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Does society need guns for peace? How can humanity transcend violence?

In his TED Talk (attached) Peter Van Uhm argues that "sometimes only the gun can stand between good and evil… The gun may be the most important instrument of peace and stability that we have in this world."

Is his thesis sound? Does society need guns? Can we feasibly rid society of violence? Are guns and other forms of weapons necessary for an orderly society? Given recent outbreaks of violent large scale massacres and terrorists attacks how should governing authorities approach gun and weapon control?

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    Nov 1 2012: Bullys, tyrants, psychopaths, predators, and violent zealots do not respond readily to reason or peaceful dialog. Unless we can find a way to take away all guns we should be be very careful about whose guns we do take away. Unless you disqualify yourself, by condition or conduct, from gun ownership you must be free to choose to arm yourself for any and all legal purposes. Might is right is the mantra of criminals. If a criminal is sizing you up as a potential victim they will pay careful attention to your ability to defend against them. The only hope for most innocent, peace-loving people is for an equalizer of some sort. Enter the gun. This applies equally on the individual level and on a global level.
  • Nov 10 2012: Never give up your rights,ever.
    Never give up your right to bear arms.
    Let's see, if you listen to, trust and follow those whom you have put into power,
    or those who have usurped power in the u.s., don't they tell the citizens they are
    going to war to create peace?
    Isn't that what they use war for and justify it in all kinds of obnoxious and ridiculous ways?

    Why I believe they do, so never give up your arms and be ready to use them against those
    who love to go to war. Your leaders. The only ones who want war, meaning they are lying
    because they don't want peace for any reason. There is no profit in it for them.

    Citizens need their guns for safety from those whom they are supposed to be able to trust,
    but clearly cannot and should not.
    So why are they trying to take away your guns, your right to bear arms, your weapons for self-defense
    if they use them for war to make peace themselves? Isn't that also good enough for you?

    Do you see something incredibly insidious, devious and evil in what they tell you?
    Something that doesn't add up, make sense or have real logic to it?

    Don't give up your right to bear arms.
    Don't turn in your weapons.
    Arm yourselves.
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    Nov 10 2012: I would actually like to add one more strange argument to this debate. In part, it is related to an issue I take with something you and John both agree on "This seems a bit more whimsical as I doubt a personal weapon will help much against the armies of advanced societies". I just want to point out, that this became true, only very recently. Before nukes, facial recognition, and targeted missile strikes etc. a well armed militia may never have been worth fearing for an industriallized nation, but they may have made taking control, more expensive then it was worth.

    I think the right to bear arms, presents a very important part of the argument that American society has lost sight of. "If you want to abuse your authority over me, I have the right to defend myself". What is important about this is it represents the way Americans used to view government. All laws, are enforced at the point of a gun, we just don't like to think about it. Behind the tax code, there are tanks if the police can't do their job.

    Every single time a human being in any society means to pass a law, they should ask themselves "If someone is willing to defend their right to violate this law, to the death, do they deserve to die?". "This is a good idea, but is it a good enough idea to force on every single member of my civillization at the point of a gun". If we did that, we would take the business of government far more seriously. In the past, the right to bear arms helped facillitate this.

    If everyone holds a gun on them at all times, enforcing stupid, needless, or abuse laws, may not become impossible, but it does come at a much higher risk, and financial, and human cost.
    • Nov 10 2012: "Every single time a human being in any society means to pass a law, they should ask themselves "If someone is willing to defend their right to violate this law, to the death, do they deserve to die?" "

      No, that would be ridiculous, you have to also take into account whether a "reasonable" person would let disagreement about your law come to a fight to the death. If you don't then you can't have laws against speeding, littering or shop lifting as long as there's one idiot who announces he would go to war with the state over those laws. When you get your ass shot after you go to war with the state you don't get shot for opposing a law, you get shot for going to war with the state. It's also not just about that one person, the state doesn't inflict violence on him for his petty crime if he keeps resisting, the state inflicts violence on him because the state has to keep society together: if they let him go then they've effectively legalized the breaking of all laws and millions of people will suffer because of that.

