Newsweek recently published “2,405 Shot Dead Since Tucson” that focused on gun issues. While I am not going to analyze the article, it did get me thinking about guns once more.
My own feelings (and I do mean feelings rather than thoughts) are decidedly positive towards guns. I grew up shooting, I have many good memories involving guns, and I must confess that I simply really, really like weapons. I appreciate the designs of fine weapons and the skill required to make and use them. Being a philosopher, I am well aware that how I feel about guns has no bearing whatsoever in terms of arguments relating to gun issues.
Of course, my feelings are not purely positive. When I hear of yet another senseless incident of violence involving guns, I feel (as all sane people do), rather bad. However, my bad feelings are not directed at the guns. They are, after all, mere things and not moral agents who can bear blame. I do, however, understand the fear and dislike that some people direct towards guns. But, being a philosopher, I am well aware that how they feel about guns has no bearing whatsoever in terms of arguments relating to gun issues.
Since my feelings are pro gun, I have to be very careful when considering arguments relating to guns. After all, these feelings can easily cause me to accept flawed arguments in favor of gun rights and reject good arguments for placing limits on gun rights.
As a general rule, I am wary of legislation aimed at limiting gun rights. After all, the right to be armed is a basic right and a key part of the right of self-defense. Of course, rights always seem to come with a price. For example, the right to drive costs us tens of thousands of deaths each year in the United States.
As with all rights, it is well worth asking if the right is worth the price and whether or not limits on the right are worth imposing.
For example, banning all private vehicles would greatly reduce the number of traffic fatalities. However, that step would be regarded by almost everyone as too extreme and too problematic. However, we do accept limits on who can drive and these presumably help keep the death toll down to levels that people are willing to accept. As such, we are willing to tolerate tens of thousands of deaths each year for the convenience of being able to drive to Starbucks when we crave a latte.
Banning all guns would, of course, reduce the number of fatalities involving guns. However, that seems to be something rather unacceptable (and unconstitutional). However, just as with driving there seem to be excellent grounds for limiting certain gun rights.
One matter that people have brought up is the restriction of certain types of guns (like assault rifles) or certain accessories (like 30 round clips). In support of this, people point to how the shooter in Tucson was able to fire off so many rounds because he had 30 round clips. It is assumed that if he had been limited to 15 (or 10) round clips, he would have been able to harm fewer people. People have also argued that there seems to be no legitimate reason to have such high capacity clips. After all, people do not need all that magazine capacity for hunting or self-defense.
This reasoning does have a certain appeal. After all, being able to fire more shots does increase the amount of damage a person can inflict without having to reload or switch weapons. However, it is worth considering how much of an impact such a ban would have in terms of saving lives. Naturally, it can be argued that since there is no compelling need for high capacity clips, even if their being banned saved only one life, it would be worth it.
If such a ban would save lives, then it would seem reasonable. After all, having to reload more often at the range seems to be a small price to pay for this. Also, with a little practice a person can learn to swap clips very quickly, thus making the lower capacity clips only a minor inconvenience. Of course, anyone who plans on going on a rampage can also practice swapping clips (or guns), thus making such a ban far less effective than some people might imagine.
Another matter that people have brought up is being more strict about gun sales. While there are already laws in place that are intended to keep people who are mentally ill or who have criminal records from getting guns, these restrictions are often not properly enforced or can often be easily bypassed. There is also the fact that even the best limitations and restrictions are not perfect. To give one obvious “weak” point: someone who has not done anything that would legally allow their right to purchase a gun to be taken away can still buy a gun-perhaps the very gun they will use to commit murder. Of course, this “loophole” would be rather hard to close. It is comparable to the “loophole” that allows people to buy cars and get drivers licenses even though they might kill someone by driving drunk. As such, short of banning all gun (or car) sales, there is no way to guarantee that someone who should not have a gun (or car) will not get one.
Of course, it would be foolish to expect a perfect system. However, this does not mean that we should not push for a better system. I do agree that the current system does need significant improvements and I am in favor of those that would do a better job of keeping guns away from criminals and the mentally deranged.
Of course, focusing on guns is merely to focus on the tool rather than the actual cause of the problem. We clearly need to do more than just restrict guns, we need to address the factors that create criminals and the deranged.