Gun Rights in Us

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The topic of gun rights is currently quite prominent, holding in its realm different views and opinions. In America gun rights become topics of public conversation with every mass shooting that occurs. Throughout 2018, there have been 14,647 deaths related to gun violence in the US. Included in this number are deaths from mass shootings which as stand-alone acts amounted to 340 incidents. Similar numbers have also been reported for previous years1 . In assessing such data Amnesty International published a report that evaluated the scope of gun violence in the US and analyzed the laws and policies governing gun rights in relation to international human rights standards. The report concluded that due to continual gun violence, high rates of firearm ownership and ease of access to guns by those likely to misuse them the US is failing to meet its duty to protect human rights2. Amnesty International is a long-standing organization, a Nobel prize recipient with branches worldwide. A report like this along with data on gun violence showing little change over time makes the debate on gun rights versus gun control a valid one.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution gives Americans the right to gun ownership and use3. A right that is embedded in the legal foundations of a country can be difficult to change or modify. Nevertheless, an evaluation of the ethical arguments for and against uncontrolled gun rights is important and will be made in an attempt to evaluate if indeed human rights as they relate to quality of life are affected.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, quality of life is defined as the level of satisfaction and comfort that a person or group enjoys4. Quality of life is a subjective term though and as such is hard to measure and define because it relates to so many aspects like health, disability, educational opportunities, jobs, housing, relationships, expectations, goals, security, and safety to name a few5. However, for the purpose of this discussion the Cambridge definition will be adopted and thus factors that infringe on comfort levels as they relate to health, safety, and security can be said to infringe on quality of life.

Let's begin with the perspective that, “gun rights should not be controlled in order to increase people's quality of life.” proponents of this view, focus on the ethical idea that a right to own a gun is derived from a basic (prima facie) right to protection. According to Michael Huemer, professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, and author of the articles ‘Is there a right to own a gun?’ and ‘Gun Rights as Deontic Constraints’, people have a right to self-defense. Prohibiting or limiting gun ownership will violate this right causing individuals to suffer from crimes they could have otherwise prevented. He further explains that for controls to be implemented and gun ownership limited, they must be proven to prevent a harm that is greater than the harm to those whose rights were taken away by such controls. Huemer contends that should a gun ban exist, those who legally own their guns for personal defense will comply with surrendering their guns while those with illegal guns will not do so. This will still leave guns in criminal hands since these firearms are unknown and undocumented.

Huemer’s argument is credible, as a PhD researcher of ethics and political philosophy his articles have been published in prominent journals of philosophy and social theory. Upon investigation of his ideas, examples do exist, the Washington Post, a trusted news source, confirms that 80 percent of gun related deaths were caused by illegal firearms and just 18 percent are caused by legally owned guns6.

The strength in Huemer’s argument that gun control and bans violate the right to self-defense lies in the difficulty of proving that this prima facie right is unfounded or can be outweighed by other considerations. Taking away one's right to self-defense in the case of an intrusion or harassment would be an example of such a rights violation. Indeed, this is a strong contention, often used by The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) to fiercely lobby for gun rights, claiming that individual freedoms, particularly the liberty to protect will be taken away should gun rights be violated7.

Notwithstanding, this perspective does have weaknesses. Huemer for example, bases his argument on hypothetical scenarios of a complete gun ban, not leaving room to discuss the effects of controls and if such placements truly affect the right to self-defense. He even states that, there is a social cost to widespread gun ownership and that the state is incapable of identifying in advance individuals who will misuse their weapons, and thus the state's best method to reduce the social cost is to restrict even noncriminal citizens from owning firearms8. Such a statement thus acknowledges the threats associated with gun rights and opens a clear path for proponents of gun control to advocate their case. For example, survey-based studies led by David Hemenway, Professor of Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health show that firearms are used more to intimidate than for self-defense9 and that actual self-defense gun use is quite rare and not any better at preventing injury than other defensive actions10.

