Assignmen: please read full instructions
Your task in the present essay is to critically examine and evaluate the argument below. Make sure that in your examination you rely upon the two authors assigned in this week’s reading assignment, the instructor’s notes, and your own opinions. Also make sure that your examination of this argument is professionally written regardless of your personal opinion on the matter of gun control.
1. Every human person possesses a natural right to life.
2. If every human person has a natural right to life, then he has a right to defend his life against those who would seek to violate this right.
3. If every human person has a right to defend his life, then he has a right to an effective means of defending his life.
4. Every human person has a right to an effective means of defending his life.
5. In many circumstances, a gun is the only effective means of defending one’s life.
6. In many circumstances, human persons have a right to posses guns, a right not conferred by constitutions but ought to be respected by them.
(Courtesy of a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. Dr. X)
Short writing assignments must be no less than two hundred (200) of your own words. This means that quotations do not count against the two hundred words. I will not even read assignments shorter than the required minimum of 200 words (I use a program to monitor word-count) and you will automatically receive zero (0) points for any such assignments. I expect a professionally written essay that is well formulated, without spelling and grammatical errors. I will deduct points for sloppily written essays (see the rubric below). In your essay you should address the question posed directly and thoroughly. You do not need to waste too much space on background unless the question of the essay specifically demands such background.
Note: Remember that you must also read the articles assigned each week. Instructor’s notes are not a substitute for reading the original articles.
1. This week’s topic is gun control. While the public debate focuses primarily on the legal dimension of the problem, moral issues loom in the background. The issue of gun control highlights once again the relationship between the moral and the legal spheres. This gives us the opportunity to address directly the question of the relationship between the moral and the legal spheres.
2. The most influential (and very likely the most reasonable) view of the relationship between the moral and the legal spheres is that the two areas overlap, but they are not identical. Laws that require drivers to drive under normal conditions on the right side of the street belong exclusively to the legal sphere and have no moral basis. On the other hand, a prima facie obligation to keep a promise to a friend (to meet them for dinner, for instance) is a purely moral matter; we would not want to enforce such promises by means of laws. So there are cases that belong only to the legal sphere and have no moral basis and there are cases that belong exclusively to the moral sphere without a legal counterpart. And there are cases which belong to both spheres: for instance, the prohibition on intentionally and without reason killing someone belongs to both the legal as well as to the moral spheres. Our question, then, is this:
To which of the above three classes the question of gun control belongs?
3. Gun control is clearly not a purely moral issue. After all, our ultimate concern is to answer the question of whether governmental authorities should enact laws that permit, prohibit, or control gun ownership and how such laws are to be justified. While some may view the issue of gun control as primarily, if not exclusively, a legal matter, there is broad consensus on both sides of the issue that ultimately any laws regarding gun ownership must be morally justified. So it seems that the issue of gun control is both a moral issue as well as a legal one. In particular, the question is whether any laws that prohibit, control, or restrict gun ownership are morally justified. We may put this question as follows:
Is there a fundamental moral right to own guns, one which supersedes legal or social considerations?
4. Both essays on this week’s reading list agree that gun control laws must be justified based upon moral considerations. However, they disagree on the question of whether the relevant moral considerations entail a clear and determinate conclusion about the character of gun control laws that are morally justified.
B. Hughes & Hunt (2007)
1. Hughes & Hunt (henceforth H&H) begin their article with the contention that while gun control laws are “typically considered a “liberal” policy”, such laws are in fact “not liberal policies at all.” (H&H, p. 345) This contention addresses a systematic ambiguity in the concept of “liberal”, one which has been increasingly prevalent in our political climate. So the first thing I want to do is explain the two different senses of liberal that are play here.
2. In one sense, the term ‘liberal’ refers to a current political movement that is left of center and one which is opposed to a conservative political approach that is right of center. I will label this sense of ‘liberal’ by the locution left-liberalism. While it is beyond the present scope of our topic to characterize precisely the opposition between left-liberalism and the conservative movements in our political market place, suffice it to say that they are on the opposite sides of the gun ownership issue. Typically, left-liberals are in favor of some sort of gun control laws, whereas conservatives oppose such laws or at least wish them to be as lax as possible.
3. In another sense, the term ‘liberal’ refers to a political philosophy or political ideology which emerged more or less during the Enlightenment and has been the foundation of most, if not all, so-called liberal-democracies. I will label this sense of ‘liberal’ by the locution philosophical-liberalism. Philosophical-liberalism encompasses the Social-Contract theory which justifies the authority of the state based upon the autonomous consent of individuals to give up some of their natural rights to a sovereign in exchange for certain services that the sovereign will perform such as protection, etc. Philosophical-liberalism (particularly, the Social Contract theory) maintains that part of the autonomous nature of human persons is that they have certain natural rights such as the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Note that the claim that human persons have certain natural rights is a moral claim not a legalone. If such moral rights exist, then they place significant constraints on the legitimacy of any state authority to infringe upon such rights by means of enforceable laws.
