(Warning: This is long. And I’m sure I’m going to make myself unpopular with this one.)
I favor gun control. Here’s why: guns kill people. “But wait,” you law abiding gun owners cry, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people!”
Denial is More than Just a River in Egypt
Part of why I find the pro-gun arguments so unpersuasive is that many times, the person spouting them is in obvious denial. They argue about the need to protect themselves, but they’ve never been attacked, and crime stats show they are much safer now than 20 years ago. They say they need the guns for protection against wild animals. That makes sense for those who live in rural areas, but the logic falls down when they “need” dozens of guns or assault rifles. You can only fire one gun at a time to protect yourself against animals. Then they talk about the second amendment. See below for a discussion of that argument. They also say that “if we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” I say GOOD! See below for why.
But what don’t they say? They never say:
- I like to pretend I’m Rambo. The fantasy of killing things gives me a rush.
- I like the feeling of power over other people that my gun gives me.
- I like the idea I can kill people who disagree with me.
When you have motives that you aren’t willing to say out loud, that’s a good sign that you know those motives aren’t defensible. And while talk of overthrowing a tyrannical government sounds vaguely noble (never mind that the intention of the 2nd amendment was to fight the British when we used militias to fight), motives of liking power and violence are anything but noble.
The discussion I’m happy to have:
I feel powerless and weak, and I’m irrationally scared of everything around me, despite living in the safest time period in human history. I want to be able to kill things in order to feel powerful and safe.”
Great! Let’s talk about that. We might be able to come up with some solutions. But arguments that try to come up with weak, intellectual-sounding arguments without addressing the powerful emotional argument strike me as a near admission that the real reason is too shameful to be legitimate.
(It’s like drug education classes that refuse to discuss the fact that drugs feel good and help people escape from lives they hate. As long as those two very real facts remain unaddressed, users will keep using.)
Guns Are For Defense
The one argument that sounds most persuasive is:
I feel powerless to defend myself, and in my fantasies, owning a gun keeps me safe.
If it weren’t for the statistical observation that guns around the house for self-defense more often end up used for suicide, accidental killings, or murders in a moment of rage, this would be persuasive. The fact is that owning a gun makes you less safe on average. Yes, there are a few exceptional, rare, non-representative cases where a gun is successfully used for defense, but those are dwarfed by the cases where guns do the wrong thing. In most cases, the fantasy that a gun will keep you safe just doesn’t jive with reality.
Even if guns purchased for defense could magically never be used by accident, it still doesn’t justify the need to stockpile guns or buy assault rifles. The chances you’ll be holed up in your house and need a dozen AK-47s to defend yourself seem pretty small.
“Guns Don’t Kill People?” Not according to statistics.
Actually, violent people with guns kill people. If you remove the people from the equation, the chances of death fall tremendously. If you remove the guns from the equation, the chances of death fall tremendously (the Chinese attacker whose attack mirrored the CT attack was armed only with a knife and didn’t manage to kill anyone).
Most gun deaths occur from law-abiding, gun-owning citizens acting in a moment of passion against friends and family. It’s actually THAT group that we have to watch out for. But why would that be true?
The answer involves a slightly obscure kind of statistics called Bayesian statistics. While only a tiny fraction of law-abiding citizens commit murder, there are so many more law-abiding citizens than criminals (yay!) that that tiny fraction outnumbers the criminals using guns.
Here’s a simple example. Assume there are 500,000 law-abiding citizens with guns, and 1% of them commit murder (accidentally or in a crime of passion). Assume there are 20,000 criminals with guns, and 20% of them commit murder.
The murders from law-abiding citizens are 5,000. The murders from criminals are 4,000.
Total murders: 9,000
Percentage caused by law-abiding gun owners: 5/9 = ~ 56%
Percentage cause by criminals: 4/9 = ~44%
The majority of killings come from the law-abiding citizens.
But What About the 2nd Amendment?
