Guns occupy a major—sometimes terrible—place in contemporary American life. Do Americans have not only a legal right, but also a moral right, to own handguns? After introducing the topic, this paper examines what a moral right to private handgun ownership would amount to. It then elucidates the logical structure of the strongest argument in favor of such a right, an argument that appeals to physical security, before assessing its cogency and identifying two questionable assumptions. In light of persisting reasonable disagreement about the argument’s soundness, the paper identifies two gun control measures—demonstrated need for a gun as a condition of eligibility and the requirement to pass a rigorous gun safety course—that reasonable disputants on both sides of the issue have principled reasons to accept. The paper also advances the thesis that, if anyone has an undefeated moral right to own handguns, it is precisely those individuals who have a special need and demonstrate the relevant safety-related competence.
See Max Fisher“What Makes America’s Gun Culture Totally Unique in the World, in Four Charts,”The Washington Post(updated December 15 2012; www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/15what-makes-americas-gun-culture-totally-unique-in-the-world-as-demonstrated-in-four-charts/) and Lydia Saad “Self-Reported Gun Ownership in u.s. is Highest Since 1993” (www.gallup.com/poll/150353/self-reported-gun-ownership-highest-1993.aspx).
See A. L. Kellermann et al.“Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home,”New England Journal of Medicine329 (1993): 1084–91and D. J. Wiebe “Homicide and Suicide Risks Associated with Firearms in the Home: A National Case-Control Study” Annals of Emergency Medicine 41 (2003): 771–82.
See David Lester“Crime as Opportunity: A Test of the Hypothesis with European Homicide Rates,”British Journal of Criminology31 (1991): 186–88; Martin Killias “International Correlations Between Gun Ownership and Rates of Homicide and Suicide” Canadian Medical Association Journal 148 (1993): 1721–25; cdc “Rates of Homicide Suicide and Firearm-Related Death Among Children—26 Industrialized Countries”; David Hemenway and Matthew Miller “Firearm Availability and Homicide Rates Across 26 High-Income Countries” Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care 49 (2000): 985–88; Matthew Miller Deborah Azrael and David Hemenway “Household Firearm Ownership Levels and Homicide Rates Across u.s. Regions and States 1988–1997” American Journal of Public Health 92 (2002): 1988–93; Martin Killias “Gun Ownership Suicide and Homicide: An International Perspective” Journal of Criminology (2003): 289–307; Lisa Hepburn and David Hemenway “Firearm Availability and Homicide: A Review of the Literature” Aggression and Violent Behavior 9 (2004): 417–40; Matthew Miller Deborah Azrael and David Hemenway “State-Level Homicide Victimization Rates in the u.s. in Relation to Survey Measures of Household Firearm Ownership 2001–2003” Social Science and Medicine 64 (2007): 656–64; and Violence Policy Center “States with Higher Gun Ownership and Weak Gun Laws Lead Nation in Gun Deaths” (www.vpc.org/press/1302gundeath.htm; February 7 2013).