7.2.3.2 Personal Gun Ownership

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/7232.htm)

Personal gun ownership is a contentious issue, especially in America – as described, for example, in a BBC article Four key dates that shaped the US gun debate.  There are individuals who want to protect themselves with guns, whereas others believe that such protection is a more appropriate role for a police force.  Two arguments are commonly used in favour of people having guns:

  • It can be seen as a question of individual freedom, as supported in America by the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which declares that “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.” It has been interpreted as giving individuals the right to bear arms to protect themselves.  The Cornell Law School has published an article on the Second Amendment, dealing with some questions on its interpretation and some of the related legal cases.[1]
  • At first sight it would seem that ownership of a gun would make an individual safer – as suggested, for example, in an article entitled Disarmed countries – what do they look like? The National Rifle Association (which has a financial interest in promoting gun sales) also argues this – as in an article on its website, entitled Detroit Police Chief Agrees: More Guns, Less Crime.

The main argument against having any personal gun ownership is based on empirical data.  Statistics, such as those quoted in an Economist article entitled The Blame Game, show that people are safer in societies with fewer guns.  And where it is harder to obtain a gun, as is the case in Britain, mass murderers are less likely to be able to kill many people.[2]

Given the enormous number of guns in America, and the Second Amendment to the Constitution, it is now unrealistic to expect that private gun ownership could ever be made illegal.  There is, though, a strong case for considering tighter gun control: for example to ban gun ownership by people with mental health problems and those with a criminal record, neither of which can be considered as belonging to a “well regulated Militia”.

There is also a strong case for banning assault weapons: they have been used for many mass killings; they are inappropriate for hunting or for self-defence in a domestic setting; and they cannot have been envisaged at the time that the Second Amendment was written (when a musket, able to fire only one bullet before reloading, was the best weapon then available).

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[1] The Cornell Law School article on the Second Amendment to the American Constitution, which discusses some of the related Supreme Court rulings, was available in May 2018 at https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment.

[2] A group of Islamist terrorists committed a mass murder on 3 June 2017.  Armed only with a van and knives, they killed 7 people – whereas they would have been able to kill many more if they had had guns.  This point was made in an article the following day in the Atlantic magazine, entitled What Trump Doesn’t Understand About Gun Control in Great Britain, which was available in May 2018 at https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/06/london-bridge/529107/; it quoted a BBC article from 2010, entitled Gun control and ownership laws in the UK, available at http://www.bbc.com/news/10220974.