Debate #2: Ban Weapons & Militias On Mars?

After the success of our last debate, Jackson and I thought it might be fun to do another one, this time mixing things up with him arguing in favor of the resolution and me against. Jackson’s comments are in blue, and mine are in red. Here’s a link to a survey if you’re interested in voting on the results.

Moderator: Welcome to the second “Facebook-style” debate. Jackson Kisling and Heidi Hecht will now debate this resolution: Resolved: There should be a planet-wide ban on all projectile weapons and standing militias on Mars.” Please hold your comments until the end. There will be a survey, via which we invite you to vote for the winner of the debate. We begin with opening remarks from Jackson Kisling, who is arguing in favor of the resolution.

One of the more tantalizing aspects of Mars colonization is the opportunity to make a fresh start. Violence may be deeply interwoven into the human psyche on Earth, but Mars is yet pristine. The tools of violence are now so readily available and easy to use that children are commonly conscripted to be killers. On Mars we can finally answer the question, “To what extent does the convenience of our weaponry empower violent thought to cross the threshold into violent behavior?” I am here today to argue that it is to a significant enough extent to warrant a planet-wide ban on projectile weapons and standing militias.

First, some definitions are necessary. When we say “projectile weapons” we’re not talking about dual-purpose tools like pneumatic nail guns or just any random thrown object. Yes, if a person is dedicated to causing harm to someone else they will always find a way with whatever is available. We’re not banning hammers here, what we’re talking about are devices with no purpose other than to cause injury. Dynamite is a useful tool, but a grenade is only a weapon. And when we talk about “standing militias” we are talking about people whose only job is to cause harm to other people (for whatever reason.)

The airplane analogy is particularly apt in regards to the Mars colony, so I will discuss it here in the opening. There are solid and easily understandable reasons why firearms are not allowed on airplanes. A bullet hole in the fuselage is not going to bring down a jetliner, but shooting out a window is just one of several very bad scenarios that could result from firing a weapon in an enclosed, pressurized cabin full of people. Even a seasoned marksman with the noblest of intentions has the potential to accidentally turn an otherwise manageable situation into a massive tragedy—thus the ban. The Mars colony will be (in some ways) like living on a large passenger jet, except the stakes will be much, much higher. There’s just no way that the potential benefits of allowing projectile weapons could outweigh the risks, considering the massive undertaking we are contemplating.

In one of the early Halloween episodes of The Simpsons Lisa wishes on a magical monkey’s paw, and all weapons are banned on Earth. The minute that all weapons are destroyed, the aliens Kodos and Kang show up to enslave humanity, cackling, “Your superior intellect is no match for our puny weapons!” So, by banning projectile weapons on Mars, are we settling up the colonists to be easily conquered by some two-bit invasion force? I submit that this notion is, at best, far-fetched. If someone on Earth really wanted to kill the colonists, this could be done easily from space, with robots, and our firearms down on the planet would be useless to prevent it. Why would anyone on Earth mount a multi-billion dollar manned mission to Mars, just to steal the meager supplies of the existing colonies? It defies logic.

Moderator: Now we have an opening statement from Heidi Hecht, who is arguing against the resolution.

In our imperfect world, we are used to the idea that we are going to have violent impulses. Most of us have the self-control to avoid acting on them. Some people don’t and we call them psychopathic killers, child abusers, rapists. Would it be worth banning concepts like guns and militias, whether on Earth or on Mars, when A) Plans for 3D-printed guns exist on the Internet; B) psychopathic killers are good at turning anything into a weapon; and C) no reasonable person would deny a civilian population the right to defend itself?

For the sake of discussion, I consider local police departments to fit the loose definition of “standing militias.” The police theoretically defends innocent civilians against the violent criminals. Obviously, a police force would not be very necessary in a settlement on the Mars One scale. If someone snaps, it becomes a kind of locked room mystery and we can isolate unrepentant murderers by removing the tunnel to their habitat. Once we’ve established that people can live and do productive work on Mars, colonies may reach sizes that would make it very difficult to do without something resembling a police force. We will have to choose between having part-time volunteers on patrol and having dedicated specialists for the job.

