The Moral Case for Gun Ownership

The Moral Case for Gun Ownership

 Timothy Hsiao
Grantham University

Introduction

 I’ll argue in this essay that individuals should be allowed to own firearms. In making the case for this position, I’ll defend the following two claims:

  1. The best research does not show that gun ownership results in more harms than benefits. This fact, in addition to the substantial self-defense benefits that guns offer and the value of personal liberty, supports a presumption in favor of gun ownership.
  2. Even if the overall harms of gun ownership were to outweigh its overall benefits, there is still a presumption in favor of reasonably permissive gun ownership.

Since this paper gives a moral case for gun ownership, I won’t consider any appeals to the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. While I do believe that the Constitution does support an individual right to keep and bear arms (a claim affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago), the arguments in this paper imply that if the Second Amendment never existed, the state should still allow the private ownership of firearms for purely moral reasons.[i]

The Consequences of Gun Ownership

Most debates over gun ownership revolve around the effects that guns have on society, both good and bad. Both sides claim that the evidence favors their side. Let us therefore begin with a brief analysis of the empirical literature on gun ownership.

Gun ownership may affect society in three ways. First, guns may have a net benefit, (e.g. reducing crime). Second, guns may have a net negative (e.g. increasing crime and suicides). Third, gun ownership may have no net effect either way (e.g. the benefits and harms cancel out). Many who oppose gun ownership ground their opposition in the belief that guns increase social harms, especially crime. The best research, however, does not support this position.

In a comprehensive review of the literature, criminologist Gary Kleck examined the findings of 41 studies that assessed the impact of gun ownership on homicide and overall crime rates.[ii] These included studies that examined gun ownership both within the United States and in other countries. These studies were evaluated on the basis of whether they took into account three important methodological considerations. First, whether they used a valid measure of gun ownership. Second, whether the authors attempted to control for a just a handful of confounders. Third, whether they took steps to control for reverse causation; that is, increased gun ownership being a response to high crime rates rather than the cause. Stronger studies took into account these considerations. Weaker studies did not.

Of the initial 90 findings that were generated by these studies, only 26 (29%) supported the claim that guns cause an increase in overall crime rates, while the remaining 64 (71%)  found no significant positive association. Once Kleck further evaluated these findings on the basis of the three methodological criteria listed above, he found that the methodologically stronger studies were less likely to support the claim that guns cause an increase in both overall crime and homicide rates.

Overall, most of the studies on both sides were of poor quality. Of the 41 studies evaluated, 14 did not control for a single confounder, while only six controlled for more than five. All six of these studies found no evidence that gun ownership increases overall crime rates. Out of the 28 findings that used a valid measure of gun ownership, 23 of these found no positive effect on overall crime rates. Finally, only six out of 90 total findings adequately controlled for reverse causation. All six found that gun ownership had no positive effect on overall crime rates. Taking all of these methodological criteria into account, Kleck found that none of the studies that took into account all three considerations supported the claim that guns had a positive effect on crime rates. In other words, the methodologically strongest studies all support the conclusion that gun ownership does not increase homicide rates or overall crime.[i]

Many proponents of increased gun control argue that cross-country comparisons between the United States and other developed countries show that increased gun availability leads to more violence.[ii] This is based on the observation that many countries with more restrictive gun control have less crime. But inferences of this kind are misleading.[iii] While it is true that decreased gun availability is sometimes associated with less crime, the effect of gun availability does not operate uniformly across all countries.[iv] Rather, the effects of gun ownership in a particular country is heavily shaped by existing cultural and sociological factors.[v] Gun availability in Latin American countries, for example, is associated with increased violence, and research suggests this is due to the presence of a machismo culture, which encourages harsh interpersonal violence. Since aggressors in these countries are more willing inflict great harm or death, they naturally select weapons that mirror their intentions. By contrast, gun availability in Eastern European countries is negatively associated with both gun violence and overall homicide. Here, gun ownership decreases crime because guns provide a “deterrent against potential aggression in an era characterized by weakened collective security.”[vi] Hence, gun ownership in these countries tends to be motivated by a desire for peace rather than aggression.

In sum, since the effect of gun availability operates differently in each country, it would seem reasonable to conclude that gun availability in itself (without regard for sociological, historical, and cultural factors) has no net effect on crime rates, a finding that is supported by Kleck’s review.

What about other potential social harms of gun ownership, such as increases in overall rate of suicides and accidents? Here there are at least three points to consider.

First, we should note that the majority of the social harms of guns are crimes. In 2011, there were over 414,000 crimes involving firearms (11,100 of which were homicides, compared to 19,990 suicides, 14,675 nonfatal accidents, and 590 fatal accidents).[i] If gun ownership does not increase the overall crime rate—which the best evidence suggests—then this fact by itself significantly weakens the anti-gun position. At the very least, this should count against many gun control measures.

