In his 2003 paper, “Is There a Right to Own a Gun,” University of Colorado philosophy professor Michael Huemer states that, “the harms of private gun ownership are probably less than the benefits, and that in any case, these harms would have to be many times greater than the benefits in order for the right to own a gun to be overridden.”
He also writes that he confined his “consideration of gun control to the proposal to ban all private firearms ownership.” (Section 4). For the record, I don’t wish to ban all private firearms ownership, only certain types.
After reading it, I can see why Huemer was offered by a self-proclaimed libertarian and defender of the prima facie right to own guns, including assault weapons. Huemer takes the position that public safety would be put at risk if we were to ban all guns. Perhaps, but that’s not the issue. It’s not the same thing as banning assault weapons and large capacity magazines.
This is a common and all-too familiar strategy; attempt to distract and reframe a debate you know you can’t win by presenting something that isn’t at all pertinent to the question at hand.
What’s worse, this paper seems to be reconstituted talking points from dubious and debunked studies.
No matter. Huemer writes with all the formalities and gravitas one would expect from a college professor with a PhD in philosophy from Rutgers. (I say that with only the greatest respect and admiration for his chosen field and his ‘technical’ approach.) Proffering this study momentarily gives my libertarian acquaintance the appearance of credibility until one actually reads the paper and then does some research of their own.
Putting aside that he’s not making an argument specifically about certain types of firearms like assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, Huemer’s ‘cost/benefit’ argument for gun ownership seems to rest on two debunked sets of data.
First, he cites the 1993 defensive gun use study by Kleck and Gertz. It wasn’t hard to find detractors of that oft-cited but flawed study which claims 2.5 million defensive acts per year.
“The Myth of Millions of Annual Self-Defense Gun Uses: A Case Study of Survey Overestimates of Rare Events” (http://www.stat.duke.edu/~dalene/chance/chanceweb/103.myth0.pdf),
“The Gun Debate’s New Mythical Number: How Many Defensive Uses Per Year?” and (http://home.uchicago.edu/~ludwigj/papers/JPAM_Cook_Ludwig_Hemenway_2007.pdf)
The other reason I suspect that Professor Huemer’s article is popular with gun supporters is his use of the discredited research of John Lott in which Lott, and now Huemer, contend that jurisdictions with tighter gun control laws have higher crime rates. Once again, this is data that is called into question by studies that show precisely the opposite to be the case.
“The Geography of Gun Deaths” (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/01/the-geography-of-gun-deaths/69354/)
“The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg Calls For Loosened Gun Laws On The Basis Of Discredited Research” (http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/12/03/the-atlantics-jeffrey-goldberg-calls-for-loosen/191650).
The arguments he makes, the extreme examples he uses, and the logic he applies all strike me as a poorly constructed case against a proposition that few, if any, are making – abolishing all gun ownership.
In the final analysis, it has nothing to do with an assault weapons ban.
The Founding Fathers deserve a great deal of credit for providing us with a (mostly) workable representative democracy. They also had the wisdom and good sense to know that they were not perfect nor infallible; otherwise, why bother giving future generations the instructions for how to do something like amend the Constitution?
The Second Amendment is no exception. It is not holy scripture, and I think it’s time to examine this prima facie right in the light of 21st century realities and sensibilities instead of 18th century ones.
I’m not advocating for an outright ban on gun ownership, only a ban on assault weapons. I gladly differ with Huemer on the calculus; if banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines means fewer mass shootings, that’s a benefit worth the price of the ‘harm’ done to recreational target shooters and people who fancy themselves ready and eager members of a ‘well-regulated militia.’