Mill defines Utilitarianism as a theory based on the principle that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” We can use utility to discuss the long debated topic of gun control. As of 2009, the United States has a population of three hundred and seven million people. Based on production data from firearm manufacturers, there are close to three hundred million firearms owned by United States civilians. Most of this statistic concerns the ownership of handguns. One hundred of the three hundred million firearms owned are handguns. Roughly over sixteen thousand murders were committed in the United States during the year of 2008. Of the murders, over ten thousand or sixty seven percent were committed with firearms. (justfacts.com) These statistics and support from social, philosophical, and political thought, make me believe that we should make a move towards further gun control.
Gun control has become a hot topic as of late, but many say that the battle cannot be won with statistics. “The second amendment to the constitution which concerns the right to bear arms, is always a hot-button issue, especially during election season.” Presidential candidates all have a different say on the issue. Gun rights and gun control groups have been trying for years to get legislation that will make them in front of the other. Gun rights advocates want to be able to have guns for personal use while gun control groups want to take away this right. Personally I think gun control needs to be strengthen but it will only go as far as the citizens will let it. If the law is passed or not, people have to follow it or respect it. (USNews.com)
Utilitarianism can be broken down into two elements, happiness and consequentialism. Mill states that happiness is looked for by every human being. There is Utility in everything, one of these being guns. Mill’s theory focuses on this utility and “The criterion of good and evil is balanced between an individual’s happiness and the happiness of the community, each being equally important.”(UtiliarianPhilosophy.com) this is where the debate with gun control comes into play. You may be happy owning your gun, but you have to ask yourself, is the community happy? The community cannot maximize its utility if one person is being selfish. Another principle of Utilitarianism is consequentialism. Consequentialism states that an action must be judged for its consequences on the happiness of the largest numbers. Our society as a whole in our search stops when fellow individual’s community’s happiness of happiness of the largest number, the society, the community, decreases. To John Stuart Mill, happiness is the only thing that have intrinsic value. Mill states to find our happiness, we have to look at it carefully and with introspection. We are a society, but we don't have to get overwhelmed with this as a society is just a collection of individuals. “Men, however, in a state of society, are still men; their actions and passions are obedient to the laws of individual human nature. Men are not, when brought together, converted into another kind of substance with different properties.”(study.com) Let’s not get this confused, Mill thinks that everyone has a right to their own happiness even if it’s different from others utility. You really do not want to interfere with another person’s happiness but the common good or happiness must be stressed too.
One presidential candidate that I have partially agreed with is Bernie Sanders who takes the middle approach when it pertains to gun control. It is a step in the right direction and Sanders makes some very good points. Bernie Sanders sees an opening to advance common sense gun reform and a revolution of mental health. This relates to utility because everyone’s happiness is important in our society. A majority of Americans in today’s world say that guns are falling into the hands of the wrong people, whether this be criminals or mentally ill people. One way we can build upon this is universal background checks. Bernie Sanders wanted to take action because of the stem gun violence in the wake of the massacre in San Bernardino. He says that gun control is not an easy problem to solve but that does not mean that we should not do everything that we can possibly do. One idea that Bernie Sanders states that I agree with is banning assault weapons. Other than military purposes, they have brought nothing but unwanted violence. Sanders states “I’m pro-hunting, but no one needs an AK-47 to hunt.” Hunting as always been a passion of people, it is one of the safe ways to use guns but how do we find this balance. One way Sanders says we can do this is by declaring gun trafficking a federal crime and crack down on proxies who purchase guns on behalf for people who cannot legally acquire them. The reason why I agree with sanders on this issue is the fact that he not only cares about people using guns the right way, he cares about people’s mental health. “We need to greatly expand and improve our mental health capabilities. Bernie Sanders is taking a utilitarian approach by stressing that fact that you do not need semi-automatic guns to be happy and pursue your love for hunting. We can maintain individual happiness and community happiness with simple rifles that won’t be used for shootings. These people need treatment when they need treatment, regardless of their income, regardless of their insurance status. No matter who you are, if you are in mental need, there is help available. This can relate back to Mill because in the greatest happiness principle, you are considering your own good as well as that of other people.
The presidential candidate who is all in on passing gun laws is Hillary Clinton. Clinton states that Congress needs to make a stand and add names on the no fly list to background checks. The second thing that they need to do is pass expanded background checks. Going off Utility, people having these guns effects the utility of those who do not feel safe. France, and California have some of the strictest gun control among many areas and that did not stop the attacks in Paris or San Bernardino. The San Bernardino shooting shocked the world. No one expected that to happen and it was terrifying. In the shooting fourteen people were killed, and twenty one people were injured. The shooters were a married couple where the male was a U.S born citizen of Pakistani descent and the wife was a Pakistani born legal resident in the United States. The husband had attended the event as an employee before the shooting. At least one hundred and twenty eight people died in the attacks in Paris. You hate to see things like this in the news and stricter gun laws could minimize this and work towards stopping it in general. Clinton in her interview goes on to say that Terrorism and Gun Control are different. We know that the previous two events above were terrorist attacks, but they make us take a deeper look at our own gun laws. I’m not taking anything from terrorism and yes we have to up our game in that battle, but that is a separate fight. Clinton states that “we have to take account for the fact that our gun laws and the easy access to those guns by people who shouldn't get them, mentally ill people, fugitives, felons and the Congress continuing to refuse to prohibit people on the no-fly list from getting guns, which include a-lot of domestic and international terrorists, these are two parts of the same approach that I’m trying to make us safe.”(cnn.com) she too, as can be seen, values the utility of the common good. We might have to deny the purchase of some peoples basic constitutional rights in order to preserve the safety and happiness of society as a whole.
There are critics of Utilitarianism, and I wanted to bring this into account to recognize valid viewpoints from the other side. Some people state that these traditional moral rules are too rigid and ignore the fact the rigidity is the basis for trust between people. Examples of jobs where you maximize wellbeing are judges, doctors, and promise makers. They are committed to doing whatever it takes and people trust them. What would happen if people doubted judge’s acts on law, or doctor’s organ transplant or the promise maker’s promises? The thing that I’m trying to say is that people are going to lie and cheat, it’s going to happen in a society. You just have to limit this, and recognize no perfect utopia can exist on Earth, Clinton backs up this part of Utility when she talks about the NRA. The NRA wants to stop everything when that is not how the law works. The law does not function like this, we have speed limits and laws where you cannot drive drunk but we know that people are going to speed or drive drunk. It is just the way that society works. The fact of the matter is, is that the laws are still there. Having stricter gun control laws means having comprehensive background checks, closing gun show and online loophole. This would shut down liability for gun seller’s ad limit tragedies to occur.
So as you can see gun control and utility go hand and hand. We need to protect our people and if that means taking away some guns, then we must do so in order to maximize the happiness of everyone. Mill’s and certain presidential candidates do a good job defending Gun Control but they can’t do it all, they need our help.
Baksh, Mariam. "Bernie Sanders Pushes For Gun Control After San Bernardino Shooting." Huffingtonpost.com. HuffPostPolitics, n.d. Web.