With this year’s revision and destruction of famously libertarian Swiss gun laws, the world has started to look closer at the gun culture of Europe. Under threat of Schengen Area exclusion, the EU, which Switzerland is not a part of, changed their gun laws in order to fall more in line with barebones Union restrictions. Swiss gun laws are now stricter, requiring further background checks and more extensive licensing paperwork. However, they are still lawless in comparison to countries like the United Kingdom or Australia. But this investigation by those on the more libertarian side of the gun rights argument leads to the rediscovery of compulsory gun ownership both in Switzerland and in the United States.
Compulsory Gun Ownership
The history of compulsory or required gun ownership is quite extensive. It usually involved at least the requirement of one gun per household or one gun per every adult male. These laws rarely required more than that. The laws also occurred, in Europe for the most part, after a significant military action. Although no longer in place, some towns and counties in the South and West of the United States have also required some form of gun ownership lasting as long as two decades. Contrary to what some may claim, these American laws were rarely enforced and did not significantly lower crime rates.
The reason why Switzerland, in particular, has such a low gun crime rate is not that they once enforced gun ownership in their of-age men. Rather, it is because the Swiss have significantly lower overall violent crime rate. They not only have a different culture as a whole, but they also have a different culture surrounding guns. Although Swiss men are no longer required to own guns, they are still required to be trained on how to use a gun. They are also required to fight in the Swiss military. Guns, weapons in general, and the military are more central to the lives of Swiss people. They’re less a political talking point and more a national fixture.
Despite these important cultural differences and the fact forced American gun ownership is rare, ineffective, and unenforced, there are some people who still think compulsory gun ownership would solve America’s gun problem. They see it as an extreme pushback against the infringement on gun rights. These people are right to be concerned; Trump has banned bump stocks. California has raised the age citizens are able to purchase a gun and has banned components of the “ghost gun”. But compulsory gun ownership is not the solution to these infringements.
Under the United States Constitution alone, every citizen has the right to own a firearm. This is not because the founding fathers had some love for guns in particular. Rather, it’s because a gun was the easiest ways to achieve the real right in the second amendment, which is the right to personal protection. Guns remain one of the best ways for individuals to protect themselves. But making gun ownership or training required in any capacity negates personal protection’s status as a right. It no longer is freedom. Instead, it becomes a duty.
Bill C-16, passed in Canada, is a good example of compulsory laws described as rights. The bill necessitated under the law the use of preferred pronouns, which Dr. Jordan B. Peterson famously contested. On the other side of the debate, people argue that because the bill does not technically limit speech, but requires a specific type of speech, it’s not antithetical to the value of free speech. Indeed, according to them, the bill expands freedoms of all types. But compulsion is not a right. It’s a restriction on a right. The Canadian state no longer allows Canadian citizens the full scope of language in every context. Although, they very seldom have afforded their citizens the full scope of their speech rights, similar to most governments.
Libertarians and right-wingers can see the danger is compulsory pronoun usage. Yet still, some can’t see the same danger in compulsory gun ownership. Switzerland’s short period of required gun ownership and training was not the thing that made the nation so libertarian today. It put the government in charge of what is supposed to be a right of all people. Once the state is the sole control of a right, it ceases to be a right and certainly ceases to be a marker of freedom. The truth is that freedom is less about what the state permits you to do and more about how many choices you have both inside and outside of the state.
The Future of Freedom
Compulsory gun ownership is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s another realm of state control disguised as the only way to secure liberty and to combat gun control. Any implementation of this law would give the state total and complete control over the ability of any citizen to protect themselves effectively. Not only this, but the state, under this system, would control everything surrounding firearms. They would turn gun shops and ammo stores into DMVs and TSAs. Likely, the state’s compulsion would regulate the specific type of guns citizens are required to own. They’d regulate the bullet type, age of required ownership, and if training were required like it was and is in Switzerland, the state would control what kind of training citizens receive.
Considering all of this, it’s impossible to believe in good faith that requiring or forcing any amount of rights or freedoms onto someone is precisely the opposite of libertarianism. It’s force, no matter how benevolent it may seem. This type of anti-gun control legislation is not just pro-gun control, it immoral and unpragmatic. What gun rights and 2A supporters need to understand about this is that it’s just a novel distraction. The real solution is to remove the state from the business of our rights altogether.