Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Is There a Right to Own a Gun?

Here, I explain why you have a right to own a gun.*

[* Based on: “Is There a Right to Own a Gun?”, Social Theory and Practice 29 (2003): 297-324. For a more popular version, see]

1. The Issue

I’m only addressing the most basic issue, whether there’s a right to own guns at all. So I’m not addressing limited regulations, like registration, restrictions on specific kinds of guns, etc.
2. Assumptions About Rights
  • I assume there are moral rights independent of the law.
  • We have a general prima facie liberty right, a right to do what we want as long as there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to. Limitations: you don’t have a right (even prima facie) to do things that harm others, impose unreasonable risks on others, or reasonably appear to do those things.
  • I posit only prima facie rights, not absolute rights. I.e., rights can be outweighed by other rights or by sufficiently large consequences. (See
  • The weight of a right is proportional to the interest that it helps protect and how important the right is to protecting that interest.


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