Nov 14.

Stefan Molyneux


The Gun in the Room

“Put down the gun, then we’ll talk.”

One of the most difficult – and essential – challenges faced by libertarians is the constant need to point out “the gun in the room.” In political debates, it can be very hard to cut through the endless windy abstractions that are used to cover up the basic fact that the government uses guns to force people to do what they do not want to do, or prevent them from doing what they do want to do. Listening to non-libertarians, I often wish I had a “euphemism umbrella” to ward off the continual oily drizzle of words and phrases designed to obscure the simple reality of state violence. We hear nonstop nonsense about the “social good,” the “redistribution of income,” the “education of children” and so on – endless attempts to bury the naked barrel of the state in a mountain of syrupy metaphors.

It is a wearying but essential task to keep reminding people that the state is nothing but an agency of violence. When someone talks about “the welfare state helping the poor,” we must point out the gun in the room. When someone opposes the decriminalization of marijuana, we must point out the gun in the room. When someone supports the reduction of taxes, we must point out the gun in the room – even if one bullet has been taken out.

So much political language is designed to obscure the simple reality of state violence that libertarianism sometimes has to sound like a broken record. We must, however, continue to peel back the euphemisms to reveal the socially-sanctioned brutality at the root of some of our most embedded social institutions.

I was recently involved in a debate with a woman about public schools. Naturally, she came up with reason after reason as to why public schools were beneficial, how wonderful they were for underprivileged children, how essential they were for social stability etc etc. Each of these points – and many more – could have consumed hour upon hour of back and forth, and would have required extensive research and complicated philosophical reasoning. But there was really no need for any of that – all I had to do was keep saying:

The issue is not whether public schools are good or bad, but rather whether I am allowed to disagree with you without getting shot.

Most political debates really are that simple. People don’t get into violent debates about which restaurant is best because the state doesn’t impose one restaurant on everyone – and shoot those trying to set up competing restaurants. The truth is that I couldn’t care less about this woman’s views on education – just as she couldn’t care less about my views – but we are forced to debate because we are not allowed to hold opposing views without one of us getting shot. That was the essence of our debate, and as long as it remained unacknowledged, we weren’t going to get anywhere.

Here’s another example. A listener to my ‘Freedomain Radio’ show posted the following comment on the message board:

If you say “Government A doesn’t work,” you are really saying that the way that individuals in that society are interacting is lacking in some way. There are many threads in this forum that address the real debate. This thread’s counterarguments all focus on government vs. free market society. The rules defining a free market are all agreed upon interactions at some level, just as a government is. Don’t debate that a government is using guns to force others, when it’s really individuals with guns, instead show how the other way will have less guns forcing others or how those guns could force others in a more beneficial way.

I responded in this manner:

But – and I’m sorry if I misunderstand you – government is force, so I’m not sure how to interpret your paragraph. Let me substitute another use of force to show my confusion:

“If you say that rape doesn’t work you are really saying that the way that individuals in that society are interacting is lacking in some way. There are many threads in this forum that address the real debate. This thread’s counterarguments all focus on rape vs. dating. The rules defining dating are all agreed upon interactions at some level, just as rape is. Don’t debate that a group of rapists is forcing others, when it’s really individual rapists, instead show how the other way will have fewer rapists forcing others or how those rapists could force others in a more beneficial way.”

Do you see my confusion?


It is a very helpful sign for the future of society that these euphemisms exist – in fact, I would not believe in the moral superiority of a stateless society if these euphemisms did not exist! If, every time I pointed out to people that their political positions all required that I get shot or arrested, they just growled: “Sure, I got no problem with that – in fact, if you keep disagreeing with me I’m going to shoot you myself!” – then, I would find it very hard to argue for a stateless society!

In more than 20 years of debating these issues, though, I’ve never met a single soul who wants to either shoot me himself or have someone else shoot me. I take enormous solace in this fact, because it explains exactly why these euphemisms are so essential to the maintenance and increase of state power.

