Friday, June 27, 2008

What is wrong with unfettered gun ownership

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Where do the US presidential candidates stand on gun control? Well, John McCain has supported a Supreme Court decision overruling a District of Columbia handgun ban. Democrat Barack Obama sought to take the middle ground by saying he favors an individual's right to bear firearms as well as a government's right to regulate them. What does that mean? Does it mean he has no principles, or does it mean he believes it depends on the context? We don’t know. But since you asked, where do I stand on this issue.

I support the idea that people should have rights, but I do not think those rights are arbitrary dogma. The issue is not whether you should have a right to own a gun, but 'why' you should. People can have good or bad reasons for owning a gun, so should we not draw a distinction. So what would constitute a good reason?
1. A need to control feral animals or predatory wolves that kill farm stock
2. A soldier who needs to train for military action
3. A security officer who needs to protect the movement of valuable cargo
4. A police officer who has to apprehend people who are accused of initiating the use of force.

The implication is that there are good reasons for people to hold a gun. I would suggest that there a lot of people in America who hold guns because they have a right, but moreover they have an unhealthy purpose:
1. Protect themselves from street violence: This is a rationalisation. If you live in an area where violence is so bad, the solution is to move, not to hold a gun. A great many gun crimes arise from the disarming of people who control guns.
2. They want the power to respond to violence, eg. Meet force with force, such as street gangs. This is illegitimate because it is not the role of the general citizenry to enforce the law
3. They want to protect themselves. Guns will not protect you unless you are trained to use them. Why? They are more likely to be used by ‘break & enter’ people searching your home, and more than likely against the owner returning too early.
4. The argument is made that everyone should have the right to defend themselves. Well I think we do, in the sense that we support a police force and military. This is different from enforcing a person’s right to hedonistically pursue their own concept of justice. Everyone should be accountable for their actions, and not necessarily after the fact.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld Americans constitutional right to own guns and struck down the 32-year-old ban. McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, heralded the decision as “a landmark victory for Second Amendment freedom”. Really? The arbitrary freedom to own a gun is the hallmark of a hedonistic state. It comes as no surprise that the USA has the highest levels of gun-related crime....because it recognises the ownership of guns as a legitimate right.

The next question is, having granted people a right to hold guns, how would you repeal it. The problem of course is that there are so many guns in the USA. It would be a huge task to remove them from the market, and a huge cost. Australia 10 years ago paid that price. It resulted in a lot of damaged guns being handed in. I guess it could be argued that even a damaged gun can be used to coerce people. I’m not aware of the impact it had on crime.

The difference between and libertarians is that they see guns as not imposing on people. I care to differ. People’s right to hold guns is an imposition on the community if they don’t recognise the need for community vigilance. Sport gun shooters should be able to shoot, but only in suitably secured shooting galleries where people sign a disclaimer so they can be shot at, and shoot at targets.
The problem I believe is that libertarians equate ‘political correctness’ as moral virtue. Just because a person has not been convicted of a crime does not mean they are suitably ready to possess a gun. Here is why:

1. A great many mentally ill people would be allowed to own guns since they need only evade being diagnosed as mentally ill. That is an easy rationalisation for parents and victims to make. Who wants that label?
2. Law abiding is far from the equal to moral virtue. We don’t allow anyone to be a policeman do we. Well maybe we do, but they should be required to demonstrate superior ethical principles. I dare say that lack of care is the reason why there is so much corruption in police forces around the world.

So when McCain talks of the “struggle against those who seek to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens”, I understand that he lacks objectivity and is really a supporter of unchecked, arbitrary ideas. He saids “We must always remain vigilant in defence of our freedoms”. No actually, we need to be vigilant against politicians who:
1. Don’t define their terms
2. Assert arbitrary rights – some of which can constitute claims on other people’s rights
3. Who support ideas out of context

But is this really what John McCain is about. Does he not recognise that there is a broader context. Afterall, I don’t he believes that American criminals should be allowed to own guns. So he does have some sense of reality.

There are those who want to outlaw certain types of guns like assault-style weapons, but I don’t see a need for a distinction on gun types. They are all lethal. People will make the argument ‘where will it end? Should be outlaw kitchen knives too’. The answer to that is that we need implements to eat, and that life requires some element of risk. We don’t endorse the use of (steel) knives in prisons for that reason because they have a good chance of being used as weapons. There is also less potential for a knife to be used as an instrument of mass murder. The perpetrator is likely to be apprehended. In these matters, the pros and cons of prohibition need to be assessed.

It must also be remembered that perpetrators are themselves products of the system. The extent to which we assert arbitrary political views, and in fact any ideas lacking objectivity, integrity and honesty, is the extent to which we are actually sponsoring crime against other people. Given the context of dubious social values, it strikes me as prudent that vigilance over weapons of mass crime be restricted. Need that vigilance be required in future under a rational social framework? We will not know for a long time. But eventually we embrace such a concept because rationality is exceeding practical when reason is the standard of value.

The next question is whether gun manufacturers, distributors and sellers should be responsible for any carnage perpetrated by their customers. I actually believe they should be responsible. Just as the police should be responsible for no properly training the police in use of weapons. This aspect of gun control would be particularly powerful. Gun owners whose weapon is not licensed, the serial number has been removed, or has not been properly secured, or whom do not report the stealing of a weapon should also be responsible.
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Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com

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