I’m not a gun violence expert. Still, I care about guns for the same reason everyone does: people with guns are an imminent threat to the lives of people I care about. I didn’t know it at the time, but there’s only one reason I never got shot by a stranger in high school: luck. And I hope that everyone I know has the same luck. But if there’s anything the last decade in the U.S. has taught us, it’s that they might not. Anyone at any school or club or concert could be shot any day. It’s a lottery.
I don’t mean to fear-monger. This is a serious enough circumstance that we should talk about it seriously and realistically. And there’s reason to believe it’s preventable, so talking about it is potentially productive.
As I’ve watched the conversation online about this topic, I’ve become familiar with the standard arguments used by those who oppose gun control. I’m no lawyer, but I took four years of speech and debate in high school so I know a little bit about fair argumentation and logic. In the spirit of logical debate, let’s examine these arguments and see if they hold water.
Argument: Gun control is impossible because of the Second Amendment.
For starters, “impossible” is too strong of a word. Amendments are repealable under Constitutional law. The Eighteenth Amendment, for example, was repealed in 1933. Nonetheless, the Second Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, so it’s a little more sancrosanct than the Eighteenth, and we probably won’t see a full repeal anytime soon.
However, the interpretation of Constitutional amendments is always up for debate, and this one isn’t as clear-cut as anyone would like it to be. Let’s review the Second Amendment word-for-word:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Notice that it says “Arms”, which refers to the implements of war generally. It doesn’t specify which Arms. You may see that as a point against gun control, but legal precedent indicates just the opposite: while some types of Arms are easily available, others are heavily regulated by law. The National Firearms Act makes it difficult and expensive to buy machine guns and sawed-off shotguns, for instance. And the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 makes it illegal to possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons (such as anthrax) without specific government permission. The point is, there are numerous Arms that the government has deemed too dangerous to allow on the open market, and as a result, those Arms are comparatively difficult to obtain.
Although it’s unlikely that the government would outlaw all guns (and probably undesirable), it would be completely within reason and within their power to outlaw the sale of weapons that are specifically designed to kill and wound people in large groups, such as assault rifles. Let’s not forget that “well regulated” part.
Argument: Criminals don’t follow the law, so outlawing guns won’t affect criminals.
This misses the point. Nobody thinks that it’s possible to restrict access to dangerous weapons with 100% effectiveness. That’s not up for debate. Heroin is illegal and people still get ahold of it. Pipe bombs are illegal and people still make them. Murder is illegal but people still murder. Applying the logic of “the law doesn’t affect criminals,” how many of the above do you think we should legalize?
The point of reasonable Arms restrictions is not to hope that hardened criminals with plentiful resources will be totally unable to obtain dangerous weapons. It’s to draw a clear line between what is acceptable and what is not, in hopes of catching criminals before they are able to harm the innocent. In most cases, mass shooters in America are white men who have no criminal record and no known connection to the criminal underground. It stands to reason that these types of people would have a difficult time obtaining weapons of mass murder under more restrictive laws.
As for the the mafia and other criminal organizations with the financial resources to obtain illegal guns? We need to deal with them, but it seems that they aren’t interested in shooting schoolchildren and people dancing at nightclubs, so they’re not a top priority.
Argument: Gun control doesn’t work in Chicago, so gun control doesn’t work at all, ever.
That’s weak inductive reasoning based on a faulty premise. Gun control in Chicago isn’t all that strict. And if we’re to be completely fair, Chicago is only a half-hour drive from Indiana, where no permit, background check, license, or disclosure is needed to buy a gun. So Chicago’s not demonstrative of anything. And even if Chicago did have the strongest gun laws in the country and the highest homicide rate, that wouldn’t constitute comprehensive research on the subject. You need more than one city to draw a generally-applicable conclusion. Otherwise, any number of different factors could be at fault–the culture and history of Chicago, the industries that reside there, the average income of the population, the location, the weather…
If we want good data, we should look at countries, not cities. And we should use as many examples as we have available to us. If you look at the effectiveness of gun control in European and Asian countries (and, of course, Australia), you’ll find gun control to be much more nuanced than the “Chicago argument” gives it credit for.