The reason that euphemisms are constantly used to obscure “the gun in the room” is the simple fact that people don’t like violence very much. Most people will do almost anything to avoid a violent situation. Even the most bloodthirsty supporter of the Iraq invasion would have a hard time justifying the proposition that anybody who opposed the invasion should be shot – because it was to defend such freedoms that Iraq was supposed to have been invaded in the first place! But how can I have the right to oppose the invasion of Iraq if I am forced to pay for it through taxation? Surely that is a ridiculous contradiction, like arguing that a man has a right to free speech, and also that he should be arrested for speaking his mind. If I have the right to oppose the invasion, surely I cannot be forced to fund it. If I am forced to fund it, then any right I have to “oppose” it is purely imaginary.

In essence, then, all libertarian arguments come down to one single, simple statement:

Put down the gun, then we’ll talk.”

This is the core morality of both libertarianism and civilization. Civilized people do not shoot each other when they disagree – decent people do not wave guns in each other’s faces and demand submission or blood. Political leaders know this very well – I would say better than many libertarians do – and so constantly obscure the violence of their actions and laws with mealy-mouthed and euphemistic weasel words. Soldiers aren’t murdered, they “fall.” Iraq wasn’t invaded, but “liberated.” Politicians aren’t our political masters, they are “civil servants,” and so on and on.

Although libertarianism is generally considered a radical doctrine, the primary task of the libertarian is to continually reinforce the basic reality that almost everyone already is a libertarian. If we simply keep asking people if they are willing to shoot others in order to get their way, we can very quickly convince them that libertarianism is not an abstract, radical or fringe philosophy, but rather a simple description of the principles by which they already live their lives. If you get fired, do you think that you should hold your manager hostage until he gives you back your job? No? Then you already hold a libertarian position on unions, tariffs, and corporate subsidies. If you find your teenage son in your basement smoking marijuana, would you shoot him? No? Then you already hold a libertarian position on the drug laws. Should those who oppose war be shot for their beliefs? No? Then you already hold a libertarian position with regards to taxation.

Like the scientific method, libertarianism’s greatest strength is its uncompromising simplicity. The enforcement of property rights leads to an immensely complex economy, but the morality of property rights is very simple – would you shoot a man in order to steal his property? The same complexity arises from the simple and universal application of the non-aggression principle. It’s so easy to get lost in the beguiling complexities and forget to keep enunciating the basic principles.

So forget about esoteric details. Forget about the history of the Fed and the economics of the minimum wage. Just keep pointing out the gun in the room, over and over, until the world finally starts awake and drops it in horror and loathing.

Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (, the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a “Top 10” Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.
  • Excellent post.

    But where some folks don’t quite get it, is the fact that although I don’t WANT to shoot anyone, I am prepared to shoot someone, even over a certain pack of smokes.

    I might have a pack of smokes sitting on my desk. Someone else might want to take them from me. Indeed, if negotiation and conversation does not work in convincing the person not to take that pack of smokes, I might resort to physical force to prevent the other from taking my pack of smokes, including even shooting him.

    “You shot a guy over a pack of smokes???” an incredulous person might ask.

    “Why, yes I did. That particular pack of smokes has value to me. It was my father’s last pack of smokes before he died.”

    “But a pack of smokes only costs ten dollars!”

    “Ah, but not that pack of smokes. My father gave those to me, and the value of his gift cannot have any value to anyone else but to me. That pack is my property, and property I want to hold onto, and defend regardless of “replacement cost”. You may as well try robbing a bank as try to take away that pack of smokes from me.”

    Your point of course, is very well taken. However, it seems to me that many folks, in regard to property rights, will expect their own subjective value upon some property to be the “value” of which some property should be defended and the force used to defend it, should it come down to the owner deciding to use force – even a bullet.

    The old saying, “It’s not worth losing your life over” is subjective – and ONLY the owner of property can decide what any piece of property is worth risking their life for.

