guns

Popular Opinion and Gun Rights

Advocates of even the mildest gun control reform in the US were dealt a serious blow yesterday, as the Senate failed to enact an expansion of background checks for gun purchases online and at gun shows.   Some have been quick to gloat over the result, while others were taken aback that the Senate could so blatantly ignore the will of the American people.  A number of polls have indeed shown massive support for background checks on gun purchases (upwards of 90%) – according to one survey, the proposal is even more popular than kittens.  This level of support predates the Sandy Hook massacre.  Political analysts will go to great lengths to explain how such a popular measure was voted down (the strength of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying efforts play a large part, no doubt), but we can also ask whether it should have been – in particular, independent of the merits of the bill, whether politicians should not have flaunted the will of the people.   Continue reading

The feminist case for gun rights

There has, in recent weeks, been a relatively vigorous debate over gun control in the US.  This was undoubtedly precipitated by the horrendous Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, in which 20 children and 6 adults were gunned down, but the issue has long been simmering in a country alternately outraged by gun violence and resistant to limitations on the people’s ability to keep and bear arms.  There are a number of issues here, but perhaps the most general (and ethically interesting) is whether, in modern societies, the state should significantly restrict the ability of citizens to purchase and carry firearms.  The New York Times’ blog The Stone ran a nice series of philosophical commentaries on guns; however, perhaps unsurprisingly given the typical liberalism of philosophers, all were to varying degrees in favor of gun control (or even prohibition) and not sympathetic to gun rights.   I imagine those in the UK will be similarly disposed, but in this debate it is important to look for the strongest possible cases on both sides.  For my own part, I find the most compelling defense of strong gun rights to come not from the need to check government or general libertarian freedom, but feminism.  This may be somewhat surprising given feminism’s typical association with liberal causes, but on consideration it is not so strange. Continue reading

Turning the Camera Around: What Newtown Tells Us About Ourselves

On the morning of December 14th, 20-year old Adam Lanza opened fire within the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children and six adult staff members before turning his gun on himself. In the hours that followed, journalists from every major news station in the nation inundated the tiny town, and in the days that followed, the country as a whole started down a familiar path characterized best by the plethora of ‘if only-isms’.

It began in the immediate hours following the shooting: if only we had stricter gun control laws, this wouldn’t have happened. This is perhaps an unsurprising first response in a country that represents 4.5% of the world’s population and 40% of the world’s civilian firearms.[1] Over the next few days, as a portrait of the shooter began to emerge and friends and family revealed that he was an avid gamer, a second theory surfaced in the headlines: if only our children weren’t exposed to such violent video games, this tragedy never would have occurred.[2] [3] And just in the past few days, public discourse has converged on the gunman’s mental health, the general conclusion being that if only we had better mental health services in place, this wouldn’t have happened.[4][5] (The National Rifle Association [NRA] even tried to jump on board, suggesting that “26 innocent lives might have been spared” if only we had an armed police guard in every school in America.[6] They seem to be the only ones taking themselves seriously.[7]) Continue reading

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