      This goes back to that thread on free speech a while ago: letting your laws depend on what you might have to do if some extremist goes to war with you over that law, essentially means giving control of the legislative process over to extremists (who can contradict each other, to make matters worse), it would basically be a heckler's veto for the entire legislative process. It's much better tobase your law based on a mix of public opinion, basic ethics, cost-effectiveness and proportionality of the penalty (the jail time, fine, etc..., not the threat of eventual death if someone goes to war against the state) vs. the offense.

      "What is important about this is it represents the way Americans used to view government."

      You mean white, landowning, heterosexual, monotheistic, male Americans, everyone else has been subject to a level of abuse comparable to that taking place in all those "evil" countries America was supposed to be refuge from.
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        Nov 10 2012: Wow... You're usually the rational one, I'm surprised that the freedom to defend yourself from tyranny is the thing that really gets under your skin... but to each their own.

        You quote my first line, but not my second "This is a good idea, but is it a good enough idea to force on every single member of my civillization at the point of a gun"... because that argument is untouchable. You can choose to be ignorant if you want, but every item you vote on, is enforced at the point of a gun... Thus, every law you have voted for, which is not so important as to require a mugging of every single citizen of your society... Was immoral. Those are just facts.

        People are willing to pull a gun over theft... Probably not littering or speeding. Personally, I think speeding laws are immoral, and contribute to disrespect of authority, much in the way marijuana laws do. I believe reckless driving is the only crime that someone should pull a gun on you for, because it represents a threat to human life.

        "a "reasonable" person", is an impossible concept to define. Were there no reasonable people in Germany during the reign of Nazi's? Very few acted reasonably. People who disagreed with them, were imprisoned or gassed for being unreasonable... but, was disagreeing with Nazi's unreasonable? I don't think so.

        If the United States decides that dissent is illegal... Is being willing to die to preserve the first ammendment unreasonable? Our founders disagree.

        Your last atttack is just vitriolic emotional nonsense, and completely factually incorrect. First off monotheistic... Jefferson wasn't a theist... What are you talking about. White? It's so easy to forget that while white people were getting along in America, in Europe they all hated each other... Even white people being treated equally, at the time, was incredibly progressive. Yes gay people, women, and many races were descriminated against here, like they were everywhere else, but it has nothing to do with guns.
        • Nov 10 2012: "People are willing to pull a gun over theft... Probably not littering or speeding."

          I wouldn't shoot someone for theft, but there you go, you assume that "people" wouldn't pull a gun for littering or speeding, so you are making a guess as to what a reasonable person would do.

          "Personally, I think speeding laws are immoral, and contribute to disrespect of authority, much in the way marijuana laws do. I believe reckless driving is the only crime that someone should pull a gun on you for, because it represents a threat to human life."

          Speeding = reckless driving. But you raise an excellent point here: reckless driving presents a threat to human life, but not a 100% certain threat, in fact the probability of you killing someone through reckless driving is pretty low (though high compared to other things in daily life, which is why we see it as a threat), whereas getting pounded by the military gives a 100% probability of death for you, so enforcing this at gunpoint would already be disproportional if you only believe in individual cases and not the greater effect on society. You're just gonna have to think of the bigger picture when making laws against anything but murder (then again who gets to decided that murder warrants the death penalty if we can't agree on what is reasonable?)

          " "a "reasonable" person", is an impossible concept to define."

          You betcha, that's why we haven't replaced judges and lawmakers by computers, c'est la vie. If you're looking for an ideology that's going to solve all the world's problems with only a few simplistic tenets you will come up empty.

          "If the United States decides that dissent is illegal... Is being willing to die to preserve the first ammendment unreasonable? Our founders disagree."

          I don't think that it would be unreasonable to disagree in that case, like I said, you have to take basic ethics and proportionality into account when making a law.
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        Nov 10 2012: 'Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?" Thoreau
        • Nov 10 2012: Unjust laws should be overturned, but that doesn't mean you should go to war with the state over every disagreement and no, you don't have to persuade the majority, you can have the courts test against basic ethical principles. Don't forget that when you go to war with the state and win YOU will have imposed your will on the rest of the people through violent means, what gives you the right to do this if the majority of the people does not agree with you and there are not basic human rights at stake?

          P.S. you shouldn't see the forces of the state as unmoveable: soldiers will often switch sides as we've seen in Libya and Syria.

