Volume 25, Issue 2, Fall 2011
Handguns, Philosophers, and the Right to Self-Defense
Within the last decade or so several philosophers have argued against handgun prohibition on the ground that it violates the right to self-defense. However, even these philosophers grant that the right to own handguns is not absolute and could be overridden if doing so would bring about an enormous social good. Analysis of intra-United States empirical data cited by gun rights advocates indicates that guns do not make us safer, while international data lends powerful support to the thesis that guns do indeed increase homicide. If handguns do not make us safer, then appealing to the right to self-defense as an objection to prohibition is moot. Prohibition neither violates the right to self-defense nor sacrifices anyone’s interests for the common good, since it makes each person less likely to be murdered
than the current permissive handgun laws. Moreover, we also must take into account the right to life of victims of handgun crimes made possible by liberal handgun laws. Consequently, invoking the right to self-defense does not provide any sound reason against handgun prohibition over and above familiar utilitarian objections, which are themselves refuted by the empirical evidence.