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Ethics and the 2nd Amendment

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The next five weeks of my life will be spent in an Ethics class, and we will be swiftly covering many hot-button topics in politics. What better way to take notes for class and formulate my own ideas than by sharing with all of you?

The text is:

Mosser, K. (2010). Ethics and Social Responsibility. (E. Evans, Ed.) Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/books/

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (part of the Bill of Rights) reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The odd capitalization and punctuation are in the original.

The argument against restrictions: 

The Constitution specifically says people have the right to “keep and bear Arms.” This means that there should be few restrictions on what is seen as a constitutionally protected right. We should look at restrictions to this Constitutional right the same way we look at restrictions to free speech, only needing to be limited to guarantee public safety. Just like freedom of speech, the only regulations should be those that have “overriding public interest,” explained to be for the good of the vast majority of the public. However, these restrictions should be “absolutely minimal” and “absolutely necessary.”

Beyond the Constitution, our history also gives good reason to have few restrictions on individuals’ rights to own guns. The Revolutionary War was won by farmers and other civilians who were comfortable enough around, and knowledgeable enough about, guns that they could wield them against the enemy.   We may not have to worry about another nation invading us (we hope), but what about home invaders?  Americans have the right to defend themselves and their families, as well as their homes.

In addition to self/home defense, many Americans shoot for sport. Target shooting, skeet shooting, hunting, etc., are all lawful ways to use guns. According to the text, Americans own an estimated 250,000,000 guns, and more than 25% of Americans live in a household that possesses a firearm. (My household has five.)

Most people agree about certain restrictions, such as prevention of gun ownership by convicted felons, and those with a documented history of criminal violence. Many will also agree that anyone with documented mental illness that may inhibit the ability to realize when gun use is in appropriate should not have access to deadly weapons. However, many people are wary of giving government too much control, and say that allowing restrictions today means allowing greater restrictions in the future.

Imposing “unjust” restrictions on law-abiding citizens is unconstitutional and only hurts the people who have lawful, legitimate, interest in gun ownership, whether for sport or self-defense. Criminals care about gun laws as much as they care about the other laws they are breaking.

The argument for restrictions:

Sixty-eight percent of the people murdered in America in 2005 were killed with guns. Thirteen people were killed at Columbine with guns. Thirty-two people were killed at Virginia Tech with (a?) gun. Ten people were killed by the DC snipers. Sixteen were killed in Dover, Arkansas. Thirteen were killed in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Eleven, including the killer, were killed in Geneva County, Alabama.

NY Times writer Bob Herbert says: “Since the assassinations of Senator Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, more than a  million Americans have been killed by guns in the U.S.. That’s more than the total number of U.S. combat deaths in all the wars in American history.”

There are many guns in the U.S., and they are easy to get. In some states, the minimum age is twelve for purchase of a firearm. Background checks and waiting periods don’t work as intended. Easy access to conceal-able weapons has led to a culture in the U.S. that leads the developed world in violent crime and murder. Reasonable restrictions, like substantial background checks, waiting periods, trigger locks, etc., as well as limitations on the kinds of weapons and ammunition available, are necessary to stop this assault. The 1980s and 90s saw an increase in controls on gun ownership, and a corresponding drop in violent crime.

In Miller v. United States (1939), the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment clearly means the right of well-regulated Militias, not individuals. (There is a later conflicting ruling as well.)

“Supporting substantial restrictions should not be regarded as an illegitimate attempt by an oppressive government to seize all guns.” Background checks, trigger locks, and limits on types of weapons and ammunition do not prevent law-abiding citizens from sport shooting, hunting, and self-defense. They do minimize access by criminals, the insane, and “others who should not have access to deadly weapons.”