          An armed government exists so the ability to use force isn't confined to the strongest members of society: it makes sure able bodied young men don't get to dictate all of society.
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        Nov 10 2012: No where in my argument do I talk about going to war with the state... but you accuse me of it over and over. No where do I talk about "If you're looking for an ideology that's going to solve all the world's problems with only a few simplistic tenets you will come up empty." I'm explaining why gun rights used to make sense, and are a bit out dated, but still represent an important theory of governance today. Did your girlfriend break up with you are something? I don't know where all this is coming from, lol.

        With the reckless driving argument, I am expressing my point relatively clearly. When human life is at risk, and society is at risk, government has the right to use guns... Going 50 in a 40 is situationally dangerous at worst, at 3 am on an empty street, it's perfectly safe. Police should be in the business of protecting life, and evaluating threats... not sitting at the bottom of the steepest hill they can find with the lowest speed limit to look "productive". The second the police are trying to hassle and control perfectly normal safe public behavior, I have a problem with it.

        Bradley Manning has been in solitary confinement for 900 days, for freedom of speech. The information he "leaked", was accessible by over 4 million government contractors, and employees... It was not classified.

        This may seem like a relatively harmless, or well intentioned government, but under your own definition, every person in this country has every right, to defend themselves against the tyranny of this oppressive regime... The UK plans to extradite Julian Assange, another non criminal who did nothing but speak truth to power... Europe isn't very much ahead of the curve.

        I am saying, that when a man comes to your door with a gun, and imposes an unjust law on you, you have just as much right to shoot that man, as he does you. Being a representative of government does not make him right, and you wrong.
  • Nov 2 2012: "Does society need guns for peace?"

    If no one could make guns then the peace could be kept with swords and bows, in a world where people do know how to make guns the peace can be kept by a small armed minority, the bulk of the citizens don't need guns to keep peace and freedom, as many European countries have proven. The most important factors in keeping the peace are civil and economic equality: when people see that they have the same opportunities as their neighbors society tends to be peaceful, even so, some authority would still need to be armed to combat psychotic criminals and force would be cheaters (like vulture capitalists) to play fair.

    Having said that, once you do give weapons to untrained citizens you let a genie out of the bottle that is very hard to put back in.
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      Nov 4 2012: Meritocracy is the answer. I like it! It all goes back to advancing culture and human relationships as a solution.

      Not that I necessarily agree with this, but some studies have shown the rise in some violent crimes (armed robberies for example) with increased gun control in Europe. The argument is that criminals are more likely to engage in this activity if they know citizens are less likely to be armed. Thoughts?

      Another common argument is that citizens should have the right to bear arms to protect themselves against their very own governing bodies. This seems a bit more whimsical as doubt a personal weapon will help much against the armies of advanced societies.
      • Nov 5 2012: "Not that I necessarily agree with this, but some studies have shown the rise in some violent crimes (armed robberies for example) with increased gun control in Europe. The argument is that criminals are more likely to engage in this activity if they know citizens are less likely to be armed. Thoughts?"

        There has been an increase in crimes in Europe in the 1990s and early 2000s but it has been halted without giving guns to citizens and the crime rates are still lower than in the United States, also crimes are less violent than similar crimes in the US, a European burglary seldomly results in injuries and most burglars will flee rather than shoot you (the big fallacy people in the US make is that they think that just because they are armed they will automatically win a shootout with a burglar and survive unscathed). On a side note, many European countries allow citizens to keep hand guns at home but only after training (either in the military/law enforcement or on firing ranges), most Europeans could have a hand gun if they wanted to, they just have to train at a firing range first, but they choose not to, that's something you'll never hear the NRA admit.

        "This seems a bit more whimsical as doubt a personal weapon will help much against the armies of advanced societies."

        I agree, if people are afraid of the government they should seek to reduce the size of the military, that would be far more effective than going up against a tank with a shotgun. In any case, soldiers are not robots, they are your friends, family and neighbors, if you don't trust them not to kill you as soon as some evil dictator tells them to then you must be very paranoid and not enjoy life very much.
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      Nov 7 2012: If you wouldn't mind answering me a dumb question... Is it actually illegal to hunt in Europe? I'm not a huge fan of this argument, but many men will tell you that actually stalking and kiling an animal connects them to a primal part of the human experience, in a way nothing else does...

