These Are The Gun Arguments That Are Bunk

Given the mass gun shootings of the last year and in the last decade, the discussion around guns continues to circle around without actual meaning or purpose.  Over the course of conversations with people, I find myself getting to the point where I start to roll my eyeballs when I hear certain faux-arguments.

To be clear--not just because I feel obligated to say it or else be disregarded as a "anti-gun" person and because I actually do believe it--I do believe people should have the right to reasonably arm and protect themselves including guns from realistic and recognizable threats.  I go back and forth about owning a gun myself--not because of any ethical issues about ownership or protecting myself but because that would also entail proper care of the weapon and regular practicing with it (which for those who know me, know that I already do a billion things--adding to the mix can be challenging).  That is, if I were to be a gun-owner, I would want to make sure I could be a responsible one.

However, the words "reasonably," "realistic," and "recognizable" are the key modifiers here.  That people instantly want to (or choose to) believe that a discussion about the places for guns in our society equates to wanting to take guns away from everyone seems to mean they have either drank all of the NRA's Kool-Aid or may themselves not be entirely rational (which is a relevant issue to consider down below when we talk about mental health).  

So here are the bunk arguments that I just don't want to deal with any more, largely because they are a distraction from the conversation and not a meaningful contribution.

People can still kill with "______" so are we going to outlaw "_____."

Yes, they can.  People are wonderfully creative and have ample ways of killing and doing harm.  But that's not a fair analogy on several key elements.  The first is that no one is talking about outlawing all guns.  Quit pretending there's somehow a majority of people in this country that want that to happen and you're some frightened minority.  There is a discussion about the use of guns that are capable of spraying a large amount of bullets in a short span of time.  The serious and purposeful use of a gun such as that is clear, when one contrasts what happened at Sandy Hook and what happened on the same day in China.  Of those involved in the stabbing spree, almost all have survived.  And at the end of the day, yes, other things can create massive death, but they are either highly restrictive (cars, trains, planes, etc), highly ineffective for mass murdering (knives, rocks, crossbows, etc) or complicated enough to orchestrate (e.g. ingredients for a bomb akin to what Timothy McVeigh did).  In the case of cars, trains, planes, etc, we still create numerous blockades (both legal and physical) to prevent the large scale harm by motor vehicles and the like (and in truth, it's easier to dodge a car than it is a bullet; you're likely to be able to see and avoid the car much easier).  In the complicated orchestration, there's nothing preventing people per se but it takes a significant amount of planning that is hard to pull off.  If doing things like bombing were so easy and quick to access, then why do the more fierce gun zealots have to point to McVeigh as proof of evidence that common household are just as easy to kill large amounts of people? Why do they reach back some 18 years if these things are a clear and present danger--unlike semi-automatic guns which one only needs to look back every few months.

Yes, you can kill by other means; that doesn't mean you ignore the ways in which guns are predisposed to kill many people in efficient ways.  That doesn't get the gun off the hook.

It's the 2nd Amendment; You Can't Mess With the Bill of Rights.

I hear this a lot.  Usually, it's gun-advocates yelling at who they perceive as liberals saying something along the lines of "You don't want your amendment of free speech messed with, well, I don't want my amendment of the right to bear arms messed with."  Butt there are ample restrictions on every part of the 1st Amendment.  It has been amply messed with and with good reason.

The 1st Amendment reads:  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It contains five specific freedoms:  religion, speech, press, assemble and petition.  There is indeed laws that do interfere and disregard religion:  laws that restrict drug usage, forbid plural marriages, and animal or human sacrifice.  There are laws restricting freedom of speech; liable and slander laws are good examples of those as well as the "Shouting fire in a crowded theater" or saying "bomb" on a plane.  The press have their limitations too about the kind of the information they can present and their sources.  The right to peaceably assemble has been disregarded innumerable times (e.g. around national conventions).  And though I don't enough about the limitations on the right to petition, it's clear that some do exist.

All this is to say that there are reasonable restrictions (ok, and some unreasonable; PATRIOT ACT anyone?) on the First Amendment.  They are there because while the founding fathers were intelligent people, they did not know everything and could not foresee all the ways society would become incomprehensibly complicated.  This is true of the Second Amendment.  In the age of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, the gun was not a weapon of mass murder it is today.  It could take upwards of thirty seconds to a minute per shot and these were not the mass-produced weaponry of today, they were regularly problems with the aim and function.  These were the "arms" in the Second Amendments that the founding fathers were referring to.

