The Dumbest Thing I Heard This Week — Gun Rights Debate Edition

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.

Ha!

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.

22 comments for “The Dumbest Thing I Heard This Week — Gun Rights Debate Edition

  1. ConservativeAtheist
    August 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Well written, but you’ve missed a few points. Western Europe has traditionally had lower crime than other parts of the world, even before gun legislation was ramped up to accomodate liberal idealism. If you compare crime statistics from different American areas the trend always points towards less violent crime per capita in areas where the requirements for gun ownership are more lax. I know the argument has been over used to death but the truth still remains due to the simplicity: It isn’t law abiding armed citizens who are commiting gun related crimes with legal, mostly registered weapons, it’s criminals with mostly illegal or stolen weapons commiting crimes, and no amount of legislation can ever curb that. I’m also not too sure where you’re going with your interpretation of the second amendment, but it doesn’t sound constitutional, whether you use the historical traditional interpretation or the recent legislative decision for interpretation. Thanks for reading.

  2. August 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    1) The “Europe always having lower crime” argument is interesting, though I haven’t seen any evidence to back it up. I’d be interested because I know the Middle Ages were kind of a bloodbath over there. Maybe they aren’t less criminal but their marauding crime was always under the cloak of Feudalism. That said, even if crime was lower in Europe, is the difference equal to the current gap in gun homicides? If not then that difference would owe to gun laws.

    2) There is less crime in areas with lax gun laws. There also tends to be less people in areas with lax gun laws. Where people are less dense, there’s less violent conflict.

    3) I completely disagree that gun laws can’t curb illegal weaponry. First of all the most striking gun-related massacres we see always involve legally purchased weapons. Making those harder to buy may not have stopped them but it would definitely have made it more difficult. Secondly, I’m not against legal gun ownership — I’m just advocating regulation. Tracking, stricter licensing, registration. If you’re a legal gun owner and worry that you couldn’t pass a psych screen then…well there’s a problem. I would think almost all legal gun owners would still be legal gun owners under the regime I imagine. And crazies will have a harder time getting guns and even if they do might have to settle for low capacity semi-automatics that could save lives because they could only kill a couple of people per minute instead of raining down death in seconds.

    4) The Second Amendment, both textually and historically, was meant to protect the rights of states to have militias independent of the federal government. They have the National Guard and that pretty much covers what the Second Amendment actually says. Everything else requires linguistic backflips.

  3. ConservativeAtheist
    August 9, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    I wasn’t referring to the Middle Ages, we’re talking about gun related crimes in modern states. Check the statistics. Norway and Switzerland per person own more guns than the U.S. with assault rifle ownership being mandatory in Switzerland. As far as areas with lax gun laws having less people, that is completely false. Detroit has the most taxing gun ownership requirements in the United States and curiously also the most murders. Population density has NOTHING to do with violence, ask the Japanese. As far as more stringent gun laws are concerned, wasted legislation, criminals aren’t following the rules anyway, and more difficult requirements for obtaining firearms only increases the blackmarket sale for firearms, making it easier to obtain illegal weapons. There will always be firearms, legislation only determines whether law abiding citizens will be armed. Under your argument, illegal drug usage in the United States should have decreased since legislation classifying these substances as banned was passed, has it worked? More stringent gun laws look good on paper, but fail in practicality. Guns will always be available, legal or otherwise just as violence will sadly always be a part of society. It’s worth mentioning that most gun related crimes involve semi automatic hand guns obviously as it is easier to conceal and operate, yet these are the guns most gun law advocates want solely available to the public if at all. As far as the Second Amendment goes, you would have to speak with the Supreme Court as they disagree with your interpretation, as well as all governing bodies collectively in the United States since the penning of the amendment itself. Had your interpretation been the case, a mass confiscation of privately owned non militia fuction firearms would have occurred. The “militia maintenance” argument is utter nonsense with that simple example. Thanks for reading and keeping it civil.

