Ten Arguments Against Gun Control — And Facts That Prove Them Wrong
I remember where I was when the mass shooting at Columbine High School happened — the offices of the Daily Tar Heel Newspaper on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All the staff stood around in shock. We’d seen school violence, we’d seen mass shootings, but this — this was different.
So planned, so military, so calculated and so, apparently, random. Surely, many of us thought, Americans would have to stop everything and figure out what’s wrong.
But we didn’t. We went on.
I don’t remember where I was when I heard about any other school shooting. They’ve become a fact of life. No shock, just resigned grief.
Are guns to blame? Young male rage seems at least equally at fault — whether we call it mental illness, toxic masculinity, a sickness in our society, or a culture of violence, it’s an undeniable reality. Boys are learning that violence is power, that life is dispensable, and that, if they aren’t popular, athletic, strong, or smart, they have very little value.
Yes, we need more and better mental health care in this country, and we need increased access. But making this into solely a mental health problem isn’t helpful (see below).
A culture change, especially among young men, would be. But cultural change takes time. And of course, it is really impossible to legislate — unlike successful gun control.
Gun control isn’t “the answer”. But it’s surely a piece of the puzzle.
None of us, I think, have much hope that we can change many minds in arguments over the Second Amendment. But it appears, with enough public tragedy, the needle moves a little.
The status quo comes in many forms, and one is some really dumb arguments that get made repeatedly in the noosphere. Here are some we all hear a lot.
You’ve probably heard the responses before — hell you’ve probably written several yourself! But it might be helpful to have them all in one place, with citations. Hyperlinks provide solid sources, as well as examples of these stupid arguments (so you know I didn’t invent a straw man) and some further reading.
- Guns don’t kill people, people do. If they dont use a gun, they’ll use something else — like a hammer, knife, or bomb.
Right — but with the possible exception of bombs, guns make it much easier, don’t they? Isn’t that why the Second Amendment protects guns and not knives or hammers? Isn’t that why mass killers so often choose guns — not baseball bats? There will always be objects that can be used as a weapon. But why make it easier? Would you rather confront a killer with a gun, or with a bat?
And yes, though actual bombs are illegal, homemade ones can be, well, made at home. Ok, we can’t prevent that 100% of the time. But the idea that we should make every type of gun available to everyone just because they could also get a bomb makes no sense. Why give a killer more options?
And, we’ve actually made it harder to build homemade bombs. Large purchases of certain ingredients are considered suspicious, and may be monitored, heavily regulated, or reported when purchased. But bombings are relatively uncommon domestically. There are more gun deaths in the US in 2 years than deaths by terrorist bombings in the entire world in 40. Would limiting access to guns make them more common? It’s possible — but that’s not an argument against gun control.
Confiscating everyone’s guns would be a violation of the Second Amendment. So would banning all guns outright. I know plenty of people would like this outcome, but let’s face it: It’s isn’t even a remote possibility.
During Obama’s presidency, after every mass shooting, at a school or elsewhere, before anyone could start talking about gun control, we heard it: Obama is coming for your guns! He’s gone, but our guns are still here. Even the staunchest gun control advocates in Congress and in statehouses don’t talk about banning guns.
It’s illegal to commit fraud, or incite a riot, or lie to a police officer. But these aren’t violations of the First Amendment protection of free speech.
The Second Amendment doesn’t give everyone an absolute right to every kind of weapon no matter what forever. We don’t allow grenade launchers or fully automatic weapons. We can certainly limit military style rifles in number, and ensure anyone owning one is really of sound mind, without “infringing” the right of “the people” to “keep and bear arms”.
But it clearly does work. Countries with stricter gun control than the US nearly all have far fewer gun deaths and a lower murder rate. The exceptions are generally places where government is so ineffective they could be called a fail state.
Meanwhile, the states with the worst rates of gun murders are states with lax gun control.
And, in places with strict gun control but high levels of gun violence — like Chicago or DC — guns are easily obtained and transported from neighboring states like Michigan and Indiana, or Virginia and West Virginia, with some of the most relaxed gun restrictions on Earth.
That’s why national legislation is needed. And as long as we rely on piecemeal attempts by localities, guns will find their way across state borders.
And national legislation works. When was the last time someone committed a crime with a bazooka, fully automatic machine gun, or rocket launcher? Those are illegal, and somehow those laws work. Keeping these out of civilian hands is hard, but it would be impossible if some states allowed them.
Even crime generally seems to stay higher when gun laws are loose. Even though crime and violent crime have been declining nationwide, the trend is generally stronger where gun laws are tighter — especially once you account for population density as a factor that would increase crime.
Cars aren’t designed to kill people, but they do, and because of that, they are strictly regulated. If only we regulated guns and gun-owners half as carefully as we do cars and drivers.
States track every vehicle sale carefully. All drivers must take a written and field test to get a license, which they must renew periodically. It can be suspended or revoked. Severe mental illness and certain criminal offenses can prevent licensure. Cars themselves are also regulated heavily, with VIN numbers, mandatory insurance, license plates, and safety requirements.
The result: Dramatically reduced auto fatalities. As of 2015, more Americans are killed by a gun than are killed in car crashes. And — surprise — the states leading the trend are mainly those with lax gun control.
