About this topic
Summary Philosophical discussions of gun ownership center around the justification, nature, and scope of a right to keep and bear arms. Attention to the empirical literature is especially important, since many arguments both for and against gun ownership are based on their social consequences. Some argue that because guns lead to more harms than benefits, that gun ownership ought to be banned completely or at least heavily restricted. Others argue the opposite: private gun ownership should be allowed because guns lead to more benefits than harms. Still others, following Dworkin's observation that rights override appeals to negative utility, argue that rights-based arguments for gun ownership override the force of countervailing empirical considerations.
Key works A right to private gun ownership is typically justified on the basis of self-defense. While this argument is typically situated in the context of criminal aggressors (Wheeler 1997, Hughes & Hunt 2000Huemer 2003, Hunt 2011Baker 2014), some pro-gun philosophers have argued that gun ownership can also be justified as a type of self-defense against rogue states (Wheeler 1999).  Critics of gun ownership fall within a spectrum of views. LaFollette 2000 argues that gun owners should be held strictly liable for any gun-related harms they inflict. DeGrazia 2014a and DeGrazia 2014b argue for 'moderate gun control,' under which only competent persons who demonstrate a 'special need' for gun ownership may be allowed to purchase firearms. Dixon 2011, by contrast, argues for an absolute prohibition of handgun ownership. For responses, see Bernstein et al 2015 and Hsiao 2015.
Introductions Hunt 2013 provides a good overview of the state of philosophical discussions on gun ownership.
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  1. Gun Bans, Risk, and Self-Defense.Deane-Peter Baker - 2014 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 28 (2):235-249.
    While there are no serious arguments in favor of there being no state control whatsoever over the private ownership and employment of firearms, there are significant arguments on the other extreme of the ‘gun control debate’ which contend for bans on the private ownership of firearms or some subset thereof. In this paper I argue that gun ban proponents like Jeff McMahan and Nicholas Dixon confuse the risk or likelihood of being confronted by an attacker intent on serious or lethal (...)
  2. Gun Violence Agnosticism.C'Zar Bernstein - 2015 - Essays in Philosophy 16 (2):232-246.
    In this paper, I shall argue that the evidence supports, at the very best for the anti-gun side, agnosticism about the negative criminogenic effects of gun ownership. Given the plausible proposition that there is at least a prima facie moral right (a right that can be outweighed given sufficiently weighty considerations) to keep and bear arms, I argue that agnosticism supports the proposition that there ought to be a legal right to keep and bear arms.
  3. The Moral Right to Keep and Bear Firearms.C'Zar Bernstein, Timothy Hsiao & Matthew Palumbo - 2015 - Public Affairs Quarterly 29 (4).
    The moral right to keep and bear arms is entailed by the moral right of self-defense. We argue that the ownership and use of firearms is a reasonable means of exercising these rights. Given their defensive value, there is a strong presumption in favor of enacting civil rights to keep and bear arms ranging from handguns to ‘assault rifles.’ Thus, states are morally obliged as a matter of justice to recognize basic liberties for firearm ownership and usage. Throughout this paper (...)
  4. The Justifiability of Hollow‐Point Bullets.James B. Brady - 1983 - Criminal Justice Ethics 2 (2):9-19.
  5. The Case of the Contested Firearms.George Brenkert - 1999 - Business and Society Review 104 (4):347-354.
  6. Guns/No Guns and the Expression of Social Hostility.Delwin D. Cahoon & Ed M. Edmonds - 1984 - Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 22 (4):305-308.
  7. Gun Control.Preston K. Covey - 1997 - In Ruth Chadwick (ed.), Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics. Academic Press.
    Gun control assumes myriad guises among over 20,000 current laws, the en d less array of proposed legislation at all levels of government, evolving case law. administrative policies, consumer-product safety regulations, and novel liability and litigation stratagems. The topic embraces a wide variety of arguable means and social ends and, therefore, entails a fair maze of issues. Any instant case of gun control policy serves, in effect, as a rabbit hole leading to an underlying warren of issues: questions of fact, (...)
  8. Handguns, Moral Rights, and Physical Security.David DeGrazia - 2016 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 13 (1).
    _ Source: _Page Count 21 Guns occupy a major—sometimes terrible—place in contemporary American life. Do Americans have not only a legal right, but also a moral right, to own handguns? After introducing the topic, this paper examines what a moral right to private handgun ownership would amount to. It then elucidates the logical structure of the strongest argument in favor of such a right, an argument that appeals to physical security, before assessing its cogency and identifying two questionable assumptions. In (...)
