The Problem with Determining Need

Gun control advocates like to claim nobody needs a semi-automatic rifle. Their statement implies that the legality of property should be determined by need. A major failure exists in this implication though. Policies based on need ultimately require that somebody decide what is and isn’t needed. If we are to travel down the path of determining legality based on need we have to establish who gets to decide what is needed.

My question is simple, who gets to decide what is needed? I already know that advocates of gun control would like themselves to be elevated to the position of Grand Determiner but under what justification could they claim such authority? They would likely claim such authority by stating they hold a great deal of concern for the safety of others. That justification also works for gun rights advocates. Gun rights advocates want to liberalize (using the classic definition of the word) gun laws because they hold a great deal of concern for the safety of others. By legalizing the act of carrying a firearm gun rights activists want to give every individual the ability to defend themselves against a violent attacker. Obviously there is a conflict here because two ideologically oppose groups can justly claim the same authority for the same reason.

The fact of the matter is that an individual is the only person able to determine what he or she needs. Each of us is in sole possession of our lifetime experiences. Because of this we each hold specialized knowledge regarding our own lives that nobody else holds. Who better to determine what a battered wife needs to defend herself against her abusive husband than her? An uninvolved third party cannot know whether her husband possesses body armor or a posse willing to help him retrieve his wife should she run away. In either case access to a semi-automatic rifle would greatly enhance her odds in a defensive situation against her abusive husband. What about the owner of a store that is located in a place of civil unrest? How can an uninvolved third party know the circumstances under which the store owner lives? Perhaps the store owner’s existence is dependent on that store and without it he could not afford to feed himself or his family. Maybe the store owner can’t afford to operate in a nicer area. Should the store owner be put at a disadvantage, putting his store and livelihood at risk, if a rioting gang decides to target his store?

Saying something shouldn’t be legal because nobody needs it is an arrogant statement at best. Somebody making such a statement is saying two things. First they are saying that they know what a third party needs. Second they are saying they know who should be granted the authority to prohibit that third party from possessing unneeded things.

Furthermore polices based on needs are self-defeating. If somebody claims the authority to determine the legality of things based on need I can claim that person doesn’t need that authority. From there another person can claim I don’t need to authority to determine whether or not another person has the authority to determine legality. It’s an infinite recursion problem for which no solution exists.