While many people see civilian firearms as a means of lifesaving protection or as a harmless pastime, recent tragic events bring to light the controversial nature of the gun industry, which puts lethal weapons in the hands of killers. So, is it ethical to build lethal weapons when one cannot determine how they will be used?
After considering the arguments detailed below, we concluded that it is, in fact, ethical.
Why it’s Unethical to Work in the Firearms Industry
When considering the ethics of working in the gun industry, an individual must acknowledge that innocent people could die at the hands of the weapon they developed. Engineers working in controversial industries often justify their ethics through deontological arguments, which state that since they don’t break any laws, therefore it is not their responsibility.
We, along with many industry bodies, believe that those developing weapons carry personal responsibility for how they are used. The question is, in the case of a mass-shooting, could you deal with that responsibility?
It is not acceptable for workers to turn a blind eye to mass shootings, particularly when the scale of destruction guns cause is so much greater than other weapons.
The IMechE’s Code of Conduct, within their official By-Laws states that members must take measures to assess and limit risk to others to whom they owe a duty of care, which is a fundamentally consequentialist stance.
Furthermore, gun industries cost the US over $48 billion annually just in medical and lost work costs, while the economic boost to the US from the firearms industry was only $43 billion. The industry doesn’t even pay for the damage it does.
From a Utilitarian perspective, which states that the right ethical choice is the one which brings the least harm, we believe that the gun industry’s overwhelmingly negative impact outlined above outweighs any benefits to society’s welfare, and is therefore unethical.
It’s hard to deny that a firearms industry worker is interacting with wider society, since it’s society who buy and own the weapons and society who is affected when weapons are misused. It’s these people to whom workers owe a duty of care, and whose welfare they must have due regard for. Surely, protecting people’s welfare involves not providing them with lethal weapons?
Some argue that despite this, they still have a greater responsibility to their profession. The IMechE doesn’t think so: Members must ‘place responsibility for the welfare, health and safety of the workforce and wider community at all times before responsibility to the profession’.
Proponents of guns often argue that guns don’t kill people, people do. But if that gun had passed through your hands – if you had designed the reload mechanism, or manufactured the trigger that was then pulled to end someone’s life – how would you feel?
Why It’s Ethical to Work in the Firearm Industry
This argument firmly defends the morality of working in the gun industry. Firstly, because we absolutely refute the premise that the availability of guns is bad for society and that they have a supposed link to increased levels of violent crime. In response to the latter claim, these case studies show that the prevalence of guns don’t affect the rate of homicides:
● Venezuela banned private gun ownership in 2012 and have actually seen the homicide rate rise by 13% over the last 5 years.
One of the most common ethical frameworks is Utilitarianism, which states that ethical decisions should be made based upon actions that “produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people”. Through the huge economic success of the global gun industry, it brings significant Utilitarian* benefits. In the US alone $6.5 Billion in taxes come from the firearms industry and since over 60% of US taxes being spent on Welfare and Healthcare, these economic benefits are crucial to millions who depend on state support.
Guns are also a vital tool for protecting lives in law enforcement, wildlife protection and subsistence hunting. From a Kantian duty ethics standpoint and under international law, people’s rights must be protected and therefore it is the responsibility of Engineers to create a tool which can be used for these necessary purposes. As was demonstrated during last year’s London Bridge attack, when armed police used their guns to stop three machete wielding terrorists. The reality is that guns are fundamentally important to keeping millions of innocent people safe.
Legality ethics and the ‘Common Good Approach’ to ethics firmly side on the gun industry’s side. If the will of the people and therefore the local laws allow you to do so, then it is absolutely within your rights to work in whichever industry you choose. This is something which is underlined in both international law and freedom ethics .
Virtue ethics, which are world renowned and respected, state that the focus should be on the intentions of the actor . As stated in this interview with a gunsmith, his focus is on his “speciality” and bringing “pleasure to customers”, which is simply and definitively what most jobs entail. So are the ethics of most jobs flawed? Other industries’ products, such as Motor vehicles, cause far more deaths annually and some manufacturers regularly break the law, but they are nevertheless heralded.
We believe that despite there being some unfortunate consequences of the firearms industry, it’s not for the individual to consider the implications.
Therefore, it’s ethical to work in the industry so long as each individual follows a professional code of conduct.