Second, the evidence is not at all clear that gun ownership leads to higher rates of suicide. As with homicide, the effects of gun availability on suicide are not uniform across countries. Again, cultural and structural factors play a heavy role in determining how guns affect suicide. This is confirmed by sociologist Mark Konty and criminologist Brian Schaefer, who used data from the global Small Arms Survey and World Health Organization to analyze the effects of gun availability in 168 nations.[ii] They found that “structural factors, like deprivation, explain a large portion of the cross-national variation in homicide and suicide” and that “the accessibility of firearms does not produce more homicide or suicide when other known factors are controlled for.”[iii] Likewise, Don Kates and Gary Mauser, reviewing data from several countries, found no evidence that gun ownership increases overall suicide rates.[iv] They note that countries with lower rates of gun ownership do not fare better than countries with higher rates of gun ownership when it comes to the rate of overall suicide. Indeed, many countries with lower gun ownership rates have rates of overall suicide that are higher than those of neighboring countries in which gun ownership is more prevalent.[v]

Among public health studies claiming to find a positive relationship between guns and suicide, Kleck points out that most fail to control for even a few confounders that likely affect suicide risk.[vi] These studies tend to be among the most methodologically primitive. Stronger studies do not tend to support the thesis that gun ownership increases the total suicide rate.[vii] And while it is true by definition that there cannot be gun accidents without gun ownership, this is true of ownership of any kind of item. Moreover, fatal gun accidents (which are very low when compared to suicides and homicides) have been continually decreasing even while gun ownership has not.[viii] The likely explanation for this is not the passage of “safe storage” gun control laws, but increased gun safety awareness.[ix]

A third point worth noting when considering social harms is that the defensive benefits of guns, combined with their extremely frequent use in self-defense, simply outweighs the (at most) modest harms they may be associated with. Here, there is a very strong consensus in the literature that guns are (a) very effective at self-protection and (b) are frequently used for this purpose. Consider the following findings:

  • Out of eight different forms of robbery resistance, “victim gun use was the resistance strategy most strongly and consistently associated with successful outcomes for robbery victims.”[i]
  • “Victim gun use is associated with lower rates of assault or robbery victim injury and lower rates of robbery completion than any other defensive action or doing nothing to exist. Serious predatory criminals perceive a risk from victim gun use that is roughly comparable to that of criminal justice system actions.”[ii]
  • “The most effective form of self-protection is use of a gun,” and “there does not appear to be any increase in injury risk due to defensive gun use.”[iii] Victims who resisted robberies and burglaries with guns were less likely to lose property than those who resisted with other means.
  • Men and women who resisted with a gun were less likely to be injured or lose property than those who resisted using some other means or who did not resist at all. In the case of women, “having a gun really does result in equalizing a woman with a man.”[iv]
  • Out of sixteen different forms of victim self-protection, “a variety of mostly forceful tactics, including resistance with a gun, appeared to have the strongest effects in reducing the risk of injury.”[v]
  • Defensive gun use “is most often effective at helping the victim rather than hurting them.”[vi]
  • Resistance with a gun decreased the odds of robbery and rape completion by 93% and 91%, respectively.[vii]

 

Taking stock of these points, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council concluded in a 2013 review of the literature that “studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was ‘used’ by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”[viii]

When it comes to the number of defensive gun uses, the findings of at least nineteen different surveys show that guns are used very frequently in self-defense.[ix] While these surveys differ in their exact findings, all confirm the thesis that defensive gun uses are very common, or at least more common than criminal uses.[x] Estimates range from around 760,000 to 3 million defensive uses of guns each year, compared to around 414,000 criminal uses of guns in 2011. The methodologically strongest survey, conducted by Kleck and Marc Gertz, found that guns are used in self-defense upwards of 2.5 million times each year.[xi] A later survey, conducted by the Police Foundation and sponsored by the Department of Justice, confirmed these findings.[xii] Additionally, Kleck and Gertz found that “as many as 400,000 people a year use guns in situations where the defenders claim that they ‘almost certainly’ saved a life by doing so.”[xiii] They point out that even if only 10% of this figure were correct, that it would still exceed the number of lives lost each year from gun deaths (which number around 33,000). These considerations strongly suggest that the defensive benefits of gun ownership vastly outweigh whatever social harms that it is associated with.

Critics of Kleck and Gertz sometimes argue that these numbers are inconsistent with the findings of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which suggests only around 70,000 defensive gun uses each year. However, the NCVS was never designed to measure defensive gun use to begin with. Respondents to the NCVS are not asked about defensive gun use at all. They merely are provided with the option to volunteer this information if they indicated that they were the victim of a crime.[i] Among surveys that are designed to measure defensive gun use, there is unanimity that defensive gun uses are very frequent.

There is also question of the number of crimes that are deterred by gun ownership. Unlike crimes that are disrupted by defensive gun use, these are crimes that never actually occurred due to fear of encountering an armed citizen. Using several techniques of measuring crime deterrence, Lawrence Southwick found that at least 400,000 crimes each year are deterred by handgun ownership, with the actual number probably being around 800,000 to 2 million.[ii] If we include defensive uses, there are in total around 2 to 4 million fewer crimes completed each year because of civilian handgun ownership.

If these claims are even close to being true, then gun ownership carries with it significant benefits that arguably outweigh the risks.

The Argument from Liberty

 What conclusions can we draw from the empirical data? Consider now the argument from liberty: individuals have an undefeated presumption to own X if owning X is not intrinsically immoral and there are no overriding contingent reasons to prohibit owning X.[iii] This is just saying that if there are no good reasons to prohibit someone from owning something, then they should be allowed to own it.

It does not seem as if owning a gun is intrinsically wrong, for we can surely imagine some cases in which is it permissible to own a gun. Anyone who insists that gun ownership is intrinsically wrong is claiming that there is no possible situation in which gun ownership can be justified, and surely this is too strong of a claim to make.

What about the second criterion? Are there any overriding contingent reasons to prohibit gun ownership? Given the facts considered earlier, this is doubtful.