Even if you have a good police force, the officers often don’t reach the scene of the crime until after the damage has been done. Just recently, there was a case where an elderly homeowner walked in on three armed burglars and killed two of them. The third fled. Basically, the old man isn’t dead now because he had a gun. “The right to bear arms” becomes a corollary of “The right to self-defense.” The only difference between defending your home and defending your colony is a matter of scale and that means we’ll need people who are used to handling deadly weapons when it comes down to, “Me or them.”

I do not discount the ability of one colony or another to pick a fight with its neighbors over some real or imagined slight once we have multiple well-developed colonies. Some governments will never be interested in either diplomacy or common sense. We aren’t speaking German now because good people fought back when it became obvious that appeasement wasn’t working. In this case, the only difference between us and the Minute Men who could grab their guns on a moment’s notice is that we have access to 21st-century technology such as additive manufacturing machines. We can simply have that file for a “Liberator” gun available even if it’s only accessible to colonists that are known to be pretty level-headed in a crisis. Does it count as a militia for people to be trained in the safe use of ballistic missiles in an enclosed environment? If it does, that beats being overrun by tyrants because somebody forgot that some people in this solar system care more about their own power than they do about the rights of other colonists.

Moderator Question: Jackson, what do you see as a viable long-term plan for making sure that tyrannical types and violent criminals do not irrevocably disturb the peace on Mars?

Why would “tyrannical types and violent criminals” be trained as astronauts and sent on multi-billion dollar interplanetary missions in the first place? They wouldn’t. It would be more economical for governments to build posh mansions for criminals than it would be to train them and send them off-world. Mars won’t be like Botany Bay, the colonies will not be staffed by common thugs. The best ways to prevent crime are, 1) not sending violent, crazy people to Mars in the first place, and 2) avoiding the creation of the vast wealth disparities that have led to so much crime on Earth. If these things cannot be avoided (they can,) then let’s avoid making it easy to kill people.

I would make the possession, printing, or use of any projectile weapon a crime, in order to make violence as inconvenient as possible. If a banned weapon is discovered, it would be confiscated and destroyed. That way it would be uneconomical to import them from Earth. True, it’s possible to print weapons with a 3D printer, but gunpowder cannot be printed—it must be made and the materials to make it are not readily available in large quantities on Mars—especially saltpeter.

It may be true that the violent types won’t be in the first wave of colonists, but what happens when the colonists have children and then the children have children? Future generations of colonists will have to defend themselves against the occasional madman and they should not be stymied when forced to make unpleasant choices. Explosives can be created fairly easily using raw material used on Mars. Do we wait for violent psychopaths to figure out how to do it, or do we make that knowledge available to anyone who might need to defend themselves from incoming rocket missiles someday?

Moderator: Heidi, how do we prevent arms manufacturers from playing both sides of some conflict, and thus creating an arms race to profit off of peoples’ security fears?

Economics. I mentioned in my opening statement that there are plans for 3D printed guns like the “Liberator.” The same machines that can create parts for oxygen generators and rocket engines can also be used to create weapons whenever we have a conflict between two colonies. When each colony has 3D printing capacity, capable engineers, and at least one person who is good with computer-aided design, arms manufacturers will simply not be part of the picture because it would not be economically viable to have Martian-based businesses that are strictly dedicated to creating weapons and neither would it be economically viable to buy weapons from Earth-based corporations.

This is a situation where each colony will have to prioritize the use of limited resources. Clever strategists would fake a belligerent colony into pouring too many of its resources into 3D-printing armaments at the expense of vital resources needed to support the colony, and then swoop in and destroy what the belligerent colony does have. In this case, we can simply ignore outside corporations who want to exacerbate the situation for their own profit.

This response underlines why we should begin the Mars civilization with a ban on projectile weapons and standing armies. What kind of a screwed-up colony system are we contemplating that these armaments would be necessary? The only reason for thusly wasting limited resources is quelling the fear that some “enemy” is doing the same thing and is planning to attack you. Someone makes a gun, and suddenly everyone needs to have one to counter a perceived “threat.” Fear escalates, and more resources are wasted. Violence and fear are cyclic, and this is our opportunity to avoid starting that cycle anew.