I think Lt. Junior Grade Josh Foot responded best to this one. I’m reposting a letter by him I read on Facebook.
From Lieutenant Junior Grade Josh Foot who is currently serving as an Antisubmarine Warfare Officer on USS John S. McCain, DDG-56, :
“My news feed is flooded with people making all kinds of comments about this school shooting. Many are just expressions of sympathy, but there are a lot that fall into one of two other categories, both of which I initially tried to just ignore. So many people are saying these things, though, that I have to say something in response.
The first is the comment, whether said independently or in response to anyone’s attempt to point out the need for legal change regarding gun laws, that “it’s too soon”, or “it’s poor taste to talk politics right now” and “today is about the victims, we can debate later”. If today is too soon, than when, people? This is the same thing everyone said after Columbine, the same thing people said after Virginia Tech, and the same thing people said after the movie theater. When is it not going to be too soon? How about after the next one? In the interest of protecting the future victims, we need to have this conversation now, and if I was a family member of a victim, I would think I’d want some change affected due to these deaths, so that maybe at least somebody else’s life could be saved by this tragedy, instead of just doing nothing to change things and letting it happen again.
The second comment is the tired old rhetoric that the only thing keeping Americans free from government tyranny is our guns, the argument that somehow it’s the knowledge that the Average Joe out there has a rifle in his garage that keeps congress and the president from turning into evil dictators. The first problem with that is that the Second Amendment was written with the idea of using the people to support and defend the government against outside invasion; that’s why it starts with the militia clause.
The second, bigger problem with that argument is that the Second Amendment was written at a time when there was only a tiny gap between military weapons technology and personal weapons used for hunting. I hate to shatter the illusion, people, but your guns won’t protect you from the government anymore. The United States government has the best tanks ever built, the most powerful precision-guided bombs and missiles, jet fighters, aircraft carriers, attack helicopters, warships that could single-handedly conquer small countries. We live in an age where the government has a monopoly on military weapons technology and an overwhelming advantage in terms of monetary resources. Unlike the 18th century when that gap didn’t exist, if the military might of the US government is ever turned against the people nowadays, your guns wouldn’t protect you from anything.
One poster actually brought up Japanese internment camps in WWII and asked what would have happened if every Japanese-American person had had a gun and stood up to the government. Here’s what would have happened: they would have been labeled as traitors and it would have looked like the government was right to put them away, because it would have appeared that they were fighting for Japan, even though that wasn’t the case. In the end we’d have had a bunch of dead Japanese-Americans.
What keeps us free from tyranny in America is the structure of our government and its continued commitment to that founding ideal of freedom. You can’t have a tyranny without an undue amount of power resting in the hands of a single person or very small, united group. The difficulties encountered over every single issue in the past four years ought to make everybody rest assured that Congress is not a small or united group and the President is in no danger of having too much power. The government’s very design protects us from it; that’s the brilliant move that the founding fathers made to protect us from internal tyranny. The reason they gave us guns was to protect us from an outside invader bringing tyranny to our shores. Now that we have a professional, standing military to do that, guns are making no meaningful contribution to the protection of our freedom.
As a member of that military, willing to give my life if necessary to protect that freedom and protect American lives from the wolves outside the gates, it breaks my heart to see the people inside the gates continually killing each other and doing nothing to stop it, because it’s always “too soon to talk about politics”.
In short, I support gun control. I won’t go into details about when I think guns are permissible and useful. Those are details that can be hashed out. But until the pro-gun lobby confronts the facts, it’s hard for me to understand why their opinion should be given much weight (other than because they have lots of money). Guns kill people. Most gun violence is committed by the law-abiding portion of gun owners. Basic, animal, fear-driven urges drive gun ownership as much as (or more than) carefully-considered, data-supported logic. A refusal to discuss those facts shows that someone is arguing from a place of irrational, knee-jerk, emotion-filled, fear-driven responses. And when I think about who we should entrust with guns, irrational, knee-jerk, emotion-filled, fear-driven people are not high on the list.