Today's Wall Street Journal reprinted a passage by Michael Munger of Duke University from The Freeman, a publication of the Foundation for Economic Education. His context was economics, but what he had to say applies perfectly to the gun issue, as well:
"When I am discussing the State with my colleagues at Duke, it's not long before I realize that, for them, almost without exception, the State is a unicorn...My friends generally dislike politicians, find democracy messy and distasteful, and object to the brutality and coercive excesses of foreign wars, the war on drugs, and the spying of the NSA.
"But their solution is, without exception, to expand the power of 'the State.' That seems literally insane to me — a non sequitur of such monstrous proportions that I had trouble taking it seriously.
"Then I realized that they want a kind of unicorn, a State that has the properties, motivations, knowledge, and abilities that they can imagine for it. When I finally realized that we were talking past each other, I felt kind of dumb. Because essentially this very realization — that people who favor expansion of government imagine a State different from the one possible in the physical world — has been a core part of the argument made by classical liberals for at least three hundred years."
When we say the right to bear arms is essential insurance against the state, we are thinking of the state as it is and has been since people first organized themselves: a collection of human beings who are capable of venality, corruption and oppression, who are, at the limits, kept in line only by the threat of force. The antis are thinking of the state they imagine: a benign regime of philosopher-kings like themselves, leading mankind to a higher realm of happiness.
So when we speak of taking up arms against the state, we are in their minds proposing revolt against the very wellspring of goodness. And only very bad people would want to revolt against good itself, right?
"The problem, of course, is that the unicorn they imagine is wise, benevolent, and omnipotent. To tell them that their imaginations are wrong is useless. So long as we insist that our opponents are mistaken about the properties of "the State" — which doesn't exist in the first place, at least not in the way that statists imagine — then we will lose the attention of many sympathetic people who are primarily interested in consequences."
Munger has hit the nail on the head here, and his essay is well worth a read.