America has fallen back into our ritualistic tribes this week. In the wake of yet another massacre committed by a white man who legally purchased weapons of war, the gun control debate has taken center stage again. Every time we experience one of these mass shootings, we implore our government to change, but nothing ever does. Roughly 90% of Americans are in favor of universal background checks, yet we can’t even accomplish that. The main reason is that the 10% opposed is far more committed to their cause than the 90% (and has the NRA organizing them), and the concern trolling coming from those on and around the fence to any gun regulation tends to muddy the waters (note: I’m not criticizing those opposing some gun regulations, just people who argue in favor of the bloody status quo).
It also doesn’t help that a lot of solutions you hear coming from those in favor of regulation are already enshrined in law. We can’t have this kind of a failure on this scale without everyone having a hand in it, and if you’re upset by my assertion that you haven’t done enough on this issue, call Congress at (202) 225-3121 and prove me wrong. If enough of us do it, they’ll listen. We took big tobacco down a few notches in this country, so anything is possible. That said, here are nine flawed (at best) arguments that you will hear from some earnest but misinformed gun enthusiasts, and from all of those like Bill O’Reilly who are OK with mass murder so long as they get to go pew! pew! bang! bang! with no supervision.
1. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun
First off, congratulations! You just invented the entire premise behind the police. Secondly, this is a hopelessly stupid idea rooted entirely in a Hollywood fallacy. The logic goes that John McClane can walk into an airport and kill terrorists to save the day while the cops are pinned down outside the building, therefore so can John Q. Public. One teensy tiny problem with this concept? It assumes that civilians with zero active shooter training will be able to:
A. Locate the bad guy with a gun in a sea of panic.
B. Hit said bad guy with a gun without inflicting any other casualties or injuries.
C. Identify themselves as the good guy shooting the gun and not the bad guy shooting the gun to any police in the area.
Here, let Kevin Williamson of the National Review demonstrate how hopelessly stupid this idea is when held up to the light of reality (credit to @nycsouthpaw for laying it all out).
In some people’s minds, thousands of armed civilians all firing at one hotel room 400+ yards away and 32 floors up is what freedom looks like (to be fair, this is an exaggeration of the point Williamson was making—but it isn’t far off from what you hear out of Fox & Friends). What could ever go wrong?
2. Guns won’t solve the issue of mentally ill people going on rampages
This one is centered around a nugget of truth, but has been bastardized to the point where Republicans in Congress turn to it like Linus to his blankie the moment that bullets start flying in a public space. Yes, we could ban all guns, and madmen who want to murder indiscriminately could still do so using a vehicle, knife, etc…There really is a mental health aspect to this issue that we don’t give enough thought to, and it has nothing to do with guns. Because most mass shooters fit the same profile (disgruntled/disturbed white man), there is a serious psychological aspect to this problem that we need to address, and what we do on guns is a secondary issue to this fact.
The Congressmen who typically fall back on this argument are completely full of shit. Let me present to you the King of Fullofshitlandia.
These hollowed out man-shaped husks hooked up to the NRA's rage machine immediately deflect to mental health the moment the topic of guns arises; but when it actually comes time to address mental health independent of a mass shooting, it doesn't even show up on the GOP's radar. Paul Ryan's budget proved that. Ryan has proposed to eliminate coverage for preexisting conditions on multiple occasions, thus debilitating our efforts on the mental health front. He's not serious about this effort, he just wants to deflect the conversation away from guns. Ryan and every other member of Congress has blood on their hands.
3. Guns are the most effective means of self-defense
When a deranged madman started shooting up an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, it took the cops 90 seconds to arrive. The reason he was able to hit so many people is because he possessed a weapon designed for that task, and not because the cops didn't get there in time. However, for people out in the countryside, it's a completely different reality, and they are exempt from this criticism. I worked for a home security company and lost sale after sale to people living away from cities because our system called the police, and not them. Guns actually are the most effective means of self-defense when you live so far away that it takes the cops at least 15 minutes to arrive. They're right.
If you're near a city (so, most of us), thinking that going one on one with a shooter is more effective than finding a place to hide and waiting for trained professionals to take them down is insane. I thought we lived in a country that trusted armed men with badges more than anything? Ironically, a lot of the people criticizing NFL players for highlighting the lack of trust in the police essentially say “don't trust the police to save you” with this argument.
Secondly, guns are only an effective means of self-defense if you know how to use them, and the NRA used to exist specifically for that exact purpose. I grew up around plenty of reasonable NRA members who were taught to respect the power of a gun, but that's out the window now that the NRA is effectively just the lobbying arm of gun manufacturers. You can still receive training from the NRA, but that's just not where their central efforts lie anymore. In fact, the NRA lobbies to reduce the training time required to get a concealed weapons permit or to open carry, and the end result is “leaders” like Roy Moore whipping out a gun in public and pointing the barrel at a crowd. This is a gun ownership 101 failure, and you see shit like that happen all the time. I'd believe that a lot more people use guns for self-defense if you didn't have a bunch of Roy Moore's out there treating them like toys.
