Ever since the 2015-2016 election period, the political culture of the United States has been turned on its head, coinciding with the eruption of a hotbed of issues brought to the forefront of debates and discussions by mainstream news media. Never have the philosophies of Hobbes, and his contemporary Locke, been more relevant as crises emerge more and more frequently as time goes on. One such issue that has taken the United States by storm is that of gun control, which in light of recent events, has become a loaded phrase that has furthered the divide between those in favor, and those against any sort of anti-gun policy. Pro-gun control advocates are seeking more state-issued measures to safeguard public spaces, Congressional action to enact legislation that would ban assault rifles, such as the AR-15 used during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; raise the age requirement to purchase a weapon of any kind to 21, and put mental health checks in place during the registration process to prevent anyone with a mental disability or illness from accessing firearms. On the other side of the debate are the NRA loyalists hiding screaming ‘2nd Amendment’ and claiming that guns aren’t the real problem, people are.
Gun control is centered on consigning certain precautionary measures in regard to the sale and usage of firearms all throughout the country, especially when the transport of firearms across state lines, along with the mass advertising and marketing of guns in the American Midwest and South has led to a deep-seated gun culture difficult to root out. According to NPR, while the U.S. has significant more firearms than any of its allies, their respective motives for gun ownership are completely different: “I do believe that the motivation to have guns here in Switzerland is very different than the motivation in the United States. People (Switzerland) have guns either because they’re in the military... And there’s nobody in Switzerland who buys guns to defend themselves against danger, or even less, defend themselves against the state.” (Adam Winkler, 2017) Succinctly, this suggests that the primary reasons for gun ownership in Switzerland, often considered an uber-liberal country, is for either the militia to answer the call of duty as needed, or for sport; whereas, American citizens whom are pro-gun are motivated by an interest in procuring and collecting guns, as well as under the pretense of self-defense if the government were to infringe on their constitutional rights. Because the U.S. was founded amid an armed revolution, American gun culture has been well-established since then, and fanned by the flames of the romanticized Wild West imagery seen in films and television.
Hobbesian thought would argue that the culture of gun violence is an inherent flaw in the system that will readily lead to the collapse of the social order. According to Hobbes, humans have a predisposition to a ‘pure state of nature’, that is absolute freedom through anarchy. Subsequently, any continued attempts to formalize a regime or consolidate power through a centralized government will inevitably lead to destabilization and the collapse of the social order, foreshadowing the American Revolution when the tyranny of an overbearing government led to open rebellion by the common man. On the off-chance that a home invasion or property-trespass occurs, Middle America cites guns as a defensive tool, instead of as an offensive weapon. This could explain the motive for self-protection that private citizens use to rationalize this gun-worship entrenched in certain parts of the country. If history is any guide, the State will sooner or later disarm the citizenry and a new tyranny will emerge to replace the last. However, according to The Economist, the U.S. might be stuck in a perpetual loop wherein every mass shooting leads to efforts by the pro-gun lobby to work that much harder and spend that much more money to keep the status quo intact: “Then it would be the case that mass shootings create resistance to the reforms that would reduce mass shootings, which in turn reinforce a felt need to preserve permissive gun laws, and so on.” (W.W., 2015)
Approaching this from the mindset of John Locke, the participation of people in the social contract between the governed and the government leads to the willing sacrifice of some liberties for the purpose of securing most through government enforcement, hence a tacit agreement is made between both parties that in certain situations, they’re safety comes before they’re liberty. With respect to gun control, the Lockeian ideal would argue that rules to protect civilians from gun violence is necessary, not a gun ban, is a necessary measure to prevent the country from falling into disarray if a civil insurrection were to happen. In order to ensure that others’ Constitutional right to life is not violated, certain limitations on the exercise of the 2nd Amendment should be upheld, but there are still major holes in legislation that prevent these restrictions from enacting any real change to slow the steadily increasing rate of gun deaths in the United States: “But the system has major holes in it too, among them incomplete listings of criminal cases. Perhaps the biggest hole is that of small-scale sellers, including many who do business at gun shows, are not required to do background checks...” (Pérez-Peña, 2015) Because of this loophole, the distribution of firearms is unmonitored, unregulated and threatens Locke’s social contract insomuch as the illusion of the State stripping citizens of their 2nd Amendment rights would be seen as cause for civil strife.
To conclude, gun control has become a divisive issue in which the American people stand opposed to one another on either side of the debate. Whether or not Hobbes’ or Locke’s political ideologies can shed some light on the matter, there is undeniable evidence for the significant rise in gun violence and gun deaths as a result, especially in areas where lax gun control and deregulation is the standard. Regardless, there is a growing need for effective reforms in order to prevent any further loss of life at the hands of madmen armed to the teeth.
- Winkler, A. (2017). Gun violence in America, explained. Vox. https://www.vox.com/cards/gun-violence-facts/gun-culture
- The Economist. (2015). America’s gun control debate continues. https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2015/12/10/americas-gun-control-debate-continues
- Pérez-Peña, R. (2015). Gun control explained. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/07/us/gun-control-explained.html
- Cook, P. J., & Ludwig, J. (2017). Gun violence: The real costs. University of Chicago Press.
- Kalesan, B., Mobily, M. E., Keiser, O., & Fagan, J. A. (2016). Firearm legislation and firearm mortality in the USA: a cross-sectional, state-level study. The Lancet, 387(10030), 1847-1855.
- Vernick, J. S., & Webster, D. W. (2013). Reducing gun violence in America: informing policy with evidence and analysis. JHU Press.
- Kellermann, A. L., & Rivara, F. P. (2013). Silencing the science on gun research. JAMA, 309(6), 549-550.
- Gius, M. (2016). An examination of the effects of concealed weapons laws and assault weapons bans on state-level murder rates. Applied Economics Letters, 23(7), 473-476.
- Siegel, M., Pahn, M., & Xuan, Z. (2017). Firearm-related laws in all 50 US states, 1991-2016. American Journal of Public Health, 107(7), 1122-1129.
- Webster, D. W., Vernick, J. S., & Hepburn, L. M. (2013). Relationship between licensing, registration, and other gun sales laws and the source state of crime guns. Injury Prevention, 19(1), 26-31.