The Theories:

Utilitarian view (Greatest Good for the Greatest Number):

A fundamental duty of a government is to maintain the security and safety of the governed. Potentially violent intruders and oppressive governments are both threats to that security. The “Greatest Good” is the feeling of security and confidence that is gained from the knowledge that they have a weapon to defend themselves with. Robbers face significantly more risk breaking into an armed home than an unarmed home. If a robber believes you may be armed, and pose a threat to him, he may rob a different house, or give up crime (though that is not incredibly likely). Thus, people with guns, who know how to use them, feel safer in their own homes. If criminals fear home-owners with guns, crime, theoretically, would go down because the benefits of the items stolen would not outweigh the risk of loss of life. Restricting weapons means the risk for robbers drops markedly, and crime would rise. Therefore, the “greatest good for the greatest number” would be minimal restrictions. Following that, restrictions must be proven to increase public safety and security, such as preventing actual criminals and mentally incapable people from owning guns.

The relativist view (people in different cultures view things differently, so what might be wrong to one group may be right to another):

In Nigeria and the Philippines, gun ownership is 1% and 4.5% respectively. In Switzerland (yeah, the “neutral” guys) it is 50%. The United States has the highest rate- 90 guns for every 100 people. Some cultures have few guns because they didn’t play an important part in that culture’s history. (Try taking a samurai sword from a Japanese guy, though… yikes!) Some cultures, like ours, have guns in an important part of our history, like the Revolution and Westward Expansion. Beyond saying “neither is right or wrong,” relativism is fairly useless in solving moral dilemmas.

(At this point, I am surprised that they don’t offer an example of a specific theory of ethics that would be for restrictions…)

Some conclusions:

When does one person’s right to possess weapons infringe on another person’s right to keep their children safe? Some restrictions are actually relatively popular- like those on fully automatic weaponry and “cop-killer” armor-piercing rounds. 

My thoughts:

When in doubt, I err on the side of less legislation, less restriction, less government, less interference, more personal responsibility. As a whole, I am against restrictions on gun ownership. I do not personally own a gun, but my father had them growing up, my husband owns several, and my grandfather had a case of hunting rifles in his den. I know how to shoot, and I have been to a gun range to practice on occasion. I think that first and foremost, to own a gun, people should know how to handle it. If I didn’t know how to use a gun, I wouldn’t pick it up (unless it was a life-or-death-armed-robbers-at-my-daughter’s-door sort of situation).

Education is one of the most important aspects of gun ownership. Simple things like always treating a gun like it is loaded, never pointing it at anything you don’t want to kill, and don’t shoot yourself cleaning it (you know who you are…). Obviously you should keep your firearms in a place where children cannot access them, preferably a safe or other secure location. However, this all falls under personal responsibility. If you need the government to tell you not to let your kids play with your guns, you probably shouldn’t have kids in the first place.

Also, just because some yuppie in a New York city apartment feels he doesn’t need a gun doesn’t mean the guy in Alaska or Montana who hunts for food, or doesn’t have a police officer within 15 minutes of his house, doesn’t need one. I do feel safer in my home because I know we have firearms. Guns are the only weapons in the world that favor the victim. It levels the playing field between invader and defender, and it may give someone pause before breaking into your home.

When we lived in Virginia, we lived in a not-so-great neighborhood. My husband used to go target shooting frequently with a rifle on his shoulder, two pistols, and two cases of ammunition. The neighborhood kids referred to him as “the sniper guy.” As soon as you entered the apartment, there were two human targets on the wall- one  a close range shotgun blast with the center torn out, the other a long-range rifle target with neat holes in center mass and the head. You can bet if someone was getting robbed in that neighborhood, it wasn’t going to be us.

I agree that people with violent crime or mental illness documented should not have firearms. I also agree that people should not have ready access to, say, bazookas. However, I do believe that you should be able to have a permit for pretty much any type of firearm, if your location supports it. I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to go out to the middle of the desert and fire off an AK-47. What is it hurting? The dirt? Properly used, properly trained, firearms can be fun. That doesn’t mean killing people. One of my dad’s favorite arguments about gun control is, “It’s already illegal to kill people.” We don’t have to make it “more against the law” to kill people with guns.

WARNING: I found this picture while Googling gun images, and could not pass up the opportunity to spread it further… but if you have a weak stomach, just ate, or get easily disturbed, avert your gaze. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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05/26/2011 Posted by | College Papers, Learning, Thinking | , , , , , | 5 Comments