Gun Control, Circa 1780 [with comment by Paul]

At the Heritage web site, Dr. Nelson Lund has a long and scholarly review of the right to keep and bear arms. He examines the history of the Second Amendment, as well as the right to keep and bear arms in English political philosophy, and more. It is a fine article and I commend it to your attention if you are interested in the subject.

For now, I just want to reproduce this passage by Cesare Beccaria, an Italian political philosopher who lived from 1738 to 1794. It is remarkable how little the arguments over gun control have changed.

False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils, except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm those only who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Can it be supposed that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, the most important of the code, will respect the less important and arbitrary ones, which can be violated with ease and impunity, and which, if strictly obeyed, would put an end to personal liberty—so dear to men, so dear to the enlightened legislator—and subject innocent persons to all the vexations that the guilty alone ought to suffer? Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.

PAUL ADDS: Beccaria was a utilitarian. He heavily influenced Jeremy Bentham, considered the founder of this philosophical approach.

Hard-headed utilitarianism will yield the correct answer to the vast majority of questions.