Finally at a keyboard. Here was my earlier post from 2010:
Panoptic Blur wrote:
Several arguments have been put forward in favor of gun rights. Here are my personal views on them.
1. Guns allow the citizens to resist government tyranny. From a pure philosophical viewpoint, I think there is no longer much credit for the "guns resist tyranny" argument. This argument has some political exposure in the US, but it's mostly a historical carryover from the time when American volunteers formed much of the revolutionary troops, rebelling against British rule. Today, the doctrine of civilian gun ownership somehow intimidating the state is not very persuasive. The state controls war machines, chemical weapons, and nuclear weapons - and I don't think anything short of arming the general populace with the same types of weapons will deter the state. And moreover I have greater faith in the state being judicious with use of its power than I do with the general populace in safely holding weapons. Even in nondemocratic nations like China where the government imposes oppressive means on its people, I believe that allowing civilians to own firearms would merely exacerbate the situation - with civilians taking the law into their own hands against the government or each other, and forcing the government to commit ever-more-oppressive forces to establish control. In participatory democratic nations, the philosophy of gun ownership as a tool to resist the government essentially indicates a viewpoint that democratic participation has failed outright. I cannot think of any Western nation where the democratic process has fallen to a state where I would be willing to accept this philosophical justification.
2. Guns allow a citizen to defend their homes, family, and self. My views on this are more mixed. It is true that having a gun in the house gives a sense of security if you need to defend yourself against an armed intruder, but there are enough pragmatic questions about this that give me pause. However, whether it adds actual security is dependent on several other factors. I would be in favor of home defense gun ownership in situations where: a) local law enforcement is an insufficient deterrent or preventative measure, b) local violent crimes or injuries occur with a high degree of frequency (which is NOT the same as theft, in itself not a violent crime), c) gun owners are adequately trained and familiar with gun use so that accidental injuries to their own families and/or mistaken identity are minimal, d) local wildlife is dangerous and cannot be deterred through other means.
Note that this makes me a supporter of "states' rights" under the American discussion. I would not favor a national law for firearms applied identically to all regions. I favor instead the right for individual states, counties, and cities to decide what level of gun control is appropriate. For a peaceful suburb with well-funded and effective police, low violent crimes, civilian residents with insufficient training in gun safety, and no local wildlife dangers - I would hold the benefits of gun ownership to be low and the potential dangers to be high. For a dangerous neighborhood with low police success, high violent crimes, I could see that having a well-trained family member own a gun could tip the balance so the benefit is high enough to outweigh the potential dangers.
In my profession I have seen a number of situations where presenting a firearm worsened the situation. Instead of a fistfight, the victim ended up shot because the assailant disarmed them and turned the gun against them. Accidental deaths through child curiosity are also a high statistic. Both of these could be brought lower by effective gun safety education. Switzerland is held up as an example of this, where for a long period of time, all able-bodied men were given training in an automatic assault rifle, and then were allowed to keep them in their houses. Accidental shooting deaths were very low compared to the US.
From a legal standpoint, the individual should also be made to clearly understand that not every threatening situation will justify using (or even displaying) a firearm. A civilian who brings a gun to a knife fight may end up victorious, but he will almost certainly end up facing criminal charges for unnecessary use of deadly force. Even in cases of justified homicide in self-defense, many jurisdictions still reserve the right to assign a reduced sentence. Prospective gun owners should be made aware of all this in order to make an educated decision.
Finally, I have drawn a distinction between violent crime (rape, murder, mugging - all these pose immediate and substantial risk to the actual body of the victim) and mere "economic crime" (burglary, forgery, fraud - all these do not pose immediate substantial risk to the victim's person - merely to their property). This distinction is important: I believe that use of deadly force is permissible only in cases where one's own personal safety is in direct threat. When the damage is purely economic, such as somebody breaking into a vacant house while you are out of town, I hold that it is not permissible to threaten bodily harm to them. A crucial case illustrating this point is: a farmer set up a tripwire rigged shotgun in one of his empty barns to shoot anybody who trespassed. While the farmer was not present, a trespasser came into the barn and was shot and injured by the trapped shotgun. There was no immediate threat to the farmer's health, and therefore he was not justified in using potentially deadly force to repulse an intruder. As a side note to this, I would include attacks by wild animals as a violent situation which would justify firearm use as a response.
3. If gun ownership is made illegal, then only criminals will have guns. This is a pragmatic argument, as it forswears any aspiration to philosophical principle. The argument essentially runs that there are already firearms available through illicit means and in the hands of unlawful elements of society, therefore law-abiding citizens need some method of defending themselves. This may already be true as a matter of fact in America, where gun laws have been historically looser than most other developed nations. In nations such as China, where gun laws have been strict throughout most of the current government's history, the argument is invalid.
Reduced thus to its pragmatic components, then, this argument essentially becomes a restatement of point 2., above. As you recall, that point calls for a balancing test of various factors, with different residents in different neighborhoods resulting in different levels of justifiability. As already mentioned, the level of violent crime is a key part of that, and point 3. essentially boils down to the level of violent crime in the area: In areas where the level of violent crime is high and police effectiveness in prevention or deterrent is low, disarming the citizenry leaves them helpless.
4. Recreational or subsistence use of guns. Many citizens enjoy gun use as recreation, whether it's target practice at the shooting range, competitive marksmanship events, or hunting game animals. Some citizens in sufficiently well-stocked areas can make a living out of hunting or provide food for their communities through the same. These have little to do with self-defense, and if properly done with supervision, training, and familiarity, need not harm any human. Because none of these activities involve pointing a firearm at a fellow human, I believe that the balancing test for its validity tends to fall very heavily in favor of allowing it. Obviously, training is important and accidental deaths are still a risk, but applying the same balancing test in point 2. above will result in a generally favorable outcome for sport and hunting use of guns.
All in all, I think guns are a useful tool at the modern human's disposal, and they can be put to beneficial applications. However, they are also potentially very dangerous, and extensive training is necessary before the benefits of ownership outweigh the risks. I would be in favor of gun ownership rights starting from a baseline analysis of the local violent crime, police, and wildlife factors - and then enforcing training requirements to match that. I do agree with the pragmatic view that some areas are unsuitable for a blanket ban because of current crime rates or other threats, but I also believe that the argument for a right to bear arms to dissuade tyranny is meritless. The government can and should play a licensing and training role in gun ownership to reduce accidental deaths, and until sufficient checks are in place, I would not favor general public access to guns.
From a purely philosophical viewpoint (impossible in America, possible in places like China) I would go as far as saying that if criminal gun ownership is already very low, then the government does have the justification to say that civilians should not own guns either.