Banning guns.

Some short thoughts from me that I’ve been toying with since Friday now, and still can’t quite work out where to take them. Comments would be much appreciated.

I was struck by Martha Nussbaum’s recent comments on France’s ban on the burqa. One of the arguments given by proponents of the ban is that wearing the burqa tends to be associated with violence towards women. But, as Nussbaum notes, the same applies to men drinking alcohol. Are we rushing to bring back the era of Prohibition? Obviously not.

Which suggests to me a broader point: we don’t, it seems to me, wish to ban alcohol despite it often causing violence precisely because it doesn’t necessarily cause illegal, bad acts. It is perfectly possible to sip beer without such consequences unfolding. Hence, we do not forbid its use. We just punish the bad acts that follow from it when they follow from it. We don’t prosecute ownership of the baseball bat until it’s used to bash someone’s brains in, and we certainly would never ban ownership of the bat on the grounds that it is occasionally abused. The law should surely step in only once the abuse transpires.

This can explain a whole array of intuitions we have about stuff that evidently should not be either banned or even regulated. I wholeheartedly believe that even if it was proven that a film like Fight Club ensured that the odd person attempted to begin their own Project Mayhem (as indeed happened), and even if Taxi Driver inspired a man to attempt an assassination – that is absolutely no reason to not show those films. For similar reasons, the suggestion that the Batman franchise is somehow to blame, and that Joker masks should be banned in cinemas, repulses me.

But this seems to lead to an awkward implication. If, as is clearly the case, guns in themselves do not kill people, and can easily be used for leisure purposes or as a deterrent in self-defence; if it takes a person to do something bad with them before they become destructive, how are they different from burqas, booze and Batman? If we’re to find a reason for regulating or banning guns, the mere fact they can be employed towards violent ends doesn’t seem to be the right reason we need.

One thought on “Banning guns.

  1. Interesting! Some thoughts;

    You say it’s obvious that we don’t seek prohibition on the basis that alcohol causes social harms. Agreed, but what’s not obvious is why this is. I don’t think it’s because we have some immediate objection to the idea itself of combating harms by banning something which causes them simply because it’s not the most direct cause.

    I think it’s because banning alcohol would have other, disconnected, consequences which we think are unfair – people who aren’t abusive post-alcohol would face social and recreational restrictions. Banning burqas would restrict the ability of women to express themselves both aesthetically and religiously. Banning films would have all kinds of cultural consequences.

    I’m not sure this is the same for banning guns. I don’t see what value is created by ordinary people on the street being able to walk around armed to kill that would be lost after a ban. Arms owners may dispute this, but I’d be willing to take them up on it, especially if you allow for the possibility of having a system like the UK’s where the only people who would actually be negatively affected by a blanket firearm ban can still get hold of them.

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