I’m pro-gun, but mostly for selfish reasons. Some people (such as celebrities) are probably safer with defensive weapons nearby. But I acknowledge the reality that guns make people less safe in other situations. No two situations are alike. That’s partly why the issue can never be fully resolved. Both sides pretend they are arguing on principle, but neither side is. Both sides are arguing from their personal risk profiles, and those are simply different. Our risk profiles will never be the same across the entire population, so we will never agree on gun control.
That said, I want to call out the worst arguments I have seen on the issue of banning bump stocks. If you are new to the conversation, a bump stock is a $99 add-on to an AR rifle that turns it into an automatic-like weapon for greater kill power. The Vegas gunman used bump stocks. They are legal, whereas a fully automatic rifle is not.
Many pro-gun people in the debate seem to be confused about the purpose of laws in general. Laws are not designed to eliminate crime. Laws are designed to reduce crime. The most motivated criminals will always find a way, and law-abiding citizens will avoid causing trouble in the first place. Laws are only for the people in the middle who might — under certain situations — commit a crime. Any friction you introduce to that crowd has a statistical chance of making a difference.
Humans are lazy and stupid, on average. If you make something 20% harder to do, a lot of humans will pass. It doesn’t matter what topic you are discussing; if you introduce friction, fewer people do it. With that in mind, let’s look at the least-rational gun control arguments I am seeing lately.
Gun advocates like to point out that Chicago has strict gun control laws yet high murder rates. This is an irrational argument. The only valid comparison would be Chicago with gun laws in 2017 versus Chicago without gun laws in 2017. Any comparison to other cities, or to other time frames, is pure nonsense. Nothing is a rational comparison to Chicago. There is only one Chicago. And because Chicagoans can easily buy guns from nearby places, the gun ban is probably useless in that case.
Gun opponents use a similarly irrational argument. For example, anti-gun folks might point out that London bans guns and has fewer gun crimes. That’s as irrational as the Chicago argument. There is only one London in 2017. You can’t compare it to anything.
In general, any argument that says, “Look at that one city” is irrational, anecdotal thinking. It has no place in policy decisions.
Criminals Will Break Gun Laws Anyway
As I explained up front, laws are not designed to stop the most motivated criminals. We’ve never seen a law in any realm that stopped all crime. At best, laws discourage the people on the margin. Gun control is no different. The objective is to add some friction and reduce the risk that someone angry enough to pick up an AR doesn’t also have a bump stock in the house.
The Vegas gunman had over 40 guns yet he used bump stocks on his weapons instead of buying illegal fully-automatic weapons in the first place. He also did not purchase grenade launchers, which would have been ideal for his purposes. The reason in both cases is that there was more friction for acquiring the illegal weapons. It wasn’t impossible. It was just harder.
You can Make a Bump Stock on a 3D Printer
No, I can’t. I don’t own a 3D printer. Neither do most criminals. What you mean is that the few people who own 3D printers and have the skill to use them can print bump stocks. Chances are, you’re not one of those people. Again, laws are not designed to stop the most motivated super-criminals. They have lots of ways to get weapons. A 3D printer might be an ideal solution for a few super-criminals. But it won’t have much impact for a number of years on the average person who flips out and wants to start shooting today.
Rubber Bands and other Bump Stock Workarounds
Yes, I know you saw on Youtube a video in which someone rigged an AR with a rubber band on the trigger, or some other clever device that increased the firing speed. I’m no weapons engineer, but I’m fairly certain the rubber band method is less reliable than the bump stock method. And the other workarounds have either more friction (it takes some talent and tools to make anything of that nature) or they are less reliable. I remind you that the goal is not to stop all crime; we’re just trying to add friction to discourage the lazy and less-resourceful types, of which there are many. And perhaps we can add some unreliability to their choice of weapons.
Yes, clever people can create bump stock workarounds that function well enough for making a Youtube video. But most people are not clever, and not terribly resourceful, and they probably haven’t personally tested the rubber band trick. Even a dumb mass murderer wants more reliability than a rubber band suggests. Personally, if I flipped out and decided to kill everyone in my workplace, and I had never tested the rubber band trick, I wouldn’t even consider using it for a real crime, no matter how cool it looked on Youtube.
