Amid many recent incidents of public tragedies in which individuals have used firearms to murder scores of innocent victims, many have resorted to campaign for stricter gun legislation or in some cases, even full gun bans. However, through an examination of the facts, one finds that these campaigns are not only fallacious, but the proposition of removing firearms from a population by force is immoral. The right to bear arms is a natural right given to every individual, and the confiscation of that right by the state not only fails to reduce levels of crime among the populace, but rather leads to further human rights infringement committed by the government.
In the political discussion of America in 2018, there is a lot of talk about human rights, whether it be regarding health care, public schooling, freedom of speech, or the second amendment. It also appears many individuals simply derive in their own mind what they perceive human rights to be. Many pro-gun advocates argue that they are entitled to the ‘right to bear arms,’ while many activists promoting gun control argue that their right to safety trumps another’s right to own a gun. To decipher whether owning a gun is a human right, one must first ask what human rights are and where rights come from. Answers to these questions can be found in the writings of many Enlightenment-era philosophers. John Locke, one of the leading political theorists of the time, sought to define human rights in his Second Treatise of Civil Government:
The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions…(and) when his own preservations, comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice to an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another. (1689)
In other words, every individual has the natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Rights are not given to the people by the government, they are given by nature, and are by extension, divine. Locke also suggests that men are not to violate another’s rights, unless they are the aggressor.
Another philosopher of that period was St. George Tucker who writes “the right of self-defense is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest of limits possible.”
Not only is the right to bear arms a natural right of man, but it is necessary to the security of a free state. The right to bear arms functions as an extension of the western philosophy of separation of powers. This idea comes from another philosopher of the Enlightenment: Baron de Montesquieu. In his treatise The Spirit of Laws, he laid the foundations for the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances that are implemented in almost every developed western nation today. His philosophy is that there can be no liberty with centralized powers and that power should be distributed throughout multiple parties to avoid corruption and tyranny. This philosophy was originally intended to be applied to the structure of government, but the principle can be applied to the discussion of the right to bear arms as well. The centralization of power breeds corruption, and the acquisition of guns by the state is simply the centralization of the power of the firearm. Gun control does not mean the removal of guns from a society. It means the government will be the only party with firearms, and when this happens, the only things that can follow are further corruption and further human rights infringements.
This can be clearly observed through a study of what happens historically when the government removes the right to bear arms from the people. The most popular tyranny of modern history, the Nazi regime, used gun control to disarm not only their Jewish population, but any political dissidents that might challenge their authority. Prior to the establishment of the Third Reich, the Weimar Republic of Germany had strict gun control legislation, with very few citizens being granted the right to own a firearm. Under the Third Reich, the gun laws were altered, granting gun ownership to members of the Nazi party and the military, and relaxing regulations for ordinary citizens. However, Nazi laws effectively disarmed persons deemed ‘unreliable’ by the government, especially Jews and political enemies. As Hitler’s empire grew, the Nazi gun laws were implemented in every country occupied by the Third Reich, ensuring that the people would be unable to effectively challenge the Nazis’ rule.
Mao Zedong is another example of a dictator who used gun control to disarm the populace. Following an extensive civil war, the People’s Republic of China was formally established in 1949 by Mao and the Communist Party, ever since which firearms have been heavily regulated. The Provisional Measures on Firearms Control were published on June 27, 1951, approximately 2 years after the PRC’s establishment. Many of the articles of the Provisional Measures sought to identify and gain control of the multitude of firearms present in China following the Chinese Civil War. Mao recognized that the main threat to his regime would be intellectual dissidents. He even boasted, “What’s so unusual about Emperor Shih Huang of the China Dynasty? He had buried alive 460 scholars only, but we have buried alive 46,000 scholars.” Through government regulation of firearms, Mao was able to keep guns out of the hands of his political and intellectual enemies. He then went on to murder an estimated 65 million Chinese in his repeated attempts to turn China into a socialist utopia.
