Gun Control Debate: 6 Lousy Arguments About Guns


It's still unclear what sort of actual legislation is going to be passed or even introduced in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But, though the laws may or may not change, the debate stays pretty much the same, and continues to be confounded by some of the usual defective arguments and assertions.

Here are a few:

1. "People kill, not guns, and they'll find a way to kill, even without guns."

Image credit: M. Brandt

Obviously, people can kill one another without guns. But guns clearly make it much easier to kill others. That's why we outfit our military with guns rather than kitchen knives. That's why gun rights advocates want a gun, rather than a baseball bat, to defend their family. That's why nations and armies have been so quick to adopt and develop guns over the past 700-800 years after the invention of gunpowder. Someone might "just find another way to kill" without guns, but it will likely be a less effective way, a way that's more likely to fail.

2. "There's no point outlawing guns, because criminals don't obey laws."

Image credit: Human Events

This claim is also wrong-headed. Of course criminals are going to ignore laws, but that hardly means that the world becomes a discount supermarket of illegal goods the moment you decide to become a criminal. Rocket launchers are illegal, and I never hear about a criminal having one. Why? The only thing stopping them from getting one is a law, right? Well, no, to get a rocket launcher, you'd have to ask around for one to buy, and no doubt you'll wind up asking some law-abiding Dudley Do-Right who will report you to the FBI, who will arrest you. Pesky upright citizens!

3. "The Second Amendment is clear on our right to own guns."

Image credit: Robert a.k.a. Bob

No, it isn't. To begin with, there's the "well-regulated militia" bit that the 2nd Amendment invokes. More, the amendment never mentions guns by name, it says "arms", as in "armaments." This invites the question: does the 2nd Amendment demand that we be allowed to own any armament, including, say, rocket launchers? Or, does it demand that we be allowed to own at least some armaments, in which case our Second Amendment right would be protected if we were merely allowed to own swords and slingshots?

4. "Getting rid of assault rifles will do more than anything else to lower gun deaths."

Image credit: U.S. Navy

This claim gets off to a shaky start right away, because there is disagreement about what counts as an assault rifle. That aside, though, handguns are responsible for the bulk of gun deaths in this country. Assault weapons, by some estimates, are responsible for a mere 2-8% of gun violence. If banning a certain sort of gun were an effective way of ending gun violence, handguns are what you would ban, not assault rifles.

5. "Background checks are a straightforward, effective way to keep the wrong people from getting guns."

Image credit: Old Shoe Woman

Background checks only keep felons and mentally unstable people from getting guns if those people are entered into the right database after being convicted of a felony or having been found to be mentally ill. But they often aren't. Seung-Hui Cho (the Virginia Tech shooter) managed to purchase guns even though a judge's ruling of "mental illness" should have been prevented from doing so. If the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICBCS) doesn't get the paperwork, felons and mentally unstable people can still get guns.

6. "We desperately need new gun laws."

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It's not clear that we do. Mass shootings have not increased in recent years, and crime in general including violent crime is down. Yes, U.S. rates of gun deaths are sometimes four or even 20 times higher than in other developed countries. But, at the same time, we don't do a good job of enforcing laws already on the books (recall the NICBCS background check issue mentioned above). In 2009, 71,000 people tried to buy a gun while falsifying information for the required background check. The feds prosecuted only 77 of them, hardly more than one in a thousand. It's sensible to suggest that maybe the old laws should get dusted off before we start adding new ones.