As a libertarian, there’s few things I hate more than the government trying to limit our access to guns. The Second Amendment is perhaps the most important, and effective, check on government power written into the Constitution. Every government that has orchestrated a mass genocide against its own people banned those people from owning guns first. I firmly believe that without the huge number of guns in private hands in America, the military would have been turned against us at some point. With that being said, I’d like to explore the possibility of various forms of gun control that could happen in a libertarian society.
Before I get a bunch of knee-jerk hate mail, let me be clear about something. I don’t support ANY form of government gun control. No government has a right to pick and choose who can and can’t own guns. What I’m interested in exploring is if we were living in a society with little or no government at all, would the free market make it harder for some people to own guns or carry guns in public?
I say yes. In a free market, there will still be forms of gun control.
Private Property Gun Control
The easiest type of gun control to imagine is the type that you personally institute on your own property. If you invite people on your property, you have every right to say that they aren’t allowed to carry guns. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to associate with you. This goes for businesses as well. If a business doesn’t want armed customers, they can take measures to refuse entrance to anyone who is armed. Just because we have a right to own guns, doesn’t mean we have a right to carry them onto someone else’s property without their permission.
We can argue all day long about whether a business or person is making their property less safe with this policy, but the fact remains that they have every right to do it and some people will exercise this right.
Neighborhood Association Gun Control
Some people really don’t like guns. They truly believe that the less guns they’re around, the safer they’ll be. With that in mind, I don’t see why they couldn’t live in their own little gun-free communities. This goes back to private property rights. If someone builds an apartment building, they get to choose the rules and regulations of the property. They can make it pet-free if they like. They can make it a retirement community so only senior citizens can move in. And if they choose, they can make it a gun-free community. People who rent or buy their units would have to agree to the rules and regulations of the community. If they don’t like the rules, they don’t have to live there.
Since we know there are millions of people in America today that are vehemently anti-gun, we can imagine that at least some of them will establish and live in gun-free communities.
I would argue that having a gun-free community would be about as “safe” as government mandated gun-free zones are today, but I have no right to make them change the rules of their property.
Gun Sales and Liability
So far, nothing I’ve talked about is really controversial or groundbreaking. I’m sure even the most ardent 2nd Amendment lover can concede that other people have private property rights. But this section of the piece will ruffle some feathers.
Absent of government gun control laws, I think people could potentially have some liability if they give or sell guns to someone who uses them to harm innocent people. This potential liability would lead to gun dealers denying service to many potential gun buyers, unless they can show that they are responsible individuals. Thus reducing or eliminating the dealer’s potential liability.
The first scenario in which someone could get denied service by a seller is an easy one. If someone comes to a gun shop to purchase a gun, and he talks about his desire to use it to shoot innocent people, and he is sold a gun, the seller could easily have some liability. By supplying someone with a deadly weapon, while having the knowledge that he will use it to commit harm to innocent people, the seller is now an accomplice.
If someone verbally states his intent to cause harm to innocent people, I can’t imagine too many sellers today or in a libertarian future that would sell him a weapon. But what if someone shows non-verbal signals that they may be dangerous to innocent people? Could the seller have liability if this clearly unstable person is sold a gun and commits a crime against innocent people with it?
Take this as an example. Imagine someone comes into a gun shop and buys a gun. But something just doesn’t seem right about him. He’s muttering to himself. He seems nervous and agitated. He doesn’t seem to possess much knowledge about guns. He’s asking strange questions about the neighborhood clearly signifying he has little or no knowledge of the area. This person clearly seems like someone that any reasonable person would hesitate giving a gun to. But he never verbally states his intent to do harm to innocent people.
If that man then goes out and does something horrible with his newly purchased gun, would the seller have any liability? Hell yeah they could. If there were witnesses to this gun sale that can testify that the buyer was clearly deranged, and potentially dangerous, and that any reasonable person should have been able to recognize it, then the seller could easily be sued by the victims for negligence. This fear of liability could limit the people that gun dealers decide to do business with.
