I. IntroductionIt is estimated that in 1994, 39,720 individuals died from firearm related injuries in the United States . This figure is very alarming, especially when one considers this number not as a statistic, but 39,720 human beings.
The issue that will be addressed is one that brings with it great controversy. Does our right to own guns infringe upon the rights of others to live? Would it be a greater injustice to ban the right to own guns thus saving lives? Would this action decrease pain and increase pleasure for the majority?I ask that an open mind be kept throughout this presentation, for guns impact two basic rights provided by the Constitution. The first can be found in these words at the end of the introduction: “.in order to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” . The next can be found in the Second Amendment: “.the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” . These two rights clearly belong to all citizens, but now one must question: What about the 39,720 individuals who were killed by guns in 1994. Were their rights upheld, or has a great injustice been committed?Whenever there is an issue which generates great controversy, there are always at least two sides or views which must be considered.
There are many degrees of either freedom or control which individuals believe, but they fall into either pro gun control or against gun control. Those who are against restrictions on gun control are represented by the NRA (National Rifle Association). The NRA states the Second Amendment as “.the ultimate civil liberty- the right to defend one’s own life- without which there are no rights”.The NRA strongly defends any and all gun rights, for they see any gun restriction as the beginning of civilian disarmament.
Those who are for gun control and regulations also have varying degrees of beliefs, but they all believe that more regulations are in order. Some want the abolition of virtually all guns, while others simply want tougher regulations on applicants desiring a gun. This side also has many organizations which work to represent their beliefs, one of which is HCI (Handgun Control Incorporated).
The right to own guns is defended by many for some of the following reasons. The right to own a firearm provides the public with power. This very power which we as United States citizens hold strikes fear into the hearts of any dictator or Communist. Secondly, many have purchased guns for the reason of self defense. In a confrontation with an attacker, a handgun can mean the difference between life and death for a victim. There are also many individuals who use guns to hunt and participate in competition.
The ATF reported that from 1899-1989 more then 211 million firearms have been transferred, with approximately 7.5 million additional guns sold each year since.As stated before, 39,720 died in 1994 due to firearm violence. Without a doubt, America has a serious problem with gun related violence. The question now arises weather this violence problem is restricted to the Unites States, or is it a plague that we share with most other countries?In Switzerland, each male is trained and issued a fully automatic weapon, for they have no standing army. Yet, in 1990, only thirty-four homicides were related to firearms.This shows that there is no direct relationship between firearm ownership and crime, but just the opposite. A thoroughly armed people is relatively crime free. Now consider Mexico, with a firearm homicide rate two times greater then the United States. They have very strict laws which do not allow individuals to own guns.In contrast, Israel encourages all of its citizens to carry handguns or fully automatic weapons. The result is that in any large crowd, there are many armed individuals. In Jerusalem, 1984, a group of terrorists planned to open fire on a large group of people. They resulted in killing only one person before the three terrorists were shot and killed by armed citizens.
Gary Kleck is a nationally recognized criminologist from Florida State University. He has reported that an estimated 2.45 million crimes are prevented a year by citizens using firearms, most of which did not require any shooting.This number represents all types of crime, not necessarily crime that would have resulted in a death.
II. Application of Lebacqz to this IssueI believe the theory of justice which applies best to this issue would be Mills Theory of Utilitarianism. The determinants of what is unjust are some of the following: 1. depriving people of things to which they have a legal right 2. People not obtaining what they deserve-good to those who do right, and evil to those who do wrong. His view can be stated as “whatever does the greatest good will be just”.
Now, one could argue that those who have died due to gun violence have not benefited, but in fact have died by the very freedom which is in question. This is true, but one must consider all of the criteria which Mills uses to define what is unjust. It is unjust for those who do evil not to have evil returned to them. This I believe is the main problem encompassing the issue of gun rights verses human rights. “In 1990, of the estimated 147,766 people convicted of violent crimes including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, 20 percent-or about 29,553 violent offenders received sentences that included no prison or jail time at all. Twenty-eight percent of those convicted of aggravated assault and fourteen percent of those convicted of rape were sentenced to straight probation.” I believe that this leniency towards violent offenders is the root of many deaths caused by guns. If our Judicial system strictly adhered to a standard which convicts those who commit violence with a gun, individuals would think twice before they act.
