You Need To Know How To Use Guns If You Want To Be Able to Regulate Them
Yishan Wong

rebuilding trust in the gun conversation…

Yishan gave a number of good examples how people are turning off gun rights activists. I decided to add some timely thoughts on the gun issue as well.

The gun debate is a fraught discussion where both sides are stubbornly talking past one another and everyone else is pressured to choose a side. It seems like nothing is happening and no one trusts the other side.

So it’s time to go back to first principles…

What does our society actually want to accomplish in regards to firearms and human life? We live together under a written social contract where the firearms are considered an integral part of homeland defense. We also live in a society that values reducing the premature loss of human life — partly why we spend a giant chunk of our GDP on health care. While our society is not perfect, for the most part we do our best accomplishing our societal goals and moving forward. So why can’t we find common ground on the gun debate?

Surprisingly, Americans agree quite a lot on gun safety measures:

  • 85% of Americans favor background checks for all gun sales.
  • 79% support laws that prevent mentally ill from obtaining guns.
  • 79% support the ATF temporarily taking away a dealer’s license if they can’t account for 20 or more guns.

However when asked directly, Americans split nearly 50/50 in their support of gun ownership rights vs. gun ownership control. What gives?

Is it because gun-owners are saying no to any type of gun control measures?

Surprisingly, no. Gun-owners’ support for various gun control measures only track a few percentages behind non-gun-owner’s support. In fact, gun-owners are even more likely than non-gun-owners to back some control measures:

  • 75% of gun-owners support laws that prohibit people who publicly display a gun in a threatening manner (excluding from a self-defense situation) from owning a gun — compared to just 67% of non-gun-owners.
  • 76% of gun-owners support laws that prevent those convicted of domestic violence from obtaining guns — compared to just 69% of non-gun-owners.
  • 71% of both gun-owners and non-gun owners support requiring a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years in prison for a person convicted of knowingly selling a gun to someone who cannot legally have a gun.
  • 67% of gun-owners support authorizing law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from individuals who the officer determines pose an immediate threat of harm to self or others.

The major dividing issue between gun-owners & non-gun-owners is on banning the sale of military-style semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines. And while only 51% of gun-owners want to prohibit a person under the age of 21 from having a handgun, 73% would be amiable to prohibiting juveniles from owning a gun for 10 years if they are convicted a serious crime.

Finding a path to common ground

Well…so there really isn’t as much distance between gun-owners and non gun-owners. And if you look closely, we can even see a path toward creating a new framework for discussions on gun safety.

Gun-owners strongly dislike measures that target gun-owners individually — because of the 2nd Amendment. This feeling is also compounded by the not-completely-incorrect perception that gun control activists are making a preemptive moral judgement on law abiding gun-owners for using guns.

Even still, many gun-owners do show a willingness to allow gun control measures that cover specific classes of people to help with harm reduction.

Harm Reduction is more important than prohibition

What resonates most with people are personal experiences and self preservation. If we can listen and understand the gun-owners then we can intelligently create measures that all sides can accept. Going back to first principles, the raison d’être of gun control & safety is to reduce the number of gun deaths and injuries — hopefully to zero.

The reasons for gun ownership has also changed. Over the last 20 years, the number one reason given for owning a gun changed from hunting to personal protection. In 2014, over 63% of Americans believed that having a gun in a home makes it safer (even when research shows that is not true) — compared to just 35% in 2000. This change in attitude has to be taken into account when reaching out to gun-owners.

So why can’t we still find a solution even when we agree?

Because both sides of the debate act like this:

…when the truth is closer to this:

We just have find a way to break through the rhetoric. Thankfully, there are many ways to do just that if we are willing to work directly with gun-owners to reduce the harms.

we can work to reduce suicides

While many people imagine homicides or mass killings when they hear of the 33,636 gun deaths in 2013, but suicides committed by guns are also counted in the statistic. And that number is still frighteningly high, with two-thirds of all gun deaths in 2013 being suicides. This is a major public health issue.

we can also work to reduce gun homicides

  • 1/3 of gun deaths are homicides.
  • While decreasing since 1980, arguments are still the No 1 known reason for homicides. 60% of them involved guns.
  • in 2008, only 6% of homicides were gang-related…
  • …but nearly all gang-related homicides (92%) involved guns.
  • 77.2% of multiple victim homicides and 65.7% of single victim homicides involved guns
  • 79% of 17-year olds killed in homicides involves guns
  • gun homicides rates had dropped by half from 1993–2000…
  • …however, nearly 82% of American still believe that gun crimes have gone up or stayed the same since the 1993.

The elephant in the room

Throughout this article, I haven’t talked about the biggest obstacle to common sense gun laws. But the NRA and GOP don’t speak for all gun owners as the polls clearly show. We can talk directly with gun-owners and empower them to save lives in their community while protecting the 2nd Amendment. We can highlight the good that the majority of responsible gun-owners do and help them deal with the very local problem that guns in the wrong hands can do. But only if we are willing to work together to save lives instead of scoring political points.


  • a majority of Americans support gun control measures but the term “gun control” has become a litmus test for political parties.
  • the primary reason for the movement is to save lives — symbolic gun bans are not the only way to do that.
  • there is a fundamental lack of trust between both sides of the debate that needs to be repaired.
  • There needs to be more understanding on how and why people use guns. Eliminating this knowledge gap will prevent people from discounting gun safety activists because they aren’t not knowledgable about specifics.
  • The NRA is not the only people who speak for gun-owners. Gun safety activists can engage with gun-owners directly if they can speak knowledgeably about the subject.

Statistics and References:

  1. DOI: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.05.007
  2. DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwh309
  3. CDC: NVSS Vol. 64 No. 2
  4. BJS: NCJ 236018
  5. Gallup: 1645, 179213
  6. Pew: Social Trends
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