  4. Joe Patrice
    August 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Sorry, I thought you were making one of those “Europeans are pre-disposed culturally to be less violent” arguments. I know it sounds crazy but some people do make arguments like that so I assumed that after you said, “Western Europe has traditionally had lower crime than other parts of the world, even before gun legislation was ramped up.” So I just misread where you were going with that.

    Norway actually owns many fewer guns per person than the United States (by a 2007 survey 31.3 per 100 citizens while the U.S. had 88.8 per 100 citizens). Switzerland had 45.7 guns per citizen and those (including assault rifles as you mention) are kept by citizens as part of their obligations to the official Militia. If anything Switzerland is an example of what the Second Amendment actually says. And if we made everyone undergo military training and be eligible and obligated to join the National Guard in order to have a gun, we’d be in much better shape. Remember I’m in favor of stringent licensing (including screening, training and frequent renewals) and monitoring rather than outright bans (for all but the most over-the-top products, like cop-killing bullets, high-capacity clips and machine guns).

    Fun fact: George Washington originally signed a law requiring everyone to own a gun in order to be prepared to join the military — a literal reading of the Second Amendment’s requirement. It was also the first federal “individual mandate.”

    You said, “As far as areas with lax gun laws having less people, that is completely false. Detroit has the most taxing gun ownership requirements in the United States and curiously also the most murders.” I think I may have mixed up “lax” and “tax” in there. My point is that it’s true that Detroit has high population densities and strict gun control, but Wyoming has less gun violence not because it has lax gun laws but because there is lower population density along with the associated problems of density (e.g. poverty).

    Population density alone does not create gun violence, but population density increases the likelihood of interpersonal conflict (by sheer numbers and because of the “anonymity” factor) and where there are guns, which by their nature encourage their own use, you will see more gun violence. Gun control cannot halt that risk, but it can dampen it. With the Japanese, a people with .6 guns per 100 people, we see the extreme version (even more extreme than I am prepared to advocate) of the gun control worldview — nearly complete gun control will prevent many of the violent outbursts that we associate with big cities.

    “As far as more stringent gun laws are concerned, wasted legislation, criminals aren’t following the rules anyway, and more difficult requirements for obtaining firearms only increases the blackmarket sale for firearms, making it easier to obtain illegal weapons.”

    The “criminals don’t follow laws” argument strikes me as overblown. Obviously they do not. But most of the guns criminals use were purchased LEGALLY — including all the guns in the Aurora shootings. Even most “black-market” guns were purchased legally and stolen at some point (or handed over by the Justice Department! That joke is my gift to you my conservative colleague :-) ). The better we can keep tabs on the legal market, the less likely we get psychos buying guns over the counter AND the better we can ensure ill-informed gun owners are properly locking up their weapons to avoid theft.

    “There will always be firearms, legislation only determines whether law abiding citizens will be armed”

    No, “bans” only determine whether law abiding citizens will be armed. Legislation can accomplish lots of goals without stopping the law abiding gun owner from owning a weapon. This is the problem with the gun debate — there is an urge to push the debate to its greatest extreme argument. When I speak of “legislation” you automatically took that to “outright ban on all firearms” which is far different.

    “Under your argument, illegal drug usage in the United States should have decreased since legislation classifying these substances as banned was passed, has it worked?”

    Yes, actually. Cocaine was in widespread use throughout the United States before prohibition. It was in pep pills and over-the-counter beverages and considered a valuable supplement. Pharmaceutical companies sold it en masse. Now it’s used by a small minority of this country. And that’s without considering that drugs — unlike guns — have a physically addictive element that overrides many efforts to regulate conduct. I tend to be more libertarian in my views on drug laws, but I don’t deny that the drug war has reduced the amount of drugs taken in this country.

    “More stringent gun laws look good on paper, but fail in practicality.”

    Except in Western Europe (including Switzerland which is a more extreme version of my model of gun regulation through training and constant monitoring) and Japan. Both examples of countries with fewer guns in circulation and fewer gun-related crimes.

    “It’s worth mentioning that most gun related crimes involve semi automatic hand guns obviously as it is easier to conceal and operate, yet these are the guns most gun law advocates want solely available to the public if at all.”