Since there do not seem to be any good reasons to prohibit gun ownership, we can therefore conclude that individuals should be allowed to own guns. At the very least, this establishes a prima facie (i.e. “at face value”) right to own guns.

It is important to note that the argument from liberty does not appeal to any benefits that guns might offer. The claim is simply that there is a presumption in favor of liberty, and that there are no good reasons to override this presumption when it comes to gun ownership. Hence, the defender of the argument from liberty does not have to show that guns are beneficial per se.

 Arguments from Self-Defense

 Many people who acquire guns do so because they perceive them to be effective at self-protection. This point is easy to understand: the simplicity and ease of operating a gun makes them seemingly ideal tools for use in self-defense. Guns provide defensive advantages that other common weapons cannot easily match. Unlike most other weapons, guns require only a modicum of physical ability, can be deployed from a considerable distance, and can be quickly used multiple times. This fact allows guns to equalize physical disparities that are commonly exploited in violent crimes. As we saw earlier, the evidence is very clear that guns (a) do in fact benefit the user when used in self-defense and (b) are frequently used in self-defense. We can conclude, therefore, that individuals have a strong prima facie interest in owning firearms for self-protection against criminal assault.[i] These points also extend to gun carrying, for the act of carrying one’s gun is simply one way of exercising ownership.[ii]

The need for individuals to effectively resist criminal assault encompasses perhaps the most common and well-known formulation of the self-defense argument for gun ownership. However, there is another equally important but somewhat neglected version of this argument: self-defense from rogue governments.[iii] On this point, political scientist R. J. Rummel has estimated that as many as 262 million people were murdered by their own government during the 20th century.[iv] Even by conservative estimates, this means that any given human being who was unjustly killed during the 20th century was more likely killed by his own government than by an individual criminal.

While Western democracies have been relatively stable, there is no reasonable assurance that this will continue indefinitely. The right to bear arms against one’s government is the right to renegotiate the terms of the social contract or to effect regime change when one’s government becomes tyrannical. If, as most people think, government exists for the sake of the governed, then this recognition of right is absolutely essential for the protection of all other rights. If this right were to be relinquished through disarmament, its relinquishment would very likely be permanent and irreversible. This is too high of a price to pay, even if it appears unlikely that one’s government will become tyrannical in the near future. Political forecasting is fraught with difficulties, and long-term forecasting is all but practically impossible.[v]

Even the record of a government as stable as the United States has been marred by significant violations of the rights of minorities, so it is not very much of a stretch to imagine that this could happen again in the near future, and on a much larger scale. The track record of state-sanctioned citizen-slaughter from the 19th century shows that when governments do go bad, they tend to go extremely bad. We should think of an armed citizenry as providing a deterrent or insurance against government abuse. The costs of armed resistance make it less likely for a government to go bad, much like how seat belts reduce the chances of being injured in an accident.[vi] Of course, gun ownership does itself come with costs, but these costs are outweighed by the risk of an out-of-control government.

But What If the Harms Outweighed the Benefits?

 Although I believe that the empirical evidence shows that guns do not increase social harms, this point is not necessary to make the case for gun ownership. Accordingly, I shall now defend the second claim of this paper: Even if the overall harms of gun ownership outweigh its overall benefits, there is still a presumption in favor of reasonably permissive gun ownership.[i]

Many critics of gun ownership assume that if the overall balance of evidence is in their favor, that this is sufficient to justify either a total ban on gun ownership or extremely restrictive regulations. Thus, Nicholas Dixon calls for a complete ban on handgun ownership on purely utilitarian grounds.[ii] David DeGrazia, while taking a less restrictive position (which he calls “moderate” gun control), has argued that prospective gun owners must demonstrate a special need that goes beyond mere self-defense.[iii] However, neither of these proposals follow from the claim that guns tend to be more harmful than they are beneficial.[iv]

Against Prohibitionism

Even if it turned out that guns produce more harms than benefits, there are still benefits. The fact that these benefits may be outweighed does not mean that they are erased (indeed, the very idea of outweighing presupposes that there is something to be said for the side that is being outweighed). Not even the most ardent defender of gun control would deny that gun ownership is beneficial for at least some people. So given that guns do have benefits, this is something that we should want to promote. Reducing the harms of gun ownership is compatible with simultaneously trying to maximize whatever benefits guns do have. From a utilitarian point of view, then, we should attempt to maximize the overall benefits of guns while minimizing their overall harms. This can be done, at least in principle, without banning gun ownership for everyone. By resorting to a blanket prohibition without first attempting to enact less restrictive measures so as to maximize the very real benefits of guns, Dixon’s utilitarian argument for handgun prohibition actually violates utilitarian reasoning. It does not follow that because handgun ownership in general tends to be more harmful than beneficial, that therefore every instance of handgun ownership is therefore harmful. The default utilitarian position would be to find a less restrictive way of regulating handgun ownership that attempts to yield the best ratio of costs and benefits. A total prohibition would be justified only as a last resort after less restrictive methods have been shown to fail.

Against Restrictive Licensing

In light of these points, we should attempt to promote responsible gun ownership. This means that we need some kind of test by which we can reliably determine who is and who isn’t qualified to own a gun. DeGrazia, who argues that handgun ownership is on average self-defeating, nevertheless recognizes that some people should be allowed to own handguns. Accordingly, he argues for a policy under which prospective gun owners must satisfy two criteria.[v] Those wanting to own a gun must (a) demonstrate a special need to own a gun—one that goes beyond mere self-defense, and (b) pass a rigorous course in handgun safety.

