Refuting Gun-Enthusiasts’ Anti-Gun Control Arguments Part #2

Posted on January 19, 2013

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For the first half of this article, follow this link: http://theprogressivecynic.com/2013/01/17/refuting-gun-enthusiasts-anti-gun-control-arguments-part-1/

 

8.   “Mass shootings only happen in places where there are no guns allowed.”

Put plainly, this argument is just not supported by the evidence; there are numerous examples of shootings happening in locations with other armed individuals.

In Columbine High School, there was an armed guard. A full tactical team was dispatched and on site during the Virginia Tech Massacre. Adam Lanza’s (the Sandy Hook shooter) mother had numerous guns in her house when she became the first victim of the Sandy Hook shooting spree. In addition to these few examples of situations where mass-shootings happened in areas with guns, we have the perfect refutation of this ideal: the Fort Hood shooting.

During the Fort Hood shooting, a disturbed army psychiatrist, Major Hasan, entered the base and opened fire on other soldiers. There were 43 people injured in this shooting, 13 of whom died, making it one of the most deadly shooting in modern years. As Fort Hood is a military base, nobody can argue that there were no guns present (eventually, the DOD police on site took the shooter down and he was captured), but the fact remains that numerous people were still shot. As he worked on the military base, Hasan clearly knew that there were armed personnel on site, yet he decided to stage his shooting anyway—his desire to kill outweighed his desire to live.

An armed guard in a potential shooting location may cause the shooter to change their plan, but it will likely not deter them from committing the crime. Most mass-shooters either “go down in a blaze of glory” or die of self-inflicted wounds, thus it is evident that they will not be deterred by the thought of somebody shooting back. If they know that they may face armed resistance, they may take out the armed guard first (via surprise attack), or may simply avoid being stopped by the guard before they start shooting (as happened in Columbine).

Logically speaking, if somebody goes to a shooting with overwhelming force and an expectation that they will die, then the potential that they will meet a guard with a pistol simply lacks a significant deterrent effect. Somebody with this level of focus on their lethal goal and lack of concern for their own future will conduct their shooting regardless of the potential risk to themselves and will simply try to kill as many people as possible before they are killed.

In the past, even the most extreme gun-enthusiasts have acknowledged this point and have supported the very gun-free zones which they now deride. The following quote was from Wayne LaPierre—the very same man who made the wildly controversial statement for the NRA after Sandy Hook—during his speech after the Columbine shooting:

“First, we believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools, period … with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel.”

In the quote above, you hear the NRA proclaim its support for gun-free zones while, in modern quotes, you hear them deride the policy as the cause of massacres. Put plainly, those who support the new gun-enthusiast line that shootings only happen in places without guns are not even as attached to reality as previous gun extremists. Massacres happen where the targets of mass-shooters congregate (schools, government buildings, workplaces, etc.) and the potential for people in those locations to be armed is simply not a deterrent to these shooters.

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9.    “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

Those who utilize this argument fail to recognize that reality is not like the choreographed action sequences in movies and that a good guy with a gun is simply not the best solution. In all likelihood, a public shootout between multiple armed parties will result in their deaths, along with the potential for massive collateral.

In contradiction to the idea the only way to stop a shooter is a random citizen taking the law into their own hands, there are two critical alternatives to this paradigm:

First of all, gun control can help stop the bad guy from ever getting a gun, thus rendering the discussion about stopping the shooter moot. If gun laws prevent shooters from gaining access to weapons, there will never be any risk to the public of a shooting and there will be no need to contemplate public shootouts. Ultimately, this solution is the most efficient and reliable method of stopping gun violence.

Secondly, we already have those “good guys with guns” to protect us—these people are called police officers. Unlike random people with guns, police officers have received training and institutional support that allows them to be more efficient and safe in their handling of dangerous situations. In the worst case scenario, a tactical response team (ex. SWAT) can come in and help resolve even the most dangerous situations. Even if a “good guy with a gun” is the solution to a violent situation, then there is no reason why this person should be an untrained vigilante rather than a law enforcement professional.