    This goes back to my point that almost all of the “gun control advocates” conservatives attack are NOT ACTUALLY TRYING TO BAN GUNS. Handguns do commit more individual incidents of gun violence and I recognize that we cannot stop all instances of gun violence. I do however hope to minimize the few isolated incidents of mass gun violence by making machine guns less readily available to a mentally deranged teenager.

    “As far as the Second Amendment goes, you would have to speak with the Supreme Court as they disagree with your interpretation, as well as all governing bodies collectively in the United States since the penning of the amendment itself.”

    Currently yes, though “since the penning of the amendment itself” is untrue. In fact this is the subject of the whole Zakaria plagiarism debate because he lifted another writer’s (Jill Lepore’s) research that:

    “As Adam Winkler, a constitutional-law scholar at U.C.L.A., demonstrates in a remarkably nuanced new book, “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” firearms have been regulated in the United States from the start. Laws banning the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813, and other states soon followed: Indiana (1820), Tennessee and Virginia (1838), Alabama (1839), and Ohio (1859). Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas explained in 1893, the “mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.”

    Mass gun ownership as a right is a relatively new phenomenon.

    I also want to thank you for keeping this civil. I don’t know if you’ve looked around the cite but my “niche” if I have one is rhetoric and as part of that I respect the idea of structured argument. I can get snarky at times (sarcasm gets readers!) but hopefully never uncivil.

  5. Dwight Howard
    December 15, 2012 at 3:00 am

    Joe, not saying anything about the column you’re writing about, but seemingly demanding from your opponent a footnoted published study in support of a painfully obvious proposition makes you sound a little dumb. A few moments’ informed consideration of the physics, engineering, and human behavior involved would reveal that it would be virtually impossible for fatal traffic accidents to occur among cars observing a 5 mph limit.

    • December 15, 2012 at 3:29 am

      Honestly I misread his line there. In the second paragraph he says “free to zip around at 55 or 65 mph” so I thought he was saying reducing the speed limit BY 5 mph. Basically I thought he was asserting that a 5-10 mph reduction would save 43,000 lives. But you’re right, he was trying to say reducing it TO 5 mph.

      • Dwight Howard
        December 18, 2012 at 1:53 am

        Notice how your entire argument depended on that misunderstanding on your part? The analogy was, in fact, quite sound, and you dismissed it with vacuous rhetoric and bad math. We could, quite obviouly, save the overwhelming majority of those 43,000 lives a year just as he said — by reducing all speed limits to 5mph. Alternatively, we could arguably have saved about 17,000 of those lives by banning drinking.

        I think you might want to consider directing your argument towards the balance of interests rather than insinuating, somewhat absurdly, that there isn’t one.

        • December 18, 2012 at 9:51 am

          Actually, no. That single point definitely depended on my misunderstanding, but my “entire argument” was laid out throughout the article and stands. In fact, the rest of my argument is strengthened when his position is recognized as hyperbole.

          The entire point of my argument is that those defending unrestricted access to guns have set up a false dichotomy between the status quo and a complete ban. However, “gun control” is NOT concerned with banning all guns, but in instituting regulatory changes that minimize the risk that guns fall into the hands of people who might use them for ill and curtailing access to technologies that go beyond hunting and home defense like assault rifles and high-capacity clips.

          His point was “you could solve 99% by banning all guns, but at what cost?” and this is precisely the kind of straw argument I’m contesting as unhelpful to the policy debate.

          • Dwight Howard
            December 18, 2012 at 11:07 am

            You made that “single point” the centerpiece of your post — arguing that some dumb gun-rights proponent was deploying a “ludicrous” analogy to further a “straw man” argument that, you complain, distracts from genuine debate on gun control. In point of fact, you titled your post “The Dumbest Thing I Heard This Week”. At this point a passing mention of glass houses seems appropriate.

            Having failed to realize that the analogy was, in fact, quite sound, you then proceeded to “refute” arguments that the author was not actually making. Even in your latest reply, you claim that “the rest of my argument is strengthened when his position is recognized as hyperbole” — while remaining blissfully unconcerned that the other author is NOT ACTUALLY TAKING the position which you describe as hyperbolic.

