I wrote a blog about “gun control” in January 2019, reminding my readers that the phrase “gun control” means different things to different people. One bumper sticker proudly announces the NRA position, “Gun Control Means Hitting Your Target.” They do not mean a paper bulls-eye on a shooting range. So, there you have your first ethical norm when writing about gun ownership: make sure you understand how your readers will react to what you write. My focus is not on writing about gun ownership. It’s about the ethics of writing about gun ownership. This is the first of a number of blogs about ethical norms across the wide spectrum of gun control, ownership, rights, justified use, self-defense, raw political power, and violence.

The word “gun” is a noun, a verb, a call-to-action, and a motivator at the same level as God, Caesar, General Patton, Churchill, Elvis, Mother Teresa, Charlton Heston, and Martin Luther King. If you type gun in the search bar of any web browser, at any given second, of any day, you will likely get over 2,790,000,000 results. It even has its own Wikipedia page: “The gun is a ranged weapon typically designed to pneumatically discharge solid projectiles but can also be liquid (as in water guns/cannons and projected water disruptors) or even charged particles (as in a plasma gun) and may be free-flying (as with bullets and artillery shells) or tethered (as with Taser guns, spear-guns and harpoon guns).[1]

When you lower expectations by adding the word ethics to your search for guns, you get about 54,300,000 results. If nothing else, this proves that artificial intelligence and algorithms connect ethics to guns, somehow.

When writing about gun ownership, the second ethical norm is to fact-check your data and verify your truths.

In most of the twentieth century, most gun owners were hunters. Now, most own guns for self- protection. America holds forty to fifty percent of all the guns in the world, but we are only five percent of the world’s population. We have more guns than we do people.[2] If for no other reason, the sheer volume of the thing demands more attention to the ethics of writing about guns. We wallow in them. Mr. Winchester, Mr. Glock, Mr. Smith, and Ms. Wesson are not just gun makers: they are image-makers and that image is too often death. Going about your business in your own way is an American tradition and a constitutional right. So is gun ownership. The ethics of both suggest that we also look at the privilege of violence, which armed citizens proclaim was born when the Second Amendment was ratified.

That’s the third ethical norm: separate the legal assessment from the ethical assessment. They rarely match up.

This is a starter blog, designed to inch slowly into the morass of guns, gun violence, and the rarified notion called privilege violence. According to the Small Arms Survey, just eighteen countries, with only four percent of the world’s population, account for nearly one-quarter of all violent deaths.[3] More than half of the largest violent countries are democracies. The democracies with the most gun violence among their citizens have similar characteristics. “They are highly partisan, factionalized societies whose economic and political elites have exorbitant privilege compared to the rest of the citizenry. To maintain that privilege and impunity, they often rely on campaign contributions from criminal groups, hire muscle to help win elections, and tend to politicize the security sector so that these favored violent groups are not jailed. Security sectors are simultaneously deprofessionalised, with budgets and promotions dependent on political favor and patronage rather than merit.”[4] That could be us, depending on your political allegiance and beliefs.

Therein lies the fourth ethical norm when assessing the ethics of writing about gun ownership: try to avoid mixing ethics with political reality. One is a fine kettle of fish. The other, a bucket of blood.

Gary L StuartI am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun

[2] Caroline E. Light, “Stand Your Ground—A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense.” Beacon Press, Boston, Mass, at viii.

[3] http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/

[4] https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/01/30/privilege-violence-why-polarized-democracies-yield-violence-pub-67871