© Josh Sager – January 2012
The recent rash of mass shootings in the United States is simply part of a long-term trend of gun violence unique to our country. The Sandy Hook school shooting is tragic—it caused the death of 20 children—but the true tragedy is that such a shooting is only the tip of the iceberg of our country’s gun problem.
According to FBI statistics, 46,313 Americans were murdered with firearms during the time period of 2007 to 2011. To put this death-toll into perspective, this translates to an average of 9,263 murders per year, or 25 murders per day. When we look at this average death toll in relation to the Sandy Hook Shooting—a nationally shocking tragedy—we see that a Sandy Hook sized tragedy happens every day, yet nobody covers it.
No other developed country on earth has as lax gun laws or more weapons than the United States. The easy access to weapons and the ineffective methods of tracking weapons to make sure that they don’t fall into the wrong hands facilitate violent and unstable people in the United States getting weapons with which to kill people.
Currently, there are 88 guns for every 100 people living in the United States (not even counting the illegal weapons which our government couldn’t account for). With so many weapons and so few controls on who can own the weapons, there is simply no realistic way to keep these guns from falling into the hands of violent criminals and disturbed people.
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, many politicians have begun to pivot towards the idea that gun control needs to be strengthened—this effort is being led by Democrats, but even many Republicans have begun to buck their longstanding deference to the NRA and gun lobbyists. This conversation is long overdue, and will hopefully result in some sane gun regulations being enacted.
Despite the terrible death toll due to gun violence in our country and the recent mass-shootings, there is still a wide contingent within our country who oppose any form of gun control. These people use a multitude of arguments in order to attempt to fight any gun regulations. In the following section, I will name and quickly debunk 15 of the most common gun enthusiast arguments.
1. “The 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, thus gun control measures are unconstitutional.”
Those who make this argument are misinformed as to the original intent of the 2nd Amendment and have either been tricked by the modern gun lobby’s marketing or are actively perverting its meaning.
First, here is the text of the 2nd Amendment:
“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.”
Gun enthusiasts and gun lobbyists love to cite the 2nd amendment to the constitution as the catch-all defense to their right to carry any weapon that they can get their hands on (ex. assault rifles). In order to do this, these gun owners/sellers have hopelessly perverted the original intent of the 2nd Amendment and have expanded its guarantee of the right to “keep and bear arms” far beyond its original bounds.
From its passage and until the late 20th century, the 2nd Amendment to the constitution was interpreted to protect the rights of states to maintain militias and for militiamen to sustain arsenals. In the early years of our country, there was no standing federal army (the founders were afraid of a national standing army consolidating power) and the states were expected to sustain a state militia in order to contribute to the national defense; this expectation necessitated protections for militias that would facilitate militiamen keeping weapons for their service.
The 2nd amendment was predicated upon the maintenance of state militias—something that has become irrelevant in the face of our federal armed services—and is not something that should have allowed individuals to claim the right to own weapons. State militias had the right to bear arms, but individual, unattached Americans had no such right—this distinction in the difference between the 2nd Amendment being a collective right or an individual right.
Chief Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger—a Republican—said the following about the proposal that the 2nd Amendment is aimed at protecting every American’s right to own guns:
“…one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I’ve ever seen in my life time. The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies—the militias—would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”
As Justice Burger said in no uncertain terms, before gun lobbyists and activists began campaigning to change the understanding of the 2nd Amendment in the late 20th century, nobody considered it to be an individual right. Unfortunately, a decades-long concerted effort by gun lobbyists and big money conservatives has successfully shifted the meaning of the 2nd Amendment so that it can be used to justify letting anybody own any weapon that they choose.
In 2008, the right wing contingent on the most recent Supreme Court (the same people who said that corporations are people) decided to throw away centuries of juris prudence and extend the 2nd Amendment as an individual protection for gun owners’ right to bear arms. During the case, United States v. Emerson, the Supreme Court decided that the 2nd Amendment is not a collective protection for gun ownership in militias, but rather a protection for individuals to own and operate weapons. This decision flies in the face of centuries of settled law and, like Citizens United v. FEC is just another case where right wing extremist wearing robes have perverted our country’s longstanding understanding of our laws.
