‘Lord of War’ is an exposé of worldwide gunrunning. It stars Nicholas Cage. Frankly, I was expecting a strong agenda here – and I don’t think lefties were in short supply during the concept stage. But in fact, ‘Lord of War’ is a sharp, intriguing look at the life of the son of an immigrant from Brooklyn who came to be one of the biggest gunrunners in the world.

And he would sell guns to whoever would buy them, whenever and wherever there was a demand. He walked right through thousands of regional and international laws under fake identities, doing deals with tyrannical dictators, terrorists, corrupt African regimes and whoever else was interested in buying his guns. He got better and better at playing the game, all the while getting more and more wealthy. His wife, who was a model, didn’t ask questions about his profession – and he didn’t volunteer any information. At home, they were just another family. Just another job. Right?

Certainly, it was a job that relied on his being able to morally remove himself from any responsibility for the actions of those who bought his wares. And therefore, it was a question of considerable interest to myself, a libertarian with an emphasis on individual responsibility. He knew that, in some cases, they would take his guns, turn around, and mow down their enemies with them at the earliest strategic opportunity. But those were THEIR actions, not his. He simply provided goods for a living – the BUYERS took the callous actions that followed. He only provided them with the means to kill each other. And if they didn’t get such an arsenal from him, they’d get it from someone else.

So, did that make it alright? After all, we disagree with someone who sues McDonald’s for providing them the means to make themselves fat; they themselves made the decision to go on their burger binge. We disagree with someone who blames tobacco company for their lung cancer; they themselves made the choice to continue lighting up. We disagree with someone who blames a distributor of alcoholic beverages for the alcoholism of someone who consumes those beverages; they are to be responsible for their own actions. So when a gun dealer supplies arms to a regime that will use those arms to make war on others, isn’t it logical and reasonable to appeal to the same argument to support his right to do so?

How true is it to say: ‘If he doesn’t pull the trigger, he is morally unresponsible’? And if that is not true, how far away from the trigger does one need to be before they BECOME morally unresponsible? So one is not the gunrunner. They are, instead, the gun manufacturer. They know their guns will inevitably, someday, be used for evil. Are they responsible? We could say the same for manufacturers of kitchen knives. So one is not the gun manufacturer. They are, instead, on the payroll as cleaning personnel. Are they responsible? And where do we start to put together criteria by which to establish whether they are, or not?

Another thing. Unless you are a pacifist, you believe that some acts of war are justified in self-defence (eg. the allied forces in World War II). In assigning moral blame to the gun dealer from the outside, aren’t we prejudging the validity of such armed efforts? Suppose a gun dealer (G) supplies weapons to some group leader (L) so that he may go to war with his enemy (E). Unless we have an intricate and objective knowledge of their situation, we cannot prejudge the validity of such a war. L may have an extremely good reason for going to war with E. And it seems strange, before having all the facts, that G is always in some way responsible for the deaths of E. Surely that is not inherently the case…. unless you’re a pacifist, in which case you believe all war is wrong, even acts of self-defence (which is, of course, a plainly ridiculous position).

So there are many perfectly moral uses for guns. A gun in the hand of someone protecting someone else is undeniably a force for good. Even lefty pacifist idiots will normally agree that it is probably a good idea to give guns to our own army, navy, air force. Add police departments, intelligence and other law enforcement agencies. If you agree with me, you will also defend the private use of guns by citizens for hunting, collecting, target practice. If you REALLY agree with me, you will also defend the private use of guns by citizens for self-defence. I watched a great documentary last week by libertarian radio talk show host Larry Elder, a refutation of Michael Moore’s appallingly deceptive ‘Bowling For Columbine’ – a counter-doc called ‘Michael & Me’, to that effect. Anyone who only sees guns as evil, and not even a necessary evil at that, should watch ‘Michael & Me’ for some common sense on the issue of private citizens and firearms.

So it should be clear to anyone with a lick of intelligence that guns are not the embodiment of any moral bias. They are not ‘bad’. They are amoral; a tool which can be used for EITHER good OR evil. I found ‘Lord of War’ ever so slightly ignorant on that point. This was particularly evident when, at the end, we saw the names of numerous nations lumped in the same category as Cage’s character – ‘gunrunners’, including the USA, the UK, and, amusingly, France (that bastion of all that is liberal). The implication is clearly, in the same way that the man at the centre of their story intentionally profiteered from the ambitions of evil men wherever he could find it, that the governments of the nations listed have done the same thing. From what I know of the actions of the governments of the UK and USA in this regard, that is an inaccurate portrayal. Our governments have traditionally supplied weapons only to those whom we perceive as defenceless (hence the reason such weapons were supplied to the Taliban who were under threat from the Russians. The fact they turned wacko on us was unfortunate).

Anyway. I don’t like to leave such a topic without giving something approaching an answer, so let me say the following: as a libertarian, I believe that the sale of any product, including firearms, is an entirely legitimate practice no matter what the circumstances of the sale. As long as the sale is voluntary on both sides, it is legitimate and should be legal. Whether the person selling the firearm is aware of the purpose for which the buyer intends to use it or not, the transaction takes place because of the free market, and is a protected right. As mentioned above, there are many perfectly valid reasons to buy firearms, and governments have no business pre-empting such private decisions.

But it seems to me that, although the actions depicted in ‘Lord of War’ are not justifiably illegal, there is a long, healthy debate just waiting to be had on the question of how much responsibility a gunrunner has for the actions of those whom he supplies.

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John Wright

johnwright@softhome.net