            So, your point is that stupid arguments about gun control don’t help anyone. I suspect you had not intended to make that point ironically, but that’s life. Having knocked down your straw man, you clearly should take a victory lap.

            • December 18, 2012 at 11:36 am

              It formed a “centerpiece” to the extent it appeared about midway through the article I suppose. While I understand the interest in trying to excise the rest of my article because you have no response to any other argument, let’s revisit the actual article and summarize my actual arguments real quick:

              1) The original author claimed there were “no facts” supporting gun control. I cited empirical evidence from both overseas and within the United States where homicides by gun are on the decline in locales with strict gun laws like New York City. This empirical evidence is not even acknowledged by the original author at any point.

              2) The original author ignores that wealth of empirical evidence in favor of comparing gun violence to hang-gliding and the like. Not only are the dangers of these analogies wildly out of proportion with gun violence, but they reflect the sort of straw argumentation of the gun use lobby: “if there’s any other way to get killed then there’s no reason to regulate this much more likely way to get killed.”

              3) The original author tugs at heartstrings by claiming that many rural Americans depend on guns to feed their families through hunting. This is a non sequitur when there’s no appetite for banning guns or hunting. But it does reflect the same hyperbole of the “5 mph” claim — it suggests that gun control is an either-or proposition “unfettered access or complete ban.” When the debate is framed this way it kills reasoned compromise.

              4) Finally, he again argues by analogy comparing a proposed gun ban — which, remember, not a single serious liberal is proposing — to the prohibition of drugs and prostitution to suggest that gun laws wouldn’t work. To this I responded that he is completely right that no legislation would solve all gun violence, but that this does not respond at all to the demonstrable fact that stricter gun regulation reduces gun violence in a number of other jurisdictions both at home and abroad.

              Not a single one of these points is undermined by the fact that I misunderstood his one driving analogy. And as I said before, it actually reinforces the third enumerated point because it’s just another ludicrous straw argument.

              You exercise of your ALL CAPS button seems to misunderstand my point. You claim that the author is not making a hyperbolic argument. As you pointed out, the author is suggesting gun regulation is akin to making people drive at 5 mph. That’s actually the greatest single example of hyperbole in the history of the world. :-)

            • Dwight Howard
              December 18, 2012 at 11:54 am

              Your reading comprehension is evidently quite poor. This is sort of like arguing with a group of kids playing the “telephone game”.

              You do realize that falsely attributing a weak argument to your opponent, and then melodramatically “refuting” that argument, is exactly what is meant by “straw man” … right?

              • December 18, 2012 at 12:08 pm

                I’m actually a little sad that you’re persisting in this argument since I’m actually being incredibly generous and you’re just launching bombs.

                1) “My reading comprehension is poor” — Did I argue with your correction? No. I fully conceded because I’m not interested in pushing an argument that is inaccurate. In response, I’d ask whether your reading comprehension could be extended to making a single response to the rest of the article. I would be happy to discuss those points.

                2) Sort of. Though a straw argument involves intentionally misrepresenting your opponent to dramatically refute it. But here I unintentionally misrepresented the argument because I thought he was making a serious argument about making minor revisions to the speed limit (a la the 70s when we had to hear about how going down to 55 was going to save so many lives) and claiming big advantages. Instead, I credit you with pointing out that he wasn’t making a serious argument, he was trying to compare closing the gun show loophole to forcing drivers to drive 5 mph.

                I regret that my error has distracted you from the rest of the article.

                • Dwight Howard
                  December 18, 2012 at 2:03 pm

                  Joe, the speed-limit argument formed the “centerpiece” insofar as your entire piece was premised upon pro-gun people supposedly being unable to see anything in between a total ban on guns and, say, mandatory ownership of anti-tank weapons, and you were presenting this guy’s article as an example of that — which, of course, it was not.

