DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3984-1.ch004
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The standard justification of weapons design was introduced in Chapter 1. Here, defence as a justification of weapons design is considered in terms of the notion of a defensive weapon, the idea being that the design of defensive weapons needs no (further) justification because (self-)defence is always morally permissible. The position is criticised. This entails a discussion of the idea of defence, of levels of defence, of defence and aggression, and of the idea that there can be weapons that cannot aid aggression. It is established that no weapons fall into the latter category and, hence, that justification of weapons design in terms of defence must make reference to the actual historical context in which its products are employed. The author calls this an historical justification.
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In the last chapter agent P was seen under various guises, including that of the (honest) gun dealer from Texas. But even though P was assumed to be honest in that instance, in the sense that she only intended her guns to be put to ‘good uses’, for defence and the prevention of harm, we saw that this demand could only be satisfied after the event of selling the guns in question This is because guns can be used for aggressive as well as defensive purposes and just how they will be used is a matter of how the future pans out, not about what P intends. If P is obliged to justify what she does, given that providing the means to harm is morally wrong, then she may be hard pressed to do so convincingly because neither she herself (nor anyone else) is prescient. But while it is obvious to anyone that a hand gun can be used to rob a bank or to defend oneself against a home invasion, perhaps there are weapons that can only be used for defensive purposes? If hand guns were like this, though clearly they are not, then P would not need to worry about any issues of justification, because she would know already, before she sold them, that they could not be used for bad aggressive ends, only for defence. There would be no need to check on the bona fides of her customers because the weapons could not be used in the ways criminals would want to use them. In fact, there would be no question of P’s needing to justify herself because she would actually have an excuse: she has not provided the means to harm but the means to defend from harm. Since she has not done anything morally wrong, she has nothing to answer for.

Turning our attention to the weapons designer, future use is much more problematic because there is much greater scope for weapons spreading and being used in unpredictable and unknowable ways when a design is available than it is when there are only individual weapons. But if there were military weapons that could only prevent harm, in whatever context they were emplaced, then their future uses would not seem to be problematic whoever made them and used them – or so it might appear. Moreover, if a weapon can only defend or prevent harm, then it seems that this must (also) be its primary purpose, and we would then have erred in thinking that the primary purpose of weapons can only be the means to harm. However, this cannot be quite correct. If d is a weapon that prevents harm, then, at least intuitively, it must do so by causing harm to the attacker, so the weapon is still the means to harm. If the suggestion is that d is only ‘activated’ when whatever it protects is threatened, that it remains ‘dormant’ until that time, it looks as if d’s primary purpose is still as a means to harm and that its defensive role is contingent on certain contextual factors being realised, and hence what we have here is a derivative function. Be this as it may, I will set aside for the moment whether we are in fact obliged to revise our taxonomy of purposes until we have looked at the matter more closely (it turns out that we don’t). Suppose we refer d as a purely defensive weapon. The first question we need to address is whether the justification for weapons design directed to designing a weapon such as d is no longer a matter for historical judgement but always is a matter for excuse, setting aside also the question of whether in fact there are weapons such as d, or whether the conditions imposed on d are yet sufficient for the excuse. I will argue that weapons of the type d are at best elusive if not impossible to find, but even if there were such weapons, this would not yet be sufficient to make the case for excusable weapons design.

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