Despite the changed definition of the 2nd Amendment, reasonable gun control regulations are not unconstitutional on their face; the 2nd Amendment may now be interpreted as an individual right, but this does not mean that it is unlimited.
Many restriction on who can own firearms (ex. state laws barring felons from owning guns), where guns can be carried (ex. no-gun zones) and which guns are legal (ex. the assault weapons ban) have been held as constitutional. What gun control proponents (people who care more about children being killed then their ability to buy 4 assault rifles in one day) suggest is not a blanket ban on guns, but an expansion of the already constitutional limits that exist. It may not be constitutional for the government to put a blanket ban on weapons, but it is certainly proper for it to enact strong restrictions which keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of people who cannot responsibly operate them.
Even in its perverted form, the 2nd Amendment is not the perfect defense for gun ownership and is not an impediment for gun control regulation. After all, if the 2nd Amendment were absolute, imprisoned criminals would have the constitutionally protected right to carry a missile launcher with them while in the prison; using it to hurt people or damage property would be a crime, but carrying it would be a simple exercise of constitutional rights. In this direction, madness and mass killings wait for our society.
The next time a gun enthusiast proposes that the 2nd Amendment gives them the absolute right to bear any arms that they wish, pose the previous situation to them and ask them to reconcile their interpretation of the Amendment with realistic laws. What you will get as an answer will be a contorted explanation on how criminal conduct negates the 2nd Amendment rights (absolute rights don’t work like that—case in point: the 1st Amendment) and how it is not sane or safe for criminals to have access to weapons while in prison. To be fair, they are half correct that such a gun policy is neither sane nor safe in our prisons, but, then again, neither is their proposed gun control regime on general society.
2. “Guns are a right in our country so that we can rise up against a tyrannical government.”
A favorite among weekend warriors and doomsday “preppers”, this argument is both deluded and illustrative of a dangerous mindset..
Put plainly, if somebody believes that they are going to practice violent “self-defense” against the American government if it tries to infringe on their rights, they are simply deluded. The United States government is the most powerful entity on the planet; they don’t just have guns, but also tanks, jets, satellites, and nuclear weapons. The sheer monopoly of military force held by the government is an insurmountable obstacle to any attempt by individuals to “pursue 2nd Amendment remedies” to tyranny. Any attempt by fringe individuals to utilize their guns to beat back the federal government will fail and will only result in the deaths of those who try to rebel.
In situations like Ruby Ridge, we have seen that even well-armed private militias have no chance against the force of the federal government and any belief to the contrary is just not realistic. The most likely outcome of such an attempted rebellion would be a short-term campaign of domestic terrorism, followed by a massive federal crackdown—the militia would take down some federal forces and some civilians on the way down, but they would inevitably be killed or captured.
The only real way to prevent our government from becoming tyrannical is through the ballot box, not the scope of a rifle. Our founding fathers understood this and, as I previously explained, it is the gun enthusiasts who have perverted the 2nd Amendment to justify their fantasies of rebellion.
Those who support this argument are simply not rational and any attempt to convince them that their guns will not protect them when the black helicopters start landing will likely land on deaf ears. That said, it is important to make sure that people know that guns are not an acceptable vehicle for their dislike of certain policies of their government and that it is completely out of bounds for them to want to take up arms against their duly elected government. In the unlikely event of an autocratic regime somehow taking over our country, this may change but, barring such an extreme event, these people are simply deluded.
3. “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” or “ Limiting guns will only lead to violent people simply using other methods of killing large numbers of people”
While it is true that guns are simply tools and have no ability to harm anybody on their own, the assertion that they have no part in the perpetration of violence is absurd.
If properly motivated, somebody can kill their enemy with a pair of nail-clippers, but this is irrelevant to the greater regulatory scheme. Just because there are other ways for people to kill one another, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t in the public interest to restrict the most common way people currently kill each other.