It may even get to a point where after every innocent person gets shot with a newly purchased firearm, a law suit could be coming just to investigate any possibility of negligence on the part of the seller. Most of these will probably be thrown out, and the seller would probably have insurance to defend him, but the nuisance alone will give sellers pause to do business with everyone that walks in the door.
Insurance And Background Checks
After a few successful negligence law suits, insurance companies are going to have to change how they insure gun dealers. My guess is that insurance companies will refuse to insure any gun dealer unless the dealer agrees to only sell guns to buyers who have passed some sort of independent background check and training course. This way if a gun buyer does harm to an innocent person, any lawsuit against the gun dealer would be stopped in its tracks once the seller shows that they did their due diligence before selling him a deadly weapon.
So will the gun shop have their own training course and background check? Probably not. In fact, there’d be so many independent, competing companies certifying gun owners that the shop wouldn’t have to. What I can see happening is everyone that wants to own guns and especially anyone that desires to carry guns at their workplace, or at the mall, or at entertainment venues, or anywhere in public, would get themselves certified.
They’d go to a trusted, widely accepted certification company and request their Seal of Approval. The company would probably have some basic test to see if the applicant understands when it’s acceptable to brandish or use a fire arm. They’d do some sort of background check to make sure the applicant isn’t a dangerous fugitive or has a history of violence. They might do a basic psychological exam. They’d test their proficiency with their weapon to make sure they can effectively and accurately use it. And after the applicant shows that they would most likely be a responsible gun owner, the certification company would give them their Seal of Approval.
This Seal of Approval could be used to satisfy the companies that insure gun dealers. This puts the gun dealer and their insurance company at ease since any potential burden of liability would shift to the certification company if this buyer should harm an innocent person with the newly purchased gun.
Carrying Guns in the Workplace and Around Town
Another huge reason to get yourself certified by one of these companies is so businesses and workplaces will feel comfortable letting you carry a gun on their property. Think about schools. I definitely wouldn’t want my children attending a gun-free school. It’d make me feel at ease if I knew teachers and security guards had the ability to defend my children against a possible violent threat. However, it’d make me feel even more at ease if I knew that the school made sure anyone who carried guns on their campus was certified not just in gun safety, but in proficiency by a reputable company. Not only would I know that these gun holders would be safe with their weapons, but they would be able to quickly and accurately neutralize any threat.
This could be a great selling point. Schools could advertise that they have high standards for their security guards and teachers in order to carry guns, and thus parents could feel better about their child’s safety.
Same goes for sporting venues. Or retail businesses. Or workplaces. I’m sure some of these places would be hesitant to let just anyone carry a gun on their premises, so they’d only allow people to carry who’ve been certified by a reputable certification company. But forget about the business owner, more than likely it would be their insurance company that would be more hesitant. After all, if a business lets just anyone carry a weapon on their premises, and a crazy person comes in and shoots up the place, the business owner could be sued by the victim’s for having a negligent weapons policy. Therefore, insurance companies may not insure businesses that don’t have a “Certified Gun Owners Only” policy for guns.
Libertarians love to imagine their ideal world with little or no government, and they usually imagine themselves being able to carry their weapons anywhere, anytime. However, we also have to acknowledge that in this free society other people have property rights too. This means they can restrict what you can do on their property.
Libertarians also tend to underestimate the effect insurance companies will have on a society with little or no government. Most of us will be relying on insurance companies to protect our valuable property as well as protect us against lawsuits. In order for us to get the most possible insurance for the lowest possible price, these companies would give business owners incentives to have policies that would reduce potential lawsuits. Just like drunk drivers are uninsurable, or at least have to pay enormous premiums, businesses and workplaces that don’t require certification to carry guns would increasingly become uninsurable as well.
This vision of society, where there are places you can’t carry your gun unless you’ve been vetted by some third party, doesn’t seem much different than today! However, there is one enormous difference. With no government one-size-fits-all gun control legislation, no one will have the right to tell you that you can’t carry a gun, so long as you have the permission of the property owner. And no one will have the right to tell you if you can or can’t own guns, so long as you’re able to convince someone to voluntarily sell or give them to you.
Originally published on Mike’s website here. Check out his blog levelheadedlibertarian.com for more!
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