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Volume 27 • Number 4

October 2013



Guns and Virtue: The Virtue Ethical Case against Gun Carrying

by Franco V. Trivigno

The mass shooting on December 14, 2012, at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which left twenty-eight dead—mostly children—and the shooting on July 20, 2012, in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, which left twelve dead and fifty-eight wounded, were the most gruesome in a series of mass shootings that have taken place recently in the United States. These horrific events, coupled with the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed seventeenyear- old African American, by a community watch coordinator licensed to carry a concealed firearm, have re-ignited a national debate about gun ownership and gun carrying, and the laws governing them. The debate between pro-gun and anti-gun advocates in the United States is thought by many to hang on a single empirical question about the relationship between legal gun carrying and rates of violent crime. The broadly consequentialist assumption underlying this research is that once we unambiguously establish whether gun carrying functions as an effective deterrent, we will have settled the question of the goodness of gun ownership and will have thereby provided lawmakers guidance in constructing more or less restrictive gun laws. In this paper, I propose to concede, for the sake of argument, that the pro-gun side is right, that is, if more people carried concealed guns for self-defense, they would themselves be safer and there would be less violent crime overall. If one accepts this, then one would seem to have a compelling reason to carry a gun, and societies would seem to have a compelling reason to encourage citizens to carry guns through, at minimum, less restrictive gun laws. Granting this for the sake of argument, the question this paper addresses is this: Are there any countervailing moral reasons that could be weighed against increased personal safety and the diminished likelihood of crime? I approach this question from the perspective of neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics, and I argue that, in short, the habit of carrying a gun carries the risk of harm to one's character. This approach foregrounds the importance of an entirely different empirical question: Namely, what effects do long-term gun carrying and the willingness to use a gun in self-defense have on moral personality? Part of my aim in this paper is to reorient current debates so that the relevance of this question becomes more salient.

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ISSN: 2152-0542