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Ethics Of Gun Control

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Autor:  anton  20 December 2010
Tags:  Ethics,  Control
Words: 1628   |   Pages: 7
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The Ethics of Gun Control

The phrase "Gun Control" means different things to different people. One bumper sticker states that "Gun Control means hitting your target." However one defines gun control, the mere mention of it brings controversy. Opposing sides have for years fought over the laws that govern firearms. For the purposes of this paper "Gun Control" is defined as policies enacted by the government that limit the legal rights of gun owners to own, carry, or use firearms, with the intent of reducing gun crimes such as murder, armed robbery, aggravated rape, and the like. So defined, gun control understandably brings favorable responses from some, and angry objections from others.

The gun control debate is generally publicized because of the efforts of the Pro-Gun Lobby or the Anti-Gun Lobby.The best known of the Pro-Gun Lobby is the NRA, headed by Charlton Heston and Wayne LaPierre. The Anti-Gun Lobby includes such organizations as Handgun Control, Inc., The Violence Policy Center, and the ACLU, and is commonly

associated with such figures as Sarah Brady.

It is doubtful that anyone would dispute that reducing violent crime is a good thing. Most pro-gun lobbyists will concede that guns are used in

violent crimes, and that guns act as an enabler for criminals. It is

impossible to deny that mass shootings could not be carried out without

guns. This fact is generally the basis of the anti-gun movement. They

argue that since guns are commonly used in the commission of crimes, and

since guns are inherently dangerous because of their primary function

(the primary function being the destruction of the target), that guns

should therefore be outlawed. The pro-gun lobby counters this by saying

that law-abiding citizens using firearms protect themselves from

criminals 2.5 million times every year , and that there is a

correlation between increased gun ownership and a reduced crime rate


The arguments of the anti-gun lobby are generally based on

so-called "common-sense" and emotional pleading, with relatively few

statistics backing up their claims. They argue that the Second Amendment

to the Constitution is only giving the states the right to regulate

militia activity and therefore possess and "bear" arms . Some

of the more extreme anti-gun lobby advocate repealing the Second

Amendment altogether.

Since the most extreme advocates of gun control wish to ban guns

regardless of the Constitution, it becomes necessary to not just examine

the law of the land, and the courts interpretation, but also the

underlying philosophies of both sides of the debate. This is not to say

that the issue cannot be argued from a legal standpoint. In the past few

years, as class-action lawsuits have become more prevalent, some lawsuits

have been brought against gun manufacturers on the grounds that they

produce and distribute a dangerous product. In some cases, juries

decided for the plaintiffs, and thus set precedent for more anti-gun

suits. This hardly sets an actual legal precedent against the legality

of guns themselves. In fact, US v. Emerson, a case resolved just last

Spring, a federal appeals judge upheld under the Second Amendment the

right to own/possess a firearm even for a man who was under a restraining

order issued at his estranged wife's request . This

decision overturned a law in Texas that made it illegal for someone with

a restraining order to own/possess a gun. This decision was made in part

because the judge decided that the Second Amendment indeed said that an

individual has the right to "keep and bear arms", not just the state.

Any other argument regarding the legal rights of the individual under the

Second Amendment seem unnecessary, since the precedent of individual

rights has again been upheld.

Without any legal argument to speak of, the debate must now move to a

philosophical one. From a deontological perspective, the first question

to be posed is, "In regards to everyone in the world, is an act of

self-defense from loss of life or limb morally justified?" Few would

answer this question with anything other than "yes". The next question

that arises is, "Is it morally okay for everyone to possess a firearm for

use in self-defense?" The answer to this, without allowing for other

uses of firearms must be yes. To defend one's self is instinctually

right, and is rationally allowable as well. If threatened with a gun, it

is difficult to effectively defend one's self with anything other than a

gun . Thus for self-defense, guns meet the requirements of the

Categorical Imperative. The question then becomes, "What type of guns

should be allowed?" The answer cannot be easily given, unless one

arrives at an answer based entirely on the need for the gun in the first

place. If the purpose of the gun is to protect one's self, and one's

family, then the answer must be, "Whatever type of gun is needed to

defend one's self and one's family." From this the question arises,

"From whom am I to defend myself?" The answer of the Founding Father

would have been, "From both foreign and domestic tyranny." A gun that

would protect from both foreign and domestic tyranny seems to be a tall

order. Protection from domestic tyranny seems simple enough, since most

cases of domestic tyranny are simply crimes committed against others by

common thugs with less than state-of-the-art weaponry. Thomas Jefferson,

however, saw a different domestic tyranny to defend against.

