Critical Thinking: “Where’s the gun?”

When someone says “There ought to be a law,” ask them this question . . .

“Where’s the gun?”

They will probably give you a blank, uncomprehending stare, and say, “What?”

This is the response you want. It denotes confusion. And confusion can be the first step on the road to clarity.

Answer their confusion like this …

“You’re advocating a law to control your fellow citizens. But what if they disobey your law? Will an agent of the state point a gun at them and force them to comply?”

Hemming and hawing may commence. Stuff like this, “Well, we won’t point a gun at them. We’ll just fine them if they don’t comply.”

“What if they refuse to pay the fine?”

“Then we’ll take it from their bank account.”

“And perhaps leave them destitute, homeless, or hungry?”

“It’s for a good purpose. They should have complied.”

Conscience“But what if they think their NON-compliance is for a good purpose? What if they think compliance would be bad, destructive, or even evil? And what if they try to promote their vision of the good by hiding their money so that you can’t seize it? Does the gun show up then?”

“I’m not sure what you mean?”

“What I mean is this — If someone doesn’t agree that your law has a good purpose, and they refuse to comply with it, and they refuse to pay your fine, and they hide their money so you can’t seize it, will men with guns arrive to force them to submit?”

You may get silence and another blank stare, but press the issue…

“Is there any point in the enforcement process for your law where agents of the state show up with guns to force obedience?”

Initiated ForceIf the person is really advocating a law then he or she will have to admit that there’s a gun at the end of the enforcement process. Getting to this point is crucial to the task of critical thinking. We cannot think clearly about the nature of The State and The State’s “laws” without finding and taking note of the gun that lies behind all statism.

It’s one thing for laws to respond to initiated force for defensive or corrective purposes. That’s a legitimate function. It’s quite another thing for “laws” to initiate force against peaceful citizens, based on some scheme of social engineering.

  • Retaliating against violence is the function of legitimate government.
  • Initiating force is the nature of Statism.

Finding the gun helps to clarify what is really being proposed.

The question “Where’s the gun” should become as well known as “Where’s Waldo?” Now here’s the final statement in the dialog…

“Do you really think your idea for improving the world is so important that people should be compelled to obey it at the point of a gun?”

Statists and StatismThe person advocating the law may continue doing so, but because you drew attention to the gun, he or she can no longer be ignorant of the violence and arrogance inherent in the proposal.

Update: 1/3/19

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Copyright SymbolCopyright (c) 2013 by Perry Willis. Permission to distribute this blog post for educational purposes is granted, if done with attribution to the author and the Zero Aggression Project. Permission to use for commercial purposes is denied. You can find a full explanation of our copyright policy here.

Show Comments 19


    1. Post

      Thanks for your kind words Stephen. We plan to provide a book in the near future. We have a bit more material we want to add before we do that.

      1. Perry, can you give a specific example of a “true government” that has actually existed in human history? One that meets all the criteria that you have for a “true” government? Or do “true governments only exist in your mind? Do any of the governments in history meet your definition of a “true government”? If your “true government” only exists in your mind, then why should we accept your imaginary government as true and the one that actually exists as false?

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          Sorry for the late reply RadicalDude. I’ve been away for a while.

          I think the contrast you propose is a false one. You seem to still have it in mind that The State is somehow a government. This is precisely what I am arguing against. Any entity that routinely commits crimes — by initiating force — cannot be a government. As such, NO State has EVER been a government, however much they may have pretended otherwise. I think humanity has always existed in a state of lawless anarchy. We are proposing a way to fix this, by ending initiated force, and allow diverse kinds of governmental institutions to flourish.

          This does not mean that there have NEVER been true institutions of government. There have been, and they exist today. It’s simply the case that none of these governmental institutions are State institutions. Examples that exist today include voluntary arbitration firms and security services, and regulatory services such as Underwriter’s Laboratory and NSF. There are many more. The non-statist regulatory sector is actually quite extensive and robust. It could and would be even more-so absent statist violence to impose monopoly conditions in areas such as criminal law.

          1. It seems like you are basically trying to re-define what the word “government” even means. You are basically saying that every organization that has ever been called a government is not a government, but is instead a “state”. I agree that the NAP or ZAP is just a function of logic, that allowing for maximum peaceful cooperation is the most efficient way for humans to maximize their survival potential.
            Would anyone at underwriter’s labs ever call UL a “government”?
            From UL’s website I quote:

            Is UL part of the government?
            UL is not part of the government. UL is an independent organization. See About UL for more information.


            If UL does not consider itself “government” why do you insist that it is?

            What you have done is come up with your own definition of what the word “government” means. Instead of what 99% of english speakers mean when they use the word, you want us to accept your narrow
            specialized ideological definition as the “right” and “true” definition and insist that the word means something else than what almost everyone else means by the word.

