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Guns and liberal autonomy

Paul Craig Roberts has a useful column summarizing recent studies on the relationship between guns and violence. Not surprisingly, the studies show that widespread gun ownership reduces violent crime by enabling law-abiding citizens to respond appropriately—that is, immediately and forcibly—to violence and the threat of violence.

So why the widespread vehement opposition to private gun ownership? The basic reason is that liberals do not believe that people can or should be expected to govern themselves. Autonomy is the supreme liberal value, but liberal autonomy means freedom from moral judgment and is poles apart from self-government. In sexual matters, for example, it means the right to be licentious rather than the obligation to draw distinctions and exercise restraint.

Hence liberal opposition to the institutions through which people govern themselves in daily life. Such institutions subject freedom to a web of informal standards and restraints. To liberals, they are therefore oppressive. Marriage means wife-beating. Parental authority means child abuse. Patriotism means xenophobia. Local social cohesion is discriminatory. And ordinary moral standards are bigoted and hateful. Autonomy means you can use your freedom any way you wish, and no one has the right to criticize you for it. With that as background, isn’t it natural to assume that private gun ownership means that every argument over a parking place will turn into a shootout? If people have the right to have guns at all, how can they be expected to use them one way rather than another?

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