THE COPS, OR ELSE
by Pierre Lemieux
On July 14, 1716, a royal decree from Louis XV confirmed
the prohibition of the carrying of arms in France, except for «the
nobility, individuals living as nobles [les gens vivant noblement], royal
justice officers, and men of war». This reminds me of the incident,
just before Christmas, when a Montreal cop accidentally fired his new,
16-round, semi-automatic pistol, a weapon now forbidden to ordinary citizens.
Consider the history of the
New York City police. Between its founding in 1844 and the end of the
1860s, NYC police officers were forbidden to carry guns in the course
of their duties, while ordinary citizens were naturally allowed to, and
often did, carry concealed revolvers. From 1911 and until now, the situation
was reversed: ordinary New York citizens have been forbidden to carry
guns while the cops have been displaying them visibly.
Anybody who has not been totally brainwashed by 20th-century statist mantras
would think that, if there is to be any dissymmetry, the original New
York situation is the normal one: as a humble servant, the cop goes unarmed,
while the sovereign citizen-master faces no such restriction. The state
is constrained, free men are not (except, of course, when they have committed
At the time when Louis XV confirmed the royal tradition of gun controls
against the ordinary citizens, the traditional right of the Englishman
to own and carry weapons was continuing its development. No quick summary
of the historical record will do justice to the subject, and the interested
reader should read historian Joyce Malcolm’s To Keep and Bear
Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right (Harvard University
Throughout the 19th century and up into the 20th, England, Canada and
America remained the beacons of liberty. By the early 20th century, the
right of ordinary citizens to own and carry guns was, in practice, recognized
in most, if not all, civilized countries. In France, all restrictions
had been abolished by the 1789 Revolution, although some were creeping
back in since the second half of the 19th century.
The general idea, which
survived in Canada until a few decades ago, was that the cop was only
a specialized agent, a servant of the public, with no more rights than
any citizen. Indeed, where would the cop derive his power from, if not
from his masters who, therefore, must have at least the same rights if
they can delegate them to their servants?
As the honest citizens have been gradually disarmed, only the cops and
criminals now carry guns. The cops have become more and more powerfully
and ostentatiously armed, up to their new semi-automatic pistols they
got less than two years ago. Anybody who knows anything about guns will
agree that any semi-automatic pistol is more accident-prone than the old
revolver. One can certainly ask whether the supplementary risk of the
semi-auto outweighs the benefits of more firepower, but this is not the
real issue here. The real issue is whether the servants should become,
even only symbolically, the masters. I think not.
Montreal cops (and other Canadian cops) should have no more liberty to
keep and bear arms than any peaceful citizen. If a Montreal cop has access
to a gun, it should be a long gun, with a magazine holding no more than
five rounds. The gun should be “safely stored,” i.e., locked
in his cruiser trunk. To be allowed to retrieve the rifle or shotgun from
the trunk, our servant should have taken the one-day re-education camp
required from ordinary citizens, and obtained a personal firearms licence.
He should be forced, again like any ordinary citizen, to renew this personal
licence every five years by answering questions about his love affairs
and depressions. Of course, he would not carry any Mace, except against
animals, as it has been forbidden as a self-defence weapon since 1978.
Disarm the noble agents of the state, or else... Or else, the citizen
(if this word has any meaning) should regain his traditional liberties.
Pierre Lemieux is an economist and author. www.pierrelemieux.org.
LEMIEUX EN LIBERTÉ