Gun control is an atypical topic in terms of political debate, in that it is not something that really ever gets discussed outside of the United States of America. This is because the majority of western European nations have maintained strict gun control laws for many decades and often new weapons have not been made available for civilian use at all. However, that does not prevent a hypothetical debate in relation to guns and European politics, particularly when discussing gun control in an ideological context.
People often consider private gun ownership to be a libertarian principle, with the citizens owning guns as a necessity to prevent government tyranny or the encroachment of an enlarging state on their private lives. This is particularly true in America, where their gun ownership rights are entrenched in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution – the original purpose of this amendment being to protect the citizens against government tyranny. So, gun rights advocates often cite this small-state libertarian principle as the primary ideological background to their position.
In some ways, this is quite logical and backed up by evidence. For example, in communist regimes of the past and present such as Soviet Russia and China, the ruling elite disarmed the citizens to ensure there could be no counter-revolution against them. Similarly in Fascist Italy, Mussolini restricted gun rights as far a blanket ban on carry permits in the cities and later restricted the rights to own certain weapons altogether. This is because these were totalitarian regimes that required the total subservience to the state, which can only be achieved if the people have less capacity to exert power than the state.
The same is not necessarily true of authoritarian regimes. A good example of this is National Socialist Germany, which was authoritarian in nature as opposed to totalitarian – this is commonly mistaken or conflated by historians. In fact, many American libertarians cite the myth that ‘Hitler took away everybody’s guns’ as evidence that gun control equates tyranny. The reality was much different, in that it was the Weimar regime of 1919-33 that enacted very tight gun control laws in response to the frequent street battles raging in major cities, instigated by the communist agitators. The Nazis actually relaxed gun laws in 1938, in response to popular demand. It is true that enemies of National Socialism, the communists in particular, were restricted in terms of weapon ownership, but it is only natural to take a gun away from he who would see you dead for your beliefs.
The point here is that an authoritarian state and civilian gun ownership are not mutually exclusive positions. People often make the mistake of believing that authoritarianism equates tyranny and oppression, which is simply not the case. An authoritarian regime can exist with a large majority of popular support, as was the case in National Socialist Germany and is the case in Turkey today, for a contemporary example. For an authoritarian regime to succeed it must have the will of the people behind it, and if it does then it has nothing to fear from arming those people.
In such instances, the expressed purpose of private gun ownership may not be the libertarian principles of the founding fathers of the USA, but the enhanced freedom as an end result is very similar. In contrast to a libertarian state, an authoritarian state is not apart from or pit against the people but rather the direction of people and state is as one. Therefore the goals of the people and the state will be similar fundamentally. For example, ‘defending the realm’ may be a reason for the people to privately own guns, as this is something that people and state should both wish to do. Although not an authoritarian regime, Switzerland applies this principle today: every citizen who completes military conscription is given a gun to keep and, nobody ever invades Switzerland do they?
Personal protection is another practical and ideological reason for personal gun rights in an authoritarian regime. Both citizens and the state wish to see lower crime rates, and the state should care about the well-being of its citizens, therefore gun ownership to reduce the risk of home invasions and attacks upon the person is quite a logical step to take. Another perhaps more controversial reason for civilian gun ownership is for the purpose of protecting the nation from internal political agitators. If there is a situation in a nation where subversive forces such as Marxists or Fascists are on a mission to bring down society from within, then it is necessary to arm the vast majority of patriots to ensure that the fifth columns of society are not able to exert power through physical/psychological terror or coercion.
In actual fact, it seems to be so-called ‘liberal democracies’ in western Europe that are the most strict in terms of gun control. Perhaps this is because under the guise of democracy, they in fact enforce totalitarian liberalism on their citizens against their will? The nations of western Europe would not dare to import millions of third world migrants against the will of the people if the native population were armed with high-powered weapons. Neither would they deem it acceptable to ignore the public on practically all matters they are consulted on. Switzerland has the most loose gun laws in all of Europe and coincidentally, the strongest and most direct democracy.
Mass civilian gun ownership can be a force for good for both society and the individual, and it is not ideologically exclusive to libertarian states such as the USA. It is not just an option for the citizens to own guns in an authoritarian regime, but in fact an ideological obligation in order to ensure the state continues to be driven by the will of the people.