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DISARM 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 crimes).

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 Press, 1994).

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

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