    Ian Scott / 6:57 pm /
  • The happy day arrives, the world wakes up and drops this gun in horror….what next? Gee, it seems you’ve left out the most important part. Oh yeah, now that the gun is gone, we’ll talk. Fair enough. Oops, it seems we cannot agree on the time of day. Well, I guess we’ll just have to….oh, man, you left that part out, too.

    hooligan / 6:57 pm /
  • hooligan,

    here’s how it goes dear. we don’t agree on the time of day. now what? bye bye dear.

    you live by your time, i’ll live by mine. if your time works for you, good. mine works just fine for me. and when it doesn’t, i’ll change the time. or not.

    you see. agreement isn’t even necessary. until we have to do business, exchange goods for value. and when we can’t agree then, i simply stop doing business with you and take it elsewhere.


    did that hurt?

    you still don’t get it do you.

    but you don’t have to. THAT’s the point.

    american short-timer / 6:57 pm /
  • Shorty,

    You apparently do not understand the concept of the common good. Like anything else in life, it must be paid for. And the bills don’t wait for sanctimonious types like you to make up your mind whether or not you’ll go along. THAT’s really the point.

    hooligan / 6:57 pm /
  • “You apparently do not understand the concept of the common good.”

    Neither do I. Hooligan, would you explain it, precisely?

    Ian Scott / 6:57 pm /
  • A rather excellent piece of writing!
    The argument is compelling, and incisive.

    Highlander / 6:57 pm /
  • Yes hooligan, define the ‘common good’ and precisely why I should give a care about it?

    I cannot imagine how you got to this article. You do not strike me as the type that would typically read these types of publications.

    It appears to me that you simply cannot grasp the basic idea that it is WRONG for YOU to FORCE or using others to FORCE people to bend to YOUR will.

    To some of us these ideas are so simple to grasp. To others, they will never come to them.

    Do you understand that if someone were to try to opt out of the system by refusing to pay for government ‘services’, such as ‘public’ education, eventually an ARMED representative of the state will show up on their doorstep and continued refusal at that point could result in their death?

    Pay, forfeit the sweat of your brow or die.

    This is the gun in the room and this is the system you support?

    Posts like yours almost leave me speechless.

    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
  • Anonymous: You would be surprised at the types of publications I am willing to read. I arrived here through links provided by other sites which deal with similar propositions and ideas as those found in Mr. Molyneux’s writing. You have mistakenly decided two things about me based on a single reply of mine to someone who disagreed with my comments to Mr. Molyneux’s article. You accuse me of not understanding the basic premise of libertarianism AND you believe that I support the system currently in place. Wrong on both accounts.

    My rather flip comments to Mr. Molyneux were meant to draw attention to the lack of practical solutions to the existing system. It is all well and good to preach the merits of libertarianism, as a concept, as an alternative to the current process of government, but there must also be practical procedures in place to deal with day-to-day realities. These are missing from his article.

    As to the common good, it consists of those activities required by society that are too big for private entities to provide on their own. Examples would be national defence and a legal system. Notice, please, that I did not say health care nor education, both of which can be provided privately. But the first two cannot: do you really want individual groups to have private armies, or private sets of laws?

    So, I do not support the “gun in the room” but before you take it away, you’d better have a plan for replacing it because, like Nature, politics abhors a vacuum as well.

    hooligan / 6:57 pm /
  • Libertarian has no solutions?

    This really means no imposed solutions. The common good is merely what the majority agrees to and voluntarily supports (fully informed) as opposed to something imposed by self-proclaimed moral virtuists, making a profit by imposing their views. By libertarian principles, people can choose to form any social contract they want such as Theocrarcy, Democracy, Despotism, Socialism, Communism, etc. What they cannot do is impose their views on others. This is why political debate is pointless for libertarians: You are right, but only up to the point that you impose your view by force.

