally be the last defense of liberty. But I don’t agree that it should only ever follow after the first three. I’m not going to wait for a speech, a politician, or my neighbor to stop the man intent on killing me.

I think a better quote would have been one that demonstrated that each of the first three ideas depends on the last. That idea rings true with me, and ties strongly to why I believe in guns as a good thing. Without the ability to defend ourselves, and our ideas, none of the rest of it is possible. Guns are simply an effective tool for earning and preserving freedom. Without them, the rest isn’t possible.

As you can imagine, I’ve decided not to add this quote to my quotes list, but I am very glad for the intellectual push. If any you readers care to comment, I would love to hear it. Please just post something here, and I’ll be sure to think, and to respond. Or send me a quote :)

  1. Amitai Schlair says:

    I read it differently: Try these first, and be ready to back them up with this.

  2. Nathan Arthur says:

    I think I read it the same way, and agree with that idea in the already-stable-society case. It just doesn’t have universal application, so I don’t really like it. And it would sound less powerful if it started with “In an already stable society, ...” :)

  3. Darren says:

    “Guns are simply an effective tool for earning and preserving freedom. Without them, the rest isn’t possible”

    In countries where the general ownership of firearms has been outlawed for man years, attitudes like the one above just seem archaic and bizarre. The vast majority of developed nations have successfully eliminated gun culture and retained (in many countries) more liberty and personal freedoms than in the USA.

    Weapons for defence in the hands of the armed-forces are necessary, yes. In the hands of the general populace? More likely to be turned on each other than any faceless threats to liberty.

    How does the empirical evidence of Europe affect your views?

  4. Nathan Arthur says:

    The quote isn’t specifically about individual ownership of guns, and I didn’t really intend my response to focus on that. My point is that the quote isn’t universal – it only applies within a stable society – so I didn’t include it on my list. (It’s also not 100% true within a stable society, because it’s wrong in the “personal attacker” case.)

    I do think, however, that guns remain a valuable tool for the defense of citizens against their government (i.e. revolution). As the quote says, they should be the last resort in that situation, and I agree with that. The point left unspoken, though, is that handguns (vs. larger guns) in possession of the populace aren’t going to be a very effective tool – it will require revolt on the part of the military, or a significant portion of the military, for a revolution to be successful. Handguns remain a tool for personal self-defense against criminals, and not a tool for revolution, and my belief in the importance of individual handgun ownership is based on that need for self defense.

    On that front, I believe that taking guns away from “everybody” is going to leave the law-abiding people defenseless, and I can’t see how that’s a good thing. If I were a criminal, I’d much rather commit crimes against people who were unarmed :)

    On the European front, I’ve heard arguments that outlawing guns has increased violent crime, and that it has decreased violent crime. I don’t know which is right. I do know that my intuition believes the first one. And even if outlawing guns reduces the overall crime rate, I believe that it is still going to increase the odds that I personally am going to be the victim of a violent crime. I can currently defend myself with a gun (and I believe that the presence of a gun will reduce my risk), so if something does happen, I’m less likely to be a victim. I prefer those odds over depending on statistics and far-off police.

  5. mark says:

    Guns are peoples protectors

  6. Ed Howdershelt says:

    False? Definitely NOT.
    Read my quote again more carefully.
    The words were “in DEFENSE of liberty,” not “to establish liberty”.
    The quote presupposes we’re trying to hold onto what we already have.

    My quote was first spoken in 1972 at UTArlington (TX) regarding measures to be taken concerning the state of affairs in the USA.
    King Nixon was the Prez, the FBI was amassing volumes on anyone who complained, and McNamara was micromanaging the war in Vietnam.
    Sound (current situation) familiar?
    I stand by my words.
    Ed Howdershelt – Abintra Press
    Science Fiction & Semi-Fiction
    My Fictionwise Ratings:

  7. Nathan Arthur says:

    Ed – how cool that you posted here. Thank you!

    And even better, after thinking about what you said, I am changing my mind about whether the quote is true. I think you’re right – if I consider the words “in defense of liberty” then the quote does make sense, because it implies a stable (or at least, ‘established’) society, and I agree with that case.

    I still don’t think I’m going to post it in my quotes list, though, simply because I’m afraid that others will misread it (as I did) and take it to mean more than it does. But I imagine that having it live on here in this post will actually make it somewhat more famous :)

  8. Ed Howdershelt says:

    I’ve learned over the years that people tend to see and hear what they wish, regardless the exact words on a page. I do not think this is an individual fault, precisely; I think it has to do with the inherent human interpretive faculties we automatically use to boil things down quickly whenever possible. The ‘interpretive overview’, so to speak, in which our brains try to fill in gaps.
    Word games exist that exploit this tendency. An example is one in which ‘the the’ is used, but the line is split, so the extra ‘the’ fails to register when the note is read quickly.

    Another example is how preachers often substitute the word ‘domination’ for ‘dominion’ when quoting Genesis.
    Two very different words and meanings, yet correcting preachers depends more on their motivations and politics than anything as trivial as getting a quote from the Bible right.

    “…in DEFENSE of liberty” is what I said.
    Some will read other meanings according to their sociopolitical whims, but that will not make their other-than-literal interpretations correct.
    Sometimes there really is nothing between the lines.
    I still stand by my words. :)
    Ed Howdershelt – Abintra Press
    Science Fiction & Semi-Fiction
    My Fictionwise Ratings:

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