But even though DeGrazia takes seriously the fact that gun ownership is not counterproductive for everyone, his “moderate” proposal is still far too restrictive. Even if we grant his claim that handgun ownership is on average self-defeating, this does not tell us anything about the specific individuals for whom it is self-defeating. By putting the burden of proof on all prospective gun owners to justify their need to own a gun, the state is assuming that everyone falls within the average. This assumption is clearly unjustified. Since individuals have at least a prima facie right to own a gun, the burden of proof is on the government or licensing authority to show that it is defeated when it comes to a particular individual seeking a license. The mere fact that this right may be defeated for the majority won’t suffice, since this fact doesn’t tell us whether a particular individual falls within the majority. Indeed, since the whole point of a licensing system is to determine who is qualified and who isn’t, it cannot work by assuming in advance that all applicants are unqualified until proven otherwise.

Thus, given that there is a prima facie right to own a gun, then it is incumbent upon the state or licensing authority to provide a reason to override the prima facie gun rights of individuals. By putting the burden of proof on all prospective gun owners to justify their need to own a gun, it is assumed that their prima facie right to own a gun is either non-existent or already overridden. DeGrazia’s “moderate gun control” actually ends up violating the rights of those for whom gun ownership is not counterproductive. He may very well be correct that gun ownership is on average self-defeating, but his solution to this problem is unjust to those who do not fall within the average.

The fair and equitable thing to do would be to allow anyone who satisfies an objective list of rigorous criteria the ability to purchase and own guns instead of demanding that every applicant justify their need. In other words, gun licensing should be non-discretionary or “shall-issue.” This is not to say that licensing standards cannot be rigorous, only that a just licensing system for handgun ownership must put the burden of proof on the licensing authority, not the applicant.

It is not wrong to impose a test or some other standard in order to prevent certain ineligible individuals from partaking in a risky activity, so long as the test does not work by treating everyone’s right to partake in that activity as defeated until proven otherwise. While background checks and safety courses meet this requirement, a special need-based test does not.[vi]

 Conclusion

 The best research does not show that gun ownership results in more harms than benefits. But even if it did, there would still be a presumption in favor of reasonably permissive gun ownership. We are left, then, with a broad but powerful case for private gun ownership.[vii]

Further Reading

 C’Zar Bernstein, Timothy Hsiao, & Matt Palumbo, “The Moral Right to Keep and Bear Firearms” Public Affairs Quarterly 29:4 (2015): 345-363.

David DeGrazia & Lester Hunt, Debating Gun Control (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016).

Deane-Peter Baker, Citizen Killings: Liberalism, State Policy, and Moral Risk (New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2016).

Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and their Control (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1997).

Gary Kleck & Don B. Kates, Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2001).

John Lott, More Guns, Less Crime 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

John Lott, The War on Guns: Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2016).

Michael Huemer, “Is There a Right to Own a Gun?” Social Theory and Practice 29:2 (2003): 297-324.

Samuel C. Wheeler, “Self-Defense: Rights and Coerced Risk-Acceptance” Public Affairs Quarterly 11:4 (1997): 431-443.

Samuel C. Wheeler, “Arms as Insurance” Public Affairs Quarterly 13:2 (1999): 111-129.

Stephen Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2013 ed).

Timothy Hsiao, “Against Gun Bans and Restrictive Licensing” Essays in Philosophy 16:2 (2015): 180-203.

Timothy Hsiao, “The Ethics of ‘Gun-Free Zones’” Philosophia 45:2 (2017): 659-676.

Timothy Hsiao & C’Zar Bernstein, “Against Moderate Gun Control” Libertarian Papers 8:2 (2016): 308-325.

[1] For an excellent analysis of the historical and constitutional basis of the right to bear arms, see Stephen Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2013 ed).

[1] Gary Kleck, “The Impact of Gun Ownership Rates on Crime Rates: A Methodological Review of the Evidence.” Journal of Criminal Justice 43:1 (2015): 40-48.

[1] See also a recent study by Kleck and colleagues that concluded that “the evidence fails to support the hypothesis that gun control laws reduce violent crime.” Gary Kleck, Tomislav Kovandzic, and Jon Bellows, “Does Gun Control Reduce Violent Crime?” Criminal Justice Review 41:4 (2016): 1-26.

[1] See for example Martin Killias, “International Correlations Between Gun Ownership and Rates of Homicide.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 148 (1993): 1721-1725; David Hemenway and Matthew Miller, “Firearm Availability and Homicide Rates Across 26 High-Income countries.” Journal of Trauma 49 (2000): 985-988. It is worth noting that in Kleck’s meta-analysis, these two studies were among the methodologically worst.

[1] One common example is Australia, which implemented a gun buyback in 1996. Although touted as a success, there is no evidence that the buyback program was effective in reducing gun violence. Both firearm homicides and suicides were already on a downward trend for more than a decade prior to the buyback. The gun buyback did not seem to accelerate these trends. See the discussion in John Lott, The War on Guns (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2016): 109-116. See also Gary Kleck, “Did Australia’s Ban on Semiauto Firearms Really Reduce Violence? A Critique of the Chapman et al. (2016) Study” SSRN Working Paper (December 2017) https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3086324.