    There are compelling survival reasons for this truth:

    The simple math:

    The simple truth:

    The suppressed solution:

    Bill Ross
    (Electronics Design Engineer)

    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
  • My rather flip comments to Mr. Molyneux were meant to draw attention to the lack of practical solutions to the existing system.

    You mean practical solutions to this? …brought to you courtesy of the Gun in the Room. Most likely you never noticed the gun.

    It appears your ‘common good’, whatever that is, is gonna take a dive.

    What do you suggest?

    jomama / 6:57 pm /
  • Jomama,

    I believe that was my original question. There is no denying that the current system of government has made a mess of things but that does not alter the fact that there are practical considerations to be dealt with before simply chucking it out, and it would be foolish to “forget about esoteric details”, as Mr. Molyneux succinctly put it.

    Keep mentioning the gun in the room, over and over, go ahead. To achieve mainstream acceptance for libertarianism will take more than that because people will tune you out (and you’ll STILL have to pay their taxes) if you cannot give practical answers to their questions. Questions like mine.

    So, Mr. Molyneux, what IS the stuff you left out?

    hooligan / 6:57 pm /
  • hooligan,

    …there are practical considerations to be dealt with before simply chucking it out,…

    It chucked itself out, dude. What’s left to do but watch it implode?

    What practical considerations?

    What do you propose while we all watch it destroy itself?

    In case you hadn’t noticed, force always eats itself, proven by history. Force doesn’t work. People won’t tolerate it.

    There’s that damn gun in the room again.

    Given all the above, what practical considerations did you have in mind?

    Let’s hear ’em.

    By the way, if you’re tired about hearing about the gun in the room, best leave it at home when you come with those practical considerations.

    jomama / 6:57 pm /
  • Jomama,

    We appear to be dancing and neither wants to lead. I do NOT have practical ideas in mind, that is why I commented in the first place. Mr. Molyneux’s article exhorts libertarians to convince the rest of society to change its ways and get rid of the “gun in the room”. I am asking him to explain how libertarianism will deal with the day-to-day stuff. I assume that by removing the gun, he is referring to getting rid of government completely. What are the nuts-and-bolts details of how things will work once government doesn’t exist? I am not saying I disagree with you, I’m saying that his article is all sizzle and no steak.

    hooligan / 6:57 pm /
  • hooligan;

    It comes down to this:

    We all have power. Those who initiate force or fraud WILL deal with our defense, violent if necessary. Most are biding their time, but, eventually, the majority will lose tolerance and “blow”. It never has been and will not be pretty nor reasonable.

    The basic problem is perspective. We all agree we own ourselves and have basic rights. Where we differ is whether others have equal rights.

    Historical “tit for tat” conflict resulted in the “rule of law” (link above), the basis of our FORMER civilization. I cannot call what we have now “civilized”. If we must repeat these lessons with todays weapons, we will become EXTINCT. It has taken two world wars and a century and a half of educational/media manipulation to make your average person unaware of freedom, to accept that serfdom is “necessary”. The result is that we are not surviving.

    So, mind your own business (MYOB) and forget all about forcing your opinions/wants on others. They can and will retaliate, to your detriment. Ask any IRAQI or other victim of “help”.

    Bill Ross

    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
  • Mr. Ross,

    I do not disagree with anything in your post. But it does not answer my question.

    I understand the WHY of libertarianism, but nobody on this thread has given a concrete HOW. There are aspects of society that concern us as a group, not only as individuals. As an example, law. If you have a dispute over fulfillment of a contract between you and another person, it does not concern me in the least. None of my affair, I couldn’t care less how it turns out. That is how it should be. What does concern the group, however, is that there be some formal mechanism for you to resolve your dispute. IF removing the “gun in the room” means eliminating government and all its trappings, what do you propose to replace “law” with? This is the type of HOW I am looking for someone to reveal to me. Like I said before, Mr. Molyneux’s article is all sizzle and no steak.

    hooligan / 6:57 pm /
  • OK;

    A dispute has occurred, none of your business (yet). The Hatfields and Mcoys are at it again.

