Gun Control Debate: American Gun Lobby is Full of Contradictions


NRA president David Keene and Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt did their rounds on last Sunday's talk shows as part of an ongoing, high-intensity effort by the broader American "gun lobby" to stifle recent moves towards passing gun control legislation in Washington.

It is to be expected that over the next few weeks Keene, Pratt, and their allies will continue to make sure the immense resources at their disposal are felt by congressmen and the American public alike.

Few interest groups in American politics manage to match the gun lobby in the manufacture of plainly spurious arguments. The lobby’s gift – its ability to mass-produce slogans – is also its curse. 

It is true that bloated special interest groups have loud voices. Yet, as these massive networks of think tanks, lobbyists, and their admirers thoughtlessly churn out argument upon argument – paying more attention to the quantity of arguments presented than to the quality of those arguments – their game of psuedo-intellectual Jenga is, perhaps, bound to eventually come crashing down.

In other words, bloated special interest groups tend to begin arguing against themselves after they grow to a certain, difficult to micromanage, size.

The movement against gun regulation has arrived at this point – it is philosophically divided. Yet, many people on both sides of the gun control debate have yet to recognize this fact. 

Two Narratives and Some of Their Problems

Opponents of gun control in the U.S. often defend their positions by calling upon one of two cynical narratives. These are by no means the only narratives against gun control, but they represent two of the dominant lines argument often offered. 

The first of the two talking points is a critique of the effectiveness of gun control in halting gun violence. Generally: gun criminals are already willing to break laws, therefore gun criminals will continue to purchase firearms illegal or not – leaving law abiders out in the rain.

Of course, the argument is suspect for a number of reasons. For instance, journalists Joe Palazzalo and Carl Bialik of The Wall Street Journal cast doubt on the assertion when they cite Center for Disease Control and Prevention findings that there is “insufficient evidence to determine [the] effectiveness,” of gun control in reducing violent crime, suicide, and accidental injury.

Yet, the unconvincing nature of the assertion does not stop some opponents of gun control from making an even more dubious claim: that lax firearm laws actually reduce violence, because lax laws allow for the proliferation of firearms.

It’s not clear that this latter argument has gained traction outside circles of senile cold warriors and M.A.D. enthusiasts, in which the belief is held that commonplace firearms are analogous to nuclear warheads and that commonplace criminals are analogous to the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, it may be worth noting that the 1970’s arms race preceding Lebanon’s civil war did little to stem violence in that country (quite the opposite) and that United Nations “studies in Central America showed that people who used a gun to defend against an armed assault were far more likely to be injured or killed than if they had no weapon.”

Just a couple of vivid counterexamples…

The second, more fanatical, case made against gun control deals with the utility of firearms in the face of some sort of tyrannical force: after all, didn't Stalin consolidate power by confiscating guns?

Yet, Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, along with Libyans under Muammar Gaddafi, were fairly well armed. On the other hand, Egyptians and Tunisians, both of whom overthrew dictatorships in 2011, were hardly well armed at all. The latter country had 0.1 guns per 100 people according to a 2007 small arms survey publication.

Furthermore, the creeping sense of fatalism that comes with wondering what good a handgun or semiautomatic weapon could really do for a hypothetical American rebel – faced with Tomahawk missiles, F-16s, drones, and the various other war-machines of modern militaries – is hardly groundless.   

The Philosophical Divide

To review, two key narratives, articulated by many opposed to gun control, have now been summarized – with relevant criticism added. The first narrative can be labeled “more gun control equals more gun violence,” whereas the second can be named “more tyranny, less guns.”

Apart from the many defects of each individual abstract, there's a broader problem with logical consistency here. This logical inconsistency is at the heart of the often-unrecognized philosophical divide within the gun lobby.

While the “more gun control equals more gun violence” assertion suggests that guns can't be kept out of the hands of criminals, the “more tyranny, less guns” case seems to suggest that guns can be kept out of the hands of criminals.

Think about it:

In the context of a tyranny, dissenters become criminals under the laws of the tyrannical regime. According to “more gun control equals more gun violence,” these dissenters – in need of self-defense firearms – will not pay attention to the tyrannical regime’s draconian gun laws because they are already criminals.

However, according to “more tyranny, less guns” the dissenters will be defenseless because the tyrannical regime’s gun control is actually very effective.

And so, it becomes clear that the gun lobby is not one cohesive bloc. It’s a group of people with often opposing beliefs, in conflict with one another. If people on either side of the gun control debate become more conscious of this conflict within the gun lobby, the terms of the debate could shift as demands for philosophical consistency come to the fore.