As stated by Former Mayor Wilson Goode: “When you limit or take the freedom of an individual to do something, you are in effect damaging your own freedom”.This applies to the freedom of Speech as well as the right to bear arms. If, for example, the FCC strictly censors what Howard Stearn says on his radio show, what is to stop them from censoring individuals when they address an issue of political corruption?As United States citizens, I believe that we often take for granted the freedoms which we have. The Democratic process has allowed us to rest in a certain security that our rights are permanent, and will not change. But this freedom did not come so easily for those who founded our nation. There was a war in which the colonists fought for their freedoms. The colonists would not have been able to put up a fight if they did not have guns. The fact that we could fight brought to us respect, and if for some reason, we found that once again our rights were in jeopardy, we have the power to fight for them.
I believe that the following statement sums up the issue of guns for self defense best: “Where the individual has the capacity, if necessary, to defend himself and his property by force, and to inflict injury or death on those attempting to violate them, that factor will always be present in the thinking of those seeking to exercise coercion over him, whether by political power or by more honest forms of robbery.”III. Application of Biblical PrincipalsThe Bible does not directly address the issue of gun control, but I do feel that there are some applications which are valid. The Old Testament, although not as current as the New Testament, I believe still can provide some valuable insight. The law “an eye for an eye” comes to my mind in particular. When one realizes that their actions have consequences, they are far less likely to act. Five years ago, my father went to Saudi-Arabia on a business trip. He had the opportunity to view a public execution for an individual convicted of murder, which he elected not to attend. There is a very strong awareness of consequences in Saudi Arabia, and for good reason! To we Americans, this Biblical method of justice they practice seems absurd, but I cannot argue that it is not just or effective!What if current laws reflected this Biblical Standard, would it make a difference? I personally believe that firearm violence lies not in the weapons themselves, but in the fact that the attacker knows that most likely, their victim is unarmed, and secondly, that they will have a light penalty.
For example, since the law has become very hard on those who drive while under the influence of alcohol, individuals and their friends are much more likely to give up their keys.
There are many who may not agree with my conclusion, but then again, it is my right to draw such a conclusion. I believe that it would be an unjust act to ban guns, for it would be at the sacrifice of the majority. There is no hard evidence that banning guns would reduce violence, but just the opposite. The real injustice which takes place every day is that individuals die, and those who take their lives get away with a slap on the wrist.
Garen Wintermute, “The Relationship Between Firearm Design and Firearm Violence.” Journal of American Medical Association. June 12, 1996: 1749.
Jordan Winthrop. The United States. New Jersey: Englewood, 1991: 420.
Jordan Winthrop. The United States. New Jersey: Englewood, 1991: 422.
Tanya Metaksa, “Self Defense-A Primary Civil Right”. American Hunter. November 1995: 43-44.
Pete Shields, Guns Don’t Die- People Do. Arbor House: New York. 1993, 160.
Violence Policy Center, www.vpc.org.com.April 1, 1998.
Wayne LaPierre, Guns, Crime, and Freedom. Regency, Washington: 1994. 171.
Wayne LaPierre, Guns, Crime, and Freedom. Regency, Washington:1994. 171David Kopel, Guns- Who Should Have Them? Amherst: New York, 255.
Gary Kleck. “Crime Control Through the Private Use of Armed Force,” Social Problems, Feb 1988: 15.
Karen Lebacqz, Six Theories of Justice, Augsburg, Minneapolis:1986,19.
Wayne LaPierre, Guns, Crime, and Freedom. Regency, Washington: 1994. 222.
Wilson Goode, American Government (Class), December 4, 1998.
David Kopel, Guns- Who Should Have Them? Amherst: New York, 195.
Category: Social Issues