Despite the lack of historical precedent for positively effective gun control, the issue remains to be one of heated controversy in America today. Following the recent mass shootings in America, many activists are campaigning for a ban of ‘assault rifles,’ especially the AR-15. According to the FBI, however, there were a total of 46,445 homicides by firearm between 2012 and 2016 and only 1,473 of them were committed using a rifle. This means that only approximately 3% of total homicides during those four years were committed with any form of rifle. Handguns, on the other hand, consisted of 31,533 of those murders. That’s the equivalent of approximately 67%. By observing these statistics, one would assume that gun control activists would seek to regulate the weapon used in 67% of gun homicides, not the weapon used in only 3%.
Another typical argument that one might hear from an advocate for stricter gun control is that “more guns equal more crime” and likewise, that “less guns equal less crime.” Phrases like these have been delivered by many leftist organizations such as The New York Times and CNN and are repeated by many pro-gun control advocates. However, as with the previous case, an examination of the statistics will find this argument to be false. What many proponents of this argument mistake is that in many instances, countries with less gun ownership do experience lower homicide rates by firearm, but overall homicide rates either increase or remain the same. For example, the United States has the highest gun ownership per capita in the world with 101.05 firearms per 100 people. Despite this, the United States ranks 94th in murder rates with 4.88 homicides per 100,000 people. The country with the highest murder rate in the world is El Salvador with 108.64 homicides per 100,000 people, and El Salvador ranks 89th in gun ownership per capita with 5.8 firearms per 100 residents.
Many gun control activists will also reference the gun legislation in Britain and Australia, claiming that their gun control laws have drastically reduced their crime rates. The fact is that there is not a single example of homicide rates falling following a gun ban, whether it be handguns or all guns. For example, the handgun bans in England and Wales in January 1997 did not reduce the homicide rates. The immediate effect of the ban was a 50% increase in homicide rates. Firearm homicide rates had almost doubled between 1996 and 2002. They continued to bounce around over time and only began to fall after the large increase in police officers during 2003 and 2004. Despite the increase in law enforcement, however, the murder rate remained slightly higher than it was before the ban, and there was only one year in which the murder rate was lower than it was in 1996.
Following a horrific tragedy like a mass shooting, many Americans often begin to campaign for strict gun restrictions, and sometimes complete bans of firearms. However, such legislation would violate the natural rights of the American people and open the door for the American government to commit further human rights infringements, as has been shown by history.
Alpers, Philip, Amélie Rossetti and Daniel Salinas. (n.d.). Guns in El Salvador – Firearms, gun law and gun control. Retrieved from https://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/el-salvador
Alpers, Philip, Amélie Rossetti and Daniel Salinas. (n.d.). Guns in the United States – Firearms, gun law and gun control. Retrieved from https://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/united-states
Comparing murder rates and gun ownership across countries. (2014, March 21). Crime Prevention Research Center. Retrieved from https://crimeresearch.org/2014/03/comparing-murder-rates-across-countries/
Edwards, L. (n.d.). The Legacy of Mao Zedong is Mass Murder. Retrieved from https://www.heritage.org/asia/commentary/the-legacy-mao-zedong-mass-murder
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2016). Murder Victims by Weapon, 2012-2016. Criminal Justice Information Services Division. Retrieved from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-4.xls
Halbrook, S. P. (2013). Gun control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “enemies of the state”. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute.
Locke, J. (1689). The Second Treatise of Civil Government. Awnsham Churchill
Montesquieu. (1748). The Spirit of Laws. Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
Murder and homicide rates before and after gun bans. (2017, November 05). Crime Prevention Research Center. Retrieved from https://crimeresearch.org/2013/12/murder-and-homicide-rates-before-and-after-gun-bans/
Tucker, St. George. (1803) Blackstone’s Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Volume 5. Philadelphia.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2015). Intentional homicide, counts and rates per 100,000 population