To drive this point home, I will give you a real life example: Imagine a situation where a psychopath enters a school and starts shooting kids with an assault rifle. In response to this threat, a teacher pulls out his assault rifle (legally bought and licensed) and begins shooting at the school shooter. It is certainly possible that this teacher gets a lucky shot (assuming that the shooter isn’t wearing body armor) and kills the shooter quickly, but a likely result of this situation would be a mass-shootout in the school. Two shooters unloading assault weapons on each other could result in a crossfire of hundreds of bullets and would potentially result in many more deaths than the original shooter would be able to do alone.

To further compound the problems with the suggestion that a shootout is the answer, imagine the potential for harm if there are more than two shooters. In a situation where multiple shooters are attacking each other, there is a high likelihood that people will not know who the original shooter is and who the “good Samaritan” is; such a situation would result in everybody shooting at everybody else and the innocents being caught in between multiple armed parties.

In the very same school shooting situation described above, imagine that multiple teachers have guns and start using them to “defend themselves”. Three or four people shooting at each other (there is no way for them to know whether or not the other teachers were the original shooter or not; perhaps the teacher is a workplace shooter) could unleash massive damage on the school and could kill dozens of people with stray bullets alone.

Unlike in gun-enthusiasts’’ fantasies of vigilantism, the bullets that come out of a good guy’s gun cause the exact same harm as the bullets that come out of the bad guy’s gun. This fact leads the argument that “a good guy with a gun to be the best solution to a bad guy with a gun” to be simply not a viable alternative to other, less dangerous, policies.

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10.   “There are already over 20,000 gun regulations on the books and they don’t work.”

What the proponents of this argument fail to grasp is that 20,000 gun regulations are absolutely useless if those laws are either too weak, easy to circumvent, or just not enforced.

In reality, there aren’t actually 20,000 gun laws on the books in the United States federal and state codes; the true number is debatable (is a gun law a regulatory law, tax law, insurance law, etc.), but it is less than 1,000. The inflation of the gun law numbers in this talking point is due to its proponents estimating the number of local gun laws and adding that number onto the major state and federal codes. Despite the over-inflation in the number of gun laws estimated by gun-enthusiasts, the fact remains that there are numerous gun laws on the books in the United States—for the purposes of arguing this talking point on its ideals, I will stipulate to the fact that hundreds of gun laws are currently in existence.

Unfortunately, the gun laws on the books in the United States are often inadequate and are rife with enough loopholes to make them ineffective. A law with significant loopholes or work-arounds is functionally ineffective and the simple fact that it is on the books is irrelevant. When talking about laws, it is not the sheer number of laws that matter, but their strength comprehensive nature, and lack of loopholes.

For example: There are gun laws on the books in some states that pertain to mandatory background checks and that ban felons from owning firearms. Despite these laws, the “gun show loophole” allows people in these states to circumvent the gun laws by buying from unregistered sellers. It doesn’t matter if there are a million laws banning firearms sales to felons in states with the gun show loophole, as these felons can circumvent all of them by simply buying their weapons from gun shows.

When confronted by people who promote this argument, my basic response is to propose eliminating all of these gun laws in favor of one gun law that actually works. If a single strong and comprehensive gun law could be passed through the federal legislature, we could massively reduce the number of laws on the books while making gun laws stronger. The supremacy of federal laws over state and local laws would extend the extremely powerful federal gun law over all of the others and render them moot. As of yet, no gun enthusiast that I have talked to has accepted this suggestion, as they understand just how ridiculous their argument is.

Ultimately, those who promote this argument are just illustrating the need for federal action on the gun problem in the United States. A solution based in passing hundreds of state laws is ineffective, as many state political organizations will never pass any sane gun laws. The federal government needs to pass one or two piece of legislation regulating guns, thus consolidating sane gun laws into a federal regulatory regime; these new regulations can be extended across every state uniformly and would be able to close many of the legislative loopholes that currently facilitate the circumvention of gun regulations.

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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.”

It is certainly true that some of the cities with above-average gun laws suffer from high crime rates, but this has little bearing on the efficacy of local/state gun laws. Guns are often obtained in areas of the country where it is easy to buy large numbers of weapons without background checks (ex. southern states) and then transported to be sold in the areas where guns are restricted (ex. New York).

