© 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 2ndAmendment 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 2ndAmendment 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
15. “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.
16. “Guns act as an equalizer and are necessary for women to defend themselves”
While it is true that guns make size and gender largely irrelevant in a fight, it is also true that gun ownership is not a cure for violence against women. This argument is incorrect for two basic reasons: First, not only does statistical evidence show that gun ownership does not make a women any safer, but it often shows that gun ownership makes women less safe. Second, this argument assumes an exclusivity of weapon availability to women that simply does not exist.
Statistical data about gun fatalities in the United States debunks the myth that gun ownership improves the safety of women. In every measurable rubric, gun ownership actually has a negative impact on the health and safety of women:
- Because of the high murder rates in the United States (a phenomena that gun availability is largely responsible for), both men and women are killed at higher rates than comparable countries.
- Women who live in a household with a firearm are 3.4 times more likely to be murdered then women who live in households without firearms.
- Domestic violence is far more likely to result in death or serious injury when guns are present in a household; abuse is likely to involve guns and it is much more likely to escalate into serious physical harm.
Any anecdotal stories aside (ex. women fending off attackers), the aggregate statistical evidence clearly shows that gun ownership does not make women safer. This argument is simply disproven by the facts and, while it may sound realistic, it is not supported by the real life data that we have available; this data is clear in that it indicates that gun ownership has detrimental effects on the safety of women in a household.
Beyond the statistical evidence, the idea that women require powerful firearms to be safe is just not logical. A lack of controls on guns may allow a woman to buy weapons for self-defense, but it also allows criminals to access said weapons—there is no exclusivity which guarantees that the women will be able to obtain a powerful weapon yet prevents the criminals from buying the very same weapons.
As gun laws are not gender-specific (that would be unconstitutional), whatever weapon that a women could obtain is also obtainable by the person who seeks to harm the women. The example of a single women with an assault rifle holding off a group of attackers that has been presented by some proponents of this argument just falls apart when one realizes that nothing prevents the attackers from coming armed with assault rifles. The lax gun laws which allow easy access to powerful weapons to women also facilitates criminals getting weapons that they would be unable to get under sane regulations.
17. “Background checks do not work because criminals won’t consent to them”
Criminals, by definition, don’t follow the law and tailoring the legal gun application process for the activities of those who don’t follow the law is simply foolish. People who are not allowed to buy guns certainly hate background checks, but this is because such checks limit their ability to buy guns legally.
Background checks serve to prevent those who are not allowed to buy guns—felons, the mentally ill, terrorists, etc.—from legally obtaining firearms. Without checks, there is no way to guarantee that sellers are following the law and not selling guns to people who cannot legally buy them (the sellers have a profit incentive to sell to anybody).
If criminals don’ want to consent to background checks, then they just won’t be able to buy guns legally. By closing the legal avenues that criminals have to buy guns, they will be forced to risk buying illegal weapons—a crime that the police can arrest them for.
I bet that many criminals don’t like metal detectors, theft prevention devices and the police, but this doesn’t mean that society should stop funding these things in order to appease them. Just as with other things that make criminals’ lives harder, background checks for firearm purchases should be embraced rather than rejected.
18. “Limits on magazine size do nothing to prevent gun homicides because shooters will just bring more magazines”
Those who promote this argument are simply letting their fondness for their weapons overshadow their logical viewing of the facts.
Large ammo-feeding containers (ex. drums, clips, belts) exist because they make a weapon much more effective in a combat situation. Such containers allow large numbers of rounds to be shot, uninterrupted, and without the risk of a fumbled magazine switch. The military uses large ammo feeders for these very reasons and any assertion that the size of the magazine is irrelevant to the efficacy of the weapon is simply wrong.
It is true that many small clips can replace a larger feeding mechanism, but it is inarguable that this method of ammo supply is less efficient. Whenever a clip is empty, it must be ejected and a new one inserted before the gun is operable. This insertion usually requires two hands, necessitates a pause in shooting (even if the shooter has another loaded weapon), and has a risk of error; with every exchange, there is a possibility that the gun will jam or the shooter will fail to successfully load the clip.
Shooters are often stopped when they pause shooting in order to reload their weapon. The short pause in fire that occurs during a reload gives
If large ammo feeders are useless, then why are the gun-enthusiasts so incensed that they may no longer be allowed to own them? Gun enthusiasts understand the benefit of large ammo feeders and wish to defend them because they recognize the advantage that such feeders give.
The next time somebody argues that magazine size is irrelevant, then simply point out this logical fallacy in their argument: if the magazine is irrelevant to the weapon, then there is no reason for the gun-enthusiast to object to magazine limits. This argument’s very existence disproves its foundation. The reticence to implement such restrictions demonstrated by those who make this argument proves that their argument is not true.
19. “It is hypocritical for politicians with children who go to schools that have armed guards to push for gun-free schools”
This argument is so absurd that even Fox News has refused to get behind it when NRA representatives have broached it during interviews. To quote Fox host Chris Wallace on this attack: “That’s ridiculous and you know it, sir.”