    Eventually, this conflict will become your business as you and yours risk getting caught in the crossfire.

    If this happens enough (as it has throughout history), eventually, every intelligent person (those who really have the power) will form a consensus that those who initiate force or fraud are enemies of ALL mankind and civilization. A clear moral argument for using defensine force, by anyone against offenders exists, by virtue of self-defense. Live and let live or die. Live by the sword and die by the sword. That’s life.

    The problem with current law is that they do not allow the people to be the law and deal with those who transgress, even though this is where courts derive their power. The law has become a tool of divide and conquor and conflict creation. Giving anyone a monopoly on this power makes us all slaves. We are the law and will soon speak.

    Whining to power to “give” you the freedom you already have is one of the basic absurdities of our “civilization”. You really need to understand “how” Ghandi was able to evict the British from India and “why” MLK was assassinated.


    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
  • Hooligan most definitely does not understand libertarianism, despite his claims to the contrary.

    To support my contention, I suggest all of you look in the comments section of the blog post preceeding this one. You will see a rather uninformed, and perhaps disingenuous, comment from Hooligan, as well as my response to it.

    Hooligan, yo’ve got to understand that there are only two ways for humans to interact: by mutual consent, or by force. One of these is moral, the other is immoral. Can you guess which is which?

    Libertarianism and market anarchy state that the only appropriate method of interaction between humans is mutual consent. Period. If you want to spout off about the common good, first you have to define what “common” even is in a way that makes sense. Good luck with that.

    And even if you do acheive such a feat, could it possibly be argued that a system made exclusively of mutually consented interactions is NOT the best way to acheive “common good”?

    Hooligan, you also mentioned concern with “day-to-day” operations absent of government. Perhaps you have heard of the free market? It is what enabled you to use the internet, drive a car, drink a beer, and get a credit card.

    The free market can demonstrably provide for all the needs and wants of society far more effectively and efficiently than government can.

    Dont believe me? Why dont you try imagining a world where everyone gets taxed for their cars and gasoline as a percentage of their income, and when they turn 18 they get a free car from the government and free gasoline in a specified rationed amount every month. Oh, and every car is identical from the same monopolistic government agency, as well as all the gas.

    Does that sound like a preferable method of providing a “day-to-day” necessity of society?

    Or perhaps you think that government would be better suited to provide the “day-to-day” necessity of food? How about if all private food companies and farms were banned, and every morsel of food, every tilled field, was run by and distributed by the government? A la Mao’s great leap forward or Russias farm collectivization program?

    Do you think that government would be a superior means of filling THAT day to day need?

    In fact, is there ANYTHING that the free market currently does that you think that a government can do better in a tax-based monopolistic framework?

    I would love to see you provide some real world examples of “day-to-day” social services or goods that are better handled by government than the free market.

    Perhaps we can take a look at roads, courts, and security services?

    Well, the best-maintained and least congested roads are toll roads. They are run more efficiently, and are a smaller financial burden on the average joe. They provide incentive for carpooling and travel shortening, while tax-funded “free” roads do the opposite.

    The best courts are private arbitration courts. Many banks and financial institutions, as well as many corporate agreements, include mandatory private arbitration clauses in their contracts. This actually provides much benefit to both sides. Public courts are congested, inneficient, and more costly. Private arbitration is the opposite. It is increasing in popularity, both for consumer and service/good provider, because it is a far superior alternative to the public court system.

    What about security? Even the US military contracts private security forces in Iraq. Why? Because, again, they can do the job more efficiently and less costly than the military behomoth that the US taxpayer is forced to feed. Private security is also all the rage in private property, su8ch as business establishments and residences.

    But arguments from effect are secondary to arguments of principle. Fortunately, private run, consent-based services and goods are superior in every effectual way to their public counterparts. But even IF this were not so, these private systems would STILL have the upper moral hand, for nobody is stolen from to support a private road, or a private security force, or a private court of justice.