We mandated seatbelts, and airbags. We long ago got rid of metal dashboards. We changed gas tanks to prevent explosions. And that’s not to mention air quality regulations that have saved countless lives.
But no one is coming to confiscate your chevy.
Is this a violation of the right to liberty, or property — forcing car companies to enact these changes?
There’s no reason regulating guns can’t produce similar results. We might start with age restrictions.
Well, yes and no. Most people with mental illness aren’t violent. In fact, they are as a group more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.
On the other hand, most mass shooters are clearly disturbed. But focusing on people with mental illness is likely to increase stigma and prevent, not encourage, treatment and access to services. And the fact is, mental health professionals already have the power to hospitalize dangerous people. States could certainly examine those laws to see if they’re working as written.
Psychiatric evaluations for gun ownership make sense (and might be one way Congress could address mental health, since guns fall under interstate commerce). And, when people come in contact with the mental health system because they present a danger to themselves or others, determining whether they have firearms, and whether they can safely possess them, should be routine (and often is).
But keep in mind mental illness is largely a state issue, with little the Federal government can do but send money (important!), and keep in mind people have civil rights other than the right to own a gun. Locking up everyone with a psychiatric illness and a bad attitude not only doesn’t work (we’ve tried it), and not only is extremely expensive, it requires taking away people’s liberty.
If we’re talking about civil rights — would you rather be locked up without a gun, or free without a gun?
Or does Trump think the only way to keep guns out of people’s hands is to lock them up? Because if that’s going to be the new stupid argument, I wish he’d make it explicit.
The deinstitutionlization process in psychiatry hasn’t worked perfectly, but going backwards to the time of mass hospitalization isn’t the answer. Better community supports at every level, from childhood on, is. But the folks calling this a mental health issue are only cutting resources instead of adding them.
Well why not use a baseball bat, or a knife?
Look, no one is going to stop you from defending yourself. A gun or even two for home protection is clearly a Constitutional right. But stockpiling multiple automatic is obviously not necessary for defending yourself from criminals. Unless maybe you’re running a meth lab.
And in any case, the Second Amendment is really about state militias being strong enough to resist any attempt by the Federal government to destroy them — by aggression or neglect. Reading the debates and legal wranglings from the time of the Constitution’s drafting makes this very clear.
So is the NRA in favor of drug legalization?
The truth is, drugs are not guns. Drugs are much easier to produce and to smuggle. Most literally grow from the ground or on a tree. They don’t set off metal detectors (whereas most guns do, and can also be detected by trained canines). Drugs are made in large quantities on the black market. Drugs can be smuggled inside someone’s body. They are lighter.
Guns are almost all manufactured by above board companies, and then fall into the wrong hands later. Any serious gun control efforts have to start with the manufacturer, and at the border.
Yes it will be hard to stop the illegal trafficking of guns, but it will be easier than stopping drug traffic.
But more to the point: Regulating drugs is a more effective strategy than banning them entirely, and the same likely holds true for guns. Treating guns like we treat illegal drugs would create a stronger black market than already exists. But treating them like we treat alcohol might work.
After the drinking age effectively became 21 nationwide, alcohol deaths from all causes dropped precipitously. They began increasing again, however, around 1998. Why? The most likely culprit is the return of hard liquor ads to television in 1996.
A higher age requirement for gun ownership could have a similar impact, and wouldn’t run afoul of the Constitution any more than age-based voting requirements for adults did before 1971.
Statistically, this is a rare event. And, there’s no reason gun control efforts need to prevent this from happening. Simple testing and registration could keep guns out of the hands of mass murderers — at least some of the time — and still enable law-abiding Americans who do not show a proclivity for antisocial violence to carry a firearm.
But really, guns generally endanger the owner as much as their target — or more. Using a gun to stop a “bad guy” is hard, and often the gun is turned against its owner. So yes — people have a right to carry for self-defense, but no — that isn’t the answer to endemic gun violence.
This is an easy one to explain, but a very hard one for jingoist deplorables to accept.
Immigrants are less likely than citizens to commit crimes, and to commit violent crimes. Terrorist incidents have been decreasing rapidly — and most are not committed by Muslims.
There has never been a time in American history where an armed band of citizens prevented the usurpation of rights by the Federal government. And in fact, George Washington re-entered public life and the Constitutional Convention was called because under the Articles of Confederation, there was an armed rebellion — which was, all the same, put down. And soon after, another uprising was crushed by Washington. In truth such efforts would be doomed to failure, and only justify the use of overwhelming force of which the United States is certainly capable. A protracted guerilla war in North America sound good to anyone?
What’s protected our rights time and again has been organized nonviolent resistance. Armed uprisings have been few and far between, and the most infamous was instigated not to protect a right, but to suppress one. The Civil War was the worst tragedy in our nation’s history, waged to maintain slavery, enabled by the Second Amendment, and a catastrophe from the start, redeemed only by emancipation — which happened despite, not because of, privately armed citizens. Both the Northern and Southern forces depended on both personal and officially provided arms, but in the South they were — along with British imports — a far more crucial component, whereas the North relied mainly on its heavy industry.
But how did we win the right to unionize industries? How did women gain suffrage? How was Jim Crow toppled in the South? When these movements became violent (whether due to provocateurs or radicals), they suffered setbacks. When they won, it was not with guns, but with people power.
Guns don’t stop tyranny — people do.