Why is your right to own a gun more important than my right to life?

as answered by TWV on Quora:

It is not, of course. Your right to life is no less important than my right to bear arms. The question is misconceived.

Now, what is going on with this question? The querist is more than implying that his/her life is threatened by my gun. Which it would only be were the querist threatening me — that is, since I foreswear aggression, and the only threat my gun poses is against criminals, I cannot help but wonder if the querist might not be contemplating aggression.

And, in a sense, the querist is threatening me! How? By implying a nonsense claim about rights and (perhaps sub rosa) by setting up some bizarre excuse for citizen disarmament.

You see, anyone demanding a general gun confiscation and ban is advocating for force to be applied against all gun owners. Including me. Drolly, this confiscation would be carried out by people with guns, so the gun ban is likely to stop at citizen disarmament. (States rarely give up their guns.)

Now, here is the real deal of justice: your right to life and my right to life both entail our identical rights to defend ourselves. My self defense with a gun does not threaten any peaceful person’s life. Only a criminal aggression does. Since I am not aggressing by merely defending myself, a person parlaying his or her “right to life” as an excuse to take away my ability to defend myself performatively implies that his or her right to life is more important than mine. And thus undermines the very “deal” that equal rights entails. It is, in fact, a hint at — a bullying technique? — to take away my rights, and is thus at the very least a plan for aggression.

So you can see where this would lead, in America. Many gun owners would simply not submit. The gun confiscation would entail outright repression. And even if the government would institute a mere buy-back and a general (if passive) ban, the ban itself would serve as a drawn-out confiscation, in cases where cached weapons are revealed.

Because what gun prohibition entails is a mass aggression against peaceful people, the querist may have set out the terms to justify a civil war, a rebellion more dangerous than the armed revolution that started these United States. By the very terms of the nation’s founding, gun ban advocates prescribe tyranny. And, in an amazing play of effrontery, they tell us they do it all for our safety.

A mad suggestion.

Any advocacy of unequal basic rights is a recipe for aggression. And, now that I think on it, the question does resemble some similar argumentative gambits we have become familiar with from the college crowd, namely, the idea that “offensive words” amount to “aggressions” that justify defensive, retaliatory, or even preëmptive force. And yes, this is precisely how the “microaggression” concept has been used by radical “social justice” advocates. What they fail to see is that a true microaggression justifies only a microdefense.

Proportionality is key.

In other words, bad manners are justly countered only with good manners.

Perhaps what the querist is really worrying about is this: that the mere existence of guns in peaceful citizens’ hands gives political and legal cover to criminals seeking to acquire guns for use in offense. Thus, an argument might run, there is an externality to self-defense in gun ownership that negatively impacts innocents who do not own guns, and thus “indirectly” “threatens” innocents’ lives.

This much is true: there are plenty of externalities in society. And to handle those externalities most Second Amendment folks would indeed deny a general, equal right to own, say, nuclear weapons. Interesting point. I think one could plausibly argue that mere ownership of a nuclear device entails collateral damage, and thus does constitute a threat to innocents who would not aggress against the owner.

But this latter argument against nuclear and other large bombs as legitimate self defense cannot be applied to guns generally, for guns are designed to be pointed. Their very makeup, their constitution, internalizes external damage by their limited and directed nature.

Further, the weaker argument that the widespread ownership of guns makes it easier for criminals to criminally obtain and use guns is in exact parallel with free speech, like this:

  1. a general right to freedom of speech does make it easier for criminals to use speech to engage in fraud and conspiratorial planning of crimes, and
  2. were speech constricted, strictly controlled (perhaps by limiting freedom of association as well) it would be easier for governments to suppress criminal speech. Nevertheless, the
  3. outrageous totalitarian horror of such a Nanny State would likely convince even those most cowardly and fearful of criminal aggression that the risk of freedom would be worth it.

Which is why freedom and the equal rights to it make more sense than the counsel of the fearful and overcauion of the servile. We deal with criminals on a case-by-case basis, deeming that as enough, while personally and communally encouraging peaceful living.

And besides: personal armaments in peaceful people’s hands discourage crime. Not only do armed citizens defend themselves, they directly defend others. And merely by carrying arms they disincentivize criminals from engaging in aggression. The secular trend in crime over the last two decades has been down, even while the number of guns in private hands has doubled. That is a positive externality of widespread gun ownership. The right of gun owners to bear arms protects the rights to life of those who choose to go about defenseless.

The original question thus implied an inversion of the truth, and would better have been re-conceived as

How is my right to life enhanced by your right to bear arms?