[1] Another point to note is that the findings of many cross-cultural studies depend heavily on the inclusion of the United States within the samples. Critics have pointed out that once the United States is excluded from the samples, the effect of gun availability on homicide becomes insignificant. This seems to suggest that factors aside from gun availability play a crucial role in explaining the disparities between the United States and other nations.

[1] Irshad Altheimer and Matthew Boswell, “Reassessing the Association between Gun Availability and Homicide at the Cross-National Level.” American Journal of Criminal Justice 37 (2012): 682-704; Mark Konty and Brian Schaefer, “Small Arms Mortality: Access to Firearms and Lethal Violence.” Sociological Spectrum 32:6 (2012): 475-490.

[1] Altheimer and Boswell, “Gun Availability and Homicide,” 696.

[1] Michael Planty and Jennifer L. Truman, “Special Report: Firearm Violence, 1993-2011” Bureau of Justice Statistics. May 2013. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fv9311.pdf; Centers for Disease Control, “Leading Causes of Nonfatal Injury Reports, 2001 – 2013” http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/nfilead2001.html; Kenneth D. Kochanek, Sherry L. Murphy, and Jiaquan Xu, “Deaths: Final Data for 2011” National Vital Statistics Reports 63:3 (2015). http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr63/nvsr63_03.pdf.

[1] Konty and Schaefer, “Small Arms Mortality.” See 476-478 for criticisms of existing studies.

[1] Ibid, 475.

[1] Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser, “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 30:2 (2007): 649-694.

[1] Ibid, 691. “Sweden, with over twice as much gun ownership as neighboring Germany and a third more gun suicide, nevertheless has the lower overall suicide rate. Greece has nearly three times more gun ownership than the Czech Republic and somewhat more gun suicide, yet the overall Czech suicide rate is over 175% higher than the Greek rate. Spain has over 12 times more gun ownership than Poland, yet the latter’s overall suicide rate is more than double the former’s. Tragically, Finland has over 14 times more gun ownership than neighboring Estonia, and a great deal more gun‐related suicide. Estonia, however, turns out to have a much higher suicide rate than Finland overall.”

[1] Gary Kleck, “Comment on Case-Control Studies of the Effect of Gun Ownership on Suicide” (unpublished draft).

[1] Ibid, also see Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1997). 265-289.

[1] National Shooting Sports Foundation, “Firearms-Related Injury Statistics” 2015 ed. Industry Intelligence Reports. http://www.nssf.org/pdf/research/iir_injurystatistics2015.pdf.

[1] Ibid. On the effects of safe-storage laws, John Lott and John Whitley found that “safe-storage laws have no impact on accidental gun deaths or total suicide rates.” See Lott and Whitley, “Safe-Storage Gun Laws: Accidental Deaths, Suicides, and Crime” Journal of Law and Economics XLIV (2001): 659-689. Elsewhere, Lott found that there is “no positive statistically significant relationships between gun ownership rates and either accidental gun deaths or suicide for all ages.” See Lott, The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You’ve Heard About Gun Control is Wrong (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2003): 179.

[1] Gary Kleck and Miriam Delone, “Victim Resistance and Offender Weapon Effects in Robbery.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 9:1 (1993): 55-81.

[1] Kleck, Targeting Guns, 184.

[1] Gary Kleck and Don B. Kates, Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control. (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2001). 288-293.

[1] Lawrence Southwick Jr., “Self-Defense with Guns: The Consequences.” Journal of Criminal Justice 28 (2000): 351-370.

[1] Jongyeon Tark and Gary Kleck, “Resisting Crime: The Effect of Victim Action on the Outcomes of Crimes.” Criminology 42:4 (2004): 861-909. It is worth noting that the Tark and Kleck study is the most authoritative out of all extant studies on this topic.

[1] Timothy Hart and Terance Miethe, “Self-Defensive Gun Use by Crime Victims: A Conjunctive Analysis of Its Situational Contexts.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 25:1 (2009): 6-19

[1] Rob Guerette and Shannon Santana, “Explaining Victim Self-Protective Behavior Effects on Crime Incident Outcomes: A Test of Opportunity Theory.” Crime and Delinquency 56 (2010): 198-226.

[1]Alan I. Leshner, Bruce M. Altevogt, Arlene F. Lee, Margaret A. McCoy, and Patrick W. Kelley (eds), Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence. National Academies Press (2013), 16.

[1] See the discussion in Kleck and Kates, Armed. Also see Kleck, Targeting Guns, 147-159.

[1] Leshner et al, Priorities for Research, 15.

[1] Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 86:1 (1995): 150-187.

[1] Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig, “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms.” National Institute of Justice Research Brief (May 1997). Also see Cook and Ludwig, “Defensive Gun Uses: New Evidence from a National Survey.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 14:2 (1998): 111-131. See Kleck and Kates, Armed, 213-283 for a discussion of their results.

[1] Kleck and Gertz, “Armed Resistance to Crime,” 180.

[1] There are a host of other problems with using the NCVS to estimate defensive gun uses. See the discussion in Kleck and Kates, Armed, 229-235.

[1] Lawrence Southwick Jr., “Guns and Justifiable Homicide: Deterrence and Defense.” St. Louis University Public Law Review 18 (1999): 217-246.

[1] I borrow this formulation from C’Zar Bernstein, “Gun Violence Agnosticism.” Essays in Philosophy 16:2 (2015): 232-246.