One has to legitimately wonder if they would have worded things differently if the semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle was available in large quantities as it is today.  Along with that the introduction of mass produced guns and bullets coupled with the significant decrease in price might also have created a different outcome.  Again, in colonial times, a single gun would have costed significantly as would the bullets.  Amassing an arsenal would not have been feasible.  Finally, none of the rhetoric from the pro-gun camp seems to acknowledge that Amendment itself, in its original text, talks nothing of personal protection but solely about the "security of a free state"--not a free individual as a precursor to having a right to keep and bear arms.  That is, the right to bear arms is directly connected to the people's willingness to be part of a "well-regulated militia"  (part of an organized and controlled effort--not just lone gunmen) in protection of a free state (the state or the federal state).  That they never want to discuss what a "well-regulated" militia would look like or mean to their concepts of freedom is a clear indication of choosing to read only what they want to see.

Disarming Everyone Won't Stop Criminals

Absolutely right, but two problems with this.  1.  We don't want to disarm everyone.  2.  This conversation isn't necessarily solely about criminals.  Adam Lanza was not a "criminal."  Klebold and Harris were not "criminals."  They certainly committed illegal (i.e. "criminal") acts, but it was not in the same vein that "criminals" use such weaponry (which is to secure the property of others or protect their own--often illegally obtained--property).  The discussion as it exists right now is more interested in the issue of easy access to assault weapons to people with mental illness who when given easy access to substantive killing machinery may act on it without notice.  And before we quickly go blaming the people around that person (such as Lanza's mother), realize the prevalence of mental illness in our society (26.2% of adults; that's over 1 in 4).  This means if have 200 friends on Facebook; statistically speaking, at least 50 of them are dealing with some form of mental illness.  Since we have a poor means of talking about and dealing with mental illness, it also means we fail them and us when it comes to dealing with issues of access to such weaponry as the Bushmaster.

That's not to stigmatize mentally ill people; but so much of the discussion around guns and gun rights is focused on gun owners as perfectly rational people.  Never mind that humans are generally irrational beings; there is also a large portion of the population whose mental faculties may be inhibited with an illness.  This complicates the issues of accessibility to weaponry because when people are in highly irrational states which is often an element of many mental illnesses, there is no reasoning with them.

The argument about criminals completely (and purposefully) misses the mark because in cases like this (besides missing the mark that it's not about getting rid of all guns),  Lanza had easy access to legal semi-automatic weapons.  If he had not, either the death toll would have been less or it would not have happened at all.  It was not a perfectly conceived plan--it was the impulsive whim of someone lacking the mental faculties to do otherwise like many other mass murders.

Gun Free Zones Don't Work; They Just Make Us More Vulnerable

This one seems to be at the core of the NRA's response to the shooting;  A gun in every school for protection.  First, gun-free zones are for the same reason that speeding limits in schools are there.  By and large, some people are still going to speed or bring guns.  But in both cases, it's about the fact that the increase (of speed or presence) perpetuates an increase in chance accidents.  Nothing makes things absolutely safe, but there are ways of reducing the risks.

Much of what I'm talking about here is easily summed up in a great internet meme I've seen floating around Facebook:


Wanting Sensible Gun Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Gun Just Like How Wanting Sensible Traffic Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Car


In the end, I know tragedy can't be averted entirely, but they can be reduced in number.  Given that we are living in a world that is significantly less violent and brutal than any time in history, our concern (and sometimes obsession) with being threatened and vulnerable is a bit disconcerting, owing more to the 24 hour news cycle and the perceptions of threats as opposed to actual threats.  I would love to see a reasonable conversation about such things, dominated by the majority in the middle rather than the zealots on the extremes.



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Comments

  1. Hi there Lance. Here is the best thinking on the subject that I've read so far: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-riddle-of-the-gun

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    Replies
    1. Hi Benjamin! Wow--that is a really great article--which also has me thinking further and reconsidering my points. It's methodical and focused unlike a great deal of other writings I've read on the topic. Thank you for sharing!

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    2. I'm so glad you found it thought provoking! I've read some other thoughtful articles which take more anti-gun positions (like this short one by the philosopher A.C. Grayling: http://tinyurl.com/b2ps6xb) but thought they were overly simplistic. Dr. Harris just posted a followup to the criticism of his first post which you might also find interesting: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/faq-on-violence

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    3. Thanks Ben! Even more food for thought...I appreciate it!

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