Argument: Car accidents and diabetes kill more people than guns, so we should focus on those instead of guns.
This is a red herring. There’s no reason why we can’t do both. And, in fact, we’re investing billions to make both driving and being diabetic safer. All modern cars have seat belts and airbags; self-driving cars are on the horizon; lane-departure and proximity warnings are standard issue in high-end models. And on the diabetes front, technology has enabled constant glucose monitoring and automated insulin injections. What’s the latest technology in gun safety?
Beyond that, car ownership is a necessity in most cities, and diabetes isn’t something you can purchase at the corner store. The comparison doesn’t really work.
Argument: The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Yes, there have been a few cases where a Good Samaritan gun owner has shot a would-be mass murder (with an ordinary handgun, not an assault rifle, but the point stands). There have also been a few cases where other gun owners have only added to the chaos and injury of the situation, and tens of cases where no one but the shooter had a gun. To propose good-guys-with-guns as a general solution to the mass shooting problem, one of two things has to happen: either we have to require a large part of the population, by law, to carry handguns–when most of them would prefer not to–or we have to provide armed guards at all gatherings. The first clearly violates people’s rights, and the second is prohibitively expensive and Orwellian.
Furthermore, there are many situations where a good guy with a gun would be hopelessly ineffective. The shooting in Las Vegas last year is Exhibit A: there’s simply no way that someone with a concealed weapon (even someone with extensive firearm training) would have been able to find and shoot a lone gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel.
Argument: If we outlaw guns, people will just use knives and trucks and rocks to kill.
Awesome. That’s the ideal. Try this thought experiment: someone wants to kill you, but you get to choose what weapon they’ll use. Your choices are a rock, a truck, a knife, and a gun.
I assume you didn’t choose the gun.
Guns are far more effective at killing people than knives and trucks are. Someone who attacks a group of people with a knife may be able to kill a few, but killing with a knife requires proximity, strength and time–multiple stab wounds are usually required to assure death. Someone who attacks a group of people with a semi-automatic weapon can kill a person every second, at range, with almost no effort.
In one-on-one combat, the mortality rate may not be that different. But in mass killings, the difference is substantial.
Argument: If the government takes away our guns, who will protect us from the government?
To me, this is the first semi-logical argument of the bunch. And it strikes much closer to the heart of the issue. There are reasonable motives for owning a gun: hunting, fending off coyotes, shooting targets or clay pigeons for fun. But most gun owners, it seems, own a gun to soothe a primal and instinctive fear: what if someone else has a gun and I don’t?
If this is really your argument for allowing gun ownership, then you need to acknowledge that it’s emotional and mostly irrational. But at least it’s honest. And I don’t necessarily disagree with it. If a person is trying to kill you with a gun, probably the best situation is for you to have one of your own. The odds are overwhelmingly against your survival in both cases, but maybe you can stop the person from hurting anyone else.
In this imaginary (and generally improbable) scenario, you’re trying to incapacitate one person. A handgun will do the trick. An assault rifle won’t be any more effective and is much more likely to cause collateral damage. As a reminder, common-sense gun control isn’t about taking away your handgun; it’s about taking away the other guy’s semi-auto.
But not to neglect the original argument: if the government decides to kill you, how will you protect yourself if you don’t have a stockpile of guns? And, unfortunately, the problem is much bigger than that. The government has access to drones and military helicopters and bunker-busters and a thousand other things that will obliterate both you and your stockpile. In fact, they won’t even need any of those. People with a few assault rifles in the garage are just a regular Tuesday afternoon for the local SWAT team.
Argument: I like guns and I want them.
I hear you. However, our inalienable rights are to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not weapons of mass murder. And I hope we can agree that sometimes, a person’s wants have to be denied in favor of another person’s rights.