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Why Gun Rights Are Essential In a World of Uncertainty and Scarcity

Artistic rendition of the 2nd Amendment

Firearms are the most practical and effective way for the average American to secure.  A common joke in the American gun community goes something like this:

Q: Why do you carry a gun?

A: Because carrying a cop is too heavy.

This humorous joke should not detract from the fact that many individuals in the United States own and carry a firearm.  The simplest case for the right to keep and bear arms can be summarized in one sentence: You are responsible for your own safety and security.

Understanding Gun Rights

This sobering fact can be difficult for many people to swallow but that's reality. Evil exists in this world. Under the right circumstances, people can and will do unspeakable things to each other as any student of history or psychology will know. Those fortunate to live in gated communities and can afford armed security are often oblivious that most other people do not enjoy the same luxuries.

Many violent crimes take place and are over in a matter of seconds (and stopped in seconds that prevent the worst). As another popular saying goes, "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away." In the United States, depending where you live, police response time ranges from nine minutes to over an hour.  Police in multiple states have announced they will no longer respond to theft, burglary, and break-ins. Given the current climate, it's not unreasonable to assume police will take much longer to arrive, if they do at all, should someone dial 911.

Furthermore, Americans need to understand there is no legal obligation for the police to protect you, which is affirmed by the Supreme Court and multiple lower courts.

Should the police fail to arrive or protect you when needed, you can’t even sue for neglect. Thus, given the legal and logistical realities, taking the initiative to protect your self should be as sensible as any other proactive measure such as having a fire extinguisher in the home or jumper cables ready in the back of the car. Should disaster strike, preparedness will make all the difference in the world. Protecting your one and only life deserves no less preparation and investment, especially in our increasingly complex and uncertain world.

Chaos Can, and Will, Strike

Americans are fortunate to live in a country with mostly stable institutions. But there are examples when segments of society break down, many in not-too-distant memory. In widespread civil disturbances such as the 1992 LA riots or the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina, Florence, and Harvey, the authorities were overwhelmed and unscrupulous individuals took advantage of the chaos to prey on others.

Should a natural or man-made catastrophe take place, if the authorities haven’t been incapacitated, displaced, or destroyed completely, whatever personnel and resources are left will be prioritized to protect high-ranking government officials, their inner-circle, and critical government facilities and infrastructure.

The economist Thomas Sowell reminds us, “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it.” Security also happens to be a scarce resource. There’s simply not enough boots on the ground that can guarantee all 300 million Americans will be protected at all times from all threats. In every emergency, tough decisions will have to be made. From what we know about past and present “continuity of government” plans, ruling elites will be evacuated to a secure bunker in some undisclosed location while John & Jane Doe Public will be left to fend for themselves.

Legal and Ethical Foundations

Every American schoolchild is taught that everyone is equal before the law. Given this fundamental, it’s not unfair to demand that the average American citizen have access to the same means of security and protection that government officials who are our servants insist on having for themselves (while using taxpayer money). Under the American political system, the right of self-defense cannot be limited to only a privileged few. No one, regardless of their socioeconomic status, can deny fundamental rights to others.

The right to life is closely intertwined with the right of self-preservation. John Locke, a major influence on the philosophical foundations of the US Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, described the right of self-preservation as a “fundamental law of nature.”

“The state of war is a state of enmity and destruction: and therefore declaring by word or action, not a passionate and hasty, but a sedate settled design upon another man’s life, puts him in a state of war with him against whom he has declared such an intention, and so has exposed his life to the other’s power to be taken away by him, or any one that joins with him in his defense, and espouses his quarrel; it being reasonable and just, I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction: for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion; because such men are not under the ties of the common-law of reason, have no other rule, but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey, those dangerous and noxious creatures, that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power.”

The political philosophy of John Locke and other enlightenment thinkers contributed a unique element to American political theory: Fundamental rights do not come from the government. Human beings possess them already simply by virtue of being free and that includes a pre-existing, natural right of self-defense and self-preservation. As the Declaration of Independence memorably emphasizes, these natural rights are “unalienable” which means they cannot be taken or given away. They are permanent and apply in all times and all places to all human beings, with or without the Second Amendment or any other statutory pronouncement.

“Self-evident truths” and similar conclusions are found in other thoughts. The ethical intuitionist philosopher Michael Huemer also highlights an interlocking relationship between the right of self-defense and the right to own a gun:

“It is possible for a right to be both fundamental and derivative. Derivative rights are usually related to fundamental rights as means to the protection or enforcement of the latter, though this need not be the only way in which a right may be derivative. I claim that the right to own a gun is both fundamental and derivative; however, it is in its derivative aspect—as derived from the right of self-defense—that it is most important.”

Even without the existence of absolute rights (which Huemer declines to acknowledge for guns or any other right), he nevertheless persuasively argues:

  1. There is a strong prima facie right to own a gun

  2. Prohibiting private gun ownership constitutes both a major interference in gun owners' plans for their own lives as well as a significant violation of their right of self-defense

Using a memorable thought experiment, Huemer shows how gun control laws that prevent a person from accessing or exercising the means of self-defense is akin to a criminal accomplice who holds a victim down while the actual murderer carries out the foul deed. By preventing the victim from escaping or exercising his right to self-defense, the accomplice’s action is still “if not equivalent to murder, something close to murder in degree of wrongness, even though he neither kills nor injures the victim.” In a follow-up thought experiment, Huemer adds: ...except that the victim has a gun by the bed, which he would, if able, use to defend himself from the killer. As the killer enters the bedroom, the victim reaches for the gun. The accomplice grabs the gun and runs away, with the result that the killer then stabs his victim to death.

Most reasonable individuals will intuitively recognize what the accomplice did was morally wrong. In both scenarios, the accomplice’s actions purposely prevented the victim from defending himself. If gun control laws have the same effect, it logically follows that they are “about equally serious as a violation of the right of self-defense.”

Other Forms of Self-Defense

Fortunately for Americans, most of us still have access to a wide range of choices when it comes to self-defense. While it is understandable to be reluctant to pick up a gun, it is worth mentioning alternatives such as tasers, and pepper spray are often severely limited by range, efficiency, or effectiveness.

Example: A 5-foot, 100-pound woman will be overwhelmed if she faces multiple attackers who weigh twice as much. On the other hand, she can ably defend herself with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, which is a popular weapon for many Americans, including women, because of its light weight, low recoil, accuracy, reliability, ergonomics, and ease of customization to fit any shooter regardless of size and stature.

Compared to other options, firearms are the most practical and effective way for the average American to secure his or her life, liberty, and property.

Many Americans, especially minorities, have realized the need for self-protection in times of social upheaval and breakdown. It is unfortunate that it took a tragedy as extreme as the COVID-19 pandemic to remind people that we should never take peace, prosperity, and freedom for granted. But millions have now taken the first steps to defend themselves and their loved ones. They should know they are in good company.

To date, the American gun community is strongly supportive and always welcoming towards first-time gun owners and anyone remotely curious about firearms regardless of their background.

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