The Difference Between Chemical Weapons and Guns

I have been presented with an additional argument in favour of gun control. While deceiving, it is no less faulty than any of the others.

It runs like this:

[I] would rather people have restricted options of how to defend themselves…to take the argument to the extreme, [I] think most would agree that someone should not own chemical weapons in order to defend themselves. [I]f you agree to this, you are willing to accept government restrictions and I believe it is fair to limit the availability of the most dangerous types of firearms.

In this case, the proponent of gun control attempts to justify his case by using a Sorites paradox argument. He correctly points out that chemical weapons are horrific and that their existence, to say nothing of their use, is unjustifiable. He then proceeds to conclude that because guns can also inflict harm on people, their availability should be similarly opposed. Specifically, he says, access should be limited through gun control legislation.

In order to better illustrate the form of this argument, picture a man with a full head of hair. Let’s suppose that he has 100,000 hairs on his head. We begin by correctly asserting that this man is not bald. We may then say that if this man loses a single hair, he is still not bald. In short, the loss of a single hair cannot make the difference between being not bald and bald. According to our reasoning, it would seem that if we removed 99,999 hairs, one at a time, we may still conclude that the man is not bald.

Clearly, such a conclusion would be false.

This argument, of course, has totalitarian implications. For example, one might argue that knives can be similarly dangerous. In which case, why doesn’t the government enact knife control legislation? After all, I have no personal “legitimate” use for a machete in northern Ontario. Alternatively, why doesn’t it ban private ownership of sports cars capable of reaching “excessive” speeds? With the wrong person behind the wheel they, too, could be a dangerous weapon. Unfortunately, our proponent of gun control fails to extend his argument to the other extreme.

Returning to the issue of chemical or nuclear weapons, the critical difference between them and guns is the ability, or lack thereof, to pinpoint their use so as not to infringe on the natural rights of others. As Rothbard explains:

It has often been maintained, and especially by conservatives, that the development of the horrendous modern weapons of mass murder (nuclear weapons, rockets, germ warfare, etc.) is only a difference of degree rather than kind from the simpler weapons of an earlier era. Of course, one answer to this is that when the degree is the number of human lives, the difference is a very big one. But a particularly libertarian reply is that while the bow and arrow, and even the rifle, can be pinpointed, if the will be there, against actual criminals, modern nuclear weapons cannot. Here is a crucial difference in kind. Of course, the bow and arrow could be used for aggressive purposes, but it could also be pinpointed to use only against aggressors. Nuclear weapons, even “conventional” aerial bombs, cannot be. These weapons are ipso facto engines of indiscriminate mass destruction. (The only exception would be the extremely rare case where a mass of people who were all criminals inhabited a vast geographical area.) We must, therefore, conclude that the use of nuclear or similar weapons, or the threat thereof, is a crime against humanity for which there can be no justification.

At this point, it is worth noting that one can oppose the use of nuclear weapons without concluding that government legislation is the only viable solution to this problem. This is especially true in light of the history of governments developing, stockpiling and using nuclear and chemical weapons.

Considering the untenable nature of this particular argument, all of our previous arguments against gun control continue to apply.



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  • About Gregory Cummings

    Gregory Cummings writes about Canadian monetary and economic policy. His writing has been featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada and the Ludwig von Mises Institute's Mises Daily publication. Read more.

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