Heumerous thoughts on guns.

Philosopher Michael Heumer published an essay in 2003 arguing that humans have a prima facie right to own guns. Please note that this is different from a constitutional right which I still find problematic.

The meat:

The main argument on the gun rights side goes like this:

1.
The right of self-defense is an important right.

2.
A firearms prohibition would be a significant violation of the right of self-defense.

3.
Therefore, a firearms prohibition would be a serious rights-violation.

The strength of the conclusion depends upon the strength of the premises: the more important the right of self-defense is, and the more serious gun control is as a violation of that right, the more serious a rights-violation gun control is.

I begin by arguing that the right of self-defense is extremely weighty. Consider this scenario:

In this scenario, the killer commits what may be the most serious kind of rights-violation possible. What about the accomplice who holds the victim down? Most would agree that his crime is, if not equivalent to murder, something close to murder in degree of wrongness, even though he neither kills nor injures the victim. Considered merely as the act of holding someone down for a few moments, the accomplice’s action [307] seems a minor rights-violation. What makes it so wrong is that it prevents the victim from either defending himself or fleeing from the killer—that is, it violates the right of self-defense. (To intentionally and forcibly prevent a person from exercising a right is to violate that right.) We may also say that the accomplice’s crime was that of assisting in the commission of a murder—this is not, in my view, a competing explanation of the wrongness of his action, but rather an elaboration on the first explanation. Since the right of self-defense is a derivative right, serving to protect the right to life among other rights, violations of the right of self-defense will often cause or enable violations of the right to life.

It is common to distinguish killing from letting die. In this example, we see a third category of action: preventing the prevention of a death. This is distinct from killing, but it is not merely letting die, because it requires positive action. The example suggests that preventing the prevention of a death is about as serious a wrong as killing. In any case, the fact that serious violations of the right of self-defense are morally comparable to murder serves to show that the right of self-defense must be a very weighty right.

I am very fond of Heumer’s work. Here he is at a TedX event discussing the irrationality of politics as it pertains to the War on Terror. He is no right wing populist zealot. Rather, he is a serious philosopher who happens to believe guns are important to the enjoyment of life for recreational users and an important tool for self-defense, which as a derivative right to the right to life, is very weighty indeed. While recognizing that the harm of guns can outweigh these goods, he suggests it does not. I leave it up to you to decide.

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