  9. Handguns, Moral Rights, and Physical Security.David DeGrazia - 2014 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 11 (1):56-76.
    Guns occupy a major—sometimes terrible—place in contemporary American life. Do Americans have not only a legal right, but also a moral right, to own handguns? After introducing the topic, this paper examines what a moral right to private handgun ownership would amount to. It then elucidates the logical structure of the strongest argument in favor of such a right, an argument that appeals to physical security, before assessing its cogency and identifying two questionable assumptions. In light of persisting reasonable disagreement (...)
  10. Handguns, Moral Rights, and Physical Security.David DeGrazia - 2014 - New Content is Available for Journal of Moral Philosophy.
    _ Source: _Page Count 21 Guns occupy a major—sometimes terrible—place in contemporary American life. Do Americans have not only a legal right, but also a moral right, to own handguns? After introducing the topic, this paper examines what a moral right to private handgun ownership would amount to. It then elucidates the logical structure of the strongest argument in favor of such a right, an argument that appeals to physical security, before assessing its cogency and identifying two questionable assumptions. In (...)
  11. The Case for Moderate Gun Control.David DeGrazia - 2014 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 24 (1):1-25.
    In addressing the shape of appropriate gun policy, this essay assumes for the sake of discussion that there is a legal and moral right to private gun ownership. My thesis is that, against the background of this right, the most defensible policy approach in the United States would feature moderate gun control. The first section summarizes the American gun control status quo and characterizes what I call “moderate gun control.” The next section states and rebuts six leading arguments against this (...)
  12. Handguns, Philosophers, and the Right to Self-Defense.Nicholas Dixon - 2011 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 25 (2):151-170.
    Within the last decade or so several philosophers have argued against handgun prohibition on the ground that it violates the right to self-defense. However, even these philosophers grant that the right to own handguns is not absolute and could be overridden if doing so would bring about an enormous social good. Analysis of intra-United States empirical data cited by gun rights advocates indicates that guns do not make us safer, while international data lends powerful support to the thesis that guns (...)
  13. Handguns, Violent Crime, and Self-Defense.Nicholas Dixon - 1999 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 13 (2):239-260.
    By far the most plausible explanation of data on violent crime in the United States is that its high handgun ownership rate is a major causal factor. The only realistic way to significantly reduce violent crime in this country is an outright ban on private ownership of handguns. While such a ban would undeniably restrict one particular freedom, it would violate no rights. In particular, the unquestioned right to self-defense does not entail a right to own handguns, because the evidence (...)
  14. Is There a Right to Bear Arms?Timothy Hall - 2006 - Public Affairs Quarterly 20 (4):293-312.
  15. Against Gun Bans and Restrictive Licensing.Timothy Hsiao - 2015 - Essays in Philosophy 16 (2):180-203.
    Arguments in favor of an individual moral right to keep and bear firearms typically appeal to the value of guns as a reasonable means of self-defense. This is, for the most part, an empirical claim. If it were shown that allowing private gun ownership would lead to an overall net increase in crime or other social harms, then the strength of a putative right to own a gun would be diminished. But would it be defeated completely? I do not think (...)
  16. Is There a Right to Own a Gun?Michael Huemer - 2003 - Social Theory and Practice 29 (2):297-324.
    Individuals have a prima facie right to own firearms. This right is significant in view both of the role that such ownership plays in the lives of firearms enthusiasts and of the self-defense value of firearms. Nor is this right overridden by the social harms of private gun ownership. These harms have been greatly exaggerated and are probably considerably smaller than the benefits of private gun ownership. And I argue that the harms would have to be at least several times (...)
  17. The Liberal Basis of the Right to Bear Arms.Todd C. Hughes & Lester H. Hunt - 2000 - Public Affairs Quarterly 14 (1):1-25.
  18. Gun Control.Lester Hunt - 2013 - International Encyclopedia of Ethics.
    The phrase “gun control” has no very precise meaning. It typically refers either to prohibitions of or restrictions on gun ownership on the part of the civilian population. Such rules may apply either to guns in general or to some type of gun (such as handguns). More rarely, it can refer to legal restrictions, not on classes of weapons, but on classes of users, a sort of restriction that might be called “dangerous possessor gun control” (see Risk). In this case, (...)
  19. The Right to Arms as a Means-Right.Lester Hunt - 2011 - Public Affairs Quarterly 25 (2):113-130.
    1. Two IssuesIn recent years, a number of philosophers have discussed the possibility that the widely recognized right of self-defense includes another, more controversial right: a right to arms, where “arms” is understood to include guns. I will argue in what follows that the right of self-defense does indeed have this feature, and I will offer a new explanation of why it does so—an explanation that, despite its novelty is, I believe, deeply rooted in common sense.I n Section 2, I (...)
