Personal Gun Ownership

Personal gun ownership is contentious; some people want guns as self-protection whereas others want gun use restricted to the police.

This issue is hotly debated, especially in America – as described, for example, in the BBC article US gun debate: Four dates that explain how we got here.  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.”  This has been interpreted as giving individuals the right to bear arms to protect themselves – without being “well regulated”.  A Cornell Law School article, Second Amendment, deals with some questions on its interpretation and some of the related legal cases.

●  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 personal gun ownership is based on empirical data.  The 8 January 2011 shootings in Tucson, Arizona, where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot and six people died, caused the debate on gun control to be revived.  An Economist article, The blame game, attributed a substantial part of the blame on the existence of 300 million guns in America; it quoted statistics which show that people are safer in societies with fewer guns.

Where it is harder to obtain a gun, as in Britain, mass murderers are less likely to be able to kill many people.  For example, 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: What Trump Doesn’t Understand About Gun Control in Great Britain; it quoted a BBC article, Gun control and ownership laws in the UK, which explained the British system.

Given the enormous number of guns in America, and the Second Amendment to the Constitution, it is now unrealistic to expect that personal 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).



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7232.htm.