With the current debate over “gun rights” vs. gun control, everyone seems to be missing the point: Instead of looking at guns as some “special” category of property, with greater or lesser protection than other types, we should instead treat guns as we would any other items that people can buy.
The right to own a gun should be treated as no different than the right to own a toothbrush. Of course, it doesn’t need to be said that guns can be used in very bad ways. But just about anything in your house can be used for irresponsible, immoral or illegal purposes:
Cell phones can be used to carry on extramarital affairs with. Pillows can be used to suffocate people with. Computers can be used for identity theft. Cameras can be used for spying on people. Belts can be used to strangle people with, and the list goes on and on.
And let’s not forget motor vehicles, which kill over 30,000 people a year in the U.S. alone. Like guns, all of these things on their own are completely harmless, but put them in the hands of bad people, and bad things can happen.
Clearly, the fact that an object can be used immorally does not mean that all people should be deprived of that object. From a strict property rights viewpoint, there is no prima facie difference between a gun and a toothbrush. Morally, if an individual has the right to own a toothbrush, he has the right to own a gun.
Now, just because an individual has the right to own an object does not mean he has the right to do whatever he wishes with that object. I can own a car, but I can’t use it to run over my neighbor with. Similarily, I can own a gun, but I can’t shoot a man with it (except in self-defense).
A libertarian legal code would allow individuals to own whatever objects they want, while prohibiting them from using those objects to infringe on the rights of others. There is an important moral difference between a man who keeps a gun in a desk drawer and a man who goes on a shooting spree with his gun.
Unfortunately, we generally don’t know the difference between the two men until somebody gets hurt. Where the law fails now is in trying to discern the difference between the two men at the point of purchase, if not earlier.
It is a violation of individual liberty to deprive a man of his property rights because he may someday use that property to do harm to others. The only circumstance under which a man may morally have his gun taken away from him is if the gun was stolen from someone else.
To clarify, there is no such stand-alone right as “the right to own a firearm.” There is only the right to own property. Guns are not special. There is no greater or lesser right to own a gun than there is to own, say, a bag of weed. The fact that many NRA members do not also oppose drug prohibition just goes to show that the average NRA member believes in “gun rights”, but not property rights.
When I express opposition to any and all gun control, it’s not because I’m “pro-gun.” (I would also oppose restrictions on owning Justin Bieber CDs, but that doesn’t make me “pro-Bieber.”)
As a libertarian, I oppose all restrictions on what people may own (with exceptions for stolen property and the owning of other people), so when I oppose restrictions on the ownership of firearms, I’m just being consistant.
There are many good arguments against gun control, most of which have been utilized in some shape or form in the last month. The best argument, though–in my opinion–is the one that relies on an axiomatic truth rather than on statistics or anecdotes.
So forget all the NRA talking points you’ve heard: You don’t have the right to own a gun because of the Second Amendment, or because you have the right to self-defense, or because more guns mean less crime. Rather, you have the right to own a gun because you have the right to own property–it’s as simple as that.