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Because our country’s gun laws vary based upon state politics, there is the potential for a few gun-friendly states to undercut the ability of all other states to control the flow of guns within their borders. States in the south typically have very lax gun laws and often allow individuals to purchase many weapons, quickly and without a background check. Once they obtain these guns through the lax laws of the southern states, individuals are able to transport them up north and sell them in cities with stronger gun laws. In northern cities that have strong gun laws (ex. New York city), guns are difficult to obtain legally (or without background check), thus trafficked guns from the south can be sold at a premium.

It is simple market pressure that causes guns to be bought in the south, where supply is readily available, and sold in northern states, where demand is higher than supply. There is a profit for gun traffickers when they bring guns into cities with strong gun controls, and there is no feasible way of stopping them once they have the weapons in their possession.

By arguing that violence in cities with strong gun control laws illustrates the ineffectiveness of gun control, gun enthusiasts are simply proving that strong gun control laws are necessary on a federal level. For as long as some states are allowed to undercut the ability of other states to enact sane gun control, there is little chance that gun violence will be controlled. Guns will continue to flood the northern cities and the pockets of the gun manufacturers/traffickers will continue to grow fatter.

 

 

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”

A favorite argument of some gun enthusiasts, the idea that outlier countries disprove the general trend of gun ownership leading to violence is an intentional attempt to confuse the issue. By naming the two examples of developed countries that defy the correlation between violence and gun ownership, gun enthusiasts try to disprove this well-established trend.

Israel and Switzerland are the two model examples of developed countries that have high levels of gun ownership, yet low levels of gun crime. Gun enthusiasts promote this break in the correlation between gun violence and gun ownership as proof that the causation is false, but there is a very simple alternative explanation: Both Israel and Switzerland have mandatory military service programs which lead almost every young adult in these countries to serve as part of their armed forces.

The near-universal military service of citizens in Israel and Switzerland leads large portions of the population to have significant weapons training. This training lasts long after the citizens of these countries leave the service and allows for the relatively-safe ownership of firearms into civilian life. Every citizen goes through a battery of testing in preparation for military service and those who are mentally unfit for service are not given the access to guns that those who have been prepared through the military are.

The examples of Israel and Switzerland do not prove that high levels of gun ownership are always safe, but rather that letting only those who have been heavily vetted by the state own weapons is not dangerous. In both of these countries, there are high levels of gun ownership, but there are also heavy controls on guns that prevent un-vetted people from obtaining them. As opposed to the United States, which has high levels of guns and low levels of gun control, these countries have high levels of both gun control and gun ownership.

The true purpose of gun control is not to remove weapons for the sake of removing weapons, but to prevent the violent among us from obtaining weapons with which to harm others. If gun control regimes can be enacted that prevent just the violent and unstable in society from getting weapons, then this has virtually the same effect as removing all weapons from society; in both cases, gun crimes drop because people who are dangerous to society are denied weapons.

In order to refute this anti-gun control argument, I argue that Israel and Switzerland have many weapons, but they also have very strong gun control laws. In both cases, every person to legally own a gun has received psychological testing and safe weapons training—two components of a strong gun control regulatory regime—and is forced to register their weapons. These laws are facilitated by the compulsory military service and function as a sorting mechanism to ensure that dangerous people don’t have easy access to weapons.

 

13.   “Since car accidents kill more people every year then guns, why don’t we ban cars?”

Put plainly, guns are tools that have only one real use: to kill things. They exist for the simple purpose of propelling a small projectile at high rates of speeds towards a target, with the direct goal of causing it physical trauma. Unlike many other things which may become lethal as they were not intended, guns have no alternative purpose and must be treated differently.

Cars kill many people during accidents and mechanical failures, but their actual purpose is to facilitate transportation. When used correctly, cars are simply a tool for transporting people or objects from point A to point B faster or cheaper than many other methods of transportation. It is only when cars are used incorrectly that they become dangerous to others.

With our current transportation infrastructure, cars are an integral part of how our society moves and it would be virtually impossible for us to change quickly. The deaths caused by cars are tragic, but they have no bearing on the need to regulate an entirely unrelated tool.

The key difference between guns and cars in this debate is the fact that cars have purposes other than causing harm, while guns have no such redeeming aspects. At the most charitable, guns can be described as existing to allow good people to defend themselves from bad people by threatening them with death. In the context of maintaining social order, guns do serve a purpose to allow the civil authorities to impose force on violent people (giving the police the ability to defend themselves on the job), but the idea that this force should be distrusted to everybody in society is just insane.

