Once again, our nation has witnesses the effects of a mass shooting. Although obviously and logically different, many aspects of this shooting are the same as others: a disturbed man with a history of treatment for mental illness went into a work-related area and started killing. Although much of the current inquiry centers around “flaws” in the Navy’s security scheme, statists and opponents of liberty are already dredging up more pro-gun control arguments in reaction.
Beneath the gun control debate lies a fundamental truth. Once we identify and realize this truth, there lies little room for absurd gun control policies.
Does free will exist? Unfortunately, this is not a place where we might further explore the arguments and topics relating to free will. Thus, it is a simple “yes” or “no” answer. I, alongside innumerable other people, believe free will does exist. If this is the case, then policies like gun control look rather mad. If people possess free will, then nothing stops them from committing or attempting to commit any horrific act. This sounds terribly nihilistic, but this fact becomes more true with additional pondering. With the free will aspect noted, we can move further into the gun control issue and into the laws.
Laws pervade American life. Perhaps this is true of our “modern” life as a whole, regardless of the state. We find the laws in every aspect and time of our lives. When we awake, we find ourselves in buildings adhering to codes, and we eat food subject to regulations and health laws. Then many get in their cars, adhering to their own sets of laws and regulations, and drive on public roads which are also governed by more laws. Unfortunately, few people ever ponder these laws. By this, I do not mean wondering why the speed limit is fifty-five and not sixty or sixty-five. Rather, we must go beyond mere annoyances and find the law’s purpose and meaning.
Every law has an intended purpose. Some of these purposes might include protecting property, preventing rights, or protecting rights. These laws might find their sources in a variety of places (such as philosophical systems, religions, traditions, etc.), but they all share a sense of purpose. We turn this question of purpose toward gun control laws. Gun control’s purported purpose stands as preventing gun violence, whether coming from criminals or crazed murderers. Debates continue over gun control’s ultimate effects and its bi-products (i.e. a trampling of rights). The arguments over evidence will continue, as each side critiques the other’s “evidence.” (It is worth nothing, though, the evidence against gun control in the US and Europe.) But here, it is the philosophical arguments that concern us.
If it is true that we possess free will, then the consequences of free will exist and laws must base themselves on some purpose related to that free will. Given those basic precepts, gun control laws cannot be philosophically seen as anything other than absurd.
As previously noted, humans act as agents possessing free will, and no entity controls that free will other than the agent himself (or herself). Gun control laws aim at preventing individuals from using firearms in unlawful ways, but the problem lies in the control aspect. The danger and legal implications involved–fines, prison, and possibly even the death penalty–convince most individuals that committing violent crimes with guns (or committing such crimes at all) is a bad idea. These individuals, however, still make their choice freely, and gun control laws undermine that freedom.
This strange preventative stance appears utterly futile. Whereas crimes like murder and property damage account for truly criminal acts, and punishment deals out justice for a wrong, gun control aims at preventing the deranged, evil, and otherwise from slaughtering their fellow humans. Such a law cannot succeed. For gun control to succeed, it must control the populace. Penalties cannot convince all people; thus, only total control allows for gun control’s intended results to succeed. But total control doesn’t exist. Even in the nightmare of a totalitarian state, individuals still possess their free will. Prison persists as an example of this: even in an environment of exponentially greater control than the rest of society, the prison is a violent nightmare. If “control” produced meaningful results, prison should be a utopian model for all of humanity.
The recent killing of twelve people at the Navy Yard is a tragedy, as are all similar deaths. Regarding gun control, anyone advocating laws (or a lack of them) must address instances like this one. In many ways, the conundrum bears many similarities to the philosophical problem of evil (i.e. how a good God might allow evil’s existence). We face evil and find choices. Through bad reasoning, some find an apparent lack of morality in the world, and they pronounce that there is no right or wrong.
A second group sees the evil and, disregarding its realities and implications, declares that the whole of humanity must conquer evil. It is this group that often advocates for gun control. Many times their intentions show good will, but we now can see their flaws and practical concerns. Rather than punish aggressions against people and property, gun control attempts an asinine form of control.
There exists a third, final group of people. We weep at the evil and injustice, but we also realize that man has free will. We see the world as it is, but hold fast to principles of the life lived without injuring others. Bureaucratic and sweeping laws do not emerge from these principles. Rather, we maintain the simple philosophy of liberty: do not aggress against others or their property. In this, there is a philosophy both tempered by justice and applicable to the world as it really exists.
While we discuss this, one might just see the Don Quixotes and their Sanchos riding off to eliminate every evil windmill. Sadly, they shall not succeed, and we will continue exhorting liberty in the meantime. Perhaps this, too, is the world “as it is.”
Christian Lopac | Wabash College | @CLopac