Monday, August 16, 2010

Why the Right to Own a Gun is Fundamental

I'm using the above story as an example in a paper I am writing on the right to arms. The relevant part of the paper:

Suppose that when John Lee had pulled his gun out, someone had coercively prevented him from using it. Suppose, for the sake of the argument, that the gun had been a revolver, and someone grasped the cylinder, preventing it from turning and aligning a fresh round with the barrel. Clearly, that person would be violating Mr. Lee's property rights in the gun but, just as obviously, they would also be violating his right to defend himself. Part of the reason this sort of forceful interference would be a rights-violating act is that, in addition to his property rights, he has a right of self-defense.

Since this is a matter of right, this would seem to be true regardless of the motives of the person who deprives him of the means of defending himself. As far as the question of whether his rights are being violated is concerned, it makes no difference whether the person is an accomplice of the attackers, or whether they are motivated by a sincere belief that defensive violence is wrong. If there is a right of self-defense, it is being violated in either case.

If that is so, then a right of self-defense rules out the power to coercively deprive one of every means of exercising it.

That would mean that the right to self-defense rules out ordinances that ban weapons such as Mr. Lee's life-saving Glock semi-automatic.


Anonymous said...

When you say "the right to self-defense rules out ordinances that ban weapons such as Mr. Lee's life-saving Glock semi-automatic." it begs the question as to what weapons would not be ruled out? Are handguns are covered by the right of self-defense but rifles are not? If both handguns and rifles are covered where does the coverage cease?

Lester Hunt said...

You have a point there: there must be a limit to how far the right of self-defense goes.

My own view is that you have a right to defend yourself by any effective means, provided that it is acquired and used without violating the rights of others. Some weapons -- eg., nuclear weapons, fragmentation grenades, etc. -- can't be used without harming or unreasonably endangering the innocent, so they are out.

I'd say rifles are in, probably, though their size limits their versatility. The only feature of rifles that seems ethically relevant to me is that, due to high muzzle velocity and the type of rounds typically used (designed to pierce things) a bullet from a rifle is more likely to pass through your attacker (and maybe the wall of your apartment!) and hit an innocent person on the other side.