Guns. Where is the harm?

The debate on gun control in America is raging at the moment after the tragic Sandy Hook shooting. It is interesting to see the reaction of the intellectual segment of society responding. It is a fiercely polarised debate and I have found it impossible just to have a serious calm conversation about it. I am in support of more stringent gun control.

Liberty is an important topic in modern society. It is also a topic of constant debate. The issue is where to draw the line. At what point does someone have too many rights? Many libertarian and other types of anti-statist thinkers believe that control is the predecessor of tyrrany, but I disagree. People forget that liberalism did not always exist, and that there were theories laid down to guide liberal society. There is a point when someone has too much liberty.

The harm principle of John Stuart Mill perfectly guides the limits of personal liberty. If something does not harm others, then it is fine if you do it. If you like to asphyxiate yourself or collect my little pony dolls that does not harm those around you. According to Mill that means you can do it to your heart's content.

This is where things get hairy. In order to justify more stringent gun control you must be able to prove that it does harm to others. The harm principle does not stipulate that something should be considered based on the numbers game of determining more harm than good. For instance if that was the case it would be okay for poor people to steal, because the damage done to a shopkeeper is less detrimental than the positive effect of someone getting food to eat. Let me rephrase that in the context of guns. According to the harm principle it would not be okay to have lax gun laws if more people are saved through self defence than those who are killed accidentally or by unstable people, often children who get access to guns stored in sockdrawers.

Guns harm people that don't have them. It really is that simple. In a society where every single person owns a gun but you, you are in a bad way. You need to own a gun to protect you from all the bad that could happen. In the US the NRA are suggesting an armed guard at every school. This seems reasonable at first, but what about movie theaters or universities? You will have to arm everyone, and in doing that bad things are bound to happen. In a society where guns are given to people as christmas presents you are in a constant latent danger of becoming a victim of the incidence of violent gun crime in groups.

Non gun owners then suffer under the tyranny of the majority,  the exact thing that Mill set out to prevent in the first place.

"Still, America sees far more gun violence than countries in Europe, and Canada, India and Australia, which is perhaps how it gets its bloody reputation among comparatively peaceful nations.
When a person kills another in the United States, though, he or she generally uses a gun: 60 percent of U.S. homicides occur using a firearm, which is the 26th-highest rate in the world. (In other gun-permeated countries, such as Finland (45.3 guns per 100 people), only about 19 percent of homicides involve a firearm. " [1]

"
We compared the United States to the other First World countries. We looked at both genders and all ages, but here are the statistics for 5- to 14-year-olds. A child in the United States compared to a child in Finland or France or New Zealand is not 20 percent more likely to be killed in a gun homicide, or 50 percent more likely, or twice as likely, or five times as likely. It’s 13 times higher.
Our gun suicide rate for these children is eight times higher. Our non-gun suicide rate is average. For unintentional gun deaths, we have 10 times the likelihood of death [compared with other developed countries]. These children are at risk. When you do surveys across states or cities or regions, you find that where there are more guns and more permissive gun laws, people are dying." [2]

What I see from this is a general pessimism about government control on things. That is understandable in light of how badly governments can screw things up, but it is not a reason to deny the events that cause unnecessary deaths. You cannot claim that your individual liberty is at stake and leave your gun in your underwear drawer to be found by someone who may not be qualified or ready to handle the responsibility of having others' lives at the tip of their fingers. 

That is not to say that guns should be banned outright. Compromise is always better and guns do have a place. Shooting is fun, it is something I have enjoyed every time I did it.

Mill had this to say about liberty versus social responsibility:"Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of morality or law." [3]

[1] - http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/14/schoo-shooting-how-do-u-s-gun-homicides-compare-with-the-rest-of-the-world/

[2] - http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/12/looking-for-lessons-in-newtown/

[3] - http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34901/34901-h/34901-h.htm#Page_154
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