Man with Gun

Is It Ethical To Work In The Firearms Industry?

Group 67

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.

Last year in the US, over 61,000 people were killed or injured as a result of gun crime. Comparatively, approximately 300,000 people are working in the firearms industry.

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?

Workers in a Gun FactorySome 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.

●      Norway have 3 times more guns per citizen than Spain, and have 50% less homicides.[10][11]

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.[4][14]

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[15]  [16].

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.

Conclusion

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.

47 thoughts on “Is It Ethical To Work In The Firearms Industry?

    1. Hi David, thanks for the comment. That’s definitely something we will consider when we extend the debate. The military debate is an entire debate in itself with the drones, missiles and other weapons. But we will consider it.

  1. It would be very difficult for a manufacturer to control how a customer would use their product. These days, potentially any product can be used as a weapon. You just have to look at the terrorist attacks in London and Germany where vehicles were used as an offensive weapon. Unfortunately the mindset of the individual often determines how a product will be used.
    Firearms need to be used responsibly and the only way to do this is through training and regulation. The mass shootings in the US highlight this issue. People are able to acquire firearms with little effort or training, enabling those with criminal intent to obtain them. In Switzerland however, every family owns an assault rifle yet the last mass shooting was in 2001. This is because every able man has to serve in the military for a period of time. When this period is over they keep their service rifle(SIG SG 550) but they must attend regular weapons handling checks and shooting practice.

    1. Whilst it is difficult for a manufacturer to control their products, guns are designed to fire a bullet and therefore potentially kill people. Guns are also much more effective than most products that could be used for harm.

      I completely agree that there are other solutions to reducing gun violence. However, as an example, Switzerland still has a very high gun suicide rate.

  2. This is an interesting article as the question is about the ethics of working in the arms industry. On the grounds of defence, both military and domestic, the argument that it is ethical seems sound to me due to the benefits conferred.

    With respect to working for employers that have a large number of domestic sales I’m not so sure. To my mind a gun is designed primarily to fire a bullet, which implies death and injury can occur.

    However, the topic is about working for the firearms industry, where there are clear benefits and ethical arguments supporting this due the need to equip soldiers and police officers.

    1. Thanks for your comment.
      We attempted to gear the article towards working in the firearms industry to supply civilians with weapons, with the US being a good reference point. So, that removed the positive you mentioned of equipping defence and military.
      Although, the industry of course isn’t cleanly divided into civilian and military weapons.
      The point of police officers is a good one, especially in the US where if the police force wasn’t weaponized, their job would be a lot harder.

  3. I agree that the ethics of firearm manufacturing and design shouldn’t lie with the employees . Guns seem to be a necessary part of warfare and peace keeping , and much as in an ideal world we wouldn’t need them for either , the fact is that there is very much a need for them . In my opinion, firearms should only be carried by the military , police , and other peace-keeping forces , and not be available for private/personal use , as here is where the ethical debate must lie .

    If only certain people could carry firearms as part of their job, law-makers of the country should be in charge of making decisions about how , and when they are to be used , with clear guidelines , and relevant accountability . Ethics would surely be a part of this decision making process .

      1. Thanks for your comment.
        You make a great point, however, I think the scope of this debate exceeds that of the Olympics.
        Any solutions which minimize deaths would be a worthy trade-off for losing the Olympic matches in my opinion.

    1. Hi s_g, thanks for your feedback!
      I agree that ultimately it’s up to law makers to answer the questions of who should own firearms, but do you think it’s still ethical for those in the industry to continue to work if the law makers are making unethical decisions as to how their devices are used?
      Not that this is necessarily the case – especially in the UK where laws surrounding gun restrictions are tight, which some would say is unethical in itself.

  4. This is an interesting discussion, but I definitely agree with the conclusion from the article. It is ethical to work for a gun industry, as long as the employee follows a professional code of conduct.

    Maybe some employees could feel guilty about working for such an industry, but it’s their own choice if they want to continue working for it or not. I personally don’t think it’s the manufacturer fault, as long as it is producing guns legally.
    I strongly agree with the fact that what kill people are people, not guns. Governments should rethink gun laws and they should have more control over black market of guns, it is a difficult thing to do but I think it is from there that the problem comes from.

    1. You raise some good points, do you think those higher up in firearm companies, CEO’s etc, have any greater moral responsibility than the manufacturers?

      While I agree with the phrase ‘guns dont kill people, people do’, I would say that guns make it much easier to kill, and on a larger scale, than a knife, for example. So while guns may not be the root cause, they certainly aid the individual committing the crime.

