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The Utilitarian Tradition
On December 14, 2012 a country numb to gun violence was shocked by the massacre of 20 six- and seven-year-old school children in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Adam Lanza, a twenty-year-old acting on unknown motivations, murdered his mother in the suburban home they shared and then proceeded to a nearby school where he locked himself in a classroom with his victims. Five adults who worked in the school were also killed in the tragedy before Lanza took his own life. Lanza carried out the attack with a Bushmaster assault
rifle as well as two handguns licensed to his gun-enthusiast mother.
While the Sandy Hook shooting is only the latest in a series of gun tragedies in the last several years ? including the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Gifford and murder of members of her entourage at a meet-and-greet in Tucson, Arizona in January of 2011, a racially-motivated attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in the summer of 2012, and a murderous gun rampage at a Colorado movie theater outside of Denver later that same summer ? the fact that the main victims of this latest incident were innocent children unleashed passions on both sides of the gun debate. Shortly following the shooting, President Obama promised swift new action on gun control, which has been stalled since a previous ban on assault
expired in 2004. On the other side of the controversy, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the leading proponent of gun rights, vowed to defeat any new laws making access more difficult for American citizens who want to own guns. In the weeks following the shooting, the membership of the NRA surged, with 250,000 new members joining the organization.
Proponents of gun control argue that, with some 300 million guns in circulation in the United States (approximately one gun to every resident, the highest number of guns per capita of any country in the world), and some 30,000 gun deaths every year, restricting access to guns is essential to protecting public safety. Gun control advocates are particularly concerned with assault weapons
, automatic and semi-automatic weapons
that can quickly fire multiple rounds. A previous ban on such weapons
was not particularly effective because it defined as an ?assault weapon
? any gun that contained a high-capacity magazine and one or more of a number of military-style features including a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a collapsible or folding stock, a flash suppressor, etc. Gun manufactures were able to evade the ban by making guns with high-capacity magazines (the crucial feature in terms of a gun?s capacity to kill a large number of people) but lacking the other, largely cosmetic features used to define an assault weapon
for purposes of the law. As such, one aspect of President Obama?s proposed gun legislation is a renewal of a stricter version of the assault weapons
ban. President Obama also intends to impose restrictions on the size of the magazine, limiting guns to 10-rounds (so that a gunman would need to stop and reload after firing a gun ten times).
In addition to banning the most lethal weapons
from use, President Obama?s proposal also seeks to tighten the system of background checks that screen would-be purchasers of guns for a history of criminal activity, drug violations, domestic violence, and mental illness. Currently, only licensed gun dealers participate in mandated background checks. Private gun sales (such as sales at gun shows) are exempt, with the result that about 40 percent of all gun sales in the United States are not subject to checks.
Opponents of gun control are equally vociferous in their views of the gun issue. The NRA argues that most guns are not in the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, but are legally owned by law-abiding citizens who use guns for legitimate purposes. Assault weapons
, they suggest, are used by hunters (they prefer the term ?modern sporting rifle?): to deny the criminal or mentally-ill person access to a semi-automatic rifle would unfairly restrict the freedom of hunters to engage in recreational activities. Even more critically, restricting gun ownership would prevent law-abiding citizens from acting in their own self-defense; if criminals have access to semi-automatic weapons
, law-abiding citizens must also have access to high-capacity weapons
. ?The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,? Wayne LaPierre, the NRA vice-president, observed. Rather than banning assault weapons
and imposing stricter background checks ? procedures that the NRA believes ultimately will not be effective ? the NRA responded to the Sandy Hook tragedy by proposing the creation of a ?National Safety Shield? that would place armed guards in the schools. The proposal generated considerable resistance from school officials and parents who fear more guns in schools will only result in more gun violence.
Write a 4page paper containing a substantive argument on ONE of following options.
The paper should be no longer than 4 typed, double-spaced pages in length (12-pt, Times New Roman font, one-inch margins).
Utilize MLA formatting. Include at least 3 citations and a bibliography. Use the same format for both parenthetical citations and bibliography.
The paper should include cites from the attached readings, and may include cites from attached lecture slides. Other sources can be included, but should be limited.
Include a clear thesis statement
Clearly present a persuasive argument
Support each point with evidence
Paragraphs must contain topic sentences
Include a clear conclusion
Paper Option 1:
President Obama is preparing to present his legislative proposals for a new assault weapons
ban and a stricter system of background checks for gun purchasers to Congress in the coming weeks. The President has approached you, a prominent political theorist, to help him make his case to Congress (and to the American people). You have been asked to prepare a short memo that will help the President ground his arguments for gun control in political philosophy. You should prepare a memo using either the writings of Hobbes or Locke (not both!) to suggest justifications for the president?s proposals. Please be as specific as possible in your use of textual support for arguments in favor of gun control.
Paper Option 2:
The NRA has vowed defiance in the face of President Obama?s efforts to pass new gun control legislation. While the NRA has been very effective in managing public opinion in the past, public sentiment has swung sharply in favor of gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. Wayne LaPierre, the vice-president of the NRA has approached you, a prominent political theorist, to help make the organization?s case to the public. LaPierre has asked you to prepare a short memo that will help ground the organization?s opposition to the President?s proposals in political philosophy. You should prepare a memo using either the writings of Hobbes or Locke (not both!) to suggest justifications for opposing the president?s proposals. Please be as specific as possible in your use of textual support for arguments against gun control.
Note: Your essay need not reflect your own political views on the question of gun control. In fact, you may find it advantageous to write an essay that does not map on to your own political views.
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