Guns give people a quick, easy, cheap, and relatively detached (compared to stabbings/beatings) method of killing people—even large numbers of people. By making killing easy, guns directly contribute to the thought process that must go into a killing and facilitate even higher body counts. Without guns, people would still kill others, but it would be far more difficult to accrue high body counts.
There is a good reason why guns have become the mass murderer’s weapon of choice; they are simply the most efficient way of getting the job done. Weapons other than guns can be used to kill large numbers of people, but none are as easy to obtain or use as guns:
- Bombs may be lethal to large numbers of people, but they take expertise to build and are very risky for an amateur to handle (just look at the number of people who manage to mangle themselves playing with fireworks).
- Knives are lethal in the right hands, but they can only kill one person at a time and have no ability to kill at a distance.
- Cars can been used to kill people but they are far too large and unwieldy to replace guns (you can’t exactly put one in your backpack to sneak into a school).
A tool may simply be a shortcut to a desired result, but it isn’t fair to say that the tool has no part in achieving a result. A man with a hammer and a man with a gun could kill an identical number of people, but the gun certainly makes it more likely that the person will succeed, faster in their killing spree, and more likely to kill their specific targets.
Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. However, people with guns can easily and quickly kill a lot of people, while those who don’t have guns, cannot. In a country flooded with guns, the mass murderer (or simply the person who wishes to kill one person) is able to obtain their weapon easily and without much risk. Gun control laws may not be perfect, but they are a start on a long road towards a safer America
4. “Violence isn’t due to guns; it is due to culture and violence in the media/entertainment industry.”
While it sounds like a logical argument to assert that increased violence in games and culture could lead to increased violence in real life, this relationship has simply not been borne out in reality. Numerous studies, over many years, refute the idea that video games and movies are the cause of violence in society and the assertion that this correlation exists is simply incorrect.
The idea that gun violence is caused by media/video game brainwashing is a convenient solution for society and, most of all, for the gun enthusiast crowd. Society would much rather believe that violence is caused by external factors and that, if only we can remove violent video games, movies, and song lyrics, we can solve our society’s violence problems. If violent media can be blamed for gun violence, then we don’t have to deal with the complex web of psychological and societal issues that lead us to be violent. Those who love guns are particularly willing to fall into this solution, as it absolves them of having to deal with the gun problems within society and lets them blame gun violence on things which they don’t care about.
If you would refer to the below graph, you will see that the United States remains the gun violence outlier when we look at a comparison between video game consumption and gun crime.
Put plainly, our country consumes the very same video games which are distributed across much of the developed world—there isn’t a subset of violent “American” video games and sterilized “foreign” video games—yet it has far higher levels of gun violence than any other country. When we look at the evidence, the assertion that video games correlate with gun violence, simply is not supported by the evidence and is not a valid argument.
If you want further information about the lack of a statistical correlation between gun violence and video games, you can refer to the book “Grand Theft Childhood” by Cheryl Olsen and Lawrence Kutler—two Harvard Medical school professors.
Violent video games are a fact of life across the developed world and the idea that we will change the levels of violence within our society by altering our media consumption will only lead us to focusing on the wrong thing. If we are side-tracked in pursuing videogame and movie violence, we will likely miss the very simple solution to our real-life violence problem: our country is flooded with guns and it is very easy for violent people to gain access to weaponry.
Whenever somebody attempts to utilize this argument, the supporters of gun control should simply reject their argument on its face; direct these people to the studies that have debunked this correlation and refuse to engage in non-factual speculation. An argument not based upon the evidence will inevitably be flawed and it is not worth wasting time arguing over specious correlations.
5. “Instead of attacking guns, what we really need is to register the mentally ill”
Gun activists and groups have attempted to throw the mentally ill under the bus in the hope that blame can be deflected away from their precious guns. In order to do this, these people have asserted that it is the mentally ill who are responsible for violence, not the weapons, and that simply registering the mentally ill will stop gun violence.
