Essay on Utilitarianism and Gun Control

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Gun control has hit the news heavily in response to the increase in mass shootings. However, there’s a huge divide in how to solve the issue, ranging from taking away the right for people to own guns or decreasing gun laws to allowing everyone to have one. But how do we solve gun control while benefiting the most people? This is where red flags laws come into play. This law will take away guns from those who are at risk of suicide or committing a mass shooting, and help the economy through the reduction of prison times and medical bills.

Utilitarians would agree that the majority would benefit from taking away the gun rights of those who are at risk. Sandel, the author of Justice, writes that “The highest principle of morality is to maximize happiness, the overall balance of pleasure over pain” (Sandel 34). Utilitarianism’s goal is to make people happy, even if it’s at the cost of an individual. When we look at red flag laws, they come from the order of, what Timothy Williams of the New York Times says, “relatives or friends concerned about a loved one who owns one or more guns and has expressed suicidal thoughts or discussed shooting people.” From a utilitarian view, this is the perfect scenario, taking away the rights of an at-risk individual for the safety and happiness of others. Jae C. Hong, a writer for The Associated Press, found statistics stating that “Polls show that Americans widely support the policy — even by as much as 77%, according to an August poll by American Public Media Research Lab.” Utilitarians would enact the red flag law to maximize the happiness and eliminate the emotional pain from potential mass shootings.

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Now, even when we take a look at the economics of gun control through utilitarianism, it would serve the majority right to enact the red flag laws. Sandel says, “Cost-benefit analysis tries to bring rationality and rigor to complex social choices by translating all costs and benefits into monetary terms--and then comparing them”(41). Looking at the cost of guns, there is more to it than the initial price of the gun and the ammo. When guns are in the wrong hands, it is shown that the costs also include medical bills, incarceration time, funeral costs, and emergency services. Singeltary, a columnist for the Washington Post, found statistics that said “Researchers conservatively estimate that gun violence costs the American economy at least $229 billion every year, including $8.6 billion in direct expenses such as for emergency and medical care”. For a utilitarian, the economic cost of gun violence is hurting society. Taxpayers have to handle the emergency, and medical costs for those who are insured by the government, and families are to pay out of pocket for the rest. The act of gun violence is taking away $229 billion from Americans, where it could be used elsewhere. Using red flag laws, allows us to prevent all the costs listed above and more.  

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