Gun Control: the Points Worth Repeating & The History We Shouldn’t Forget

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This graphic (with figures for the U.S.) makes two important points. Firstly, that those who use accidental deaths as an argument for the banning of guns, in order to be consistent, must also advocate banning cars, standing upright, entering bodies of water and using anything that is potentially poisonous. If they don’t, then this reveals that their argument for banning guns is not based on the prevention of accidental deaths but merely the arbitrary preference of not wanting people to own a certain object.

Secondly, it reminds us that the problem of accidental gun-related deaths should be kept in perspective and prioritized appropriately.

However, most people support the prevention of gun ownership because they believe higher levels of gun ownership lead to increased violent crime and crime related deaths. But, curiously, the best evidence we have (from the U.S.) doesn’t support this theory. It suggests that we have cause and effect the wrong way around and that higher crime levels is at least as likely to lead to increased gun ownership as vice versa. Meaning increased gun ownership is likely what we get when individuals respond to what they perceive to be an increasingly dangerous environment. For a much more detailed discussion of the best studies and research on gun ownership and gun control in the U.S. please read my previous post on the subject.

It’s here that we arrive at perhaps the two most important facts about gun ownership in America, which represent the two strongest arguments against gun control as an effective means to making people safer from crime. Firstly, that for every instance where a gun is used to commit a crime there is three or four instances of guns being ‘used’ (meaning wielded but not often fired) by people in defence of themselves or someone else when under attack by an aggressor. Secondly, evidence strongly suggests that guns are a highly effective burglary deterrent.

So, even though the number of deaths by handguns in the UK might be down to double figures, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the net effect to society is positive. This is because we don’t know how many people who are killed, raped or robbed each year might not have been had they been free to (and chosen to exercise that freedom to) own a gun as a tool of self-protection – and then protect themselves or their property with it. Given what we know about the way guns are most often used in American society and how effective they are as a means of self-defence, we must face up to the likelihood that gun control laws here are leading to more murders, rapes and burglaries than would otherwise occur if the law didn’t prohibit people from defending themselves or their property with a gun; and is therefore having a negative net effect on society. In short, the cost is likely to be outweighing the benefit. After all, prevention and deterrent, especially in the case of assault and rape, is highly preferable to retrospective punishment and restitution.

Prevention is the best cure for crime. But gun control prevents an effective cure. Not only that, prohibition of gun ownership has had a role in the worst atrocities of the 20th century. Legally disarmed populaces (as a result of gun controls) were a significant factor in the enabling of (and perhaps extent of) the human atrocities of communism and nazism. The people allowed themselves to be rendered defenceless (by the governments they democratically elected) in the belief that this would make them safer, and then could do practically nothing when the very worst individuals came into power. We too have allowed ourselves to be legally disarmed, which is dangerous, because we cannot know who will come to power in the future. The recent rise of nationalism and the far-right across Europe makes that ever-present uncertainty even more pertinent.

As Mark Twain once observed, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”  

The other thing about gun control – and this is the foundation for the ethical argument against it – is that the only possible way to enact it is to use guns (i.e. the threat of lawful punishment) to prevent everyone, except those who represent the state, from owning one. This is a contradiction: guns = bad and guns = good. But contradictions can’t exist, and so any end aimed at through a course of action which is premised on a contradiction cannot be realised. In short, gun control (the denial of property rights) cannot be a valid ethical principle because it cannot be applied universally. Philosopher Ayn Rand expressed this point particularly well when she wrote: “…there can be no such thing, in law or in morality, as actions forbidden to an individual, but permitted to a mob.”

Author Henry Hazlitt once asked: “what can it profit a man to be able think, if he does not dare to? One must have the courage to go where the mind leads, no matter how startling the conclusion.”

Gun control is essentially the result of an abandonment of reason. We need to return to reason and to be courageous enough to follow our minds.

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10 thoughts on “Gun Control: the Points Worth Repeating & The History We Shouldn’t Forget

  1. You cannot equate a burglary to a murder. The fact is that the murder rate in the US is four times higher than in the UK.

    Allowing individuals to own guns reduces the liberty of others, and paradoxically may ultimately reduce their own liberty. Libertarianism should not be used to back gun rights.

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    1. I don’t think I did equate burglary to murder? Okay, the murder rate is higher, but if the number of people in the U.S. who successfully prevented or deterred a murder by using or simply wielding a gun is at least four times higher than it is in the UK, then that difference is negated. And it most likely is that much higher since gun ownership in the UK is outlawed. Of course, we usually only here about murders, and not murder attempts thwarted by the use of or threat of a gun, which is why the study I cite in my previous post is so useful.

      Not preventing someone from owning a gun does not necessarily reduce my liberty. If and only if they try to kill me or steal from me using it does it facilitate a violation of my rights. But it’s the person’s choice and decision to use the gun in that way against me that reduced my liberty, not the fact that they own a gun. Merely owning a gun cannot reduce liberty because that would mean to increase liberty we would have to do the opposite – prevent ownership of guns – but in order to do that we have to violate people’s property rights thus reducing their liberty. In short, this leads to the proposition that: in order to increase liberty we must reduce it. That’s a contradiction and cannot stand.

