This is the opening to a debate I participated in on October 1, 2019, alongside my friend Louis Saintvil. We defended the positive case for the right to bear arms and were successful in winning the debate by convincing a larger share of the audience.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. For tonight’s debate on gun rights, my partner and I will defend the view that the right to bear arms is a fundamental one. In my speech, I will cover the philosophic case, and my partner Louis will review the practical case.
To understand the philosophic case for gun rights, one must first grasp what rights are, in general.
A right is a moral principle that defines a person’s freedom of action in a social context. Rights specify which actions an individual may take in a civilized society, without infringement by the government or other citizens. Though various rights exist, such as the right to free speech and the right to private property, the most fundamental is the right to life.
The right to life means that a man may take those actions necessary to advance and sustain his life, provided he does not violate the rights of others. Life is an irreplaceable value that, once lost, cannot be regained. As such, it follows that a man may take those actions necessary to defend his life.
It is this right to defend one’s life that entitles people to own guns. Guns are efficient tools for self-defense: they are portable, allow users to act at a distance, and do not require great physical strength to wield.
Guns are so potent that they often do not need to be fired to deter would-be assailants. Private gun ownership makes life less predictable for criminals, as 60% of felons involved in firearm-related crimes admit that they avoid committing crimes against those they suspect are armed. Altogether, there are anywhere from 800,000 to 3 million recorded instances of defensive gun use every year in the US.
Critics at this point may agree that guns are helpful tools for self-defense, but deny that this entitles individuals the right to carry a gun. Shouldn’t the government be responsible, they say, for protecting rights?
The government is the organization with a monopoly on force in a given geographic region, and valid governments do protect rights by barring the use of physical force against peaceful citizens. However, the government is not omnipotent or omnipresent. Muggers or home invaders may be able to inflict serious harm before police arrive to stop them. In such cases, privately-owned guns can be the difference between life and death.
To put this point another way, one should be allowed to own a gun for the same reason that one should be allowed to own a fire extinguisher. A well-placed fire extinguisher can mitigate the damage that a fire causes, even though there is a fire truck on the way to help. Likewise, a gun can put an early end to a crime that would otherwise end in calamity.
A stark illustration of this is that if we consider mass shootings that are stopped by the police, the average number of people shot is 14. For those mass shootings that are ended by a civilian with a gun, on the other hand, the average number of people shot is 2.5.
Now, while we are on the subject of mass shootings, it is worth covering and dealing prematurely with an objection: doesn’t the abundance of guns result in more crimes, such as homicide or mass murder?
The answer is no. A gun is an animate object, and as such, it is not intrinsically good or evil. Guns do not act independently of those that pull their triggers. Man has free will, and the moral evaluation one must have regarding a gun’s use depends on who is wielding it, and what their purpose is.
If guns did not exist, those that wish to commit atrocities would find other ways to implement them. Consider the rise in knife attacks in the United Kingdom, or the lunatic that drove a truck through a Christmas market in Germany, or the brothers that detonated a bomb at the Boston Marathon, or even the 19 religious fundamentalists that crashed planes into the World Trade Center armed with nothing but boxcutters and jihad. In these cases and many others, madmen committed atrocities without firing a single shot.
But guns do exist. And when there are atrocities involving the use of firearms, we hear fixtures in the media calling for more legislation to curtail “gun violence.” Only in crimes involving guns do we blame the perpetrator’s actions on the tool that he used to commit the crime, rather than on his character or his poor choices. Imagine if, after a drunk driving accident, we heard for calls to address “car violence” by banning certain Fords or Toyotas, with no mention of the driver and his reckless behavior. Or consider white-collar crimes like embezzlement: if we treated those crimes the same way that we treat crimes committed with guns, we might have seen headlines in the NY Times after Bernie Madoff was apprehended calling for the abolition of money.
When it comes to rare tragedies like school shootings, the question to ask is not whether people should own guns or not, but why an individual has a desire to enter a place of learning and murder his unarmed peers?
The same people that want the government to control education, the economy, healthcare, the internet, and campaign finance are the same people that want to put an end to the private ownership of guns. The same “progressives” that claim to abhor guns when they privately-owned are fine with the guns used by government agents to enforce their pet edicts. Clearly, for these activists, the problem is not the guns per se, but control of the guns.
Consider that the Nazi, Chinese, and Soviet regimes in the 20th century were altogether responsible for 100 million deaths. Of those, 6 million were Jews disarmed by the Third Reich. If each family of 6 had been armed and successfully taken just one Nazi soldier down with them, that would have been 1 million fewer Nazis for the Allies to have fought in WW2.
The way I would put it is that I believe in gun control if we take it to mean that we should control the guns of the government to protect rights and not violate them. A government that prevents its citizens from protecting their own lives when emergency situations arise cannot be said to be concerned with the rights of its citizens.