Hardly Anyone Has Ever Been Killed by Bump Stock Guns
True. Even if you include the Vegas tragedy, the total percentage of people killed by bump stock-modified guns is tiny. But many people apparently don’t realize that laws are not designed to change the past. Laws are forward-looking devices. And after the Vegas tragedy, 100% of adults have been trained by news organizations on how to procure and use a bump stock. We even know we need multiple rifles because they jam. Compared to last week, the friction for modifying a semi-automatic to an automatic just went from “some” to non-existent. The idea of passing a law banning bump stocks is to add friction to reduce future crimes, not to change the past.
Keep in mind that North Korea might nuke us in the future even though they have no record of nuking us in the past. Policies and laws are not designed to address past risks, only future risks. And our future risk from bump stocks just went through the roof because they are now universally known and also top of mind.
And before you say you already knew how to get a bump stock, just imagine me laughing at you for saying it. I know you already knew how to do that. You are not representative of the entire population of potential killers. No one is suggesting passing laws directed at you personally.
A Guy in Japan Once Killed 30 People With a Knife
The argument here is that motivated killers will find a way to do damage with or without a gun. But does anyone think the guy in Japan killed more people with a knife than he could have with an armory of automatic weapons? And I remind you (again and again) that laws are not designed to stop the most motivated criminals, such as the Japanese stabber. Laws are designed to add friction to the less-clever and less-motivated.
A week ago, a potential killer with low skills and motivation might not figure out how to turn an AR into an automatic rifle. Today — thanks to the news — almost every adult knows how to do it. The existing friction disappeared. You would need to make bump stocks illegal to reintroduce some friction.
Gun owners sometimes say banning any weapon leads to banning all of them. In general, the slippery slope argument is nonsense no matter what topic you are discussing. Things do lead to other things, but every decision stands on its own, and should. Banning personal use of grenade launchers did not lead to confiscation of hunting knives, and probably never will. The slippery slope idea inspires fear in gun lovers — because creeping regulations feel like a risk — but in the real world, each decision stands alone. The slippery slope is an irrational fear, not a reasonable factor in policy-making.
The President Can’t Ban Gun Stocks by Executive Order
Sure he can, but it might not be legal. Does that matter?
You think it matters, but it doesn’t. When the Commander-in-Chief makes a thoughtful military decision, and the decision is clearly in the interest of temporarily plugging a security hole during a time of war (with ISIS), that’s defensible no matter what the Constitution says. And you want it that way.
The Constitution grants the Commander-in-Chief a lot of power to make quick decisions on homeland security because speed often matters in such things. As time allows, Congress can do its work. Banning bump stocks until Congress can look into it would be pure Commander-in-Chiefing. It would be public and temporary. Would the Supreme Court overturn the illegal ban? Maybe, but not right away. Remember that the Constitution gives real power to We the People. As long as We the People see our Commander-in-Chief acting responsibly, we’re going to give him a pass, especially for something temporary until Congress gets going.
I acknowledge that the President has no legal authority to ban the sale of legal items. But he could do it anyway. And We the People would largely back him on it so long as it was temporary and clearly intended to give Congress time to address the question.
That’s how Thomas Jefferson would have played it. But he might have looked for a technical way to make his executive order seem legal. I’m sure such an argument exists because lawyers.
Update: The Vegas Killer Would Have Been MORE Deadly Without Bump Stocks
The argument here is that bump stocks make the weapon harder to aim, therefore less lethal. That probably makes sense in some instances, such as a sniper situation. It does not make sense when spraying a dense crowd from above, at long distance. In that case, speed beats accuracy every time.
In summary, I have genuine respect for both sides of the gun control debate. But the arguments I listed above should not be part of the conversation if we are trying to be rational about it.
Update: Readers asked me to describe the best argument in favor of the 2nd amendment. So I will.
Gun ownership protects citizens against the risk of a tyrant trying to take over.
At this point in the reading of this blog, half of you are laughing out loud because you imagine the massive U.S. military squaring off against some rag-tag militia group with rubber bands on their AR triggers. Not exactly a fair fight.
It’s also not the point.
The way private gun ownership protects citizens is by being a credible threat against all the civilians who might be in any way associated with a hypothetical tyrannical leader who uses the military against citizens. Citizens probably can’t get close to the leaders in such a scenario, but it would take about an hour to round up their families, and the families of supporters.
That would do it.
America is unconquerable.
I usually plug a product here. It doesn’t feel right today.