Moderator: This concludes round one of the second “Facebook-style” debate between Jackson Kisling and Heidi Hecht. A reminder of our resolution: “Resolved: There should be a planet-wide ban on all projectile weapons and standing militias on Mars.” Round two begins with a question for Heidi Hecht, who is arguing against the resolution.

Heidi, are you arguing that the Mars colonists will be unable to resist the urge print weaponry, thus rendering the resolution impossible to implement? And if so, given the scientific and technological feats required to build the colonies in the first place, what does that say about the nature of humanity? In other words, do we even deserve to colonize Mars if we can’t avoid bringing violence with us?

How does one play God and determine who deserves to expand into space? If it comes down to who deserves to go to Mars, we could argue about it until the next “dinosaur killer” asteroid shows up. There are still belligerent nations who are very interested in going into space and North Korea has actually launched what they claim is an Earth observations satellite. This does not reassure me that space will exclusively remain the realm of primarily peaceful organizations and governments. We’re not going to entirely stop the bad guys from getting into space. We just need to be ready for them when they arrive.

In my analogy of the clever strategist, stockpiling weapons to the detriment of necessary colonial infrastructure is suicide. Smart colonists would not repeat that mistake if they survive being faked out at all. Ideally, conflicts would not be drawn-out affairs – hit the field, destroy the belligerent colony’s ability to make war, and head home. The situation would not always be so ideal, though, so I say that colonies should aim to never be the one that starts trouble, but always be able and willing to end trouble if someone else starts it.

All the peoples of the planet Earth should come along to Mars. We need the collective wisdom of all if we are to succeed there. Mars is harsh and we will labor constantly just to keep breathing for another sol. There will be no time for “hitting the field,” or “belligerence”, or any such shenanigans!

Colonization, as Americans well know, affords the opportunity to redefine culture. Just as the abused tend to grow into abusers, so too a culture based on hostility tends to breed actual hostility. Repeating the mistakes of Earth need not be our inevitable fate on Mars.

Jackson, supporters of Martian colonization often envision a time when colonies have developed to the point where Martians aren’t solely focused on survival and can turn their attention to other things. In a future that includes such well-developed colonies, should peaceful colonies be denied the right to defend themselves if one colony becomes the aggressor?

Your question implies that projectile weapons and standing armies are the only means by which a colony could defend itself, which is by no means true. There are numerous ways to neutralize aggression without murdering people and/or destroying equipment. So no, there is no need or reason to deny peaceful people such a right. What’s at issue is whether we want to make it easy for anyone to use deadly force. Once you allow firearms to be readily available, then everybody will feel as though they need them to stay safe—and that is a monstrous waste of resources because that feeling of safety never actually materializes. It is the ultimate false promise of those who peddle violence as “security” or “defense”. Widespread armament can never lead to a more secure society—it can only breed more fear, thus resentment, thus actual violence, and thus the “need” for more weaponry—and on and on it goes. If such a vicious feedback loop is allowed to germinate, the only winners are those who profit off of the death and mayhem that they themselves make possible. Humanity’s persistence on Mars and elsewhere requires that we at least attempt to conquer that fear.

There will be times when peaceful resolutions won’t work with a determined aggressor. We will have to fight fire with fire. This is where we get the term “firewall” from – the idea that burning any combustibles in a wildfire’s path can stop it from spreading and it will burn itself out once it’s used up its resources. Aggressors will learn to respect that firewall if the rest of us remain firm and prepared to fight. It need not breed resentment if the parties responsible for breaking the peace are swiftly punished even if it means making the occasional unpleasant decision.

Mod: This concludes round two of the Kisling-Hecht debate. A reminder to readers, there will be a link to a survey after the closing statements. Your votes will determine the winner. Results will be posted here in 48 hours. We will now have closing statements, beginning with Jackson who is arguing in favor of the resolution.

Let’s take a second to ponder the reasons why someone might become a “determined aggressor” and then apply that to the potential reality of the Mars colonies. Greed and the thirst for retribution are probably the two most common root causes of violence. Legitimate success can only be gained by hard work, but in a world awash in easy-to-acquire weaponry and excessive wealth, robbery is seen as a trapdoor out of life’s maze. Being a criminal isn’t exactly rocket science—even if you have no native intelligence or work ethic you can get yourself a gun and live off of the hard work of others.

