As a student of argument, nothing drives me crazier than dumb arguments and few are dumber than those routinely pumped out by the gun rights crowd. The problem is that every argument they put forth is as paper thin as the targets they practice with. The principal problems with these gun rights arguments are: (1) they have no factual basis and the only “fact” they cite actually supports more gun control; and, (2) they only engage the straw argument that there is nothing between abolishing guns and requiring everyone to carry a gun.
This article gets me right off the bat because it’s titled “What Everyone Forgets When Debating Gun Control.” The title is deceptive because you assume what follows will have any connection to the real debate happening over gun control. Instead it will be a series of straw man arguments and ludicrous analogies. Let’s carry on, shall we?
One side says we’d be safer if guns were rarer; the other says that more guns equal less crime. One side says guns kill people, the other that people kill people. Facts and feelings are bandied back and forth (although one side specializes in the facts and the other in the feelings), but in all the commentary, some of which is very good, one point is universally missed.
Just insinuating that the side fighting for tougher laws lacks facts doesn’t make it so. We know that we’d be safer if guns were rarer because we have empirical evidence when we compare the United States to the United Kingdom — the U.S. has around 9000 gun homicides (leaving injuries out of it for the time being) each year and the UK has…39. Allowing for population discrepancies, we’d still only have 195 gun homicides every year if we were on pace with our friends across the Pond. Meanwhile gun rights advocates have only one fact in their quiver (and a whole lot of “feelings” about the importance of the Second Amendment that they’ve never read), specifically the decline in homicides in the last several years. Gun deaths have been going down while there has been no federal action on gun laws. But this statistic dooms the gun rights crowd because the reduction in homicides has come almost entirely from major cities like New York — because they have restricted handguns while the federal government sat on the sidelines.
Well, it would certainly save lives and countless injuries if people didn’t engage in mountain-climbing, hang-gliding, motorcycle-racing, trampolining, big-wave surfing, cave-diving, heli-skiing, and a host of other dangerous activities.
Hurray for dumb analogies! Mountain climbing claims about 25 lives each year. Hang gliding 7. Motorcycle riding (aside from racing, which the article cites) kills around 4500, but all these added together don’t approach the number of gun homicides every year. Why on Earth would anyone employ such an easily falsifiable analogy?
The point is that we never treat saving lives as the only imperative when devising policy. If we did, we’d perhaps consider reducing speed limits on highways to 5 mph, since this might save most of the 43,000 lives lost on the road each year. Speaking of which, since 40 percent of those deaths are alcohol-related, we can consider resurrecting Prohibition, too.
Now, since gun-control advocates think they have morality on their side, they may want to ponder a question: is it moral to sacrifice 43,000 lives just so we can be free to zip around at 55 or 65 mph? The answer here is that the safety imperative is balanced against an economic one, in that too much productivity would be lost with a five-mph speed limit.
At least this analogy makes some sense. However, he’s playing a little sleight of hand with these statistics. Notice how 43,000 is hanging out there as a big number, even though he can only assert (with no support) that “most” of those could be saved. Then he adds “40%” which is a big number, but that’s only 40% of the 43,000. Or at best about double the rate of gun murders. It’s a fair comparison, but when scrutinized it doesn’t get him as far as he’d like.
[EDIT 12/18/12 — As noted by an astute commenter, I made a mistake here. I assumed the author was suggesting that a 5mph decrease in the speed limit could solve most traffic deaths, which would be a serious argument against my claim that targeted gun regulations can save lives, so I pointed out that he did not have any evidence for his claim. But on closer examination, he’s talking about reducing the speed limit to 5 mph. This is just another straw argument trying to draw a parallel between all efforts to regulate the gun trade and the idea of grinding traffic to a halt. It’s another subtle way of claiming that gun regulations are akin to a radical ban. The more apt analogy would be comparing traffic deaths in the status quo to deaths where drunk driving is not a crime and the speed limit is lifted in most areas.]
In fact, some among us will even tolerate death on a massive scale if we think the reason is good enough. An example is when the anti-gun left is willing to accept 1.2 million killings a year through abortion.
So if we’ll accept death through fun, should we question death through the gun? As with dangerous recreation, the enjoyment justification exists with firearms, too, in the form of target and sport shooting. As with driving, an economic justification exists in that revenue is collected from hunters and because some poorer rural Americans help feed themselves through hunting.
And this is the big, big problem. Indeed, this is “What Everyone Forgets When Debating Gun Control” — no one is trying to ban target and sport shooting! Gun rights folks don’t seem to understand that the debate is not about “banning guns” it’s about making it harder than going to the corner for a crazy person or terrorist to buy guns. It’s about background checks and training and actual licensing (not just paying your fee). Almost all gun owners will continue to be gun owners under even the most stringent gun control proposals on the table. Stop the ridiculous hyperventilating about losing your “freedom.”
Even more significantly, as Prohibition, prostitution, and drugs have proven, illegal isn’t synonymous with unavailable. So, again, let’s assume that a gun criminalization that left firearms in the hands of a few criminals did save lives overall. What should we conclude if those armed miscreants could nonetheless ply their dark trade with little resistance? What should we feel if good people were declawed and rendered powerless to thwart their evil?
Yes, guns cannot be excised from society, but they can be minimized. Even small limits can save lives. Even if we assume that the Aurora shooter still could have gotten his hands on a gun, if he had a pistol instead of an AR-15 with high capacity clips, he could not have spread nearly as much death before being stopped. It’s not necessarily about reducing guns to zero, it’s about reducing the capacity for crazies to victimize others.
As for debating the Second Amendment, there’s nothing wrong with using facts to refute the notion that more guns equal more deaths.
There’s nothing “wrong” with using facts, you just don’t have any.