    So Hooligan, the ball is in your court. Your challenges here are many:

    1. Define “common” in common good.
    2. Show that “common good” will necessarily include the violation of mutual consent; force.
    3. Show that force can be morally defensible against mutual consent.
    4. Show that a government-run system can provide a superior result than a private-run system, both in efficiency and quality of product/service.

    Number 4 would preferably be accomplished by taking an example of a private-run market segment and show how it would be more effectual when converted to a tax-based government run monopoly.

    Im not holding my breath.

    Aaron Kinney / 6:57 pm /
  • Aaron, you seem like an intelligent fellow but you obviously did not read all that I wrote above. You’ve spent a lot of your free time explaining things that I already understand and agree with, or asking me to explain things that should be apparent given what I’ve previously written. I do thank you for your point on private arbitration; it comes the closest to answering my long-forgotten original questions. To reciprocate, I will attempt to answer your challenges:

    1) “Common” as in “for all”. When I refer to a common good, I speak of something the existence of which is a benefit to all. My example, once again, is national defence and a legal system. Everyone benefits from these activities whether they have cause to use them or not.

    2) This gets to the crux of my original question: how does libertarianism propose to use the free market to replace the current system? This question is one that NOBODY here has answered and it IS the reason I posted in the first place. I am not here to convince anyone they are wrong, I am asking, hell, PLEADING now, for someone, anyone, to tell me how libertarianism will do national defence and a legal system differently.

    3) Force is only moral in self-defense; the question you ask is nonsense.

    4) I cannot show this, nor would I try because I don’t believe it can be done.

    You see, Aaron, I do not disagree with you about free markets or personal freedom; I agree with your examples of greater efficiency in the private sector. I work in the private sector, I see it everyday. I am asking about very-big-ticket items like, once again, defence and a legal system. Your example of private security is insufficient; it’s too small for what I’m talking about. The U.S. may contract out guard duty but they do not rely on private sector firms for national defence. And how would private arbitration work for society at large? Would everyone need to form a multitude of contracts with each conceivable connection they deal with? This arbitration idea is the closest thing to answering the type of question I have in mind.

    In short (yeah, right), I am ASKING, not TELLING.

    hooligan / 6:57 pm /
  • Hooligan;

    Your concern with LAW, defense and security is very revealing, as is the fact that you “just don’t get it” which does not mean that there is a flaw in libertarian truth.

    This seems to be a failure of imagination and courage on your part. You are looking for big brother to assure your safety. Fact is that any person or organzation making these assurances throughout all of history has consistently been proven as liars, with their own agenda, which ultimately enslaves all others.

    So, no one can or will be as dilligent as you in looking after your own interests. Trusting external power is very ill advised.

    So, the answer is “the truth will set you free” and the truth is, be a man and be prepared personally defend you and yours when necessary. Do so, and predators will move on to easier prey.

    Fail to do so and you will be prey to those who claim to be “helping”. They are not lying. They are “helping”, but only themselves.

    Is this any clearer?


    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
  • Bill,

    Let me begin by thanking, on behalf of all the unimaginative and cowardly people, such a tough and courageous fellow as you, just for being there to give us someone to look up to. Cheers to you, sir.

    I know that there is no one assuring my safety at any time. I know that it is up to me and I am prepared. I trust no others to do this for me, not now or ever. I am not saying that there is a flaw in libertarian truth. I am asking how you propose to put it into actual practice because it has never been done before. My questions are clear, your answers are repetitive and off-point. Perhaps I stuttered when writing my questions.
    At this time, there are mechanisms, no matter how flawed, for individuals who disagree with each other to seek out an independent third party to adjudicate their dispute. You, sir, seem to be suggesting dueling pistols at dawn as the preferred method of dealing with someone you disagree with, who in your opinion is doing you “harm”. It is impractical, to put it mildly, for any society to depend on upon the good sense of all parties involved to avoid violence. See Ian’s response at the top of this page. He’s quite correct, we all have highly subjective ideas as to the value of our stuff.
    No one said anything about trusting external power. But if all libertarianism can offer is YOUR version of it, it is doomed to remain out on the fringe. But then again, that is not fair for me to say because I don’t really KNOW what your version is because you have yet to answer the question I am asking.