  5. Anonymous comment supplied to the group:

    “Well personally, I don’t think an engineer should harbour any kind of ethical problem when working with weapons. Largely, weapons manufacturing is done for the army and protective services etc from which is the area where technological advances occur most often. Weapon technology has brought about some of the most now considered essential forms of technology in our day to day lives, like GPS, the ability and need for it to guide a missile is the reasons the tech became small enough to fit into your phone etc. Personally, I wouldn’t have an issue with working with weapons and would still today consider going into that field. I think the problem lies with not making the weapons but who the weapons get sold to. And as the engineering building it you can’t control and contemplate that. The problem is the sell, not the manufacture. Every technology developed can be turned into something to harm practically, its the person which is the fault in the equation and the access that people have to weapons which I think is the biggest problem with the whole thing.
    Then theres the whole thing that weapons were intended to cause harm to someone… That’s the whole point of them. We live in a world where your not under as much threat if you have the bigger stick, its a constant technology war to be able to keep up with everyone else, fall behind and your in a weaker position. So going into the job you should know your working with something that is going to kill somewhere. If you can accept that, than you can get by it ethically, if not, you can’t ethically.
    You used alot of the US stuff and that’s most the terrible gun law and restrictions they have. Some countries have high gun ownerships and less deaths caused by them. Also the report didn’t cover the aspect of guns killing people for military purposes. Only crime kinda things.
    The statistic of Norway and Spain, it’s good on the face of it, but your comparing two very different countries, Spain is ten times the population to Norway so I dont know that once you take that into consideration the statistic becomes mute?
    It just needs to be made so so so much harder for people to get guns. At the end of the day I don’t see any point in the public needing one and would go as far to say public people shouldn’t have them. But then again, knife crime would probs go up and I’d rather get shot than stabbed, in my mind that’s less painful lol”

    1. This comment was provided to the group and I thanked him over email.

      You make an excellent point about the technological developments that have occurred from the gun and military industries.
      The point about it being the sales representatives responsibility is excellent, however, I would respond by saying that the sales department sell to who Engineers design for.

      On the topic of comparing nations. It is almost impossible, to find two with similar gun laws, population sizes and culture. We chose Norway and Spain as they are relatively similar, especially as both are developed European nations.

  6. From Abbie White on Facebook.

    Good piece only critical is that in the intro you state what your conclusion is so possibly not have that as it would make someone not bother reading why it’s not ethical to work in firearms industry

  7. Comment from Reddit

    Is it ethical to work at a brewery or a car factory? Because drunk driving kills way more than every type of firearm combined. Stop blaming objects for your people problem.

      1. Thanks for your comment.
        I would contest that guns are only made for killing, but their design is hard to defend.
        I also think that in some ways the non-intentional deaths from alcohol and cars are equally bad. People don’t understand the consequences of the products.

      2. Thats a very simplistic view. A huge amount of firearms are designed for target practice. Others are designed for military use – protecting and defending innocent lives.

        If you want to kill or hurt someone, a firearm is one way but there are many many other ways. In the UK, firearm deaths aren’t that common are firearms aren’t readily available but there are still many murders.

        Murder is unethical, the tools used are just semantics.

    1. Responding to the comment:
      We definitely appreciate the high levels of knife crime that exist in countries such as the UK and mental health is definitely a high cause of homicides.
      We choose to frame the article away from this large debate and instead move it in another direction. However, is it something I hope to touch on when we further the debate in the follow-up blogs.

  8. “the controversial nature of the gun industry, which puts lethal weapons in the hands of killers.”

    Just how the auto industry puts cars in the hands of drunk drivers, right?

    “We, along with many industry bodies, believe that those developing weapons carry personal responsibility for how they are used.”

    I’m responsible for MY actions. Not someone else’s.

    “if you had designed the reload mechanism, or manufactured the trigger that was then pulled to end someone’s life – how would you feel?”

    Probably no different than before. Yet again, I’m not responsible for the actions of another.

    “unfortunate consequences of the firearms industry”

    This could be said about any industry really. It’s too bad the hammer industry is so marred by all the blunt weapon murders every year. It’s too broad a statement that really makes no point in one way or another.

    While the conclusion says it’s ethical to work in the industry, I would argue its not even a question of ethics.

  9. Comment from Reddit:

    As an engineer, I have a bigger ethical problem with the products I make being non-recyclable (I do plastic parts mostly, not firearms).

    But I am in a position to give a general ethics of engineering opinion I guess. I’m only responsible for when my products/designs don’t perform as intended. If I designed a gun that fired when not intended, or didn’t fire when intended, due to a design flaw, that would be a problem I’d be liable for. This risks lives in defensive/police/military situations or through accidents, and is a serious mistake or negligence in design. Most gun manufacturers have had this problem for at least one model of gun at one point, and take the issue very seriously as well as go to great lengths to avoid it.

    But as far as guns that function as intended, the designer isn’t responsible for the users. If someone bludgeoned someone else to death with one of the MIM parts I make, that wouldn’t be my fault for selling a chunk of metal.

    1. Thanks for the comment, you make an excellent point and we explored the argument of how guns are mostly used for good.
      An interesting counterpoint is that the benefit to the 100,000 people of guns is arguably less than what the friends and family suffer when the 1 person is killed.

