Let’s Talk About Abolishing Gun Ownership

Actor Vince Vaughn shared his thoughts on gun ownership, among other topics, with British GQ, which appeared in a preview of a forthcoming interview:

“I support people having a gun in public full stop, not just in your home. We don’t have the right to bear arms because of burglars; we have the right to bear arms to resist the supreme power of a corrupt and abusive government.”

This kind of rhetoric is extremely common in the U.S. Though it has faced some mild resistance in recent years, enthusiasm for gun rights and even gun rights absolutism, is a powerful force in American culture and politics.

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Conversely, few Americans advocate for an absolutist position against gun rights, with notable exceptions. The result of this asymmetry is that gun control advocates already start with a weakened hand. If you go into a debate with half-measures and compromises as your default position, and your opponent thinks any compromise would be a defeat, you’ve already lost.

Consider President Obama’s 2013 plan to fight gun violence. Its boldest provisions included strengthening background checks, banning military-style assault weapons, and restricting high-capacity magazines. Predictably, even this relatively tepid approach could not overcome the immovable force of the U.S. Senate.

It’s time we start thinking a little more boldly and demanding much more. We should consider abolishing private gun ownership.

I’ll admit it may seem brazen, but it’s an idea worth taking seriously. Australia enacted strict gun regulation in 1996, with little pushback. To own a firearm, an Australian must take a safety course and provide a “genuine reason” for owning a gun. “Self-defesnse” does not count as a reason, according the Australian government–and I assume ”resisting the supreme power of a corrupt and abusive government” doesn’t count, either.

Some estimate that the laws save nearly 200 lives a year. Since Americans are killed much more frequently by guns, similar measures here could save many more lives, both per capita and in total.

In 2013, over 11,000 Americans were victims of homicide with a firearm. That same year, almost twice as many Americans committed suicide using a gun. If over 30,000 American lives were lost every year because of a vaccine, GMOs or terrorism, nothing could stop us from trying every possible method to stop these deaths. Why are we so reluctant to discuss an outright ban on guns?

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The natural response is that guns are fundamentally a part of our culture, in the way that they weren’t for Australia before their ban. This may be the case, and for this reason, it may be true that passing any laws seriously limiting gun ownership is unworkable at present. But my point is that we need to begin talking about the very good reasons we have to abandon a culture of guns if we ever expect to move beyond it.

The usual reasons for claiming a right to guns are by and large spurious. Many people just assert their Second Amendment rights, as if they were divinely given. But the Bill of Rights is simply a list of amendments like any other, written in a very different time. The question is really, do we have any reason to continue to endorse the Second Amendment?

The Second Amendment was intended, as it explicitly says, for the creation of a well regulated militia and for protection of the state. These days, we have little need of militia, given our unmatched Army, Navy and Air Force, not to mention National Guard, Coast Guard and municipal police departments.

Do we need personal firearms to protect ourselves against a government which has such power, as Vaughn suggests? It should seem strange to think that personal gun ownership is much of a defense against a national military or even police force.

But even if you actually thought it might be good idea to stock up weapons to overthrow your government, you have no reason to think your government should allow you to do that. Moreover, we must remember that many people we do not like and with whom we have fundamental moral and political disagreements might also dream of resisting the government through armed conflict. Rather than insisting that no one’s right to violently resist the government be infringed, why don’t we instead rely on and employ the non-violent means of democratic governance to settle our political disputes?

As for self-defense from criminals, the Australian case suggests strongly that having more guns does not in fact make us safer. As former deputy prime minister of Australia Tim Fischer told WBUR, “If more guns made us safer, the US would be the safest nation in the world.” Indeed, there’s little reason to think ensuring a right to gun ownership is the best way to protect the citizenry, because more guns generally leads to more killing.

Does this mean we should ban knives as well? Hardly–knives serve important functions, and kill far fewer people than guns do. What about cars? Well, cars do kill roughly the same number of people as guns do. It would be great if we could make them significantly safer, or find a viable alternative. We don’t need an alternative to guns, we just need people to realize that guns aren’t needed.

Finally, there are strategic advantages to be gained from adopting my proposed stance. Many might worry that anyone who said they wanted to abolish private gun ownership would be branded a looney left-wing radical; but in fact, many guns rights enthusiasts throw around just these accusations at any indication of support for gun regulation. If enough people actually claimed to support banning guns, those who favor merely stronger regulations could then claim the middle ground and may have a greater chance at success.