    hooligan / 6:57 pm /
  • Thanks for a very interesting debate dudes – you are definitely welcome to come and chat on the boards at

    – the author

    Stefan Molyneux, MA / 6:57 pm /
  • This quote, and the link that follows, ought to point you toward an answer:

    “It is by this point uncontroversial that our freedoms would have been better defended without a standing military. The founders knew it; and Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto knew it, saying, “You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.” He didn’t say you should not, or that it would be costly or difficult. He said “you cannot.” The gun rights we had then have only been eroded since, hence the military has done nothing for the real power of the US to defend itself.”

    That is from “I Don’t Owe the Military Anything” by Brad Edmonds

    Best regards and Free Yourself,
    Dennis Wilson

    DennisLeeWilson / 6:57 pm /
  • Hooligan,

    Since you asked about law, you might enjoy this:

    Mark Yannone / 6:57 pm /
  • The discussion is pointless. Statists like hooligan know very well that the State is their surrogate thug. They get to distance themselves and remain in denial about the gun, but at some level, they know. They like it that way. I prefer a more direct answer to them. “Put down the gun before I pick up mine. Or not. If you want to make this a contest of who can survive in a ‘might makes right’ environment, I much prefer my chances to yours. Just understand, I harbor no delusions about whose finger is actually on the trigger of the weapon threatening me.”

    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
  • Or to make a slightly different analogy:

    Suppose I am in some common square, along with a number of other people, who are moving about in various directions, pursuing their business. Some distance away, there is a man with a backpack full of WWII-style fragmentation hand grenades. About once every 30 seconds, he takes a grenade from his backpack, removes the pin, and rolls it along the ground (as if bowling) in my general direction. Now, such a grenade (colloquially known as a “pineapple” – ) will not travel in a straight or predictable path. It will, instead, bounce, jog, pivot, and roll off on spiral “tangents” to one side or the other. Thus, it will threaten by probability, not by the backpacker’s precision of direction. It could even reverse course, bounce back and detonate at the feet of the hurler, though such an outcome is unlikely. The point is that I am clearly threatened by this individual, whether he be motived by criminal intent, culpable negligence, or pure madness. The longer he stands, the greater my risk. Does not my right to self-defense entitle me to take up my gun and put a bullet in his skull to eliminate that risk? Am I obligated to decide what his motivation is, and calculate allowances for it, before I pull my trigger? I think not. Now, how does the man with the backpack differ from a voter, rent seeker, or other supporter of the Thug State?

    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
  • Yes there is a gun in the room. It’s called law. You break the law, you go to jail. Why is that so hard to understand for libertarians.

    Anyway nobody is holding you in the room. You can leave any time you want. Really!. We don’t do anything to stop you.

    We built this room. We like it. We stay in it. If you want to stay here you have to live by the rules we all agree to. If you don’t want to obey those rules then you can leave.

    Why is that so hard to understand?

    Shut up with the bitching already.

    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
  • Anonymous,

    Do you like all the laws to which you are subjected in your country?

    David Bockman / 6:57 pm /
  • You libertarian extremists are ruining the public image of libertarianism. Assholes. Finding out why will be your own responsibility.

    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
  • SO, in the absence of government, will guns disappear from the planet in a puff of smoke, or will people simply forget how to use them?

    chad / 6:57 pm /
  • The "gun in the room" argument, while an interesting thought experiment, is undermined by one fatal flaw: the equation of having a gun with having the willingness to use it.

