On Gun Control: 7 pro-gun arguments and why they fail

I teach at a community college in Florida. After the Parkland shooting, I began locking my classroom door and propping it open with an erasure during class. That way, if there was a shooting, I wouldn’t have to risk getting shot trying to lock the door from the outside.

It amazes me I have to take these precautions living in the US.

There should be much stricter gun regulations in the United States. I’m going to show that the common, pro-gun arguments against moderate gun control fail.

The gun control debate steers a lot of our political discourse and many choose sides solely based on their position in this debate. Unfortunately, opponents in this conversation end up talking past each other due to the vague meaning of gun control. So, it’s crucial to define the kind of gun regulations that most gun control advocates favor.

I think that once we clarify what gun control really is, many supporters of gun rights will get on board. For those that don’t, I’m going to show why their view is mistaken.

Just because we have a right to something doesn’t mean this right should be unconstrained

Any reasonable person favors some gun control. For example, most would agree that children ought to be prohibited from purchasing handguns. Most would also agree that people afflicted with severe mental illnesses should be prohibited from purchasing guns as well as people with a violent criminal record. We can all agree that our right to bear arms should be constrained to some degree.

The crucial question is how much gun control ought to be implemented. I’m going to argue that moderate gun control should be enforced by showing that arguments against moderate gun control fail.

I’ll define moderate gun control as consisting in the following policies:

• Universal background checks

• A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips

• Requiring a license for all new gun owners, dependent upon passing a rigorous safety course

• Safe storage requirements and required safety features on all guns.

• A national database of all gun owners.

Some of these policies would need some clarification for a more nuanced debate. It’s not clear what would count as an assault weapon, how rigorous a safety course would be, or what would bar someone from purchasing a gun given their background check. In any case, the details needn’t concern us here since there is no federal law requiring all of these policies in the U.S.

So now that we’ve got an understanding of what moderate gun control would look like, what are the common arguments against it and why do they fail?

1. Gun control goes against our right to bear arms

The first argument claims that moderate gun control infringes on our right to own guns as established by the second amendment: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

There are many ways of interpreting the second amendment. Nevertheless, the Supreme court has established that the second amendment grants us a right to own guns. However, just because we have a right to something doesn’t mean this right should be unconstrained.

The First Amendment grants us the right to free speech, but there are reasonable constraints on this right. A right to free speech doesn’t warrant slander or yelling “fire!” in a crowded movie theatre. A right to free movement doesn’t warrant loitering on private property. Similarly, having a right to bear arms doesn’t entail this right should have no constraints. Moderate gun control is consistent with having a right to own guns.

2. Gun control will lead to a ban on guns

Many pro-gun advocates claim that enacting moderate gun control would place us on a slippery slope toward a ban on all gun ownership. Let’s assume this would be a bad thing. This argument is weak for at least two reasons.

First, two landmark Supreme Court cases — McDonald v. City of Chicago and District of Columbia v. Heller — established that citizens have a right to bear firearms. These cases set a strong legal precedent that protects citizens’ right to own guns, which makes it unlikely that enacting more rules on gun ownership would inevitably lead to a complete ban on gun possession.

Second, many other countries like Germany and England have enacted gun regulations that go well beyond moderate control and these countries have no plans on banning guns. If countries with very strict gun control regulations where there is no right to bear arms are not on a path to banning gun ownership, then it’s highly unlikely that moderate gun control in the United States would likely lead down the path to a gun ban.

3. Gun control undermines our right to self-defense

Another pro-gun argument I often hear is that gun control is bad because we have a right to self-defense. The implication here is that moderate gun control would undermine this right.

This argument is misguided since moderate gun regulations would still allow people to possess guns for the sake of self-defense. Citizens would simply have to go through a few more hoops to own a gun. Another problem with this argument is that a handgun is neither the only, nor best means to defense. I would bet that in many situations where one must defend himself against assault, a taser or pepper spray is just, if not more effective than a handgun.*

Many argue, though, that a gun is necessary to thwart a mass shooter. This may or may not be the case. But even if it is, it’s a weak consideration against moderate gun control. Remember, moderate gun control allows people to own guns! So, claiming that a gun would be necessary to defend a crowd against a mass shooter isn’t an argument against moderate gun control.

4. Gun control infringes on our right to live as we please

Many gun-rights advocates enjoy shooting guns as a hobby. For many, it’s part of their lifestyle. So, it may seem like moderate gun control would undermine their freedom to live and recreate as they please. Obviously moderate gun regulations wouldn’t prevent most people from hunting or going to the shooting range.

Rather, I have militia organizations in the United States in mind here. There were around 276 of these in the US in 2015. People in these militias adopt a lifestyle of training with high powered assault weapons, which would be banned under moderate gun control. Many would argue that they have a right to adopt this lifestyle, which requires owning and training with such weapons. Moderate gun-control would undermine this right.

The freedom to live as we please is a cornerstone of liberal democracy. However, the government is justified in constraining this right when it poses a significant threat to the public. For example, recreational activities that involve bomb-making ought to be constrained by the state since this would pose a significant threat to the general public. Similarly, such a constraint is warranted regarding recreational activities that involve owning weapons such as assault rifles. The presence of these kinds of weapons in the public poses a significant threat to the general public and so the right to own them should be constrained. Like bombs or hazardous chemicals, high powered assault weapons could easily kill masses of people if obtained by someone with malicious intent. This is something U.S. citizens are all too familiar with.

5. Gun control and government take-over

I hear this argument frequently among gun-rights advocates: if moderate gun control is enacted, then we will not be able to defend ourselves when the government attempts to remove our constitutional rights. There are a couple of reasons why this line of reasoning is weak.

First, it’s highly unlikely that a coup d’etat will occur in the United States anytime in the foreseeable future. Our democracy may be tepid, but we still have the separation of powers and I don’t see this going away any time soon. Second, if a coup d’etat did occur, citizens owning a few high-powered assault weapons would be no match against the high-tech weapons of the state.

6. Gun control and the apocalypse

Many Americans want a right to high powered assault weapons to protect themselves for when an apocalyptic catastrophe occurs, and the state is no longer able to protect them. This line of reasoning seems misguided to me.

In a post-apocalyptic scenario, state afforded rights drop out of the picture since people would be in a state of nature. Furthermore, if we have a right to everything we need to survive an apocalypse, then we have a right to land, food, water, shelter, and medicine. Perhaps we do have such rights. But if we do, then a socialist state is justified. This is something most gun rights advocates are opposed to.

7. The bad guys would still get guns

Probably the most common argument I’ve heard against gun control is that even if the government puts restrictions on gun ownership, the bad guys will still get guns. So, there’s no reason to put any restrictions on gun ownership. Gun control is useless.

This is a bad argument. It implies that restrictions on any activity for the sake of public welfare is unjustifiable because some people will be able to evade these restrictions. This, of course, is absurd. By the same line of reasoning, we shouldn’t restrict our freedom to buy meth or heroin, because people are going to find a way to purchase them anyway. Or we shouldn’t criminalize murder, because people will find a way to kill anyway.

It’s reprehensible that government leaders have done little to address gun violence since the Sandy Hook mass shooting in 2012, which left 20 children dead. Favoring moderate gun control shouldn’t be a controversial position. It would be a big step forward in addressing gun violence in the US and it’s a position both the left and the right can get behind. After all, it is a moderate stance.

A philosophy professor who works in practical ethics. @ryankhubbard

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