Now let’s consider the perspective that, “gun rights should be controlled in order to increase people's quality of life.” According to David DeGrazia, professor of philosophy at George Washington University in Washington D.C and author of On the Ethics of American Gun Ownership, when evaluating gun rights, there is another pertinent right beyond the right of self-defense to consider and that is the right to not get shot. There are two rights on this ethical platform, and neither can dominate the other. Gun rights cannot be so un regimented and lax that people's right to safety from firearms is infringed. Placing controls will balance both the right to guns and the right to not get killed or injured by these guns. In his argument, DeGrazia further claims that the current state of gun rights in America does not enhance people's control over their security. In fact, these rights make gun owners lives more endangered. In a book he co-authored with Lester Hunt, ‘Debating Gun Control: How Much Regulation Do We Need?’, DeGrazia lists gun safety loopholes, from lax background checks to absence of consumer safety regulations and lack of funding to public health studies on gun violence. Basic background checks make sure that the consumer is not a convicted felon or suffers from mental illness. He gives the example of guns bought at gun shows where basic checks are not required, allowing anyone to acquire a gun, bypassing even the smallest of checks that may be federally imposed. DeGrazia recommends different controls and stresses that governments should engage in ethical policy that acts on this endangerment of the population.

David DeGrazia’s arguments are also valid. As a professor of philosophy, his research in theoretical and applied ethics has been published both in books and academic journals, making him a credible proponent for a counter perspective. To back his views DeGrazia pulls data from studies, ones which provide evidence that the risk of death by either homicide or suicide is greater in homes with guns than those without. He further shows that states and countries with low gun ownership rates and strong gun control measures have lowers gun fatality rates than those who do not11. Indeed, Amnesty International’s report which was mentioned earlier, offers a list of recommendations akin to those proposed by DeGrazia further substantiating his argument for gun control.

The strengths in Degrazia’s argument prevail in having real data as opposed to hypothetical scenarios in support of his view. Australia for example, implemented stricter gun controls after experiencing one mass shooting in 1996. In the years that followed no mass shooting (defined as 5 or more injured or killed) occurred and there has been a marked decline in homicides and suicides with rates showing 3% annual drops prior to the application of gun laws with an increase to 5% drops for such incidents after the laws came into effect12. Japan with similar strong restrictions also exhibits very low gun violence rates, with annual rate of all gun deaths (per 100,000 population) of less than 0.04 between 2007 and 201413 . America by comparison to Japan on the exact same measurements has annual rates 100 times larger, standing at over 10.3 for those years 14. Lastly, the idea of a right to not get shot is also linked to fear and anxiety from being shot, in defending this right one not only increases sense of safety but also reduces fear which in turn link to quality of life.

Nevertheless, there are weakness associated with the proof DeGrazia uses to advocate for gun control. For one there are very few studies in the United States relating to the effects of widespread gun ownership, relying on such limited data can weaken the argument. Also, in comparing data from other countries one needs to be cautious as some factors can be related to cultural and societal habits that may not exist elsewhere and may have influenced the data. In fact, the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization has referenced and evaluate most of the existing studies relating to gun policy in the US, finding them to be lacking in methods that identify possible causal effects15.

After evaluating the arguments put forward for and against gun control, I believe that gun rights should be controlled in order to increase people’s quality of life. The main reason comes from the source supporting this perspective and the idea that there isn't one overruling right (that for self-defense) above other rights (that to not get shot and be safe). In controlling gun rights, it is possible to take all rights into account including that of self-defense. Additionally, the real tangible proof of factual statistics provided by this perspective allows for a reliable evaluation of the effects on rights and quality of life. The opposing view only offered hypothetical scenarios which may not be conclusive.

Therefore, after contemplating all points of views and analyzing the ethical motivations behind them I do understand the rationale of both. Taking precautions to ensure all rights are met is integral to a free moral society. I must admit that initially my point of view regarding the topic was not neutral. Infact, while working on this essay, my school had a real-life code red lockdown with police, sirens, helicopters, and hiding in closets or underneath desks for over an hour. I couldn't help thinking that being scared for so long compromised the quality of my school life. With the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting the previous year and the continued incidents of baseless shootings, my anxiety alone calls for ethical legislation soon. Given this, I was worried of reflecting my personal inclinations in this essay. However, it is through this research that I am confident to base my rationale for gun controls on the academic sources presented. The ethical arguments for controls provide solutions that honor a moral society that is still and maybe even more free. Going forward and in order to strengthen the idea that gun control will increase people's quality of life I suggest that leaders and legislators look at the research compiled so far, heed its recommendations and act. Also investing in more research on the health effects of gun violence is essential. I further suggest, legal research into accountability when rights for safety and wellbeing are not met. Over time such analysis can strengthen the claim that gun controls will improve safety and comfort levels which in turn will affect and increase quality of life

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Gun Rights In Us. (2021, Dec 30). Retrieved July 20, 2024 , from

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