                  If you had to confront what the guy is ACTUALLY arguing, you’d be forced to admit he’s right. One wonders why you have so much trouble with this. Even in your half-assed “correction”, you still insist that the author is arguing that there can only be an all-or-nothing regime of gun control. No support for this position is found anywhere in his article.

                  You might as well have titled your own piece, “How I Feel Deep Down Inside When I Am Drunk and Carelessly Read Political Arguments I Don’t Like The Sound Of: 50 Fictitious Hypothetical Arguments That I Would Enjoy Refuting”.

                  Moving along to explain the painful failures of reading comprehension that are evident in your previous comments:

                  1. At no point does the original author claim there are “no facts” supporting gun control. He doesn’t even come close. Either you can’t read, or you’re superimposing your most outlandish caricature of pro-gun views upon the author and then wasting everybody’s time arguing against it. (Actually, it would seem that that’s your entire column in a nutshell.)

                  You then casually refer to unidentified evidence which you seem to suggest conclusively demonstrates that strict gun laws directly and reliably reduce gun violence. Even if you’re somehow unconditionally right and are not exaggerated or misrepresenting anything in the slightest (ha!), it’s a bit stupid that you purport to take the author to task for “failing” to acknowledge this point — since it in no way undermines the point HE was making. Just because you seem to wish that he was making a much different point — one that is much easier to argue against — doesn’t give you grounds to criticize him for not addressing data that would undermine a claim he isn’t making.

                  2. Continuing with the misunderstandings that have already been piled up by the end of your point #1, you continue to pointlessly criticize the other author for not discussing data that’s not relevant to his point, but which would provide persuasive support for your own largely unrelated arguments on gun control.

                  The other author’s point is very simple: saving lives is not the only consideration relevant to sensible regulation of guns, or anything else. The analogies he used are perfectly sound and are in no way undermined by the facts you raise — e.g., that there are relatively few hang-gliding deaths per year — because he’s not arguing that hang-gliding deaths are as serious or widespread as gun deaths. Instead, he’s pointing out that we allow hang-gliding even though it is very dangerous and very unnecessary — which supports his ACTUAL point, which is that there are relevant considerations OTHER than whether a particular activity gets people killed.

                  Notice that this isn’t an argument that “if there’s any other way to get killed then there’s no reason to regulate this much more likely way to get killed.” That’s an idiotic argument that nobody makes — a straw man for emotionally invested liberals to hang around the heads of those they disagree with.

                  If you’re genuinely concerned with straw-man arguments, stop making such extensive use of them. It’s hard to fault the NRA taking hard lines against gun-control efforts, given the equally unrealistic demands and ranting at the other extreme. As a recent WaPo column observed, “prohibitionist rhetoric only aids and abets the [National Rifle Association’s] own absolutist stance.”

                  3. The author’s mention of rural people hunting is not a non-sequitur. Obviously a brief explanation of what a non-sequitur is will be necessary in order for you to understand why this is so. A non-sequitur is an invalid conclusion of a logical argument — one that does not follow from its stated premises.

                  First off, the author’s mention of this tidbit isn’t even in the same universe of things to which “non-sequiturs” belong, since it wasn’t a logical conclusion. In fact, the author’s mention of this tidbit wasn’t even a “non-sequitur” in the looser, layman’s sense of the term, which would mean it was not relevant to the discussion at hand.

                  It *was* relevant, and quite obviously so. The author’s central point was that a sensible approach to gun control must balance competing interests and counterbalancing factors, and that saving lives is not the only consideration. The mention of rural hunting was a simple example of an economically beneficial use of guns — exactly what his argument called for.

                  4. The author does indeed point out that a ban on guns would not keep them out of the hands of criminals. You did indeed claim that it is a demonstrable fact that stricter gun regulations will reduce gun violence.

                  I’m not sure why you are mentioning either of those things since they do not undermine the author’s point that there are things to consider other than the death toll.

                  If the author were arguing that since we don’t force cars to drive at 5mph, we shouldn’t place any restrictions on guns, you’d have a point. But he’s not saying that, and your breathtaking inability to read seems to leave you incapable of discussing his article intelligently.

