A good friend of mine is currently pursuing a law degree through the Vermont Law School. He and I were discussing gun control/gun rights a few days ago in the context of my simple allegorical novelette, The Building Blocks (never miss a chance to promote your work). My friend was reading the story and wasn’t sure if he’d agree with it overall or not as he hadn’t gotten to the end yet and didn’t know what side of the argument of “to control or not to control” that I embraced. We got right into the discussion so he wouldn’t have to wait in suspense while he finished reading. I support gun rights by way of personal property rights, but I tried to objective in the story I wrote.
My friend made some outstanding points in the argument. I wasn’t surprised, he’s an outstanding fellow. What really sounded good to me was his explanation of the Bill of Rights and how the 9th Amendment might be a better supporting case for the gun advocates than the 2nd Amendment. As he explained, looking at the language of the 2nd Amendment it refers to the right to bear arms as part of a militant force. This is argued and debated all over both sides of the gun control issue trying to figure out what the 2nd Amendment really means. I’m not going to try to interpret it, all I know is it says (copied and pasted from Cornell.edu) “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.” Okay, I am going to interpret it. We have the right to own guns and use them in an organized fashion to maintain the security of our freedom, as a nation and as a state. Let’s look at the 9th Amendment now.
Again from Cornell.edu, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This amendment accounts for the natural rights of people. Essentially, those rights that have not previously been identified and defined in the first eight amendments are now blanketed into this amendment, so use common sense and good judgment to determine what that means. Well, it is good sense to know that the government shouldn’t determine what property people should be able to own, right? I think so, except for in rare instances, such as a nuclear weapon. I think I’d be okay with the government trying to prevent civilian ownership of nuclear weapons. The point in that is to provide security for society. My ownership of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with detachable 30 round magazines does not endanger society. Unfortunately, someone else owning one might. Now we get into the social contract.
The social contract theory suggests that an agreement exists that must be entered into by any person’s wishing to participate in a society. Part of this agreement necessarily involves the giving up of certain rights or privileges for the shared benefit of protection and prosperity under the umbrella of society. For instance, while walking past a fruit tree I might want to pick all of the fruit and make a whole lot of jam. If there is no social contract I might be free to do so, but under a social contract this tree might belong to another person and my taking of the fruit would violate my agreement of societal inclusion. I agreed that I would respect property boundaries, in order to obtain protection of property boundaries for myself. Give and take. Is there a social contract argument for gun ownership?
Under the 9th Amendment I can argue that property ownership is a guaranteed right by nature, though not spelled out specifically in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. However, under the social contract theory I recognize that some of my wants might need to be sacrificed in order to maintain the security of the population at large. Now that sounds a little utilitarian, which I don’t think the social contract necessarily advocates it. But I’ve only ever had one ethics/philosophy class, so I’m not an expert. Can I give up my claim to firearms with higher rates of fire in order to bring about increased safety in society? After all, that’s all the gun control advocates are asking, right?
It makes for a good philosophical argument, but I don’t support it. The social contract is valuable, but only so far as it retains the most important individual liberty, which is the right to protect self and family against those who would destroy liberty and enslave others. I will not give up my right to defend myself and my family in the name of liberty. Guns are not a vital part of that freedom, but they sure make a big difference. I have never needed to use a gun in defense of my family and I hope I never will. But I feel that if I don’t have the freedom to do so then it is already too late.
The issue we are facing in the U.S. right now, and basically throughout the world, is not about gun control, but about control in general. Can one entity control another entity and get away with it? That’s the issue. Label me a radical, right-winger, conspiracy theorist or whatever, I don’t mind. There are legitimate sacrifices that are made in the name of the social contract, and I can appreciate that. My friend offered the example of speed limits. He said he might want to drive 60mph but the posted limit is 50mph. He agrees to drive 50mph in order to maintain safety as part of a social agreement. Now I ask, does the speed limit law prevent anyone from endangering others on the road? Of course not. But does it make it safer in general? Yes it does, so far as responsible people obey it. What it doesn’t do is prevent people from disobeying (though it may be possible to prevent disobedience, I am completely opposed to that level of enslavement by one entity over another). Only taking all cars away would result in absolute adherence to the law. It is a matter of control. See the similarity with the gun debate?
Either we have a natural right to own property, even when that property is potentially dangerous, or we do not have that right. If we do not have that right, or the danger posed by a few is great enough, then we need to have civil discourse and discussion and enter into an agreement as a collective society that certain wants in regards to firearm ownership must be sacrificed for the overall safety of society. But this has to come from a majority vote, not a vote among corrupt politicians catering to special interest lobby groups while they try to get re-elected and maintain their “pigs in the farmer’s house” lifestyle at the expense of the working class animals. And the defense of such rights, likewise, shouldn’t come from corrupt politicians catering to special interest lobby groups who do like guns, while they try to get re-elected and maintain their “pigs in the farmer’s house” lifestyle at the expense of the working class animals. I realize that the politicians on both sides of this argument are probably equally corrupt.