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Battling Perspectives on Gun Control

by Jacob Blair | Spring 2019

In present day America, gun control legislation continues to be a hot button topic. With every mass shooting comes a fresh wave of lobbyists arguing for stricter gun control and a  removal of certain firearms. These waves are often met with renewed opposition against such strict legislation. While the pro-gun side often cites the second amendment as reasoning, both sides fail to recognize the importance of the fifth amendment when it comes to gun control. It is imperative to evaluate gun control legislation under both a utilitarian and autonomous framework to see the role the government must play in gun control.

2. Strasser, Mr. Ryan. "Second Amendment." Legal Information Institute. June 05, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment.

4. Planty, Michael, and Jennifer L. Truman. "Firearm Violence, 1993-2011." U.S. Department of Justice. May 2013.

5. ibid.

In the wake of the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand the country has rapidly moved. Less than a month since the attack actually occurred in New Zealand, the Prime Minister has actively moved to ban an array of semi-automatic guns and firearms[1]. In the United States, however, action this decisive has yet to occur. In fact, few countries find the issue of gun control as polarizing and politicizing as theU.S.. While some cheer for New Zealand’s rapid response and pray the U.S. is able to learn from it, others frown upon the infringement on individual rights. These dissenting opinions raise questions about national safety, individual property rights, and the government’s role. It has become increasingly clear that gun control legislation must be evaluated under two separate frameworks – one based in utilitarianism the other in autonomy – to determine the proper course of action for the American government.

Often times, the argument in favor of firearms being available to the public is couched in the Second Amendment. The amendment reads “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[2].” The amendment proclaims that Americans have a right to bear arms based on the need for a “well regulated militia”. In recent years, however, the supreme court has largely nullified the need for gun ownership to relate to a militia. Both District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago demonstrate the court's recent pronouncement that gun ownership need not relate directly to a “well regulated militia”. Nevertheless, I hold this to be an unsettling interpretation of the amendment which directly mentions a militia as the reasoning behind granting citizens access to firearms. If a citizen’s purchase of a firearm does not pertain to a “well regulated militia” it should not fall under the protection granted by the second amendment.

In addition, it seems firearms contribute more to violence [1] than to safety. In 2013 protection was the most common reason for citizens to own a firearm with roughly 48% of gun owners identifying protection as the primary reason for owning a gun[3]. However, this contrasts with data that finds guns were used in self defense in less than 1 percent of crimes between 2007-2011[4]. This finding suggests that while people may purchase firearms with the intent of protecting themselves or their family, the firearm is very rarely used in this manner. Moreover,  there were 478,400 violent crimes committed with a firearm, both fatal and nonfatal, in 2011 alone[5]. This data in tandem with the statistics on firearm usage on self defense indicates that firearms are ineffective for self defense[2]  but quite effective for perpetrating crimes. It is at this point that the debate ceases to concern facts and moves to a discussion of values.

Under a utilitarian framework it appears obvious that guns should altogether be banned. At the very least, there should be much more stringent regulations than those that currently exist. This is because a utilitarian perspective focuses directly on a comparison of good done to society as a whole. This on-balance approach would argue that the few who use guns for safety successfully fail to outweigh those use firearms to perpetrate crimes.  As a result, the firearms should be removed to provide net benefit to society.

It is important to note that in this evaluation of utilitarianism I am solely comparing the lives at stake. While there are reasons people own guns outside of protection (hunting, collection etc.)  from which they derive pleasure, these reasons fail to measure adequately to the loss of a human life or the crime which is carried out with the assistance of firearms.

A utilitarian framework is not the only one under which firearms must be evaluated. It is imperative to also consider the rights of individuals living within theU.S.. It is both unlawful and immoral to infringe so directly on the rights of U.S.  citizens despite the suggestion of a utilitarian framework. This is because of the fifth amendment. This amendment guarantees citizens a right to private property. This amendment and the mention of private property are rare in discussions concerning gun laws but it also seems to be the strongest argument. Citizens have a right to own guns just as they have a right to own anything else.

Firearms are not inherently evil. In many ways guns are similar to alcohol  – not appropriate for all, restricted for those with access, impossible to ban without sacrificing property rights. This is not to say that firearms don’t generate issues, the Christchurch mosque attack standing as an obvious indicator of this, but solutions may need to be more creative than a complete removal of firearms if core American values are to be kept in tact.[3] [4] [5] 

REFERENCES

 

[1]  Engle, Jeremy. "Should the U.S. Ban Military-Style Semi-automatic Weapons?" The New York Times. March 22, 2019. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/22/learning/us-bans-semiautomatic-weapons.html

[2] Strasser, Mr. Ryan. "Second Amendment." Legal Information Institute. June 05, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment.

[3] "Why Own a Gun? Protection Is Now Top Reason." Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. December 12, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.people-press.org/2013/03/12/why-own-a-gun-protection-is-now-top-reason/.

[4] Planty, Michael, and Jennifer L. Truman. "Firearm Violence, 1993-2011." U.S. Department of Justice. May 2013.

[5] ibid

1.  Engle, Jeremy. "Should the U.S. Ban Military-Style Semi-automatic Weapons?" The New York Times. March 22, 2019. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/22/learning/us-bans-semiautomatic-weapons.html

1.  Engle, Jeremy. "Should the U.S. Ban Military-Style Semi-automatic Weapons?" The New York Times. March 22, 2019. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/22/learning/us-bans-semiautomatic-weapons.html

3. "Why Own a Gun? Protection Is Now Top Reason." Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. December 12, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.people-press.org/2013/03/12/why-own-a-gun-protection-is-now-top-reason/.

2. Strasser, Mr. Ryan. "Second Amendment." Legal Information Institute. June 05, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment.

3. "Why Own a Gun? Protection Is Now Top Reason." Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. December 12, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.people-press.org/2013/03/12/why-own-a-gun-protection-is-now-top-reason/.

4. Planty, Michael, and Jennifer L. Truman. "Firearm Violence, 1993-2011." U.S. Department of Justice. May 2013.

5. ibid.