            Why should we accept that your definition of “government” is the “right” definition and what almost everyone else means by the word is “wrong”?

            What do you hang these assertions on aside from your own wishful thinking?

            Also, I think it is reification fallacy to talk about the “state” committing violence. The “state” doesn’t commit violence. People do, and the belief in the “state” is what motivates them to commit violence.

            Imagine this conversation:
            “What a lovely painting, who is the artist?”
            “The state painted this.”
            Or this:
            “Let’s change the channel, who moved the remote for the tv?”
            “The state moved it.”
            Why do the responses look so absurd? What is the logical fallacy being committed by the answerer?

            “The state” is only a mental abstraction. Just an idea that exists in the mind. It doesn’t “pass laws”. It doesn’t “commit violence”, PEOPLE do those things. When we ascribe the actions of actual physical people to imaginary ideas, we are denying the facts and accepting a fictional construct instead of the reality.

          2. Post

            Hi RadicalDude. You have it stuck in your head that The State governs, and that it is the only type of institution that can provide governance. This is understandable. A long habit of thinking in a certain way carves a deep groove. The only cure for that — the only way to get out of that rut — is to keep repeating the same points over and over again. And so I will…

            Initiated force is inherently criminal. Criminality is the negation of government. The State initiates force in everything it does. Therefore, The State is criminal in everything it does. Therefore, The State is not a government. OK, so what kinds of institutions provide governance without initiating force. UL does. It regulates products without initiating force. We need to increase these kinds of governmental institutions, and transform The State to become one of them, by rejecting the initiation of force.

            One problem you may be having is thinking that there can only be one institution of governance. But this is not even true in the realm of the pretend governance provided by The State. There are three levels of The State — federal, little states (TX, CA etc.), and local. And within those levels are thousands of different institutions — FBI, Texas Rangers, San Jose police, FDA, IRS, etc. I am suggesting that we need to start thinking of governance in terms of institutionS, plural, rather than as a single institution.

            I’m glad you’re grappling with these issues. I hope you continue to do so.

          3. Post

            I want to respond separately to your point about abstractions. I think it’s a good one. I largely agree. Focusing on abstract names for institutions can obscure the human action that lies beneath all of them. And it’s even more important to focus on the actions than the people. That’s why our main focus is on fighting initiated force. But institutional questions arise from this focus.

            What kinds of governmental institutions would come into existence if The State could no longer initiate force. What kind of institution would The State itself become under such conditions? We are suggesting that things like the FDA would come to resemble UL, and NSF, and that police and courts would come to look like existing security and arbitration services. And so on…

            Where once we had The State, we would now a governmental industry – diverse institutions providing governmental services in a variety of ways.

            Perry Willis

  1. Pingback: Militant Libertarian » Critical Thinking: “Where’s the gun?”

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  2. Perry, if you ever need a proofreader, I would be most happy to perform.

    I love what you’re doing here.

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  3. This points out the hypocrisy of gun control. Yes sir, who still has the gun and what are they using it for? Who are really committing crimes with guns? No less than the State or Government. If we look at whom are really threatening us with gun violence it is them.

  4. What is your position on taxes? My stance is that taxation is theft. Pay the tax or go to jail (the gun in the room) is not representation. Nor is it consent.

    Does downsizedcfoundation.org hold the same position as the ZAP website regards taxation?
    Does downsizedc.org hold the same position as the ZAP website regards taxation?

    1. Post

      Yes, Downsize DC likewise believes that taxation if theft. But we prefer to call taxation violence-based funding. The Lefties think you can take away the theft simply by calling it taxation. Kings thought something similar. That’s why they called their theft tribute. We want to force Left-statists to focus on the key thing — the violence. So we’ve stopped using the abstract term taxation in favor of calling it violence-based funding.

  5. Can I then logically surmise that if taxation is violence based funding, then the Obamacare mandate is also? It is also one group of people violating the principle Thomas Jefferson set up concerning compelling another group of people to pay for what it does not support:

    “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

    Thomas Jefferson

    1. Interestingly enough the 0bamacare fine can (at this time) only be taken out of your IRS refund. If you get no refund for what ever reason you loose no fine. So really it is a fine on the rebate of the “taxes” stolen from you not, itself, a tax. Which is why it gets away with having originated in the part of congress specifically not allowed to tax. And also, one of the structural reasons why 0bamacare will have to be rewritten in the near future.

  6. Another great article. Thank you. I have used this argument and will continue to do so but, so far, my results have been unsatisfactory. My old friends refuse to engage with the premise and endlessly repeat, “there are no guns, your exaggerating.” I try to satisfy myself that that statement being an oxymoron must register at some level in their psyche, but it’s frustrating. Maybe I should stop waving my arms around and ranting when I’m saying it lol.

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