Friday, January 21, 2011

The Case for Banning Automatic Weapons

Oddly enough despite human intelligence and reason, society continuously comes to decisions that do not produce any genuine advantage yet perpetuate detrimental effects. The continued legalization of semi-automatic and automatic weapons in the United States is one of the most prominent examples of this perplexity. After a thorough analysis there is no rational reason to suggest that the legalization of automatic weapons is in any way beneficial for society. Note that for the remainder of this post the term ‘automatic’ with regards to weapons will stand for semi-automatic and automatic weapons.

There are three general points of argument made by gun proponents, like the National Rifle Association, which can be viewed in any light as rational regarding the overall legalization of firearms. First, citizens should be allowed to purchase firearms for recreational and non-recreational hunting. Second, citizens should be allowed to purchase firearms as a method of self or familial protection from individuals that would seek to do harm or invade the home with malice intent. Third, regardless of motive or rational, citizens should be allowed to purchase firearms because the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows for it.

Arguing for the use of automatic weapons for the purpose of hunting is irrational. For recreational hunting the use of an automatic weapon is grossly inefficient and a waste of money. The capacity to fire 10-20 bullets in an extraordinary short timeframe into a deer, quail or other game fowl is unnecessary and is detrimental to the activity itself. The detriment comes from both the cheapening of the activity through the elimination of the challenge and increasing the probability of damaging the quantity and quality of meat that can be collected from the animal. For non-recreational hunting, such as killing wild hogs and boars that are invading agriculture and livestock lands, double-barreled shotguns are more effective at killing those types of animals. Therefore, from a rational perspective the argument that automatic weapons should remain legal for the sake of hunting is not valid.

The most popular argument in favor of lax gun control regulation is the notion of self-protection. The predominant component of the self-protection argument is that law-abiding citizens should have the ability to own a firearm in order to protect their home, self and family members from intruders. It must be pointed out that owning a home firearm is much more likely to result in the death of a family member over that of an intruder both statistically and on a simple frequency argument; however, despite that issue the rationality behind allowing for the ownership of an automatic weapon over a non-automatic weapon is non-existent.

The reason behind the reality that ‘protection’ firearms are more likely to kill a family member over an intruder is almost self-explanatory because most commonly a home is burglarized in one of two ways. First, the burglar is only concerned about getting a quick buck. Burglars either case their target because they want to spend as little time as possible in the house when acquiring their ill-gotten gains or the burglary is an spur-of-the-moment smash and grab. Either way the owner being home at the time of burglary only complicates things, so rarely will a burglar strike when an owner is home thus eliminating the protective factor of the gun for this type of situation.

The second type of home burglary is the more rare, but more violent home invasion. Thinking a gun is going to offer any real form of protection during a home invasion is wish-thinking as the individuals that participate in home invasions are frequently more heavily armed, better trained in the use of firearms and more willing and at ease with killing than the owner of the home. Brandishing a gun in this situation will more likely result in the owner getting killed than successfully warding off the invasion. Therefore, unless an individual is being robbed by 11-15 unarmed individuals at the same time, the laws of probability frown on such an occurrence, it stands to reason that owning an automatic firearm over a non-automatic firearm will simply increase the probability of a loved one’s death because of their greater killing potential.

A recent secondary element to the protection argument has emerged: having the ability to utilize a concealed firearm in a public place to prevent or cease the unlawful use of a firearm by another individual. Basically a bystander should be afforded the ability to carry their own firearm in order to have it available to shoot another individual that is ‘shooting’ up a public place in an attempt to kill a large number of people. While mass shootings, which seem to occur with disgusting more regularity in society, have increased the popularity of this reasoning too often have these gun-wielding bystanders been absent. Arguing the theoretical potential of an issue is meaningless if it is not put into practice on a consistent basis. Even then, it should give someone immediate pause to recommend or even envision an environment where public safety is dependent on unofficially trained or untrained bystanders having to draw firearms.

Some argue that motivation or even utility is unnecessary for the legality of firearms due to the Second Amendment. First, the contention that any citizen has the right to legally own a firearm based on the protections offered by the Second Amendment is incorrect. The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed". Proponents of universal protection under the Second Amendment tend to forget that this amendment was drafted in 1787 and that the word ‘Militia’ is extremely important for that time period. Nowhere in that proclamation can it be reasonably inferred that the Second Amendment gives an individual the right to own a firearm without association with a Militia (note the capital M) sanctioned by the government and possessing the authority to protect the state. Now in modern times due to the existence of a standing national army, something that the framers thought would never be developed because of state autonomy concerns in relation to Federal government power; there is no existing situation in which that condition of Militia association can be met, thus by default no private citizen has the right to own a firearm based on the Second Amendment.

It can be argued that despite the accuracy of this interpretation of the Second Amendment the Supreme Court has concluded, it would seem inaccurately, that the Second Amendment does offer legal protection for gun ownership. However, the Supreme Court also did not eliminate the ability of the Federal Government to place restrictions on the type of arms ownership. For example no private citizen is allowed to legally own a nuclear weapon or large caliber machine guns, thus the Second Amendment protection is not absolute. With the conclusion that Second Amendment protection is not absolute a meaningful utility is required to own an automatic weapon. Yet as demonstrated above that meaningful utility does not exist. In fact the only reason one would even purchase an automatic weapon is that individual is interested in killing as many animals or people as possible in a given time period. Clearly such a rational is not a beneficial, just or meaningful utility.

Now one could make the argument that banning automatic firearms, even though a number of units were banned under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban which sun-downed in 2004, is that it would create some form of ‘slippery slope’ when it came to gun ownership rights. The slippery slope argument is common in philosophical discussions when addressing a controversial strategy and its execution. Despite its notoriety and popularity slippery slope arguments are solely based on fear and there is little reason to take them seriously.

The failure occurs in the assumption of an applied domino effect in that once one decision is made an associated decision will automatically occur at some time in the future. Such a belief is irrational. The true design of a slippery slope argument was to suggest that once a controversial rationalization is made in a given situation, it would become easier to make more radical controversial rationalizations in future situations. However, such arguments can be neutralized by establishing a rational and thorough review system that demands a certain ‘line in the sand’ mentality in the decision-making process. In addition there is nothing controversial about banning automatic weapons because of the aforementioned lack of beneficial utility in their use, thus no ‘slippery slope’ even if the concept were valid.

The final argument that might be used against a permanent automatic weapon ban is the concern that if automatic weapons were banned only criminals would have access to them. This argument has been a mainstay in the pro-gun lobby for firearms in general, but is irrelevant in this instance once again due to the lack of beneficial utility element for automatic weapons. As for the concern with the criminal element, almost all active automatic weapon utilization occurs within some form of criminal enterprise, thus making automatic weapons illegal will reduce the efficiency of operations for these criminals while applying very little inconvenience for the general public. Under the suggested policy private citizens would still have legal access to non-automatic firearms to address any self-protection issues. Realistically the suggest policy should facilitate an environment where the only individuals that are legally allowed to own automatic weapons would be active members of the military and members of a SWAT team.

Overall well meaning people can argue about the extent of gun control applied to non-automatic weapons, but there exists no reasonable or rational argument for the continued legalization of semi-automatic or automatic weapons.

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