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Mill on Gun Control

April 5, 2011

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 While the right to bear arms is outlined in the Constitution, it is an outdated law and in its current form can be brought up for interpretation.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.

5 Comments
  1. Robert Tepper permalink
    April 5, 2011 5:06 PM

    I found your post to be very interesting and written about an extremely relevant topic. While I definitely agree that Mill believes in individual rights and the safety of society as a whole, I’m not entirely sure that he would support gun control. First of all, the right to bear arms is one of the most fundamental rights we as Americans have. It is written in the Constitution and there has been no amendment passed to get rid of it. Based on this and Mill’s views on individual rights, I would think that Mill would be supportive of guns. You mentioned at the end of the post that Mill would support gun control because that right can be taken away because it harms others. However, I’m not so sure that taking away guns from society would make it safer. Obviously, being able to access and purchase a gun may allow criminals and those who intend to do harm acquire them. However, they can also find ways to receive guns even if gun control was extremely strict. Most people have guns for protection. Many people believe that a well armed society is a polite society since people are less inclined to fight. There is a definite possibility that society would be worse without guns since those unable to protect themselves would not be able to. It would allow the stronger individuals to harm the weak, which would then make our society unequal. Now remember, Mill is also pretty big on equality.

  2. Josh Langer permalink
    April 5, 2011 8:05 PM

    I found this to be an interesting article, but I happen to agree with Robert Tepper. I feel that Mill would support the ownership of guns for some of the reasons you listed in your article. Since Mill is so high on individual rights, I feel that he would support people being able to own firearms because the right bear to bear arms is the Second Amendment. Now you bring up a good point in saying that Mill believes individual rights can be taken away in order to preserve safety, but no guns does not necessarily mean a safer nation. In fact, a lot of people would argue that guns make a nation safer because people would be less inclined to rob or harass people. Regardless of whether guns were illegal or not, some people would still have some and it would be safer for everyone to be able to have guns rather than just those who obtain them illegally. With such a tight debate on whether a nation is safer with or without guns, I believe Mill would support gun ownership because it is a representation of individual rights.

  3. Shane Malone permalink
    April 6, 2011 12:13 AM

    I’m also going to agree with both Josh and Robert in that Mill would be in support of guns. I do agree with you when you say that you can see sides for both gun control and not having both control, but I am going to say that there should not be gun control. Much like the previous post have said a society without guns would not be safer. Since people already have guns the people with the guns could do some serious harm to the people that don’t have guns. It will be interesting to see how this topic on gun control is resolved in the future. Very interesting post.

  4. Katarina Evans permalink
    April 6, 2011 1:00 PM

    This post is very insightful and thoughtful. It’s hard to fully determinehow Mill would feel about the issue. I feel as though it ultimately comesdown to the question of if gun control would make society a safer place. If no, then I feel as though we can safely say that Mill would consider gun control a serious disruption of peoples’ liberty. On the other hand, if yes, then it seems that he would consider it for the best. In my opinion, I believe that gun control would result in a safer society, as it would encourage a non-violent atmosphere, and lead to the protection of most people. As it is argued that people have the freedom to protect themselves, it is also very hard to determine who is buying weapons for protection, and who could be buying them for violent reasons. Furthermore, accidents happen, and not all violence is intentional. In fact for those who keep a gun in their homes, unintentional shooting is 22 times more likely than shooting to kill or wound in self-defense. On campus, well lubricated disagreement at bars or frat parties could be taken up a deadly notch. Since Mill is a utilitarian and advocates the best results for the largest number of people, I think I would agree with your conclusion that Mill would be in support of gun control laws.

  5. Brian Wandschneider permalink
    April 7, 2011 10:28 PM

    Great article, but I have to disagree with your interpretation of Mill. If past and current bans have shown us anything, it is that nothing can be fully banned. Black markets always arise, which often cause more harm than what was happening before the prohibition. Secondly, guns are often a form of protection rather than danger. Crime be can prevented with the private possession of firearms. Furthermore, there is the quote “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Guns are inherently not harmful, and people that use them to kill others can always find a way to do so. Whether they use a different weapon or get guns through the black market, when someone wants to attack a congresswoman, for example, he will do it one way or another. I don’t think Mill would support gun control because it is just another liberty taken from the people, and because the majority of people with guns are nonviolent.

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