‘The Right to Bear Arms’ – Is This a Necessary Freedom?

Right to Bear Arms’ is the right of the people to have their arms for
their own defense. It is a right which many see as ‘American’ since
it is a hot topic of debate there, but it has been described by
philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero, and John Locke; writing way
before this right was enshrined in the US Constitution. In English
Law, this right was preserved before the US Constitution was drafted.
The English Bill of Rights (1689) states: “Subjects which are
Protestants may have Arms for their Defence” – although of course
the right, as laid out in the Second Amendment as the “right of the
people to keep and bear arms”, does not discriminate against
non-Protestants in this way.

is debate over the exact meaning of the Second Amendment. The version
passed by Congress reads:
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.” For example, Justices Stevens has argued that “the
right to keep and bear arms protects only a right to possess and use
firearms in connection with a state-organized militia. Had the
Framers wished to expand the meaning of the phrase “bear arms”
to encompass civilian possession and use, they could have done so by
the addition of phrases such as “for the defense of
themselves””. In any case, regardless of what the framers of
the Constitution really meant, the important question is whether
citizens should have the right to possess and use firearms for their

debate was reignited after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting,
where 20 year old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children, and six
staff members, on December 14
2012. Unfortunately, this case is one among many, and each one has
sparked a fierce debate about whether there needs to be gun control,
or even a banning of the sale of firearms altogether. Those in favour
of the availability of firearms have attempted to shift the blame
from the weapon to the perpetrator. In the case of the Sandy Hook
case, blame was put on the fact that Adam Lanza was unstable, that he
was clinically depressed, and that his mind was warped by psychiatric
medicine. In the case of the Columbine massacre, the rock artist
Marilyn Manson was stupidly made into a scapegoat – the argument
being that his ‘violent’ lyrics urged the would-be murderers to carry
out the massacre.

course, someone would have to be psychologically unstable to feel the
need to charge into a school and kill children without any thought
about the consequences. But those in favour of gun control will argue
that, had they been unable to get a hold of the firearms, the
massacres would not have occurred. The latest statistics show that
gun crime has plunged since the 1990s, with the number of gun
killings dropping by 39% between 1993 and 2011. At first glance, this
may suggest that gun crime is less of an issue in the US, however it
still remains that two out of three murders in the US are carried out
with guns. In light of this, pro-gun control organisations argue that
if guns were controlled, then this would serve to radically reduce
the number of gun crimes. (Admittedly even if guns were completely
illegal this would not eradicate gun crime, since guns would still be
available on the black market – many kinds of weapons can be
purchased by anyone on the online black marketplace, Silk Road).
Interestingly, even without gun control in the US, most guns are
purchased on the black market.

UK (where the sale of possession of firearms is illegal) has one of
the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world. For example, in 2011,
firearms were used in only 0.3% of all crimes in England and Wales.
So, an argument can be made that by completely banning guns, gun
crime can be reduced, and subsequently, overall harm can be reduced
as well (it is far easier to harm or kill someone with a gun than
with a knife). Nevertheless, even if we were to accept that by
banning guns we could reduce crime and harm (which is not necessarily
true) can an argument still be made in favour of legalising guns for
sale and possession? Libertarians do not have a common answer to this
pressing question. The Libertarian Party (US) for example fully
supports the right of American citizens to own guns. As they say on
their website: “
ownership, by itself, harms no other person and cannot morally
justify criminal penalties.” Perhaps another libertarian, who does
not support a purely free market, might argue that since guns are
designed to harm or kill people, that they should not be available on
the market.

as an alternative, a compromise can be made. Perhaps people should
have the right to possess guns, but that stricter background checks
should also be put in place, in light of the fact that a gun is
designed solely to harm or kill people. In this way, a balance can be
made between the liberty of the people and the safety of the people –
taxpayers should contribute to the costs of these background checks
since they are ultimately in their interests. An extension of
background checks in the US might not eliminate cases of mass
shootings (since guns can be bought on the market) but from a
libertarian point of view, the right to own guns should not be
sacrificed for the purpose of public safety. In any case, the banning
of something tends to incur more harm than its legalisation – this
argument is made in favour of drug legalisation, since if harmful
drugs were legal, then they could be regulated.

fully support the Libertarian Party’s statement: “One of the most
important protections we have against government tyranny is that we
are presumed innocent of any crime until proven guilty, before a
jury, in a proper trial.” Their website goes on to say about the
issue: “Gun control advocates would declare all gun owners guilty
without trial, simply for owning guns, even though millions of them
have never used their guns to harm another person.” Gun control
would be immoral because it would assume that all citizens were
guilty, whereas the government should assume that all its citizens
are innocent until proven guilty.

a libertarian point of view, citizens should also have the right to
decide how to protect themselves, their family, and their property.
In order to strike a balance between libertarianism and public
safety, perhaps licensed gun holders should only be allowed to
possess their firearms in their home, and be penalised for carrying
them out on the streets. Studies show that where gun ownership is
illegal, residential burglaries are higher, since a criminal is less
likely to break into a house if he is risking his life. However, if
people were allowed to carry firearms in the streets, they might be
more likely to use them for cases other than self-defence. This is
why carrying a knife in the streets in the UK is treated so
seriously. In addition, the Libertarian Party argues that guns are
not the true source of the problem. Gun control advocates talk as if
guns can kill people by themselves. The responsibility should always
be put on the individual (the owner and user of the gun) and not on
the gun itself. The same applies to drugs as well. If someone commits
a crime due to the use of their gun, or to the use of drugs, then the
criminal should be punished for the injury they caused to the victim,
not because of what they used to cause the injury. 

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