On Mars, that paradigm completely breaks down. Years of hard work and training await those who seek their fortunes there, and human life will not succeed there unless we can learn to cooperate and adapt. I would share a habitat with Kim-Jong-Un himself, if he came to Mars to learn, grow, and to build this new civilization with us. No one who undergoes a decade of astronaut training is going to come to Mars to be a common thug. And if someone loses their mind and gives in to violent impulses, the ready availability of weaponry can only serve to make the situation worse, not better.

Imagine if the Mars colony were to randomly unearth a trove of gold and diamonds, worth five billion dollars back on Earth. It would literally not be worth anyone’s effort to build a spaceship to come to Mars and steal it—not even close. That’s the reality of life on Mars: there’s nothing worth stealing and no economic upside to violence there. On Earth, human life is valued so low in the greater context of the world that people are able to get away with murdering others for a pair of shoes or a measly fifty bucks. On Mars, such a thing would be unthinkable. Committing violence on Mars would be a suicidal act, because every person there will be highly-trained and vital to the survival of all.

My opponent would have you believe that human nature is immutable—that sooner or later, someone is going to employ projectile weapons on Mars, and the only solution is to give everybody weapons so that the “good guys” can shoot back and kill the “determined aggressors.” I would submit that, if we cannot break that cycle of violence on Mars, then humanity will never know peace anywhere in the galaxy. We will finally receive the answer to the Fermi Paradox: Why haven’t any alien species tried to contact us? Because we can’t stop killing each other and destroying things all the time. The Mars colony is our chance to prove that we are an “adult species”, capable of the humility and maturity necessary for harnessing the energy and resources of the galaxy. If we are truly unable to conquer our fear, greed, and ignorance, then let that be the inscription on humanity’s tombstone. The galaxy will be better off without us.

If you are truly serious about banning deadly weapons, you will also need to ban the means by which people can create deadly weapons to avoid situations where a madman can create mayhem using a gun he just created. On Mars, that will mean banning tools that will be needed to make a serious colonization effort. 3D printers that would normally be used to create spare parts can also be used to create guns. The means to create the rocket fuel that will be used for regular travel between Earth and Mars can also be used to fuel a more easily controlled version of the German V-2 rocket that can be used as a ballistic missile.

The idea that corporations will be formed strictly for the sake of war profiteering on Mars doesn’t hold water when you only need to download or create one working model to start cranking out Liberator-type guns on your 3D printer. Even corporations that trade in raw materials will have difficulty playing both sides of a conflict when it will soon be possible to recycle old plastic items into spools for your 3D printer. Technology like this would be improved on to recycle metal alloys by the time conflict on Mars becomes an issue. New technologies like 3D printing simply have that kind of potential to change the way we think of manufacturing any product, including weapons.

I would not wish for anyone to be helpless when confronted by a murderer who cannot be reasoned with. By the time a person has decided to kill somebody, reason has gone out the window and no amount of negotiation from the person looking down the barrel of that gun is going to change his mind. History is also full of people who started wars for no logical and rational purpose. Perhaps Hitler looked perfectly reasonable at first, but dictators like Hitler and Kim Jong-Un do not need logical and rational reasons to become wannabe conquerors.

It would be reasonable to assume that people emigrating to Mars will be screened for violent thuggish tendencies. However, these future colonists will have children and grandchildren. They will not have been screened for mental imbalances that might lead to violence. This could lead to serious problems if we are not prepared to handle the situation quickly and make unpleasant decisions.

Heated conflicts are going to happen on Mars. Even when it seems to be just two people who got into a fistfight, that can escalate when one of the fighters or his buddies decide to hold a grudge. For that reason, I would not deny individuals and colonies the right to defend themselves as they see fit when they are facing an unreasonable aggressor. This will mean having people who are used to the idea of handling deadly weapons even if they come off as a Martian version of the Minute Men who could be going about their “day jobs” one minute and defending their settlement the next.

The Mars Trilogy