If cars were like guns and served no purpose but to facilitate violence, then I would support as strict regulations of them as I propose on guns. Guns have no social benefit and a removal of guns from society would not have the negative effects that a removal of cars would have. In fact, the reduction of gun availability in our society would help alleviate the epidemic of gun violence that we are living in and would save many lives.

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While on the subject of cars and guns, I would also point out that, in many cases, cars are far more regulated then guns. Gun enthusiasts may like to draw the comparison between guns and cars in support of their ability to own/operate guns without regulation, but they don’t appear to acknowledge the fact that car operation is far more regulated then gun operation. With guns, many states don’t require background checks, licensing, registration, or state-issue permits, yet they require all of the above for cars.

In order to drive a car, you must be registered, get training, have a license, get insurance, and submit to periodic inspections. If such strict regulations were imposed upon guns, there is little doubt that gun-enthusiasts would begin hyperventilating and gesticulating about an illegal overreach into their personal right to own weapons.

The next time somebody draws comparisons between the regulations on guns and cars, simply suggest that, since both have the potential to be dangerous, the regulations on cars should be translated to analogous restrictions on guns. Before anybody is able to buy a gun, they should be required to get firearms training, become certified through a state licensing process, get insurance for potential damages that their weapons may inflict, and register each and every one of their weapons with the state. Such a suggestion would likely result in a rapid backtracking by the gun-enthusiast as they try to make up reasons why guns don’t deserve to be as regulated as cars.

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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.”

This argument is both historically incorrect and a complete red herring.

First of all, the simple fact that a dictator—even one as evil as Hitler—supported something does not mean that the thing in question is evil. While such dictators may be guilty of terrible crimes, they may also have policies which are simply good governance. Using the bad acts of a dictator to attack a good policy that they happened to support is simply disingenuous and not a valid argument in debates over policy.

Policies should be judged independent of the people who support them and a good policy is not automatically bad because a bad person once supported it. For example: Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator, may have committed vicious crimes against his political enemies, but he also supports universal healthcare and a strong public health system. Using Castro’s support for universal healthcare and public education to attack the programs by association is wrong and is not a real argument against the validity of those programs.

In the case of gun policy, the assertion that Hitler and other notorious dictators always supported gun control is simply not accurate. These dictators may have disarmed those who they considered enemies, but they did not propose gun control as we know it now.

In 1919, Germany banned gun ownership by individuals to accord with the post-WWI treaty of Versailles. Contrary to the anti-gun control talking point, Hitler passed a law which reduced the gun laws in Germany in 1938. This deregulation, not increase in gun controls, is the signature gun control change which gun enthusiasts have latched onto in calling Hitler anti-gun. When compared to current American gun laws, the past German laws were much stronger, thus some see Hitler a pro-gun control, but this does nothing to mitigate the fact that Hitler actually decreased gun regulation.

Hitler banned Jews, gays, and other oppressed minorities from carrying weapons, but this was part of his campaign of dehumanization, not an expression of gun control. According to his government’s perverted view, these people were not human, thus no human laws applied to them.

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  1. 8.   “Guns are part of our national heritage and restricting them is an attack on our cultural identity.”

I only have one thing to say to those who utilize this argument: Tough Shit.

While it may be true that our country has had a long history of gun ownership, hunting, and gun sportsmanship, this heritage is getting people killed today. Even if one concedes that guns have been a large component of our country’s heritage, this is irrelevant in the face of the very real harm that guns are doing today; in order to stop this harm, our culture must be updated. Our weapons technology is so great now that guns have become able to kill dozens of people in seconds—an impossibility during much of our country’s cultural history of guns.

Cultural heritage changes and, in some cases, must be forcibly changed by the government to protect the population from itself (or the extremism of certain parts within itself). Before the civil war, slavery was a part of our cultural heritage that had led to misery among many within our population. The government enforced change over a component of our country’s culture when it abolished slavery and it must do so again in the case of guns (not to conflate slavery with gun ownership; this is simply an example of the law forcing a cultural change to protect an affected group within the population).

No relic of our cultural heritage is worth the cost of nearly ten thousand lives a year and it is far past time that we update our gun laws to sane levels. If apple pie killed as many people as guns do, I would also promote changing that tradition and I have no doubt that most other Americans would agree with me.

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