The 2 Types of Freedom That Will Help Us Settle the Gun Debate

Gun enthusiasts are worried their guns could get confiscated by the feds. Writer Michael Shermer explains why that's not going to happen.

Michael Shermer: Yes, well guns is a special case because it does have very dire consequences for misuse of other people’s freedom. So, you know, the general libertarian perspective or principle that I should be free to do what I want as long as I don’t restrict your freedoms from doing what you want. That is, the freedom for me to swing my arm ends at your nose. Okay, so guns are a special case. I’ve long been pretty much against gun control. That is people should choose to do what they want. I’ve since gone back and forth on this mainly because the rates of accidents and suicides and homicides is so high when guns are readily available. It is a complex statistical argument in both directions. More guns, less guns, more crime, less crime. Which way does it go? Which state? Which county? Carry and conceal laws. So this is one of the more complex social science problems I’ve ever looked into. And I have to say it isn’t really obvious other than if you look at states like in most European states that either — where no one has guns or almost no one has guns. They have nothing like even remotely like the gun violence we have. So clearly if no one had guns we wouldn’t have a gun problem. That said, that’s never going to happen in America.

There are about 320 million guns on the streets, in people’s homes or whatever. We’re never going to take them back. No one’s going to go house to house like Nazis breaking down the doors and stealing people’s guns. That’s never going to happen. So in fact the Supreme Court has voted twice in '06 and '08 and particularly the Heller case, handgun case in Washington, D.C. It is protected by the Second Amendment. That’s not going to change anytime soon. So let’s face up to that and see if we can do something to just reduce the carnage. Like why are people allowed to buy AR15s and AK47 rifles? What are those for? I grew up hunting with shotguns. I had a 20-gauge and a 12-gauge shotgun. Shotguns are used for shooting birds out of the sky. Or certain rifles are good for deer hunting. Okay, I get all that. And handguns for self-defense — okay I understand. I’m not going to have one in my house. Too many risks there. But still if you want one okay. But what’s the purpose of an AR15 or an AK47? It was designed to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. And of course that’s exactly what it’s used for. Target practice? I don’t know. Maybe I guess. Some people say they enjoy that. I don’t know. But there I would say the risk is too high of it being misused. And as we’ve clearly seen in recent terrorist attacks anybody can get one. They’re not hard to get. And that’s a problem.

Gun enthusiasts live in constant fear that the federal government will someday come and take away their guns. The imagery and pageantry of this fear is pervasive, contributing to a strange state of gun-owner paranoia.


In this video interview, science writer Michael Shermer explains why such a scenario (and comprehensive gun control in general) will never happen in the United States. In short: Gun control is not a popular policy in the United States, or at least not popular enough, and the Supreme Court has again and again protected the Second Amendment in relevant decisions.

That said, Shermer notes that there's no real good reason for why a normal citizen would need to own a military-grade weapon such as an AR15 and AK47.

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