Mill on Gun Control
In the past few months, one of the major American debates has been brought up in the face of tragedy. After the Tucson shootings, where Congresswoman Giffords was injured, the classic debate of gun control was revived, however with more of a personal tone in congress and shock throughout the United States. And recently at the University of Michigan where there was a recent crime alert concerning a “felonious assault” in the Chemistry Building (yikes!). One of the constant debates in the United States is the right to bear arms. While the right to bear arms is outlined in the Constitution, it is an outdated law and in its current form can be brought up for interpretation.
Proponents of gun control feel that the sale of guns should be monitored and the elimination of gun sales will lead to less crime. They also feel that there needs to be more restrictions to owning weapons in order to ensure the safety of society.
Gun rights activists cite the Constitution as one of the main reasons Americans have the right to own guns. They also feel that restrictions on guns will actually lead to more crimes and the development of black markets. It also is noted that any restriction of guns will affect all gun owners to a point.
The reason I bring up this controversial issue is to see how Mill, based on his work “On Liberty,” would respond to in relation to restriction of gun sales. While clearly Mill would encourage debate on the issue in various productive forms, what stance would he take? In my opinion there can be a case made for both sides, however he would be supportive of gun control.
Mill is a serious believer in individual rights and liberties, which are important to his development of society saying that the “individual is sovereign”. He feels that there are rights that every individual should have and they should be allowed to express these rights in any way they chose to do so as long as it does not harm any other members of society. In this case, many feel that the right to own a gun is just that. A right that was given to them. However it can cause major harms to other individuals and society as a whole. Mill does not explicitly discuss the restriction of individual’s rights as a whole in order to ensure the rights of everyone else. While he does talk about not infringing on rights, he does not discuss laws or restrictions that would inhibit that. His idea is to punish those who disobey and take legal action against them. In the case of gun control, as a society we carry this out. Those who infringe on the rights or carry out illegal actions are then punished by the system and given consequences.
However, Mill states that the only reason rights can be taken away from an individual are to ensure their safety and the safety of society as a whole. Without guns at all, society sure would be a lot safer than it is today. This is why, even with his ideas concerning liberty and punishment of those who infringe on it, Mill would support gun control. The right to liberty has no purpose if an individual is harmed or killed. Therefore steps need to be taken to ensure life, even if this interferes with a sector of a guaranteed right.
While Mill only discusses political debates and liberty in his essay, it can be applied to major social issues and in this case the controversial idea of gun control. Mill feels that safety is very important and should be ensured through the use of liberties and in this case certain rights can be taken away in order to guarantee everyone’s rights to liberty as well as life itself.