Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Gun Control Debate: America's Real-World "Trolley Problem"

Face it: there are extremists and outright bigots to be found on both sides of the gun-control debate (though of course, I consider myself and [most of] my friends on both sides to rank amongst the reasonable moderates).

Personally, I favor the interpretation which says that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to self-defense, so when certain of my friends suggest we ban guns, or at least subject them to expensive regulations which poor people could not feasibly meet, I'll usually counter with anecdotes such as the Detroit mother of two who last year successfully used her gun to scare off the three male home invaders who'd kicked in her door.

Then my anti-gun friends will offer the (presumably sincere) counterpoint that yes, it would be unfortunate for such people if they were legally rendered defenseless, but overall that will be more than offset by the number of people who will thus be saved from gun violence.

Perhaps the whole debate is merely a modern, real-world version of the famous "trolley problem" in ethics textbooks. The version I first heard went like this: imagine a trolley (or a bus, or other from of mass transit) with five passengers is on some sort of collision corse, and if it stays on its current track it will crash, and all five people will die.

But you, a bystander, have the option to make the trolley switch tracks, or swerve the bus off the road onto a pedestrian walkway, or otherwise make the vehicle change course to avoid the crash. You save those five people ... except that in doing so, you make the vehicle hit and kill an innocent pedestrian who would've been perfectly safe, had the vehicle stayed on its original course. Which is the ethical choice: leave the trolley on the track and let those people die, or change course and kill the one person who would have been perfectly safe, if not for your intervention? 


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