People routinely have different priorities and different information, so it is no surprise we also have different opinions on what to do about gun violence in this country. As a public service, I will separate out the good arguments from the dumb ones. Reasonable people who have different priorities can still debate the stronger arguments, so there’s no point in anyone wasting time on dumb arguments. I’ll show you the dumbest arguments on both sides. Maybe we can collectively stop using them.
Look how optimistic I am!
Other Countries Argument
The Other Countries argument suggests that because tight gun control works in other countries, we should expect it would work in the United States. That is an irrational argument because the United States is different from every other country in more ways than I can list. At most, the Other Countries argument suggests gun control isn’t guaranteed to be a disaster. But that is different from saying it is likely such laws would turn out well in the United States. We simply can’t know that the experience of other countries would translate to our situation.
Nor does it matter.
The Americans who want to maintain gun rights to protect against potential tyranny from our own government are specifically worried about future events. We can’t look at the history of Denmark (for example) to know anything about the future of the United States. Nor would it matter if we could somehow magically calculate the risk of tyranny springing up in Denmark versus it happening in the United States, because any risk above zero would be enough to justify gun ownership.
The more rational approach than looking at other countries would involve trying some changes in the law in a few states or cities in this country and tracking how much difference it makes compared to states or cities that are comparable.
No match for a standing army
Gun control advocates often like to point out that private gun owners in this country would never be a match for a standing army, should we ever get to the point of some sort of dictator situation in which the military is turned on the public. But that isn’t the right question. The right question is whether the guns in this country would be sufficient to handle assassinations, kidnapping of family members of both the military and the rogue government, and economic disruption in general. For those tasks, citizens are already sufficiently armed.
Slippery slope arguments are magical thinking. Everything in this world changes until it has a reason to stop. There is nothing special about being “on a slippery slope.” It is an empty idea. Society regulates all manner of products and activities, but we don’t worry about those other regulations becoming a slippery slope. We observe that change stops when the majority (or vocal minority) decide enough is enough. To put it another way, mowing the lawn does not lead to shaving your dog.
It’s in the Constitution
Gun advocates like to remind us that gun ownership is a protected right that is in the Constitution, end of story. But that ignores the fact that the Constitution was written to be updated. The process for changing the Constitution is well understood, and difficult by design, so it doesn’t happen often. But we can change the Constitution, and in the past we have. “It’s a Constitutional right” is a meaningless thing to say because we voters decide what is in and out of the Constitution. On top of that, we can, and do, create laws that constrict gun ownership all the time. Apparently the Supreme Court agrees that’s allowed.
The Constitution refers to militias, not ordinary gun ownership
I’m no Constitutional scholar, but in all likelihood neither are you. But I do know it doesn’t matter how you and I interpret the Constitution, because the Supreme Court apparently thinks private gun ownership is a right, and that doesn’t look likely to change any time soon. While I understand how people can be on both sides of the militia interpretation, I reserve the right to not listen to your blabber until you are on the Supreme Court. My opinion on what is or is not Constitutional doesn’t count. Neither does yours. So let’s take this argument off the table because we are not on the Supreme Court.
People will just use other tools to kill
This argument assumes adding friction to a process had no impact. But in the real world, adding friction to just about anything changes behavior. Extra friction might not eliminate a behavior you want to curtail, but it generally has an impact. As evidence of my point, we don’t see fully automatic weapons being used in mass shootings despite the fact they would be the best weapon for the job. They don’t overheat, for example. You can buy a fully automatic weapon in the United States, but they are super expensive and raise some flags in the system if you try. That bit of friction (price and visibility) made them effectively disappear from crime scenes. Friction works.
Friction almost always changes behavior. We’d need to do some testing to see how any particular gun law changes the variables in play, but most of human experience suggests friction — of any kind — will change behavior a bit. It is rational to say we don’t know how much impact any particular law will have. It is not rational to say we shouldn’t test some changes locally and see what happens.
Criminals can always get guns
Criminals can always get guns if they try hard enough. But I’m more concerned about the 18-year old who has no criminal record but does have some mental illness. That kid is not as resourceful as career criminals. If that kid can’t get a firearm through the normal and legal process, the friction can be enough to reduce the odds of getting a weapon.
Gun deaths are not that high
About half of gun deaths are suicides. Lots of other gun deaths involve criminals shooting each other. If you subtract out those deaths, the number of gun deaths is low compared to other risks we routinely accept, such as the risk of auto accidents, overeating, sports, etc. If the current amount of gun violence seems worth the price to you, that would be a rational point of view. But it would not be rational to avoid testing some methods to reduce gun violence even further. Americans don’t stop trying to fix a problem just because only 10,000 people per year are dying from it. That’s still a lot. And if we can test new approaches in one city or state, why not?
I might update the list of bad arguments as I see new ones.
You are ignoring the lives saved by guns
No, I’m not. I’m looking at the net deaths by guns, which is what matters. If a new law improves the net death rate, that’s good enough, unless it causes some other problem.
Testing in one state won’t work because people can just drive across the border to get guns
We might also need to restrict in-person gun purchases to residents of the state. That’s a simple Federal change, for example.
But even without that limitation, we can often tell where guns came from, at least for perps who are caught. We would soon know if the state line issue made all the difference, some difference, or no difference in gun deaths. Because all friction works (to some degree), one would expect that making people drive to another state changes behavior. We would also expect to see the least reduction in gun deaths from residents who live nearest other state borders. This is all testable and measurable.
Chicago has tight gun laws and also high gun violence
The intended point is that tighter gun restrictions do not reduce gun violence, because it isn’t working in Chicago. But the point ignores the obvious, that the places with the worst gun violence are likely to pass the strictest gun laws in response. We should expect that most if not all the places with the most gun laws violence have the most restrictive gun laws, or will soon.
The Chicago example also ignores the fact we have no way of knowing how much more gun violence would have occurred without the current laws in place.