Journal of Moral Philosophy 11 (1):56-76 (2014)
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 about the argument’s soundness, the paper identifies two gun control measures—demonstrated need for a gun as a condition of eligibility and the requirement to pass a rigorous gun safety course—that reasonable disputants on both sides of the issue have principled reasons to accept. The paper also advances the thesis that, if anyone has an undefeated moral right to own handguns, it is precisely those individuals who have a special need and demonstrate the relevant safety-related competence.
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