    Extreme libertarians tend to think of government as a dark, evil force made entirely of jackboots and gun barrels; this obscures the fact that the government, being created by and comprised of people, is a reflection of the will of those same people. If the people want domestic tranquility and social justice, the government will act to preserve these things (as in countries like Sweden and Japan) above other considerations. If the people want violence to be done to others to protect their damaged sense of security (as the disillusioned residents of post-WWI Germany did, as well as much of the modern US), then that is what the government will do.

    As such, the actual use of violence by a government tends to be fairly close to what the average citizen of that nation considers reasonable. This is why, despite the alarmist rhetoric used in the article, you'd be hard-pressed to find a significant trend of teenagers being shot for using marijuana or business owners being jailed for wrongful firing in civilized nations. The punishment for such low-level misconduct tends to be financial (fines and civil liability), much like you might dock your son's allowance if you caught him smoking pot or organize a boycott of a business that fired you for your race.

    The people the government tends to use physical force on are suspected or convicted murderers, rapists, thieves, robbers, and other violent or unstable individuals. In other words, the very same sorts of people that you'd want to arm yourself before dealing with as well. This isn't an accident; the government is made up of people just like you, who by and large are no happier about using violence on their fellow man than you are, and will avoid it if they feel they can reasonably do so.

    In short, it seems as though libertarians are far too focused on the fact that the government has a gun (I thought libertarians were supposed to support gun ownership?), and essentially ignore the people standing behind that gun.

    Evan / 6:57 pm /
  • These libertarian ideals seem to absolutely ignore the reality that a mutual consensus of pacifists is easily taken by a small group of renegades with guns.

    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
  • This is a new anonymous, previously not posted here.

    At one point I thought the libertarian views were a good idea. Then I did more research. I can see how eliminating things like the EPA, FDA would be akin to allowing corporations do whatever they want. And in my personal opinion, the only ones protecting us from these corporations is the government. It really wouldn't take much for a few of these corporations to bind together and create their own government in the absence of a US government.

    Then there's the simple matter that you still don't address of how you pay for things? Do you each individually decide whether or not you want to have a road in front of your house? Are we forced to guess whether bridges are safe? Who brings the power to our homes, and who makes sure it is safe? Who keeps the water from being pumped with poison? Either you accept a role as a victim in that case, or you take your gun and go on a witchhunt. Sounds so much more civilized than what you are suggesting.

    If you remove the rules, the simple rules of humanity state that someone else will get your gun in the room and take over. It's why anarchy is not a persistent state. People tend toward being sheep, and following leaders. Some of those leaders are violent people that will subject others to slavery. In the end, you are left with a much worse situation than the current one. Unless you want to wander the earth alone, you eventually discover that living as a group is better for everyone. In fact, you can judge the intelligence of animals by the pack sizes they keep.

    Or could you tell me how a place such as Somalia with no effective government is so much better than this Libertarian haven you are suggesting?

    It seems to me the basis of the whole libertarian argument is just wishing away organization. While I certainly believe the US system needs an overhaul (and less laws), outright eliminating every thing is terribly impractical. I'm certain that I'm better off paying my effective tax rate and only putting my life in danger regularly in transit to work. If I didn't work, if this system didn't exist, I would be doing considerably more work, living in the darkness, etc.

    Want to live in a tribe? There are places for that which don't require tearing down the entire political system. Unfortunately, you will find just how arbitrary all of these standards are, and that the basis of reality is that pacifists don't do ever get to do what they want without suffering some sort of consequence.

    And I certainly believe that without the gun to a child's head to get an education, the population is too dense to play nice with each other over limited resources. You remove the laws, who protects your fields from scavengers with machetes? Who protects your property but you? Before long, you are forced into alliances to defend whatever you hold dear, and you have standing armies fighting for areas… Effectively knocking the entire basis of your government forming several hundred years.

    The structure is what keeps us from the third world, but if you want that third world, all you need to do is take a short drive south. I'm sure the corrupt, lawless armed folks there doing what they want because they have guns, will take nicely to someone who doesn't want to be told what to do or force others to his will.

    Anonymous / 6:57 pm /
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