[1] This argument is developed in detail in Michael Huemer, “Is There a Right to Own a Gun?” Social Theory and Practice 29:2 (2003): 297-324; and C’Zar Bernstein, Timothy Hsiao, & Matt Palumbo, “The Moral Right to Keep and Bear Firearms” Public Affairs Quarterly 29:4 (2015): 345-363.

[1] Moreover, from the perspective of self-defense, one’s interest in a reasonable means of self-protection clearly extends outside of the home. This fact is made all the more evident when we consider that in 2008, 82% of violent crimes (65% of rapes, 84% of robberies, and 82% of assaults) occurred away from the home. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2008 Statistical Tables. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cvus08.pdf. 2011. Table 65. See also Timothy Hsiao, “The Ethics of ‘Gun-Free Zones’” Philosophia 45:2 (2017): 659-676.

[1] This point is developed in Samuel C. Wheeler III, “Arms as Insurance” Public Affairs Quarterly 13:2 (1999): 111-129.  See also Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed, 1-30 for the historical basis of this argument.

[1] R. J. Rummel, Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900 (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 1998). Rummel originally estimated the number to be around 178 million, but has since adjusted it upwards to 262 million in light of new information.

[1] Thus, as Wheeler points out, “[g]iven that disarmament is so hard to unilaterally reverse, it is difficult to imagine sufficient assurance that one’s government for the next two hundred years will keep its relatively clean record of government observance of rights. See Wheeler, “Arms as Insurance,” 123.

[1] One might wonder whether the idea of civilians taking up arms against a modern government is even feasible given modern military power. To see what is wrong with this argument, one only needs to look at the activities of the Viet Cong in Vietnam, the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, and insurgents in Iraq. Moreover, revolutions do in fact occur in governments with relatively advanced military assets (and many times, popular support causes elements of the military to defect), so this idea is not at all far-fetched. Finally and most importantly, this objection misses the point. The claim is not that an armed citizenry will be able to overthrow government with ease, but that an armed citizenry reduces the probability of a government going bad by raising the costs of tyranny. Wearing a seatbelt might not completely mitigate the chance of a fatal injury, but it does reduce the risk of one occurring.

[1] For another response, see Timothy Hsiao, “Why Americans Have a Right to Own Guns Even if That Makes Us Less Safe” The Federalist (2/27/2018) http://thefederalist.com/2018/02/27/americans-right-guns-even-makes-us-less-safe.

[1] Nicholas Dixon, “Why We Should Ban Handguns in the United States.” St. Louis University Public Law Review 12:2 (1993): 243-283; “Handguns, Philosophers, and the Right to Self-Defense.” International Journal of Applied Philosophy 25:2 (2011): 151-170.

[1] David DeGrazia, “The Case for Moderate Gun Control.” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 24:1 (2014): 1-25; “Handguns, Moral Rights, and Physical Security.” Journal of Moral Philosophy 11 (2014): 1-21.

[1] The following arguments are developed in more detail in Timothy Hsiao, “Against Gun Bans and Restrictive Licensing” Essays in Philosophy 16:2 (2015): 180-203.

[1] DeGrazia, “Handguns, Physical Security,” 17. “[F]or some individuals, gun ownership is not self-defeating. Arguably, their prerogative to own guns for the purpose of self-defense should not be curtailed just because gun ownership is self-defeating for the majority.”

[1] One might wonder whether there can be a non-discretionary licensing system that is able to reliably exclude those who are unqualified. As it turns out, similar systems have already been adopted by many states for gun carrying licenses. Using concealed carry license revocation data from Florida and Texas (two of the leading states in terms of active licensees) the Crime Prevention Research Center found that individuals licensed to carry concealed weapons are, as a class, extremely law abiding. In Florida, where more than 2.6 million licenses have been issued since 1987, the annual firearms-related license revocation rate (that is, revocations stemming from the misuse of a firearm) is 0.003 percent, while the revocation rate for all violations is 0.012 percent. In Texas, where there are over 584,000 permit holders, the revocation rate in 2012 was 0.021 percent. To put these numbers in perspective, “the annual rate of such violations by police was at least 0.007 percent. That is about twice the 0.003 percent rate for permit holders in Florida.’ Additionally, the ‘rate of all crimes committed by police is 0.124 percent – a number about 6 times higher than the rate for in Texas and about 10 times higher than for Florida.” See John Lott, John Whitley, and Rebekah C. Riley, “Concealed Carry Revocation Rates by Age.” Report from the Crime Prevention Research Center. August 4th, 2014.

http://crimeresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Concealed-Carry-Revocation-rates-by-age.pdf.

[1] Thanks to Spencer Case, Dan Demetriou and Bob Fischer for comments on an earlier version of this paper.

[i] For another response, see Timothy Hsiao, “Why Americans Have a Right to Own Guns Even if That Makes Us Less Safe” The Federalist (2/27/2018) http://thefederalist.com/2018/02/27/americans-right-guns-even-makes-us-less-safe.

[ii] Nicholas Dixon, “Why We Should Ban Handguns in the United States.” St. Louis University Public Law Review 12:2 (1993): 243-283; “Handguns, Philosophers, and the Right to Self-Defense.” International Journal of Applied Philosophy 25:2 (2011): 151-170.

[iii] David DeGrazia, “The Case for Moderate Gun Control.” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 24:1 (2014): 1-25; “Handguns, Moral Rights, and Physical Security.” Journal of Moral Philosophy 11 (2014): 1-21.

[iv] The following arguments are developed in more detail in Timothy Hsiao, “Against Gun Bans and Restrictive Licensing” Essays in Philosophy 16:2 (2015): 180-203.