      What about people who live where they have to worry about bears? Are they supposed to stab bears in the face? Is there no where left in Europe that isn't a city? Actually making guns illegal, in any large nation, has always struck me as insane.
      • Nov 7 2012: Hunting (which can be done perfectly well using bows instead of guns) is not illegal in most European countries, just strictly regulated and there are of course species that you are not allowed to kill, just like in the US. Hunting is not very popular in Europe, but it does depend on the country and region you're in. The biggest difference between American and European authorities on the subject of hunting is that the latter won't let you buy an AK-47 under the guise of "hunting equipment".

        @below

        Yes, that's a big misconception Americans have about Europe: people are allowed to own handguns and hunting rifles over here, you just have to clear a background check and prove that you can handle a weapon (training in the military or law enforcement or prolonged, 1 year in my country, membership of a shooting range). You can't carry a gun on the streets though. In any case most people simply choose not to own firearms.
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          Nov 7 2012: Okay, I thought that was the case, just wasn't sure. I'm not a fan of guns... but I have always thought that having a simple rifle or revolver, for dealing with animal attacks or hunting, in rural areas, just seemed like common sense. I've even thought I would want the right to own a gun, if I was more than 10 miles from a police station... It's just not a major issue for me.
  • Nov 2 2012: IMO.

    "Does society need guns for peace?"

    Yes. Perhaps ultimately we will develop an understanding of human development and human behavior that will enable us to raise all children to become nonviolent adults. But for the next few centuries, at least, we will continue to need guns.

    "How can humanity transcend violence?"

    By developing cultures that understand the futility of violence. We are working on it. Give us a few more centuries.

    "Can we feasibly rid society of violence?"

    Yes. We are working on it.

    "Are guns and other forms of weapons necessary for an orderly society?"

    Yes, for now.

    "Given recent outbreaks of violent large scale massacres and terrorists attacks how should governing authorities approach gun and weapon control?"

    This is a very touchy subject. Before the Patriot Act I was pro gun control. Then the Patriot Act was passed, destroying all the rights that make the USA worth fighting for, by a Congress that was too scared to read the bill before voting for it. Now I don't like any form of gun control. Guns are the people's last resort to restore their rights.
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      Nov 4 2012: Thank you good sir. All great points. Advancing culture is likely the solution. Another question is how long will it take before the fear of violence is negligible? And what do we do in the meantime to preserve the sanctity of life as the risk of violent outbreaks increase with advanced weapon technology and increased global access to black markets?
      • Nov 5 2012: "what do we do in the meantime ..."

        The government of the USA is already doing it. They are taking away our rights, particularly privacy, and using drones to attack the bad guys with little concern for innocents who get in the way. I do not agree with these measures, but it appears that they are effective. One day we might wake up and severely regret allowing the government to usurp our most sacred heritage. What is the right price for "security"? The automobile costs us over 30,000 dead each year, and we willingly pay.

        Lejan's comment about smart weapons should be taken seriously. In just the next few years smart surveillance devices and smart weapons will be developed on a smaller scale than bombs. The government is about to permit drones to make the decision to attack a target with no human decision in the process. The notion that only good guys will have smart weapons is naive.

        "how long will it take before the fear of violence is negligible?"

        My guess is another two centuries, but maybe never.
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    Gail . 50+

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    Nov 2 2012: What do we need for peace? We need to change our way of thinking. Peace is a power, and a potent power at that. I have used it on two occasions to diffuse a lethal situation. When enough of us begin to strive for inner-peace, the outer peace will appear. When there is no enemy within, there is no enemy without.

    Guns do not protect the peace. They hold that which is not peace in abeyance. Our culture appears not to know the meaning of the word peace.

    In his book "1984", George Orwell placed his characters in a dystopian setting where they would chant "war is peace". We do the same thing. Thus we believe that guns create peace.

    You can't force a people to be peaceful, but you can encourage them (using guns) to be afraid, and fear causes many problems. You can't force a people to be afraid either, but when people are not self-aware, it's an easy enough thing to do to them.
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      Nov 4 2012: Thanks for your comment. I love the idea. Simply put: guns increase tension and directly provide the fuel in conflicts. Most of violence is derived from anger or insecurity within. Thus the cure is within. But once you have this peace what do you do about the outside world that still has a gun pointed at you? With that knowledge how do we move forward and feasibly address society? Can we expect all or even the majority of society to act rationally enough to where everyone could put their guns down without fear of attack? Guns may not actually protect peace but they provide some a sense of security. Sadly security may be a short-cut to the better solution of true peace.
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    Nov 2 2012: Guns seem to get old fashion nowadays, almost anachronistic in our times of drones.

