Both sides of the gun debate are motivated in part by fear. The side against gun-control is afraid for their safety if they give up their guns, while the side for gun-control is afraid for their safety if guns continue to be so easily accessible to everyone. I think it’s important to note that fear is the common root of most people’s views on both sides.
Survey of Core Arguments Against Gun-Control
The arguments on the side against gun-control appear to be split between 1) those who feel guns can protect them from the government, and 2) those who simply don’t want their rights taken from them.
1) While I respect the spirit of this argument because the U.S. government is a terrifying group of corrupt assholes, guns cannot protect any of us from them. Its military power is incomprehensible if unleashed in full, and because of technology they don’t even need any soldiers to act as the gun-fodder anymore. Revolution against the government will not be effective through (fire)arms. Just imagine if a highly polarized political group (tea party or PETA, perhaps) tried to use guns to intimidate the government for their cause. It would destory their cause completely overnight. This simply cannot work or be effective today. It would have when the extent of military technology was muskets and cannons, but that’s not the case anymore.
2) As for the “rights” side, there is a further division between those who a) support it as a right because they enjoy using and owning them as a hobby, and b) those who view them as a right for ensuring personal safety.
2a) Regarding the former it’s absurdly self-centered to continue to push for the right to do something for fun if it means thousands of people will be killed from such easy access to that thing. If guitars were responsible for tens of thousands of deaths from people misusing them, I wouldn’t mind registering and going through extensive tests, training, and background checks before owning and using one–despite the fact that it’s my primary artistic medium and one of my greatest passions. Human life matters more than a hobby.
2b) Regarding the latter, I would say this is the only argument with any real weight or grey-area to it. Every bit of data I’ve seen has been against the validity of this, but more research is required to verify that this is the case (unfortunately, although most people support this, the GOP-controlled congress has blocked such research). Though this is tough, because people care more about *feeling* safe than actually being so, so the data won’t matter for the majority of such individuals. If the average gun-owner feels safer with a gun, they won’t care if data is very clearly saying that they are less safe because of that freedom. We are, as a whole, an emotion-driven species far more than a reason-driven one. This isn’t bad at an individual level and peoples’ fears need to be heard and taken into account. The more gun violence there is, the more people feel they need guns to protect themselves. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of guns. These fears shouldn’t be ignored or discounted or ridiculed (and i admit, out of anger and frustration i’ve done my fair share of this).
The Root Cause
An oft-stated notion on the anti-gun-control side is that the root cause of the “gun problem” is that we are a morally bankrupt people, for whatever reason (Which is also often, perplexingly, used to say why gun-control measures won’t work. I say perplexingly because it assumes we are worse morally than any other industrialized nation on no basis whatsoever, and also ignores the data we have on individual states that vary in their gun-control that shows a clear direct causal relationship between gun-control and lower rates of gun-deaths).
This notion of moral bankrupcy I don’t disagree with necessarily. The ultimate cause of all immoral action is the immorality and ignorance of the individual. But addressing the issue of the morality of a whole society is so overwhelmingly complex, I think it makes the most sense to take away the proximate cause of so many deaths until the ultimate cause can be addressed to a significant degree. Much like how a parent will take away toys that children are using to fight with each other until they can learn to be nice to one another, except that NOT taking the toys away first results in one or both of them being killed.
“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”
Unfortunately, this idea of societal moral fiber, which I think should be a matter of more serious discussion, is typically preceded by the fallacious statement propagated by the NRA that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” The fallaciousness here must be understood. Other, legitimate and valid arguments do exist for the ownership of guns around personal safety and personal liberties. This argument is not one of them. It actually is fallacious enough that it kind of fits a bunch of fallacies all at the same time.
It’s largely a strawman fallacy, which is when a weaker argument is refuted that isn’t actually the argument of the opposition, despite often looking like it. No person supporting gun-control believes guns have agency, so they aren’t arguing that guns are the sole cause of death when someone dies from one. The pro-gun-control side is giving the simple argument that “people with guns kill more people than do people without guns.” It’s also kind of a false dilemma, which is a fallacy where the opposing argument, now strawmanned, is taken to be one of only two solutions, when in reality there are shades of gray.
The slogan could also be said to beg the question or to equivocate, but the biggest issue of what it does is mistake the relevance of proximate causation. There are ultimate, intermediate, and proximate causes, where the ultimate is the initial cause, which in a situation with an agent begins with the intention of that agent. The proximate cause is the cause which is closest to, or the final, immediate event responsible for an observed result (intermediate causes are all those between the two). In the case of guns, a shooter’s intention is the ultimate cause and the gun is the proximate cause. But this tells us absolutely nothing about whether the proximate cause in question should be regulated, de-regulated or otherwise. It doesn’t really say anything at all to support the position of de-regulation. If you replace the word “guns” in the statement with “nukes” or “cars” you see how nothing is really being said. Nukes and cars are both proximate causes of death, but obviously cars should be legal and nukes should not. Simply stating that there was a cause that led to the proximate cause says nothing about the value, significance, or societal worth of the proximate cause in question.
Addressing that inescapable slogan was a bit of an aside to the original intent of this essay, but I felt it had to be addressed. In sum, I believe the value of human life far outweighs any pleasure or hobby-related value of guns and that the government’s corruption is an inadequate basis for fighting measures of gun-control because at this point guns are of no use towards that aim. There is a moral crisis going on in the country right now, but I believe this is likely a symptom of larger issues, and it must be discussed deeply and thoroughly, but this addresses only the ultimate cause instead of the proximate cause of gun-deaths, and it will take so much longer to solve, while in the meantime, thousands of innocents will continue to die without reason. In light of these points and the absurd rate of gun deaths in this country–from daily mass-shootings to suicides–I support strong gun-control measures.
However on the basis of the small degree of uncertainty surrounding the validity of personal safety, and moreso because of the sense of security they can provide, I am open to legal gun ownership, and not an outright ban to all firearms. Abating fear for one’s life is an important function, and should not be ignored, diminished, or dismissed. It’s sad that such fear is as widespread as it is, but we (supporters of gun-control) cannot simply tell people who are frightened for their lives that their fear means nothing. It might be misguided fear, but it’s worth discussing the fears openly and with understanding: This is the ONLY way to remove the fear, and thus remove the highest justification for the ownership of firearms (as I see it).
As a final point, I would say that the specific gun-control measures I support are those proposed by Bernie Sanders. If any of the points I suggest here are to be challenged it’s this list of proposed measures of gun-control which still allow for personal ownership and use under the majority of circumstances. Those against gun-control often erroneously view the situation as black and white (the false dilemma fallacy), between no guns for anyone and the status quo today. But there exists a grey area which deserves our consideration, especially if it means saving human lives.
1) Significantly expand and improve background checks
2) Renew the assault weapons ban
3) Make gun trafficking a federal crime
4) Close the “gun show” loophole or Brady bill (which allows for sale by private sellers, thereby circumventing background checks, record of sale, or even identification)
5) Close loopholes that allow domestic abusers and stalkers (and other criminals, including individuals on the no-fly list) to obtain guns
6) End the sale of high capacity magazines
It’s not a perfect list, to be sure, but it’s the best-sounding, clearest, and most specific set of steps I’ve heard at this point in the discussion. What do you think?