Not only is the argument that the mentally ill should be blamed for gun violence wrong, it is highly immoral and illustrative of just how desperate gun enthusiasts are becoming. Many gun enthusiasts have begun suggesting a national registry of the mentally ill so that these people can be watched more carefully and those not on the list can remain free to awn weapons. A registry of the mentally ill violates virtually every privacy statute on the books (ex. HIPPAA) and could easily result in a “blacklist” similar to the ones that ruined people under accusations of communist sympathies.
In addition to being immoral, such a database would likely have terrible unintended consequences. The fear of being labeled as mentally ill and put on a list would lead to fewer people seeking help for mental illnesses and risking placement on the list. Such a situation would lead to more people walking around with untreated, undiagnosed, and undisclosed illnesses; these people would not be on the list and would be able to buy guns. Eventually, the untreated illnesses of these individuals could cause them to break and start utilizing the weapons that they were able to obtain while pretending to be sane.
While it is undeniable that some mentally ill individuals will always become violent and commit crimes, this does not mean that the solution is to victimize all mentally ill people for the sake of gun owners. If we can remove the ability of the seriously mentally ill to easily obtain guns (ex. requiring psychiatric testing before any gun permitting or purchase is allowed), we should do so, but this attempt cannot trample on the rights of the innocent.
It is a terrible irony that the very same gun enthusiasts—many of whom see gun registration to be in infringement on personal liberty and fear an oppressive federal government—wish to impose what they fear onto others. Mandating the registration of the mentally ill while prohibiting the registration of dangerous weapons is simply hypocritical and indicative of a person who is willing to sacrifice the freedom of others to gain a little more personal convenience. Such arguments are not serious and should not be considered a rational alternative to gun control.
If strong gun control legislation is passed, the severely mentally ill will be unable to obtain weapons with which to commit violence. By attacking gun violence from the weapons side, massacres can be prevented and the rights of the mentally ill can be maintained.
Final Note: Just because the registration of the mentally ill is a bad idea, this by no way means that our current mental health system is adequate. The mental health system in our country is woefully underfunded and often does little more than warehouse people who have been neglected to the point where their illness leads them to criminal behavior. We should look at fixing the mental health system in the United States in conjunction with implementing gun control, but we should not place the blame for the gun death epidemic in our country on those who were unfortunate enough to be born with mental problems.
6. “If everybody were armed, we would all be safer”
This argument promotes the micro-equivalent of mutually assured destruction (two armed and rational actors not engaging in conflict because it would destroy both) to justify higher levels of gun ownership, but it fails to work out when applied to reality.
Statistics show that guns do not make people safer, thus this pro-gun argument is demonstrably untrue on its face. Higher levels of gun ownership do not produce a safer society and often lead to a higher numbers of deaths due to gun violence.
According to the Violence Policy Center’s analysis, states with higher per capita gun ownerships have far higher levels of gun homicide—there are 3 to 5 gun deaths per 100,000 in the bottom five gun ownership states, while there are 17 to 20 gun deaths per 100,000 in the top five gun ownership states. These statistics provide a great deal of evidence that gun ownership levels in a state correlate with gun deaths, and prove that the gun lobby’s argument of universal gun ownership is simply a fantasy.
To further drive the statistics that guns don’t make us safer home, we can simply look at the research surrounding household safety and gun ownership. In houses with firearms present, the average homicide rate is 3 times higher than in houses without guns and the suicide rate is between 3 and 5 times higher. Gun accidents due to improper storage or use of firearms claim the lives of hundreds of children a year. In households with firearms, domestic violence is both more prevalent than in houses without weapons, and has a much higher likelihood of resulting in violent deaths. In all possible rubrics—self-defense, accidents and suicide—gun ownership is detrimental to the safety of those who live in a gun-owner’s household; this is not to say that there are not cases of people defending their homes with their guns, but it is undeniable that gun ownership opens people up to numerous other risks.
