Gun control is one of those issues. It always seems to be present, though at differing levels. At times, it is only lightly present in the public consciousness. In contrast, there are times when the issue of gun control is thoroughly in the minds of the “public”—largely due to the influence of the media.
Lately, it seems as though gun control has been in the news more than it previously has. True, it is an election year, but the media has also been reporting on more stories relating to firearms. Most notable among these stories are—apart from the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado—the killings at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and outside of Texas A&M University, and a recent incident at the Family Research Council.
Throughout all of this, the debate over gun control continues on a predictable course. The same arguments continue to be used by both sides. In this, statistics are used—perhaps, at times, even over-used. This is not to suggest that there is not a place for statistics, but other aspects should not be shut out.
Most notably, the philosophical issue is often ignored entirely in the gun control debate. As with any similar matter, it would easy for one to speculate the reasons for this, but this distracts from the subject of gun control.
At the core of the gun control matter is the subject of natural rights. These rights are vastly different than what many perceive as being “rights.” Those on the left, and many moderates, talk of “human rights,” though these are utterly different. “Natural rights,” as originally conceived by the English thinker John Locke, are, literally, “natural.” They are inherent in all people and cannot be revoked or, rightly, infringed upon. These rights are life, property, and liberty. In other words, the right to one’s life, to own property and do with it as one wishes (as long as one does not harm others), and to freely act (also, as long as one does not cause harm to others). It was upon these principles that the Founding Fathers both justified their revolution and the Bill of Rights. What does this have to do with gun control?
Apart from the obvious point of the Second Amendment, it is a matter of both life and property. If a man has a God-given right to his own person and property, then who is to say what measures he may take to defend his property and self? Within this problem, as well, are a few problems of practicality. Literally, who may say how a citizen may defend themselves? In doing this, there are a multitude of factors that cannot be seen by burreaucrats—as these would be those determining the “appropriate” measures. Also, these burreaucrats would need to decide what threats the citizen was facing (whether they are “non-existent” or heavily-armed threats).
While the matters of practicality are being discussed, it is at this point that it is wise to address the facts and figures always being brought into the debate over gun rights. Entire papers could easily be devoted only to examining the common figures used in favor and against gun control, but the matter is much deeper. Frankly, statistics are inferior to philosophy. The state of the world is relative, and may change greatly. Consider this situation: say that, through a bizarre turn of events, that it would be adventageous to kill a small minority (in terms of numbers, not the usual sense of how “minority” is defined) of the population, would this be a good idea? Many of the “statistics” would say that it is right, but it still is murder. The “statistics” may show that it is good to commit murder, but this does not change the moral situation. It is no different, figuratively, in the case of gun control. The slaves of statistics may claim that it is far better to have a disarmed populace, or to have rigid gun control, than to allow freedom—yet this does not change the trampling on sacred rights that would occur.
Because of this, the statistical arguments are greatly dismantled, and thus less effective. It is true, that it is, in some ways, a logical matter. Logically, there will always be maniacs, lunatics, deranged people, and bloody criminals. To these groups, gun laws are meaningless. But, it is also logical that, if gun control is either non-existent, that there will be more law-abiding and “good” people carrying weapons. Therefore, the impact of violent crime will be lessened.
Up to this point, the threats of a tyrannical government has not addressed either. In the event of such a happening, the Second Amendment is the only remaining line of defense against despotism. And, this does not mean that the people will defend their rights with double-barreled shotguns, bolt-action hunting rifles, and .22 revolvers. There are some who argue that things have changed since the time of the Founders, and that those ideas cannot be followed in our “modern” era. No one denies that technology in the Founders’ time was different. The musket a farmer may have used to hunt was, often, similar to that used by the soldier in battle. Yes, the tools of warfare have changed. The causes for this are somewhat complicated, but the rapid advancement of military technology can be equated to the parallel rise of democratic states and total war. In short, time (like statistics) does not change the heart of the matter.
I will not deny that it is does a bit imprudent to declare that one has a right to defend his property in the manner he chooses, whether it is an M60 machine gun or an assault weapon, but this is a trade-off that comes with freedom—if one is to view it in this manner. No “perfect” form of government exists. Perhaps, then, Thomas Jefferson quip is the appropriate answer to this question “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.”
The seas of liberty may be rough, but I do not doubt that, if left alone, free people and free markets will find the appropriate answer, rather than giving the decision to a group of men who give no thought to the foundation of our republic—the Constitution.
Christian Lopac | Wabash College | @CLopac