Bioethics Blogs

Firmin DeBrabander, Do Guns Make Us Free?: Democracy and the Armed Society, Yale University Press, 2015

Many critics of American gun culture and policy argue that the public health benefits of stricter regulations compensate for the associated loss of freedom: a bit less freedom is an acceptable cost for the expected gains in public safety. By contrast, gun advocates sometimes claim that freedom to own guns underlies all other important freedoms and therefore deserves priority over considerations of public health. In this volume, philosopher Firmin DeBrabander takes a distinct critical approach, denying any significant loss of freedom associated with gun control. Widespread gun ownership in the context of lax regulation makes Americans—and anyone else similarly situated—less free.

In developing his case for this thesis, DeBrabander argues more specifically that strong gun rights and widespread gun ownership (1) do not liberate us from fear, (2) don’t protect us from tyranny, (3) serve as a diversion for those in power, and (4) constitute a threat to free speech and assembly. The book offers a political and cultural analysis of the gun rights movement in the United States. Although the author’s tone is highly critical of the status quo, he mentions in the Preface that he does not oppose gun ownership with wise regulations (xv). The book supports gun control rather than a ban on private gun ownership.

Chapter 1, “The Culture of Fear,” provides a helpful overview of American gun culture, featuring lax regulation along with high rates of gun ownership and gun violence. DeBrabander notes that gun violence is disproportionately experienced by urban African Americans and that the strongest support for gun rights comes from suburban and rural whites, who are least in need of armed self-defense.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.