Gun Control

Sunday, November 4, 2018
First Aired: 
Sunday, March 27, 2016

What Is It

The right to bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment, is at once both distinctly American and highly controversial. Incidents such as the Sandy Hook school shooting force the nation to think hard about how the law should balance gun ownership with the risk these deadly weapons present to society. What kind of right is the right to bear arms, if it is a right at all? What responsibilities ought to come with gun ownership? And what can philosophical thinking contribute to such delicate policy decisions? John and Ken stand their ground with Hugh LaFollette from the University of South Florida, author of In Defense of Gun Control.

Listening Notes

The topics of gun rights and gun control are some of the most vociferous in the country today, but controversy does little to deter philosophers: in this episode, John and Ken weigh in on the ethics of gun control. Ken asks how widespread ownership of killing machines advances the public good. John answers with the text of the Second Amendment: the right to bear arms is necessary to the preservation of a free state. Beyond that, John argues that the right to bear arms is part of the right one has to self-defense—a right Ken acknowledges exists. But Ken argues—like John Locke—that a citizen in a social contract places the right and responsibility of self-defense in the hands of the state.

To better understand the history gun laws in the United States, John and Ken hand things off to Shuka Kalantari, who files the weeks Roving Philosophical Report (see below). After Shuka files the Report, John and Ken welcome guest Hugh Lafollette onto the show. Professor Lafollette tells the hosts how they have to consider the lack of empirical evidence and intense political debates before they move on to the philosophical issues at hand.

The three take a short break, and talk about what right a citizen might have to own a gun. Ken says there are three ways of thinking: you can argue (like Ken), that citizens have no rights to own guns, that citizens have a fundamental right to own guns, or that citizens have a derived right to own guns (which means that the owning guns is a way to protect one’s fundamental rights). Professor Lafollette argues that the right to bear arms is a derived right—either from a citizen’s right to freedom or to self-defense. After another break, the guests start talking about gun rights in American history, and then welcome caller questions from the radio audience, who ask questions about the feasibility of gun control and the role of gun manufactures in the gun control debate. The three then spend the final segment discussing what a completely rational—but perhaps impossible—system of gun control look like in a society.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 6:43): Shuka Kalantari looks into the actual history of the Wild West—where gun laws were, in reality, surprisingly strict. She also talks to historians to learn about how gun ownership was used to enforce the institution of slavery, how the Ku Klux Klan used guns in their campaign of racial terror, and how the Black Panthers used guns in their self-defense campaigns in the 70s.
  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (seek to 3:49): Ian Sholes talks about how Americans are even more stupid than usual when it comes to debates about guns—he presages that we’re heading towards a world where toddlers are all armed to the teeth (erm, gums?) and drivers fire their rifles instead of honking their horns. 


Comments (2)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, October 28, 2018 -- 12:34 PM

I have not seen much good

I have not seen much good happening on this issue since 2016. So, there is really nothing I can think of to add.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 -- 11:09 AM

This morning (on morning TV),

This morning (on morning TV), I watched and listened to a lady who is running to become the first black female governor in these United States. I had not known there has never before been a black female governor. So, shame on me. Anyway, she was asked several questions about her campaign and, of course, gun control (I'll not prejudice anyone by revealing the state for which she wishes to be governor). Her response(s) to the gun control issue were interesting. She told how she had learned to shoot and hunt at an early age and was a staunch supporter of second amendment rights. When asked about assault-style weapons (AR 15s, etc.), she appeared to hesitate briefly. Then she avowed she would not be opposed to people owning such arms, as long as there were provisions in place to assure accountability and responsibility. Like many in the pro-gun camp, she seemed to be wanting it both ways. She clearly did not wish to lose potential votes, while noting her opponent had run afoul of some laws and had been sued more than once. Hedging her bets was expected behavior, because she really wants that gubernatorial post, and probably has a good shot at it (so to speak).

Business as usual? Of course. This is how things work. Those who attempt to drain swamps cannot help but get a bit muddy. And those alligators? ---toothy.