The Ethics of Guns

Louisiana Shooting Association's Dan Zelenka discusses the ethics of gun ownership. You won't want to miss this one, especially if you're looking for answers.

A teacher in Cleveland, Ohio asked his high school ethics class what topic they would like to discuss. The class chose gun ownership. I had met the teacher through an online discussion group on gun issues sponsored by and Time. We have divergent beliefs on gun issues so he asked me to address some questions to provide the students with another viewpoint. Because the class is about ethics, the questions are couched in that vein.

1. Why are you a good person to talk to about the ethics of gun ownership?

I have been a gun owner for almost 50 years. I am also an attorney and the president of my state’s shooting association. I have shot competitively and hunted and have worked to pass on these traditions to future generations.

2. How old should a person be to own a gun and why?

I believe that you should specify what you mean by ownership. I was given my first .22 rifle as a Christmas gift when I was 10 years old. I had been previously taught gun safety and how to care for and maintain my rifle. Was I the owner? I certainly wasn’t the purchaser, but I was responsible for my rifle. While a person must be 18 to purchase a rifle and 21 to purchase a handgun under federal law, I believe that gun safety, which is necessary for responsible gun ownership, can be taught much earlier. I started introducing my grandchildren to shooting at age 6 although that clearly did not involve actual ownership of any firearms. Firearm ownership by minors should be on a case by case basis depending on maturity and training. Adults (age 18 and older) have the legal right to own firearms (provided they are not otherwise prohibited due to criminal behavior or medical issues).

3. If your gun accidentally hurts someone, are you ethically responsible?

Guns don’t “accidentally” hurt people. Every “accident” can usually be traced to negligence by the user, specifically, a failure to follow the rules of gun safety – 1) treat every gun as if it is loaded; 2) don’t point a gun at anything you are not willing to kill or destroy; 3) keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot; and 4) know your target and what is behind it. I would also add to this a requirement of either maintaining personal control over the firearm or safely storing it. If you violate any of these rules and someone is injured thereby, you are not just ethically responsible, you are legally responsible which may have criminal or financial consequences.

4. What makes it ethical for you to have a gun and not others?

I believe that the following reflects on questions 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9.

All people have the natural right to defend themselves and their families. This right pre-existed the writing of the US bill of rightsConstitution. In the Bill of Rights, Amendment 2, the right to keep and bear arms was recognized and protected from government infringement. It is very important to understand that “the right of the People” when referenced in the Constitution as amended always refers to individual rights. It is also important to understand that the Bill of Rights does not confer rights on the People, rather it is a limitation on the power of the government. So, the short answer as to what makes gun ownership ethical is that it is the fundamental, individual right of the people of the United States.

Over the years the right to keep and bear arms has been infringed upon (remember all regulation is infringement, however, some infringement may be found to be constitutional and therefore allowed). Specifically, Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968 which provided that persons convicted of felonies, drug addicts and mental incompetents (those who are a danger to themselves or others) would be prohibited from owning firearms. In 1996, this prohibition was extended to those persons convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors.

To summarize, I have the right to own a firearm and I have not lost that right by my own bad behavior or through some mental incapacity.

5. What should the mental health requirements be for someone to have the ethical right to own a gun?

A person who has been adjudicated a danger to himself or others because of some form of mental incapacity cannot and should not own a firearm. Note that I said adjudicated. This means that the person has been provided notice of a hearing and the opportunity to defend him or her self before a court (due process). The great failing of what is now popularly called “Red Flag Laws” is the seizing of a person’s property (firearms) without providing due process. This is unconstitutional under the 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments (not to mention a likely violation of the 2nd Amendment).

6. What makes it ethically right for you to own a gun?

See the answer to question 4.

7. Do black males have a stronger ethical right to own a gun than others?

No. Absolutely not. All people of the United States that are not otherwise prohibited by law have the same right to own a firearm. The law should be colorblind.

8. Do you have an ethical responsibility to own a gun if you are in a position of power?

I believe that I have an ethical and moral responsibility to own a firearm for the protection of myself and my family. I am my family’s first responder. Whether it is a simple cut, a fire or a home invasion, I am responsible to take care of it until the ambulance, fire truck or police officer gets there. It is my responsibility to have first aid supplies, a fire extinguisher and an adequate self-defense firearm to fulfill this duty. Since I am my family’s first responder until the police arrive (which could be a while), I should have the option to arm myself with the same type and quality firearms as a responding officer may have, including a semi-automatic handgun, shotgun, and patrol rifle. I don’t know how that relates to a position of power as I think all capable people have the same duty to themselves and their families.

9. How can we decide who has the ethical right to have a gun?

As previously stated, the people of the United States have the right to keep and bear arms. Government by its very nature will attempt to infringe upon that right through regulation. Courts will have to rule as to which infringements meet constitutional standards. Thus far, regulations prohibiting persons convicted of felonies and domestic violence misdemeanors and those adjudicated to be a danger to themselves and others have been found to be constitutional. ~ Dan

Attorney Dan Zelenka is the President of the Louisiana Shooting Association.