                  More broadly, you don’t seem to care one bit that not a single conservative, let alone a “serious” conservative, is proposing that we have unrestricted access to all weapons. Even as you proudly declare that you’re sick of ludicrous straw man arguments, those seem to be all you offer up in this piece. Even now you insist that the other author “is suggesting gun regulation is akin to making people drive at 5 mph”. That’s just idiotic.

                  If there was some other point intended by your article, you might want to re-write it so that it makes that point.

                  • December 18, 2012 at 3:02 pm

                    This is much better.

                    “Joe, the speed-limit argument formed the “centerpiece” insofar as your entire piece was premised upon pro-gun people supposedly being unable to see anything in between a total ban on guns and, say, mandatory ownership of anti-tank weapons, and you were presenting this guy’s article as an example of that — which, of course, it was not.”

                    This is actually the opposite. Note how with every other analogy I pointed out how “all or nothing” it was, but with this argument I argued that he just didn’t have any evidence. That’s because I thought he was making a lone “small regulations” argument. As it turns out he was making another “all or nothing” claim saying that workable gun control can only take the form of something just as drastic as a 5 mph speed limit. If anything this point was an exception to my argument before and only now joins the centerpiece claim.

                    “1. At no point does the original author claim there are “no facts” supporting gun control. He doesn’t even come close. Either you can’t read, or you’re superimposing your most outlandish caricature of pro-gun views upon the author and then wasting everybody’s time arguing against it. (Actually, it would seem that that’s your entire column in a nutshell.)”

                    Well, what did the original author say. “Facts and feelings are bandied back and forth (although one side specializes in the facts and the other in the feelings)” I guess he’s not saying “no facts” but he’s certainly arguing that the gun control argument is buoyed by “feelings” without “facts.”

                    “You then casually refer to unidentified evidence”

                    OK…http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_08.html and http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110218135832/http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs10/hosb0110.pdf

                    And for good measure here’s an example of reducing gun circulation reducing gun violence in NYC, driving down national statistics: http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/gun_violence/profile19.html

                    “it’s a bit stupid that you purport to take the author to task for “failing” to acknowledge this point — since it in no way undermines the point HE was making.”

                    Well, what the author said was, “As for debating the Second Amendment, there’s nothing wrong with using facts to refute the notion that more guns equal more deaths.” It seems the author thought he was arguing that there is no causation or even correlation between increased gun ownership and gun violence. So…yeah, I was undermining the point he was making. That may well not be the point you want to make, and that’s fine, but I didn’t have your argument in front of me when I wrote this.

                    “2… The other author’s point is very simple: saving lives is not the only consideration relevant to sensible regulation of guns, or anything else.”

                    That is certainly part of the argument, and it’s true…as far as it goes. But what we’re given are a number of relatively safe hobbies described as dangerous — and the cost-benefit analysis of stopping single or double-digit deaths brought on by the hobbyists themselves would not support more regulation. And then a driving analogy that suggests that we could be completely safe at the expense of efficient living without considering the possibility cost-benefit analysis is not a zero sum game. Full background checks, requirements to reapply every 3-5 years, ending the gun show loophole, banning assault rifles and high capacity magazines is simply not comparable to a 5 mph speed limit. In fairness, it would also (as I concede in the article) solve all gun violence, but it would diminish the loss of these shootings and there is not even an attempt to provide a “cost” to society from such limited regulations to counter-balance the benefits.

                    “Notice that this isn’t an argument that “if there’s any other way to get killed then there’s no reason to regulate this much more likely way to get killed.” That’s an idiotic argument that nobody makes — a straw man for emotionally invested liberals to hang around the heads of those they disagree with.”

                    Really? Let’s quote him again: “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…Does it logically follow that these items and activities should be banned?” His argument is that the fact that these activities are dangerous should not justify regulation. You’re right that this is a call for a full cost-benefit analysis, but the rhetorical structure here is to draw the audience into equating hang-gliding with guns and suggesting that the fact that no one would regulate hang-gliding means there is no logical argument for regulating guns.