4. It is now possible to clearly state H&H contention stated in (1) above: while gun control laws are typically associated with policies advocated by left-liberalism, such policies are in fact opposed to philosophical-liberalism. In their essay H&H set out to demonstrate the second half of this claim.
5. H&H distinguish between wide and narrow liberalism, in the sense of philosophical-liberalism. The distinction is made in terms of three constraints on policies enacted by state authorities within the broad framework of a political system based upon philosophical-liberalism. These three constraints are: (i) the autonomy constraint or principle; (ii) the neutrality constraint; and (iii) the equality constraint.
6. The Autonomy Constraint or Principle: H&H formulate the relevant notion of autonomy by identifying “a part of the individual’s life as “private”, in virtue of the fact that it includes behavior that has no significant effects on others without their consent, and to declare that, within this private domain, individuals may do whatever they wish.” (H&H, p. 346) H&H point out that the autonomy constraint or principle places severe restrictions upon the authority of the government to behave in a paternalistic manner by interfering by means of restrictive laws in the “private” domain of individuals.
7. The Neutrality Principle: H&H formulate the neutrality principle as a principle which requires that governmental authorities remain neutral regarding alternative conceptions of the “good life”. This means that the reasons for enacting various policies and laws cannot express a bias or preference toward one or another conception of what constitutes a good life for individuals.
8. The Principle of Equality: H&H formulate the principle of equality in terms of the traditional idea that government authorities are required to treat all of their subject equally with respect to their laws and policies. In particular, state authorities must respect all the rights of their subjects equally. H&H distinguish this traditional version of the equality principle which emphasizes equality with respect to the treatment of rights from another more robust version, which they call extraminimal. This extraminimal version extends the equality principle beyond the requirement that authorities protect and respect equally the rights of all subject to “equalizing the value of the rights each person has” (H&H, p. 347) by enacting policies aiming at a more equitable redistribution of goods.
9. It should be clear that a form of political-liberalism that advocates an extreme form of extraminimal interpretation of the principle of equality would result in sanctioning government actions that restricts the scope of the autonomy principle. And conversely, a form of political-liberalism that advocates expanding the autonomy principle would limit the kind of egalitarian policies that a government may legitimately pursue.
10. H&H use the above interplay between the principles of equality and autonomy to distinguish between wide and narrowpolitical-liberalism. Wide political-liberalism is any view which advocates a broad interpretation of the autonomy principle together with a narrow interpretation of the equality principle. Narrow political-liberalism, by contrast, is one which advocates a broad interpretation of the equality principle at the expense of narrowing the sphere of autonomy.
11. I will let you figure out the rest of H&H argument and the manner they use the above distinction.
C. LaFollette (2007.
1. LaFollette argues that the prevailing view is that there two positions one can take regarding gun control: oppose it or support it. LaFollete argues quite convincingly that this view is an oversimplification of the issues. He maintains that there are at least two different dimensions or scales along which views of gun control can line up: (a) the dimension of “the degree (if at all) to which guns should be abolished.” (LaFollette, p. 357); (b) the other dimension or scale is concerned with “the restrictions (if any) on those guns that are to private citizens.” (ibid) In terms of these two scales, LaFollette distinguish a variety of different positions. I leave it up to you to identify them.
2. The next step in LaFollette’s argument is to distinguish between what he calls fundamental rights from derivative rights. A fundamental right, according to LaFollette is a right that protects the fundamental interests of human persons. And fundamental interests in turn are those interests of individuals that are “integrally related to a person’s chance of living a good life, whatever her particular interests, desires, and beliefs happen to be.” (LaFollette, p. 358) LaFollette maintains that fundamental rights are less likely to cause harm to society. Derivative rights, then, are presumably not based upon fundamental interests, but are in some way related to them.
3. Fundamental rights, compared to derivative rights, impose severe restrictions on the authority of governmental institutions to legitimately limit their application. LaFollette challenges the opponent of gun control to must show that the right to own guns is a fundamental right and not merely a derivative one. LaFollette’s own view is that the right to own a gun is a derivative right and, therefore, it is legitimate for governmental authorities to consider a variety of factors when considering policies regarding gun control.
4. I will again leave it up to you to discern the rest of LaFollette’s argument.