Wayne LaPierre and the rest of the NRA administration (not the membership, but those who control the group) have attempted to attack the “elitism” of our politicians because many politicians send their kids to schools to armed guards. Here is a link for an NRA ad containing this attack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bKw7ZsQgtc
It is true that many politicians send their children to schools that have armed guards, but there is a very good reason for this: the children of politicians are often the target of threats intended to compel politicians to act. Threats against the children of legislators can disrupt public policy and are a very real threat—it is this very reason why the president’s family are protected by the Secret Service at all times. As the average child is not potential leverage over somebody who is responsible for the operation of the government, there is no hypocrisy when somebody supports different levels of armed protection.
If we want to protect our children from shooters, we can either implement strong gun controls that prevent shooters from getting guns, or we can attempt to get Secret Service level protections for every American child. As is immediately apparent, the first option is possible, while the second is completely unfeasible and only serves to act as a distraction for those who would attempt to stop sane gun laws from being implemented
20. “There are already so many guns out there that any regulations on gun sales are ineffective”
This argument is actually very strong and requires a great deal of thought on the part of the gun control advocate to refute. It is undeniable that there are too many guns already on the street and that seller-centric gun control laws are somewhat limited.
A gun, when well maintained, can last for decades and can remain a deadly threat to the public in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, decades of lax gun laws have caused our society to be flooded by weapons and, even if gun seller restrictions were to implemented, there will still be a supply of guns.
The gun control advocate’s refutation of this argument is fairly simple: Despite the number of guns in our society, this is no reason to make the situation worse than it already is. Eventually, given time and good legislation, the number of guns on the street will decrease and become manageable again, but this will not happen without controls on gun sales.
In the long term, the only way to get a handle on gun violence is to stop the sale of new guns and to let attrition gradually remove them from the market. Guns which are seized by the police should be destroyed and removed from the market permanently.
A gun which has been used in a crime is somewhat dangerous to hold, simply because it can act as an evidentiary link back to a shooting (these guns are called “hot” guns). Oftentimes, criminals will dispose of their guns due to the risk that they pose and will require new weapons. Currently, guns are so plentiful that this process of replacing hot guns is easy and cheap enough that few criminals have a hard time getting new guns. By stopping the flood of guns into our society, it will become harder to replace these guns and criminals will eventually have a hard time obtaining clean weapons. Prices for new weapons will go up and criminals will be forced to hold onto their dirty weapons (risking arrest) and spending significant funds buying a new gun.
The argument that, because there are already too many guns, we should not implement any controls on new guns is fatalistic and will only perpetuate our country’s gun problems. Unless we take the first step that is limiting the number of guns to be flooding society, there is little hope that we will ever succeed in solving our county’s problems.
21. “We cannot rely on the police to protect us because they are underfunded and often unable to get to a crime on time”
One of the arguments that gun enthusiasts keep going back to is that they desire the ability to defend themselves against potential threats—in the case of this argument, they say that the police are unable to defend them.
It is true that the police are not able to stop all violent crime; if there is a person breaking down the door, the police will often take minutes to get there. Those who support this argument claim that order can more effectively be maintained by giving the citizen a gun with which to kill the intruder in less time than it takes for the police to arrive. These people support vigilantism over order and are hopelessly misguided.
Police forces are groups of organized and trained professionals that uphold order in society—it is their job to ensure that society does not devolve into a state where every person needs a gun. If the police lack the resources to maintain order, the proper solution is not to arm everybody, but to increase funding to the police and directing them to improve.
Supporting gun ownership out of a misplaced sense that vigilantism is the proper way to maintain social order is simply wrong and only leads to terrible miscarriages of justice. As we saw during the Trayvon Martin tragedy, such attempts at vigilantism can result in innocent people (including children) being killed out of fear.
Rather than supporting a wild-west style society, where everybody is armed and there is no real force preserving social order, we should attempt to fix our damaged police forces. To free up resources, we should end the war on drugs and increase the funding for police forces.
The terrible irony of this situation is that the very policies of easy gun access and lower funding for public services (ex. police) favored by the American right are the things that cause police forces to be inadequate. In supporting cutting funding for police officers, the right wing reduces the police’s ability to protect everybody in society; response times are increased and coverage is reduced. When combined with the many, easily accessible, firearms, this reduction in police coverage creates a dangerous situation where police are unable to protect everybody. Powerful guns have flooded our streets and criminals have the ability to meet the police with armor-piercing ammo, body armor and assault rifles. This situation is unsustainable the answer is not to make things worse by weakening gun regulation further.
If people want to live in a society where they need to rely on their own guns to protect themselves, I suggest that they move to a lawless area—perhaps an area in the Sudan or Somalia—and try it for a while before they consign us to follow them. We have a problem with crime now but, if we consign ourselves to even more gun accessibility, thing will only get worse. We progressed from the old wild-west days into a civilized nation, and it is those who support this argument who would drag us back to the day where everybody must be armed and willing to kill to survive.