                    BUT, let’s put aside all rhetorical framings and focus simply on the substantive argument you think he’s making — that a cost-benefit analysis should be made before making any regulation rather than legislating a knee-jerk emotional response. If we limit his article to that thesis it becomes even more damning that he makes no effort to address and try to explain why the empirical evidence of the benefits of gun regulation OR articulate any defense of maintaining the status quo. The only countervailing “costs” outlined in the article are “target and sport shooting,” hunting license revenue and “rural Americans help feed themselves through hunting” and “Thwarting evil” through self-defense. These are all very valuable responses to a gun ban, but none of these are implicated by the regulations liberals actually propose (with the possible exception of target and sport shooting to the extent people enjoy shooting military grade weapons…a completely fair point and perhaps exceptions could be made for gun ranges).

                    “It’s hard to fault the NRA taking hard lines against gun-control efforts, given the equally unrealistic demands and ranting at the other extreme. As a recent WaPo column observed, “prohibitionist rhetoric only aids and abets the [National Rifle Association’s] own absolutist stance.”

                    Honestly, I don’t think we’re too different deep down. I think this is a true statement, which is why I do not support an absolutist ban on guns.

                    “3. The author’s mention of rural people hunting is not a non-sequitur. Obviously a brief explanation of what a non-sequitur is will be necessary in order for you to understand why this is so. A non-sequitur is an invalid conclusion of a logical argument — one that does not follow from its stated premises.”

                    It’s a non sequitur in the context of the gun control debate. No one is proposing laws that would take hunting rifles from rural Americans. Period. If that were the debate liberals were pushing then, yes, it would not be a non sequitur. But the point of this article is the paralyzing aspect of conservatives wanting to have a debate that isn’t happening.

                    Obviously this is the position of a single conservative, but my point was highlighting the fact that the rhetoric of gun control is typified by liberals seeking specific, limited regulations that do not interfere with law-abiding Americans owning guns after registration and licensing safeguards backed by statistics culled from empirical instances of regulation, while conservatives decry the harms that would follow from an outright ban. It’s a problem.

                    • Dwight Howard
                      December 18, 2012 at 5:16 pm

                      So, I didn’t see this parenthetical before “(although one side specializes in the facts and the other in the feelings)”. I guess I can see that as an argument that there are “no facts in support” gun control. Apologies on that, foot in mouth.

                      Still, I still am not seeing, from the use of the speed-limit metaphor to point out that we accept serious risks of death in exchange for things we consider to be valuable, some unstated proposition that all pro-gun people insist that there can be no middle ground between banning firearms and some also-unstated opposite extreme. I mean, even the speed-limit metaphor itself involves a speed *limit*! The point he’s making is that the limit, in whatever context, is carefully chosen to balance the goods wished for and the evils feared.

                      I believe you’re making a slightly different point — that use of metaphors involving all-or-nothing decisions confuses the debate by disproportionately emphasizing a risk of bans or confiscation, even if the metaphor is being used for some purpose OTHER than criticizing actual attempts at bans.

                      That may be a fair point, but I don’t think it’s fair to also infer that the author is directly arguing that there can be either total limits on firearms, or none at all — nor was the metaphor inapt, as used by the author.

                      But, as with his later comment (“there’s nothing wrong with using facts to refute the notion that more guns equal more deaths”), neither is part of what he is actually arguing, which is that there are things to consider other than the death toll. This point is in no way undermined by the fact that there is a death toll. Given *that* point, there was no reason for him to discuss that data, and in any event, the guy didn’t have *your* argument in front of him when he wrote his own piece, as it was you responding to his piece and not the other way around.

                      2. The author uses dangerous hobbies and highway driving speeds to illustrate that we are willing to tolerate risk of death in exchange for things we consider valuable. He simply was not arguing the outright bans are the only form of regulation, nor that an outright ban or a pointlessly restrictive speed limit is comparable to the gun-control proposals you mention.

                      You say:

                      “His argument is that the fact that these activities are dangerous should not justify regulation.”

                      immediately after quoting a rhetorical question that reads:

                      “Does it logically follow that [dangerous sports and recreational devices] should be banned?”