    Once autonomous drones have been developed they could be transferred into a commodity and by its economy of scale, they would become as cheap as our smartphones today.

    This way we would be liberated of the weight of our clumsy guns and were elegantly protected by this new hovering iGuard devices. Realtime voice and gesture violence detection software would then do the job for us and initiate appropriate actions and counter measures according to a choosen level of defence which could be updated, also in realtime, according to a 'world violence broadcast service' based on our current GPS position.

    We would just walk on as usual and the 'math' just happens for us within the drone near to us.

    A wide variety of drone to drone (D2D) and drone to non-drone agressor (D2NDA) weaponry could be purchased on the market, as well as drone-jammer and stealth drone technology.

    By unboxing a new ordered drone, the process of learning by the drone begins. It would be a bit like a duckling hatching its egg and the first person to see, becomes its person of main interest. To get full family protection, all members should be gathered, otherwise they would be determined as potential threat and would need another 'learning' loop to get included afterwards. Once this was set, we were ready to go, and only enemy drones of higher sophistication and better armor and weapons would be left as the only danger to us and our beloved ones.

    Collateral damage due to drone malfunction and 'misinterpretation' would have to be accepted by society, but the positive effects outweighs those risks anyway. Somewhat the same as it is with guns today, I suppose ... Or am I mistaken? :o)
    • Nov 2 2012: Unfortunately, I think much of your scenario will come true. Smart weapons will likely make guns obsolete.
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        Nov 2 2012: Yet i still hope we will outrun this and act at least once as we call ourselfs: Homo Sapiens
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      Nov 4 2012: Thanks much for the great comment. Very interesting and pretty scary. So as technology advances are we stuck in a never ending arms race? As I mentioned to Mr. Anjorin, the risk that dangerous weapons fall into the wrong hands will likely increase with technology and globalization (easy access to information, materials, and black markets). Is there a solution outside of pushing forward an arms race under the guise of defending ourselves? I'd like to believe culture and education are better answers but advancement in technology could outpace the evolution of more rational behavior.
  • Nov 1 2012: It is usually said that guns don't kill people, people do.
    So there is a difference between the gun in the hand of a cop and the gun in the hand of a criminally minded fellow; there is a difference between a gun in the hand of someone who got a licensed one for self defense and a gun in the hand of a street thug; now, a licensed gun in the hand of an abusive husband is a wife's nightmare.
    In all, it shows that human relationships are the most important factor to be considered in our quest for a society free of violence. People have been killed with fists, stones, planks, arrows and knives. It's not as if guns are the chief evil whose removal would bring about world peace.
    We should work on building quality human relationships; so that ours would be a society that values the sanctity of human life and where mutual respect and tolerance is encouraged.
    No doubt there would be a few who would choose to be anti-society and would express such in extreme ways; guns in the hands of the right people could be helpful in such situations.
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      Nov 2 2012: Also,
      Pursuing INVALID happiness ==> Greed ==> Violence!.
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      Nov 4 2012: Thanks much for your great comment. I fully agree with you but with increased technology and globalization dangerous weapons are much easier to access. An argument can be made that the risk that these weapons fall into the wrong hands will continue to increase. Education, stronger human relationships, and the spread of positive culture are key but there will likely always be the small percentage of individuals who just want to see the world burn be it for religion, nationalism, nihilism, or whatever. The more their views fall on the outskirts of popular opinion, the angrier and bolder they may become.

      Technology, globalization, and education are all great but they have risks associated with them that we should be aware of. Is it possible to make the risk of dangerous weapons falling into the wrong hands negligible?
      • Nov 7 2012: The risk of weapons falling into wrong hands is not negligible. That is why some weapons are bad news; putting humanity at risk. Some weapons are not worth celebrating (I mean their invention). But since we have them, then we have to try as hard as we can to make sure that they don't fall into the wrong hands.
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    Nov 1 2012: Of course we need guns. But guns alone is not enough. We need also culture.

    What is culture? To have a gun and not to use it.
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    Nov 1 2012: Yes, with guns.