In addition to the statistical evidence supporting the fact that more guns don’t make us safer, we can simply look at the mechanics of a shooting. Shootings are chaotic and, if everybody has a gun, there is a very real potential for a crossfire—nobody would know who the original shooter was, thus everybody would shoot at everybody else. In this crossfire, bullets would likely hit civilians (imagine a room filled with a crowd and three people shooting at each other) and the casualty count would increase. Once the police arrive, it would be difficult to determine who the original shooter was, and it is also likely that the police may end up shooting the people who didn’t start the gunfight.
In response to the “everybody should be armed” argument, people should simply ask the gun activist whether or not they support Iran getting a nuclear weapon. By the logic that the gun activist applies, everybody is safer when everybody is armed, and this would translate to support for Iranian weapons; in reality, these people almost always say that Iran isn’t a rational actor and that giving them a nuke endangers everybody around them. When they say this, you should simply tell them that not every gun owner is rational and that unrestricted gun ownership is the micro-equivalent to letting every country have nukes.
7. “Gun laws don’t work because they make it so only criminals have guns.”
This argument is probably the best one in the arsenal of the gun enthusiast, but it too, is not really a good reason to obstruct gun control. If laws are irrelevant because criminals will simply ignore them, then there is no purpose for any laws and no potential for a safe society.
Ultimately, simple gun laws will not prevent all gun deaths, but they will gradually reduce gun violence. Gun laws will reduce the amount of guns to be sold and will help prevent them from being sold to criminals and the mentally ill. As guns are harder to obtain legally and illegal guns become harder to come by (when more guns are confiscated by the police or are used in murders and disposed of then are put onto the street), it will become harder for criminals to find access to clean guns.
Restricting guns may not immediately stop hardened criminals from obtaining weapons, but it would help stop insane and violent people from getting them easily. Mentally ill shooters that kill large numbers of random people are often disturbed loners who would have a difficult time obtaining a gun if not for legal channels—this isn’t to say that they wouldn’t eventually find a way, but it would make it more difficult.
We see that gun restrictions do work in the rest of the world, despite the catch 22 surrounding criminals and gun ownership (only law-abiding citizens follow gun laws). In Europe and much of Asia, the per capita murder rates are far lower than the United States and this is, in part, due to the fact that they have fewer guns. Crime still occurs, and murders still happen, but it is harder to do massive harm to large numbers of people when guns are less common.
By restricting guns, forcing gun registration, and punishing illegal guns harshly, the total number of guns on our streets will eventually decrease. As it gets more risky to buy or sell guns, people will have a harder time getting their hands on them and overall gun-homicide deaths will decrease.
It is completely unrealistic to hope that there will one day be no gun crime, but this does not mean that we should sit idle as an average of 25 fellow Americans are gunned down each day. Stronger gun laws may not prevent all shootings, but it is virtually inarguable that such laws would not reduce the number of gun crimes in the long term.
Put plainly, our current gun laws don’t just let law-abiding citizens defend themselves, but also facilitate criminals getting the weapons which are being used to justify weapon ownership—in this, the gun industry is essentially dealing to both sides of the criminal conflict. Until sane gun laws are enacted, this small-scale domestic arms race will simply continue and will fuel and ever expanding body count.
This part of the article only covers half of the arguments that gun-enthusiasts like to use in defense against gun control, and the remaining refutations will be released shortly. In preview of this article, here is a list of the arguments that I debunk:
8. “Mass shootings only happen in places where there are no guns allowed.”
9. “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”
10. “There are already over 20,000 gun regulations on the books and they don’t work.”
11. “Cities with gun control laws on the books sometimes have high levels of gun violence and this shows that gun control doesn’t work.”
12. “Countries like Israel and Switzerland have high levels of gun ownership, but low levels of gun crime, so guns aren’t the real problem”
13. “Since car accidents kill more people every year then guns, why don’t we ban cars?”
14. “Gun control was imposed by dictators like Hitler and Stalin, thus it is, by definition, bad and something that puts us on a path towards becoming an autocratic regime.”
15. “Guns are part of our national heritage and restricting them is an attack on our cultural identity.”