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Volume 25 • Number 2

April 2011



The Right to Arms as a Means-Right

by Lester H. Hunt

1. Two Issues

In recent years, a number of philosophers have discussed the possibility that the widely recognized right of self-defense includes another, more controversial right: a right to arms, where “arms” is understood to include guns. I will argue in what follows that the right of self-defense does indeed have this feature, and I will offer a new explanation of why it does so—an explanation that, despite its novelty is, I believe, deeply rooted in common sense.

I n Section 2, I will clarify the issue to be addressed and define a spectrum of possible solutions to it. Underlying the narrow issue of the relation between the right of self-defense and the putative right to arms is a broader issue of more general interest, between two classes of rights: what I will call option-rights and means-rights. My ultimate purpose will be to propose a solution to both issues. In Section 3, I attempt to show that the most extreme solutions to the issue of self-defense and arms are not very plausible. In Section 4, I will lay down some desiderata concerning some features that an ideally illuminating solution to these issues should have. These will serve as a rough guide as I attempt to discuss the more moderate solutions. In Section 5, I discuss one such potential solution—one grounded in the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable costs. I argue that, though it may be plausible enough as a guide to policy, it does not satisfy any of my desiderata, nor does it answer my original question, about what is included in the right of self–defense. In Sections 6 and 7, I propose my own solution to both the narrower and broader issues—one that is grounded in the nature of action itself.

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ISSN: 2152-0542