I live next door to a couple who from time to time have tremendous arguments, and get into fights. The funny thing is that separately they seem quite nice people, and I get along with the husband tolerably well. If he has a violent streak, he certainly never shows it in my presence. Well, the other day he revealed to me that he usually kept a gun in his house for self-defence, and that the gun had gone missing. Did I know anyone, he wanted to know, who could sell him a new one? I do in fact know several people who deal in firearms (all quite kosher and legal, of course) and I could easily get them to sell him one. But should I?
Robin Cook writes: Yes, of course. It is for self-defence, isn't it?
Yes, that's what he says, but how can I be sure of that ? I mean, who's to say that in one of these domestic imbroglios he might not in the heat of the moment draw his gun and shoot his wife dead? I'd feel a bit guilty then.
Robin Cook writes: Well, what you have to do in these circumstances is get him to make a solemn declaration that he will use his gun for peaceful purposes only and not kill his wife. Then if he shoots his wife, or indeed anyone else, it won't be your fault.
I'm a bit worried about this idea of using a gun peacefully. How can a gun be used for peaceful purposes?
Robin Cook writes: Oh, easily. For target practice. For sport. For rabbit hunting. For starting a race. For deterring a burglar. As an intriguing paperweight... You might say that guns have more peaceful than violent purposes!
But what if he turns out to need the gun for criminal purposes? What if he is really an armed robber in pursuit of his trade? I would then be aiding and abetting a criminal act.
Robin Cook writes: Yes, that is a real consideration. There must always be an ethical dimension in our strategy, and it does you credit to remember it. On the other hand, if you don't sell him a gun, someone else will. So sell it to him, and stop shilly-shallying around!
But is that true? Will someone else always sell him a gun? And even if they do, is that justification for doing something that may lead to bloodshed?
Robin Cook writes: I have an idea that will allay your very real and respectable fears. Your only reservation, if I read you right, is that if you sell a gun to your neighbour, he may do some damage to his wife. Is that not correct?
Robin Cook writes: Then what you must do is go to the wife and point out that since her husband is getting armed, so, for her own protection, should she. It would also make sense to sell her a weapon of slightly higher firepower than the one you are selling to the husband.
Robin Cook writes: Partly so that she can protect herself. But partly so you can go back to the husband, tell him that he is outgunned on the home front, and suggest that he trade in his new weapon for an even newer and better one.
Won't this lead to an escalation whereby I shall find myself selling ever more powerful guns to both partners?
Robin Cook writes: Let us hope so. For it will lead not only to greater peace next door, but also to very good profits for you. This is what ethics is all about.
Robin Cook will be back soon. Keep those ethical problems rolling in!