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Freedom and Gun-Control

The Second Amendment

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Many in the pro-gun crowd have complained that gun-control is a limit to their freedoms. Political philosophers, however, have recognized that being part of a civilized society does not mean complete freedom. Such ideas would lead to anarchy. Examining the ideas of John Locke clearly demonstrates this point. John Locke, known as the intellectual father of America, conceived of a three branch system of government and the idea that the power of government rested on the consent of the governed. Locke distinguished between freedom in a state of nature and freedom in a civilized society. "MEN being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it." (The Second Treatise of Civil Government, Chapter VIII Section 95)

Concerning the right to self-preservation Locke wrote."The first power, viz. of doing whatsoever he thought for the preservation of himself, and the rest of mankind, he gives up to be regulated by laws made by the society, so far forth as the preservation of himself, and the rest of that society shall require; which laws of the society in many things confine the liberty he had by the law of nature."(The Second Treatise of Civil Government, Chapter IX Section 129) How much can the government regulate your right to preserve yourself? The answer is clear. Speaking of the power of the legislature, Locke wrote "Their power, in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the public good of the society." (The Second Treatise of Civil Government, Chapter XI Section 135). The right to preserve oneself can be regulated as long as it's for the common good. This is obvious. You can not privately own a nuclear weapon just because you happen to think that it's good for your own self preservation. Thus, gun-control is justified to the extent that it's for the good of the public.

This point becomes more obvious when examining the first amendment. The Supreme Court has recognized exceptions to first amendment freedoms. You can not use your first amendment freedoms to cause panic in a crowded building by yelling fire when there is no fire. The US Supreme Court has also recognized that using your freedom of speech to advocate the violent overthrow of the government is not permissible. Such common sense limits are in the interest of the public good and are therefore justified.

Is gun-control in the interest of the common good? I believe that it is. Nations which have stricter gun-control laws than the US also have a lot less gun deaths. Former Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell explained "With respect to handguns ... it is not easy to understand why the Second Amendment, or the notion of liberty, should be viewed as creating a right to own and carry a weapon that contributes so directly to the shocking numbers of murders in the United States." (American Bar Association Speech, Toronto, Canada, August 7, 1988). Thousands of people are murdered with guns each year in the United States. Considering that firearms are used in so many homicides, it's ridiculous to argue that guns can not be regulated.

It's also important to realize that the right to live is a very important right and freedom. Therefore, if more gun-control means more lives saved then more gun-control means more freedom. The government has an obligation to protect people’s fundamental rights such as the right to live. Thus the government has an obligation to place more restrictions on individual gun ownership if doing so leads to more lives being saved.

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