A perennial topic in the popular press is whether or not individuals should be permitted to own guns. Below are the philosophic, constitutional, and practical arguments for and against gun ownership, along with the facts that support these arguments.
Individualist arguments that support the right to own guns:
(1) An armed citizenry is necessary as the last line of defense against a tyrannical government.
This is essentially the argument of the 2nd amendment.
Economist Walter Williams provides the historical evidence for this interpretation of the Constitution in A Minority View, while a detailed version of the argument is made by economist George Reisman in his essay Gun Control on the Government’s Guns.
(2) A right to self-defense is a corollary of the right to life.
The right to life identified in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence refers to the right to take the actions required to maintain one’s life, which also implies a right to defend one’s life against threats from others. A principled argument for this right is made by philosopher Harry Binswanger in his essay “With Gun Control, Cost-Benefit Analysis Is Amoral.”
Collectivist arguments for and against the right to own guns:
(3) Today the most prevalent arguments for and against gun ownership are based on the Utilitarian principle of achieving “the greatest good for the greatest number,” which in this case means minimizing the total number of deaths caused by guns. The Left claims this can be achieved by disallowing or limiting gun ownership, while the Right claims the opposite.
On the Left, statistical arguments are used to claim a positive correlation between the right to own guns and the number of deaths caused by guns, i.e., more guns = more gun deaths: Comparing Gun Deaths by Country: The U.S. Is in a Different World.
On the Left, the philosophic argument used to explain these statistics is based on determinism: that the physical possession of a gun makes one more likely to become a murderer.
The Right makes the opposite statistical argument, i.e., that more guns = fewer gun deaths: Number One With a Bullet.
On the Right, the philosophic argument used to explain these statistics is based on free will: that widespread gun ownership allows would-be murder victims the choice to defend themselves, while fear of retaliation works to deter would-be murderers.
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Of topical interest lately is an apparent rise in mass shootings in the United States. On this topic, the Left and the Right also ascribe different causes.
The Left argues that mass shootings are caused by an increase in gun ownership: The Stupefying Tally of American Gun Violence
The Right argues that the cause is a deterioration in cultural customs and moral values: Are Guns the Problem?