4. But Chicago
First off, stop being a racist piece of shit. Chicago is code for “why aren't you upset about black people killing each other?” We are. That's what the NFL protests against inequality are all about. We have a society that already discriminates against African Americans, and housing policies like redlining trap many in districts filled with crime and poverty, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of desperation. Giving the gun manufacturers free reign over the entire country ensured that these communities would become filled with weapons—all thanks to the war for resources created by circumstances outside their control. We are concerned about gun violence in Chicago. And Las Vegas. And Aurora. This is all connected.
Secondly, the entire argument about “tough on guns” Chicago is rooted in policies that don’t exist anymore. The D.C. vs Heller case that every single second amendment absolutist loves to cite as proof that they have the Supreme Court on their side (and they might), struck down Chicago’s handgun ban in 2010. Thirdly, Chicago is surrounded by states where it is very easy to get a gun, so unless you think that you need to pass through customs to get to Chicago, the “they can’t buy guns in Chicago, but there are lots of guns in Chicago, so gun laws don’t work” logic makes absolutely no sense. In fact, if that’s your criticism, then the solution is to have nationally uniform gun laws, which means more, not less regulation.
5. Gun laws won’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals
This one is kind of true, but it’s also an argument in favor of having no laws whatsoever. Seriously, please explain to me how your argument that gun laws won’t stop criminals can’t be extrapolated to all laws. Of course criminals don’t obey the law—that’s what makes them criminals. This one is so unfathomably stupid that I’m going blind with rage even thinking about a rebuttal, so we’re just going to move on to the next one before I punch a hole through my computer screen.
6. Unfettered access to guns is every citizens’ right
This one is pretty tricky, and it requires intelligent legal minds familiar with the quirks of 18th century language, and I don’t think we’ve reached any kind of a consensus on how to read the second amendment yet. Every single second amendment absolutist reveres this text, but they tend to leave out the first half in favor of promoting the second half. Here’s the first half which acts as a qualifier for the second:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
And the much more well-known second half:
the right of people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
But you can’t parse amendments. It’s a package deal, and the problem here is that the comma in front of militia is weird, and makes it much more difficult to deduce the practical meaning of “militia.” Regardless of what that word technically means, the founding fathers clearly wanted some sort of “well regulated” version, and saying that the second amendment guarantees zero restrictions on guns is naïve at best.
7. A right is a right, it doesn’t have to be justified
This is such a selfish argument, I don’t even know where to begin. Yes, we are all given rights by the American government, but the entire point of the constitution is that your rights end when they begin infringing on another person’s rights. You can own a gun, and firing it at a gun range is perfectly fine. Firing it into a crowd is not, as your right to use a gun now runs up against everyone else’s right to life and liberty. Rights do not operate on parallel tracts—they intersect. Government exists to regulate those intersections, trying to ensure that everyone retains their rights (at least in theory).
8. Shooters target gun free zones
Stop watching Infowars. This is complete bullshit. Analyzing 33 mass shootings from 2009 to 2014 proves that 18 of those massacres occurred in areas where guns were not banned, or where armed security was present (like at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando). The only thing I can see hidden in this line of “logic” is a thought process of “what would I do if I wanted to go on a killing spree?” Mass shooters don’t use that kind of “logic,” and most often it’s a personal connection that leads them to the scene of the crime.
9. Guns are tools that can kill, just like knives, and we’re not banning knives are we?
In the wake of the massacre of children in Newtown, Congressman and alleged human being Louie Gohmert said “I refuse to play the game of ‘assault weapon.’* That’s any weapon. It’s a hammer. It’s the machetes. In Rwanda that killed 800,000 people, an article that came out this week, the massive number that are killed with hammers.”
*side note: the term “assault weapon” is one that sounds specific, but really isn’t. If we’re talking about automatic weapons, those are virtually impossible to obtain—although there are attachments that enable semiautomatics to function like automatics, which is what might have happened in Las Vegas. Saying that we should ban all assault weapons isn’t very specific, as all it takes is a modification or two for a gun to slip in and out of that amorphous definition. Those of us in favor of gun control must learn more about guns in order to make more effective arguments.
Las Vegas provided the clearest indication yet of how ridiculous this analogy is. Guns are a special type of tool, because even though they can also be used to murder people, they can’t be used to chop vegetables. Guns have a more specific killing utility than knives, so until machetes can be used to murder people from hundreds of yards away, comparing them to guns is like saying a bicycle is the same thing as a truck. Sure, technically they both could be used to mow down innocent people, but only one makes it easy enough for anyone to do it.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.