[v] DeGrazia, “Handguns, Physical Security,” 17. “[F]or some individuals, gun ownership is not self-defeating. Arguably, their prerogative to own guns for the purpose of self-defense should not be curtailed just because gun ownership is self-defeating for the majority.”

[vi] One might wonder whether there can be a non-discretionary licensing system that is able to reliably exclude those who are unqualified. As it turns out, similar systems have already been adopted by many states for gun carrying licenses. Using concealed carry license revocation data from Florida and Texas (two of the leading states in terms of active licensees) the Crime Prevention Research Center found that individuals licensed to carry concealed weapons are, as a class, extremely law abiding. In Florida, where more than 2.6 million licenses have been issued since 1987, the annual firearms-related license revocation rate (that is, revocations stemming from the misuse of a firearm) is 0.003 percent, while the revocation rate for all violations is 0.012 percent. In Texas, where there are over 584,000 permit holders, the revocation rate in 2012 was 0.021 percent. To put these numbers in perspective, “the annual rate of such violations by police was at least 0.007 percent. That is about twice the 0.003 percent rate for permit holders in Florida.’ Additionally, the ‘rate of all crimes committed by police is 0.124 percent – a number about 6 times higher than the rate for in Texas and about 10 times higher than for Florida.” See John Lott, John Whitley, and Rebekah C. Riley, “Concealed Carry Revocation Rates by Age.” Report from the Crime Prevention Research Center. August 4th, 2014.

http://crimeresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Concealed-Carry-Revocation-rates-by-age.pdf.

[vii] Thanks to Spencer Case, Dan Demetriou and Bob Fischer for comments on an earlier version of this paper.

[i] This argument is developed in detail in Michael Huemer, “Is There a Right to Own a Gun?” Social Theory and Practice 29:2 (2003): 297-324; and C’Zar Bernstein, Timothy Hsiao, & Matt Palumbo, “The Moral Right to Keep and Bear Firearms” Public Affairs Quarterly 29:4 (2015): 345-363.

[ii] Moreover, from the perspective of self-defense, one’s interest in a reasonable means of self-protection clearly extends outside of the home. This fact is made all the more evident when we consider that in 2008, 82% of violent crimes (65% of rapes, 84% of robberies, and 82% of assaults) occurred away from the home. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2008 Statistical Tables. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cvus08.pdf. 2011. Table 65. See also Timothy Hsiao, “The Ethics of ‘Gun-Free Zones’” Philosophia 45:2 (2017): 659-676.

[iii] This point is developed in Samuel C. Wheeler III, “Arms as Insurance” Public Affairs Quarterly 13:2 (1999): 111-129.  See also Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed, 1-30 for the historical basis of this argument.

[iv] R. J. Rummel, Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900 (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 1998). Rummel originally estimated the number to be around 178 million, but has since adjusted it upwards to 262 million in light of new information.

[v] Thus, as Wheeler points out, “[g]iven that disarmament is so hard to unilaterally reverse, it is difficult to imagine sufficient assurance that one’s government for the next two hundred years will keep its relatively clean record of government observance of rights. See Wheeler, “Arms as Insurance,” 123.

[vi] One might wonder whether the idea of civilians taking up arms against a modern government is even feasible given modern military power. To see what is wrong with this argument, one only needs to look at the activities of the Viet Cong in Vietnam, the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, and insurgents in Iraq. Moreover, revolutions do in fact occur in governments with relatively advanced military assets (and many times, popular support causes elements of the military to defect), so this idea is not at all far-fetched. Finally and most importantly, this objection misses the point. The claim is not that an armed citizenry will be able to overthrow government with ease, but that an armed citizenry reduces the probability of a government going bad by raising the costs of tyranny. Wearing a seatbelt might not completely mitigate the chance of a fatal injury, but it does reduce the risk of one occurring.

[i] There are a host of other problems with using the NCVS to estimate defensive gun uses. See the discussion in Kleck and Kates, Armed, 229-235.

[ii] Lawrence Southwick Jr., “Guns and Justifiable Homicide: Deterrence and Defense.” St. Louis University Public Law Review 18 (1999): 217-246.

[iii] I borrow this formulation from C’Zar Bernstein, “Gun Violence Agnosticism.” Essays in Philosophy 16:2 (2015): 232-246.

[i] Gary Kleck and Miriam Delone, “Victim Resistance and Offender Weapon Effects in Robbery.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 9:1 (1993): 55-81.

[ii] Kleck, Targeting Guns, 184.

[iii] Gary Kleck and Don B. Kates, Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control. (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2001). 288-293.

[iv] Lawrence Southwick Jr., “Self-Defense with Guns: The Consequences.” Journal of Criminal Justice 28 (2000): 351-370.

[v] Jongyeon Tark and Gary Kleck, “Resisting Crime: The Effect of Victim Action on the Outcomes of Crimes.” Criminology 42:4 (2004): 861-909. It is worth noting that the Tark and Kleck study is the most authoritative out of all extant studies on this topic.

[vi] Timothy Hart and Terance Miethe, “Self-Defensive Gun Use by Crime Victims: A Conjunctive Analysis of Its Situational Contexts.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 25:1 (2009): 6-19

[vii] Rob Guerette and Shannon Santana, “Explaining Victim Self-Protective Behavior Effects on Crime Incident Outcomes: A Test of Opportunity Theory.” Crime and Delinquency 56 (2010): 198-226.