      Gun ownership is fully aligned with libertarian ethics, which means it cannot be illegal or a crime to own a gun in a libertarian society. But that doesn’t preclude people believing it immoral, unwise or anti-social to own guns – or indeed peacefully protesting against the ownership of guns or boycotting or ostracising those that do.

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      1. Gary, by your same logic you could argue that legalizing murder would be a necessary requirement of a free society.

        And your argument about guns preventing murders is mathematically erroneous. The figure you quote in your previous article is that roughly 4 crimes are prevented for every crime that occurs. But there is no mention of what those crimes may be. Many of the crimes prevented may be minor crimes like burglary.

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      2. I don’t think you could argue that, but please demonstrate the reasoning if you know how. I’d be happy to correct my position if the argument is valid and true.

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      3. You said: “Not preventing someone from owning a gun does not necessarily reduce my liberty.” etc.

        Now replace “the right to own a gun” with “the right to murder” and you get this:

        Not preventing someone from committing murder does not necessarily reduce my liberty. If and only if they try to murder me does it facilitate a violation of my rights. But it’s the person’s choice and decision to commit murder that reduced my liberty, not the fact that they have the right to commit murder. Merely having the right to commit murder cannot reduce liberty because that would mean to increase liberty we would have to do the opposite – outlaw murder – but in order to do that we have to violate people’s rights thus reducing their liberty. In short, this leads to the proposition that: in order to increase liberty we must reduce it. That’s a contradiction and cannot stand.”

        The paradox is that the rule of law ensures our liberty, just as it enables free markets to operate. The only question is which laws. The legal framework around gun ownership in the UK restricts the freedoms of very few people, but protects the vast majority.

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      4. But the act of committing murder is not ethically equivalent to the act of being in possession of a gun. This is because it’s possible to possess a gun without violating anyone’s self-ownership or property rights, but it’s not possible to murder without violating someone’s self-ownership. Thus murder is an unethical act and possessing a gun is an ethical act.

        My argument was: “Not preventing someone from committing an [ethical act] does not necessarily reduce my liberty.”
        You changed it to “Not preventing someone from committing an [unethical act] does not necessarily reduce my liberty.”

        But this doesn’t prove my argument wrong because you changed the premise and made it a different argument. What you have done is show that your argument (which is the opposite to mine) produces the conclusion that murder is ethical/legal. This must mean that my argument, and indeed the libertarian ethical principle of absolute self-ownership and property rights, rightfully concludes that murder is unethical/illegal. It also shows that you cannot argue for legalised murder using my argument because the only way you could do so was by changing its premise, and therefore making it a different argument.

        Of course, we already live under a system where murder is legalised. Soldiers kill people and sometimes even the police do.

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  2. It is not possible to own a gun and not violate my rights. The threat alone is enough to cause fear and constrain my behaviour. If one person owns a gun and the other does not, there is a power asymmetry. If both own guns, then the freedom of both is reduced.

    I used to believe what you believe, but it became obvious that I was deluding myself, and that gun control laws are one of the fundamental laws that guarantee freedom.

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    1. A society that outlaws the ownership of objects based on people’s emotional reactions to them would be highly illiberal and oppressive, for there are any number of things that people are fearful of. Anyone would have the legal right to ban you from owning a knife, a car, a dog, a chainsaw, a scary halloween mask etc. The question is from where do we get the legal right to live in a world where nothing can be owned that we find fearful?

      If A has more power than B because he owns a gun, then that must mean if B gets a gun then B must gain power at least equivalent to A. Gun = power.

      Your conclusion that if they both own guns they both lose freedom/power can only be true if owning a gun = more power AND owning gun = less power is true. But that can’t be true since it’s a contradiction.

      Continuing with our scenario of two people, A and B. By the logic of your argument: if both have (the freedom to own) guns both have less freedom. This is the same as saying if both do not have (the freedom to own) guns, then both have more freedom. But the only way to prevent gun ownership is to use the legal threat of force (ultimately at the point of a gun). So one of them (let’s say A) must have the legal right to own and use a gun in order to prevent B from owning a gun. But this inevitably leads to the power imbalance, and the reduction of A’s freedoms, or B’s freedoms if it’s the other way around. this means the premise ‘if both have (the freedom to own) guns both have less freedom’ is false.

      Let’s change the premise to ‘if both have (the freedom to own) guns both have more freedom’ and see if that can be true. Well, the only way to ensure both have the freedom to own guns is to fully respect property rights. This means neither A nor B can legally initiate force (use a gun) against the other in order to prevent them from owning something. Thus A does not have less freedom because B doesn’t have more power as a result of having the legal right to use force against A, and vice versa of course. Which means both have more freedom. Our premise is true.

      Thus the libertarian ethic of absolute property rights is the only ethical principle that does not diminish/violate any individual’s freedom by requiring that a group of individuals have the legal right to use force. A libertarian society’s legal system would be founded on this principle.

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  3. Gary, it seems not to be fruitful to continue this discussion. We are somehow driving down parallel tracks and missing each other’s point. It’s a shame, since we both have the same fundamental views, I think.

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    1. Agreed. I suspect we’re working from different definitions of freedom and/or rights, which is not unusual, it happens a lot. But thanks for reading and commenting. Our discussion will hopefully prove useful to others.

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