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear

arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in their


This reasoning demands that the citizen be equipped with arms that could

reasonably be used to defend one's home against governmental invasion.

Nuclear weapons would not be necessary, just the so-called "assault

weapons" that the anti-gun lobby is trying to ban. These weapons are

those that can carry "high-capacity magazines" (10 rounds or more of

ammunition) and those that have such "military-style" features such as

semi-automatic actions, flash suppressors, and muzzle brakes. Some would

argue that these guns encourage illegal use and enable mass-shootings,

but the fact is that the presence of even fully automatic machine guns in

homes is not correlated with a high murder rate. Take for instance

Switzerland, where every household is required to have a fully automatic

weapon. Switzerland's rate of homicides by gun is lower than Canada's,

despite the fact that Canada has almost a complete ban on all firearms

(Assault 1).

Since statistics have entered the debate, the Utilitarian view

seems to inevitably pop up. So, from a utilitarian standpoint, should

gun control laws become more stringent? Should guns be banned

altogether? If the answers are based on what would happen (or what would

probably happen) if guns were banned, let us look at statistics from

countries where such bans have been effected.

One year ago in Australia, a law was passed that forced gunowners

to turn over 640,381 private guns. This program was carried out at great

expense to the government, costing some $500 million. The results after

one year are astonishing!

- homicides increased by 3.2%

- assaults increased by 8.6%

- armed robberies increased by 44%

- unarmed robberies increased by 22%

These statistics seem to show a correlation between fewer legal guns and

an increasing crime rate (Positive 1)! This conclusion is further

supported by statistics from other countries. In Israel, where teachers

carry guns, where one in five citizens is in the military, and where the

gun ownership rate is higher than the U.S., the murder rate is 40% lower

than Canada's. New Zealanders own guns about as frequently as Americans,

and yet their murder rate is lower than Australia's (Lott 1).

Considering these statistics, the conclusion from a Utilitarian

perspective is that gun ownership is ethically proper. The requirement

of the greatest good for the greatest number seems to demand that

whatever method brought about the lowest crime rate would be best, as

long as that method does not infringe upon the rights of those involved,

thus making them unhappy, and reducing the total "good". Since gun

control seems to lower the total "good", and guns in the hands of the

citizenry seems to increase the total "good", the correct action is to

allow guns.

One final argument that the anti-gun lobby might use is that the police

should be better equipped and that more police should be hired to take

care of crime, thus eliminating the need for individuals to "protect and

serve" themselves. Even mass increases in the police force would not be

as effective as the personal firearms wielded by citizens. Why is this?

Because statistics show that the arrest rate of police officers is higher

than the revocation of concealed carry licenses (Police 1). This seems

to indicate that the citizen can be more responsible than the police in

the limited times where armed response is needed.

What then is the answer to the crime in the United States? Crime exists

with or without guns, so it seems that the answer lies elsewhere.

Thousands of children are murdered every year and murder is the leading

cause of death in some racial/age groups (Lethal 1). The answer seems to

be that stopping crime is not about catching the criminal in the act, or

longer prison terms. Stopping crime must begin with stopping the forces

that cause criminals to develop. In many shootings, most notably the

Columbine High School shooting, we see murderers who don't care about

right and wrong. The criminals that are the most frightening are those

without a conscience. The best crime-fighter, then, is the person who

seeks to instill a knowledge of what is right and what is wrong in the

children of today, so that they know not to become the criminals of tomorrow.

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