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First Principles

Natural Disasters and the AR-15

Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc, leaving some communities in a temporary “state of nature.” Under the circumstances, the right to self-defense is indispensable.


- September 7th, 2019
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As I was traveling from Jacksonville, Florida back home up the I-95, hundreds of electric power service vehicles from several companies were making their way south. Among those service vehicles were the ubiquitous Asplundh tree clearing trucks meshed in between the convoys. For people living on the East Coast, these were anxious days because as we traveled north, Hurricane Dorian was predicted to turn the direction we were headed, missing landfall in Florida, where all the emergency vehicles were headed.

While there may be power outages and other wind-caused damage from the storm, unpredictable storms like Dorian stretch the ability of government entities, including public utilities, to accommodate the needs of people who are in harm’s way. If government cannot protect us at all times and in all places—and that is never feasible or desirable, much less possible—how are individuals supposed to protect themselves in the wake of a disaster absent law enforcement?

While Dorian churned off the coast and ravaged the Bahamas, the anti-gun crowd virtue signals their boorish tropes. So-called political scientist Miranda Yaver tweeted her view that there is no reason to own an AR-15. Given that she apparently graduated from an elite institution (Columbia) and taught at another (Yale) one might think she has at least a passing familiarity with the need for human beings to protect themselves. You’d think she might have read, you know, John Locke. Of course, the people of the Bahamas didn’t need to read Locke to know that when faced with the destruction of Dorian, they needed guns to form militias to ward off looters who were robbing and shooting them. Perhaps they could give Yaver some lessons?

Yaver is not the only one who went to a fancy school and missed this important life lesson, it seems. The hive mindset is strong.

“If You Loot, We Shoot”

U.S. Senator and erstwhile presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announced she wanted to confiscate guns. No matter what the restriction will be, it will never be enough. Consider that when London banned guns, knife attacks increased, which led the mayor to call for knife control and the regulation of knives. Gillibrand, Yaver, and countless others on the Left do not want to protect life; they want us to be unable to defend ourselves from the violence of the stronger and, therefore, become more dependent on them.

Our ruling class couldn’t care less that our republic is founded on immutable truths of the human condition. All of their educations have made them politically incompetent and incapable of governing. Rome burns and they are playing with matches.

There are several examples of natural disasters that encouraged the strong to prey on the weak. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, many looters descended upon law-abiding citizens in Florida to steal their property, by force if need be. The same has happened in other parts of the country after similar calamitous events. In at least one instance, a neighborhood banded together, with their guns, and warned would-be thieves: “if you loot, we shoot.” If the thieves are a mob, then practically nothing but a privately owned AR-15 would answer that situation.

The happenstance of natural disasters is just one example of what can be called a temporary state of nature. Locke wrote that prior to the institution of government, we are left in the state of freedom without constraint. This made life precarious and dangerous because not everyone would consult the Law of Nature, which decreed that since we are all equally human, we have a duty not to do injustice to our fellow man. In the state of nature, there is no recourse to justice but what our own abilities may provide.

But Locke never addressed a state of nature that might be temporary. When a natural disaster strikes, it places human beings in a state beyond government protection. In such a state, people need the means to secure their lives and property on their own. How are they to defend themselves from those who would do harm to them without the necessary defense? If guns were confiscated, the equalizing force that only a gun provides would be unavailable, putting people’s lives at greater risk. Locke insists that in a state of nature we have “right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction.” A thief—a looter—might want to steal my possessions, including my life.

This is clearly unjust. Confiscating the means with which the weaker could protect themselves in a state of nature is tantamount to a death sentence. Locke correctly noted that the equality of human rights made defense of life compulsory when attacked by someone who would threaten our lives.

The Second Amendment, Rightly Understand

The acknowledgment of the natural right to defend one’s own life is why the American Founders included the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment has confused many people who do not understand the logic of its wording, insisting that the right to bear arms was only meant as a right provided to resist another military force through the creation of a militia. But as Nelson Lund has pointed out, “it was not meant to protect a right of state governments to control their militias.” To assert such makes the entire amendment nonsensical.

The entire amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” On the surface, the right to bear arms might be limited to the confining aspects of a militia regulated by the state (and that means state government, not national government). But, if we are to believe that words mean things, such an interpretation only confounds the rest of the sentence, which states that the right belongs to “the people.

The early state constitutions acknowledged the right of human beings to defend themselves and the state. Therefore, the most appropriate and original understanding of the Second Amendment is that it offers a defense both of self and of the state in which one resides should a militia be needed to defend it from an invading force.

According to the debate in the House of Representatives, there was no question that if a government wanted to “invade the rights and liberties of the people” it would first disarm the people, in order to destroy the militia to “raise an army upon their ruins.”

In this context, the right of individuals to bear arms, contrary to what some might surmise, is not folklore. When government fails, and it does sometimes fail, as it did in Great Britain a few years ago, and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, it places us in a state of nature to some degree.

As Dorian wreaks havoc, leaving some communities in a temporary state of nature, the right to protect ourselves is consequential. The natural right to self-defense is inalienable.

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