                      It seems obvious to me that he is not thereby saying that dangerous activities do not call for *any* regulation. He is, again, merely making the *exact* point that follows that rhetorical question: “The point is that we never treat saving lives as the only imperative when devising policy”.

                      Finally, you say something I can agree to without reservation: “the rhetorical structure here is to draw the audience into equating hang-gliding with guns”. Sure… fine.

                      The rest of that sentence seems way off though (“suggesting that the fact that no one would regulate hang-gliding means there is no logical argument for regulating guns.”).

                      The rest of the article makes clear that his point is not that there can be no logical argument for regulating guns, but that any balancing of the interests at stake must account for benefits as well as costs.

                      Your final point under #2 seems to be simply that this guy beats the “hey guys there are benefits” horse too dead without actually making that case. From a rhetorical perspective, I can understand why he flogged the horse, as it sometimes seems people see guns as tools for mayhem and nothing else. Beyond that, you make a fair point, if a bit pedantic; it’s not too hard to realistically imagine a few more benefits.
                      And not to goad you but.. it’s a blog. What were you expecting, Woodward and Bernstein?

                      As for the regulations liberals “actually propose”, perhaps you’re right that they’re all rather modest but I could swear I occasionally hear about someone wanting an outright ban on handguns in this or that jurisdiction… but maybe I’m wrong.

                      3. I’d like to wrap this up, but if you accept that on its face that his argument was only intended to firmly establish that we accept tradeoffs involving serious risk of death, the hunting example isn’t a non-sequitur. (If you don’t, c’est la vie.) Meanwhile, I accept that there’s a quite-possibly-intentional subtext designed to get the idea of an outright ban stuck in people’s heads. Perhaps you are right that this is a standard rhetorical gambit by the pro-gun lobby, although I don’t think it’s fair to attribute all of that to every conservative or even every gun owner. Also, for my part, I think it’s confusing when you seem to be consistently arguing based on the subtext rather than the text of his argument, without mentioning it, and also taking every possible negative inference against him as granted.

                • Dwight Howard
                  December 18, 2012 at 2:53 pm

                  ” he was trying to compare closing the gun show loophole to forcing drivers to drive 5 mph.”

                  Get yourself enrolled in an ESL class, pronto.

                  • December 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm

                    Ha! Awesome, a crypto-nativist comment.

  6. Jack Handy
    December 15, 2012 at 7:31 am

    You keep mentioning “gun violence” and “gun homicides.” Is there greater non-gun violence and murder in places where guns are harder to get? I don’t have a link, but it seems like I am always reading about knife violence in other places more often then here. Of course if we get rid of one tool then things associated with that tool will decrease in number. But if people simply substitute different tools then I am not sure it’s a victory. I would like to know if somehow not having guns makes humans less likely to commit violent acts. Thanks.

    • December 15, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      It’s possible, and I think I’ve heard of reports looking at the influence of gun “culture” on the general “quickness to anger.” But even if knife violence continued, the disastrous impact of a knife-weilding maniac is necessarily less than one armed with a gun. The fact that a knife requires close contact and can kill relatively slowly increases the odds that someone intent on violence kills a fraction of what they could with a gun. Imagine the Aurora shooting with a knife. Most of the victims would have survived that scenario.

      • Dwight Howard
        December 19, 2012 at 7:45 pm

        Not disagreeing that a gun has more deadly potential overall, but knife wounds can kill you *real* fast, and, for a given vital part of the body, a serious knife wound is more likely to be impossible to repair with surgery (and thus fatal).

  7. Dwight Howard
    December 18, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    In a nutshell, Selwyn Duke does not at any time make any of the arguments Joe attributes to him here.

    Instead, this piece is a free-form narrative telling us how Joe Patrice feels about some of the most ridiculous pro-gun arguments he can think of, coupled with the completely unsubstantiated and false assertion that gun owners think that the only two gun-control options are either total prohibition, or a complete absence of any restrictions on guns.

    As a “student of argument”, he ought to be ashamed of himself.

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