Guns and Abortions: Two Sides of the Same Coin

May 27, 2003

I have an unusual proposition to make: gun-control and abortion are two sides of the same issue.  Both are opposed by the same erroneous logic, and even worse, both are defended on the wrong philosophical principles.  A proper understanding of individual rights is not only a requirement for an understanding of both issues, but leads to the same conclusion in both cases.  The traditional conservative and liberal rejection of the right to have an abortion and own arms, respectively, is based on a rejection of the individual’s right to his own life and a confusion of the potential versus the actual.  A proper understanding of both issues will show that both rights must be unconditionally protected if individual rights are to be respected.  Legally, the primary difference between the right to own a gun and the right to have an abortion is that the first is explicitly protected under the Constitution of the United States, while the other is protected by virtue the power to regulate abortion not being granted to the government, and thus being reserved to the people.  The legal issue is complex and can be argued at length, but I am concerned here with what the law should be, rather than any particular legal system.

The traditional conservative argument against the right to an abortion is that a fetus has the moral and legal status of a human being.  It claims that all men have a God-given right to their own life from the moment of their conception.  Because no person has the right to have their life unjustly taken, a fetus, which is a potential human being, must be protected from voluntary harm by its own mother.  The last point is significant because even the great majority of anti-abortionists realize on some level that the killing of a fetus is not quite the same as the killing of a grown human: they realize that the practice of abortion is not quite the same level as the mass murder of Jews in Nazi Germany.  If I did in fact believe that an abortion was the moral equivalent of the killing of an innocent Jew, I would feel as a failure of a human being if I did not use any means, no matter how extreme or dangerous, to destroy anyone who perpetrated such crimes.  Thus, those who do not recognize on some level that an abortion is not the exact equivalent of the murder of an innocent human being are either actively trying to kill or maim those who perform abortions or self-delusional hypocrites.  Since the first belong in prison and the second are spineless hypocrites who betray their own principles, this essay is only intended for those who recognize on some level that murder is not morally equivalent to abortion.

The traditional liberal argument against the right to own a gun is that it is inherently a dangerous weapon, and can be used to kill or maim innocent people.  Even when owned by an upstanding and righteous individual, it can easily be lost, stolen, misused, or sold, placing it in the hands of a violent criminal or a child who is liable to harm himself or others.  Some believe that guns are inherently dangerous and ought to be banned outright, while other hold that some level or precautions and restrictions allows enough security to keep them in the right hands.  Additionally, some people believe that people are shaped mostly or entirely by their genes, peers, family, or society: thus they believe that the potential for violence is beyond any particular individuals self-control and must be limited by the State.

Common traditional liberal defenses of abortion are that the life of a child will be immeasurably better off if it is born to a family that wants it, that the mother resort to “coat hangers” or other dangerous methods that risk her life, and that society will be better off without unwanted children who are likely to grow up in bad families, resort to crime, etc, etc. When defending gun rights, conservatives sometimes mention that they are useful tools for both self-defense and recreation, but the most common argument is that firearms are not inherently dangerous and are deeply rooted in America’s culture. 

The arguments used against both abortion and gun rights make a major flaw: they confuse the actual with the potential.  Conservatives believe that a potential human life has rights because an actual human life has rights: but the potential is not the actual, and a lump of cells does not equal a human being.  Likewise, every weapon can potentially be used to harm innocents: but just because I can potentially use my gun for evil does not mean that I will.  Conservatives and liberals fail to recognize the difference between potential and actual harm because they fail to recognize the essential characteristics of human nature: individuality and free will.  Man is a rational, independent being who must use his mind to create the values necessary for his life.  In order to pursue his life and happiness, man must be treated as an end in himself, not a slave of his society.  The function of government is thus to protect the individuals inherent rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Women cannot be free to pursue their happiness when they are made slaves to potential humans and made responsible for children they did not desire.  Gun owners cannot protect their life and happiness if their primary means if defending themselves is taken from them.  It is true that children may grow up to be productive and righteous citizens and that guns may be used against them – but that potential is not an actual and does not give the State a claim against the life or the mother or the gun-owner.  The essential characteristic of man is his independence and free will – and when the State makes a grievous error when it recognizes them in a fetus but fails to recognize them in a human being.

There is another similarity between those who oppose abortion and gun rights.  Liberals who are well known for being anti-nationalistic and skeptical of all governments as well as famous defenders of the press are often the first to argue for completely disarming the citizenry and giving the government a monopoly on arms.  The freedom to keep and bear arms was held precious by the founders because of a long history of governments who disarmed their citizenry before perpetrating horrible atrocities on them.  A few of the more prominent ones include Nazi Germany, Nationalist and Red China, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and Rwanda.  These governments have have killed over 100 million of their own people in the 20th century alone.  (See the JPFO for more.)  Liberals who argue that I will never need an assault weapon for hunting forget that the primary need for an assault weapon is so that I won’t need it.  They trust government to implement their social and economic views but forget what happens when politicians get drunk with power and come after the same intellectuals who argue for those powers.  They let “reformed” rapists out of prison and refuse to let women carry have the guns to protect themselves.  However conservatives cannot take the moral high ground either: they also wish to have the government replace their own volition and moral principles in enforcing morality.  They believe that they can give the politicians power to enforce their particular religious views while ignoring all the governments in history who perpetrated atrocities against minorities.  History provides ample evidence of the bloodshed that follows when one group after another tries to enforce it's religion on the populace. The tradition of the separation of church and state in America comes mainly from the experience of one after another monarch trying to force his version of Catholicism or Protestantism on the populace in England. Both liberals and conservatives wish to give politicians the power to enforce their particular ideology as long as they are in the majority – but they forget that everyone is in the minority sooner or later.

Unfortunately, both liberals and conservatives today contradict their own position and fail to consistently defend their position on a moral basis. Liberals argue that legal abortions best serve the interests of the State in preserving the mothers’ health and the potential child’s quality of life rather than arguing for abortion as an unconditional right of the mother to determine the course of her own life. Conservatives compromise with gun control activists, and instead of arguing for the right to keep and bear arms as essential to individual liberty, they defend their ability to own guns as a hobby and cultural icon. The only proper defense of either right must be based on a defense of individual rights rather than confused and contradictory symbols of their own ideologies.


always keep a loaded....gun by your bedside