  10. Tim Adams on Facebook:

    Need a highly anyalytical debate on this issue. The idea of utilitarianism in the US is probably based on not just the Constitution but the ancestoral emotional attachment, in regards to family traditions. If your grandafter and father had a gun then you will want to continue with that. If gun change is to occur in the US then it must happen gradually but be a culture change in the long term, set by the youth of today. And we’ve already seen that to an extent which is a good thing. One of the first steps would include the banning of sales of the AR-15, used in Sandy Hook, Orlando and Las Vegas. It’s a killing machine and wasn’t around when the Founding Fathers created the second amendment. Then there will need to be a debate on guns in the open? A Montana forest is far safer than a LA suburb but there are still licensing issues needed within that. Overall, it will be the social debate in the US for the next generation, as Civil Rights were in the 1960s. And in truth it needs to be.

  11. Reddit: TehMephs

    I fully support less restriction on gun rights and it’s as simple as calling a spade a spade. “Weapon” isn’t negative in any way. Weapons have a defensive connotation just the same. You don’t call a taser or pepper spray a tool – they’re weapons. A sword isn’t a tool. A bow isn’t a tool. They are all weapons

    I don’t feel like this is a negative way to look at guns – they are for putting power of force in the hands of someone who can’t wield that power by natural ability. Guns are an equalizer – it gives an 80lb woman the ability to defend herself against multiple aggressors. It gives a family the power to defend themselves against a home invasion. It’s a weapon that gives the people power over a tyrannical government. I don’t see what’s wrong with calling it what it is

  12. Its primary function is to kill things. Whether those things are criminals, animals or paper targets. I actually get more mad when people refer to a knife as a weapon instead of a tool, because it serves multiple purposes beyond destruction. Youre not opening your mail or preparing a meal with a gun. We need to stop letting the ignorant fear of words drive the conversation. Yes it is a “tool”, but its a tool for killing.

    1. Reddit: uPeopleF*ckingSuck

      Finance, payday loans, debt collection, background checkers, law enforcement, corrections, bail bonds, rent-to-own… Shit, there’s more shady jobs out there than legit ones any more and half the “legit” ones are really shady.

  13. Reddit: Paladinraye

    Is it ethical to work in the for profit prison industry?

    How about the tobacco industry? Or the auto industry? Both kill more than firearms every year.

    Working in the industry is not the unethical part. Being the person in charge who makes unethical decisions in the name of the company is the problem.

  14. Reddit: jsled

    Is it ethical to work in the for profit prison industry?

    No.

    How about the tobacco industry?

    No.

    Or the auto industry?

    Yes.

    Working in the industry is not the unethical part.

    It can be.

    Being the person in charge who makes unethical decisions in the name of the company is the problem.

    Unethical decisions are unethical, yes. But that’s not useful.

  15. Personally, I am of the opinion that firearms are always unethical.

    From what I understand, this article’s main focus is supplying civilians with guns. I will always be against this, with PERHAPS the exception of small-scale farmers using guns to kill animals as humanely as possible (but only if the animal will be eaten, never for sport, and I myself do not eat meat). But this only requires a very specific type of gun – there are ridiculous guns on the market made readily available to citizens that simply should not be. Nobody needs a semi-automatic to feel safe in their home or to partake in sports.

    In terms of defence, which you’ve mentioned is not your focus, I don’t think it’s a straightforward yes here either. War is unethical – no matter how you look at it, it is large-scale homicide. Supplying soldiers is just as wrong as supplying a potential terrorist civilian. Innocent people lose their lives every day as a result of war. There would be no need for soldiers to defend our country if we didn’t start wars in the first place.
    With police, we can see in America that armed officers continue to abuse their power and opt to pull the trigger before attempting any other method of resolving issues.

    I came into engineering as I wanted to make the world a better place – I always had a plan to work with renewables and develop new eco-friendly materials and products. I will always avoid any industry that will directly harm people, animals or the planet. Nothing is perfect and there will always be risk of a butterfly effect that will cause harm somewhere, but weapons have one purpose – to hurt and kill.

  16. Reddit: dnh52

    Is it ethical to work in the alcohol industry knowing millions of people fall into alcoholism or that thousands will die in drunk driving accidents?

    Is it ethical to work in the auto industry knowing that tens of thousands of men, women , and children will be critically injured or worse in auto accidents?

    If you’re reading this and saying to yourself “well those are different” you need to ask yourself why you feel that way. Because the data doesn’t point to guns being more dangerous or more likely to harm than any of those other two.

    My intuition says that even if somehow, miraculously, all gun crime stopped tomorrow, there would still be millions on the other side who would still support a ban on firearms or a repeal of the 2nd amendment. Because this debate isn’t about statistics. It’s a philosophical argument to them, they believe that even if not a single person were ever hurt again with a firearm, no human being should be trusted to wield that kind of power. It’s a little hypocritical though that those same people trust others to drive hunks of metal weighing thousands of pounds down a highway at 80+ mph. They also trust those people not to floor it as pedestrians are crossing an intersection.

    But this debate lost all reason and logic a long time ago

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