[viii]Alan I. Leshner, Bruce M. Altevogt, Arlene F. Lee, Margaret A. McCoy, and Patrick W. Kelley (eds), Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence. National Academies Press (2013), 16.

[ix] See the discussion in Kleck and Kates, Armed. Also see Kleck, Targeting Guns, 147-159.

[x] Leshner et al, Priorities for Research, 15.

[xi] Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 86:1 (1995): 150-187.

[xii] Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig, “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms.” National Institute of Justice Research Brief (May 1997). Also see Cook and Ludwig, “Defensive Gun Uses: New Evidence from a National Survey.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 14:2 (1998): 111-131. See Kleck and Kates, Armed, 213-283 for a discussion of their results.

[xiii] Kleck and Gertz, “Armed Resistance to Crime,” 180.

[i] Michael Planty and Jennifer L. Truman, “Special Report: Firearm Violence, 1993-2011” Bureau of Justice Statistics. May 2013. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fv9311.pdf; Centers for Disease Control, “Leading Causes of Nonfatal Injury Reports, 2001 – 2013” http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/nfilead2001.html; Kenneth D. Kochanek, Sherry L. Murphy, and Jiaquan Xu, “Deaths: Final Data for 2011” National Vital Statistics Reports 63:3 (2015). http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr63/nvsr63_03.pdf.

[ii] Konty and Schaefer, “Small Arms Mortality.” See 476-478 for criticisms of existing studies.

[iii] Ibid, 475.

[iv] Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser, “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 30:2 (2007): 649-694.

[v] Ibid, 691. “Sweden, with over twice as much gun ownership as neighboring Germany and a third more gun suicide, nevertheless has the lower overall suicide rate. Greece has nearly three times more gun ownership than the Czech Republic and somewhat more gun suicide, yet the overall Czech suicide rate is over 175% higher than the Greek rate. Spain has over 12 times more gun ownership than Poland, yet the latter’s overall suicide rate is more than double the former’s. Tragically, Finland has over 14 times more gun ownership than neighboring Estonia, and a great deal more gun‐related suicide. Estonia, however, turns out to have a much higher suicide rate than Finland overall.”

[vi] Gary Kleck, “Comment on Case-Control Studies of the Effect of Gun Ownership on Suicide” (unpublished draft).

[vii] Ibid, also see Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1997). 265-289.

[viii] National Shooting Sports Foundation, “Firearms-Related Injury Statistics” 2015 ed. Industry Intelligence Reports. http://www.nssf.org/pdf/research/iir_injurystatistics2015.pdf.

[ix] Ibid. On the effects of safe-storage laws, John Lott and John Whitley found that “safe-storage laws have no impact on accidental gun deaths or total suicide rates.” See Lott and Whitley, “Safe-Storage Gun Laws: Accidental Deaths, Suicides, and Crime” Journal of Law and Economics XLIV (2001): 659-689. Elsewhere, Lott found that there is “no positive statistically significant relationships between gun ownership rates and either accidental gun deaths or suicide for all ages.” See Lott, The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You’ve Heard About Gun Control is Wrong (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2003): 179.

[i] See also a recent study by Kleck and colleagues that concluded that “the evidence fails to support the hypothesis that gun control laws reduce violent crime.” Gary Kleck, Tomislav Kovandzic, and Jon Bellows, “Does Gun Control Reduce Violent Crime?” Criminal Justice Review 41:4 (2016): 1-26.

[ii] See for example Martin Killias, “International Correlations Between Gun Ownership and Rates of Homicide.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 148 (1993): 1721-1725; David Hemenway and Matthew Miller, “Firearm Availability and Homicide Rates Across 26 High-Income countries.” Journal of Trauma 49 (2000): 985-988. It is worth noting that in Kleck’s meta-analysis, these two studies were among the methodologically worst.

[iii] One common example is Australia, which implemented a gun buyback in 1996. Although touted as a success, there is no evidence that the buyback program was effective in reducing gun violence. Both firearm homicides and suicides were already on a downward trend for more than a decade prior to the buyback. The gun buyback did not seem to accelerate these trends. See the discussion in John Lott, The War on Guns (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2016): 109-116. See also Gary Kleck, “Did Australia’s Ban on Semiauto Firearms Really Reduce Violence? A Critique of the Chapman et al. (2016) Study” SSRN Working Paper (December 2017) https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3086324.

[iv] Another point to note is that the findings of many cross-cultural studies depend heavily on the inclusion of the United States within the samples. Critics have pointed out that once the United States is excluded from the samples, the effect of gun availability on homicide becomes insignificant. This seems to suggest that factors aside from gun availability play a crucial role in explaining the disparities between the United States and other nations.

[v] Irshad Altheimer and Matthew Boswell, “Reassessing the Association between Gun Availability and Homicide at the Cross-National Level.” American Journal of Criminal Justice 37 (2012): 682-704; Mark Konty and Brian Schaefer, “Small Arms Mortality: Access to Firearms and Lethal Violence.” Sociological Spectrum 32:6 (2012): 475-490.

[vi] Altheimer and Boswell, “Gun Availability and Homicide,” 696.

[i] For an excellent analysis of the historical and constitutional basis of the right to bear arms, see Stephen Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2013 ed).

[ii] Gary Kleck, “The Impact of Gun Ownership Rates on Crime Rates: A Methodological Review of the Evidence.” Journal of Criminal Justice 43:1 (2015): 40-48.