  20. Gun Control: The Issues.John Kleinig & Hugh Lafollette - 2001 - Criminal Justice Ethics 20 (1):17-18.
  21. Gun Ownership and Gun Culture in the United States of America.Michael Kocsis - 2015 - Essays in Philosophy 16 (2):154-79.
    Almost everyone agrees that gun ownership is part of the complex fabric of values and traditions that comprise American society. All sides in the gun ownership debate understand that firearms are embedded deeply in America’s society and culture. But whereas for some the right to own guns is a non-negotiable promise guaranteed constitutionally, for others it is far more an element of the American experience than is desirable. This essay examines three arguments which have not usually received full treatment in (...)
  22. Controlling Guns.Hugh LaFollette - 2001 - Criminal Justice Ethics 20 (1):34-39.
    Wheeler, Stark, and Stell have raised many interesting points concerning gun control that merit extended treatment. Here, however, I will focus only on two. I will then briefly expand on the proposal I offered in the original paper.
  23. Gun Control.Hugh LaFollette - 2000 - Ethics 110 (2):263-281.
    Many of us assume we must either oppose or support gun control. Not so. We have a range of alternatives. Even this way of speaking oversimplifies our choices since there are two distinct scales on which to place alternatives. One scale concerns the degree (if at all) to which guns should be abolished. This scale moves from those who want no abolition (NA) of any guns, through those who want moderate abolition (MA) - to forbid access to some subclasses of (...)
  24. Gun Control: A European Perspective.Vincent C. Müller - 2015 - Essays in Philosophy 16 (2):247-261.
    From a European perspective the US debate about gun control is puzzling because we have no such debate: It seems obvious to us that dangerous weapons need tight control and that ‘guns’ fall under that category. I suggest that this difference occurs due to different habits that generate different attitudes and support this explanation with an analogy to the habits about knives. I conclude that it is plausible that individual knife-people or gun-people do not want tight regulatory legislation—but tight knife (...)
  25. Limited Government and Gun Control.Howard Ponzer - 2015 - Essays in Philosophy 16 (2):204-216.
    In the following, the author presents a case for federally mandated gun control regulations. Specifically, the author argues—with reference to The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—that the principle of limited government often used against federal gun control laws actually provides legitimate justification for them. The aim is to persuade gun advocates to accept such regulations from their own point of view.
  26. On Risk & Responsibility: Gun Control and the Ethics of Hunting.Christopher A. Riddle - 2015 - Essays in Philosophy 16 (2):217-231.
    This article explores gun control and the ethics of hunting and suggests that hunting ought not to be permitted, and not because of its impact on those animals that are hunted, but because of the risk other humans are subjected to as a result of some being permitted to own guns for mere preference satisfaction. This article examines the nature of freedom, its value, and how responsibility for the exercising of that freedom ought to be regarded when it involves subjecting (...)
  27. Commentary: Toward a Rational Gun Policy.Charles E. Schumer - 1995 - Criminal Justice Ethics 14 (2):2-63.
  28. Fundamental Rights and the Right to Bear Arms.Cynthia A. Stark - 2001 - Criminal Justice Ethics 20 (1):25-27.
  29. The Production of Criminal Violence in America: Is Strict Gun Control the Solution?Lance K. Stell - 2004 - Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 32 (1):38-46.
  30. Gun Control and the Regulation of Fundamental Rights.Lance K. Stell - 2001 - Criminal Justice Ethics 20 (1):28-33.
  31. Against Moderate Gun Control.Timothy Hsiao & C'Zar Bernstein - 2017 - Libertarian Papers 8 (2):293-310.
    Arguments for handgun ownership typically appeal to handguns’ value as an effective means of self-protection. Against this, critics argue that private ownership of handguns leads to more social harm than it prevents. Both sides make powerful arguments, and in the absence of a reasonable consensus regarding the merits of gun ownership, David DeGrazia proposes two gun control policies that ‘reasonable disputants on both sides of the issue have principled reasons to accept.’ These policies hinge on his claim that ‘an even-handed (...)
  32. Gun Violence and Fundamental Rights.Samuel C. Wheeler - 2001 - Criminal Justice Ethics 20 (1):19-24.
  33. Arms as Insurance.Samuel C. Wheeler - 1999 - Public Affairs Quarterly 13 (2):111-129.