In Defence of Guns? Examining Arguments Against Reform

In the wake of yet another tragic mass-shooting in the United States, the debate concerning gun reform has, once again, been brought sharply into focus. The latest research from the gun violence centre indicates that in the past 5 years alone there has been a total of 1,624 mass shootings in the US, which is equal to almost one mass-shooting a day on average. Furthermore, restrictions on the possessions of guns appear to be at an all-time low, and more states than ever now have right-to-carry laws. Despite promises made to implement legislative changes in the aftermath of the recent Florida Park shooting, which left 14 children dead, President Trump seems to have significantly backpedalled on plans for reform. Many suspect this inertia to be mainly the result of resistance from the powerful US gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA) which, through financial contributions, a highly organised grass-roots campaign and considerable spending on internet and television advertisements, wields sizeable political influence.

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As mass-shootings continue unabated in the US, what appears to be lacking from mainstream media discourse on the subject is a persistent effort to engage with common anti-gun control arguments. This has meant that in some corners, these arguments have gained credence and can be found being repeated after almost every single mass-shooting occurs. In response to this, this article will examine some of the most commonly used arguments against gun reform and see to what extent they can be said to stand up to close scrutiny.

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

This argument runs that as it is not guns themselves that kill people but rather people pulling their triggers that do, instead of focusing on regulating guns, society should instead focus its attention on the people carrying out these shootings. This is perhaps the most commonly deployed argument against suggestions to reform gun laws however, whilst it admittedly has some superficial appeal, a closer look at it reveals that it is flawed.

It is, of course, correct to say that guns do not kill people of their own accord. Guns are inanimate objects, and before a mass shooting, they do not suddenly become possessed of evil spirits, wickedly pulling their own triggers in a frenzy. Restricting gun ownership however, would not be an endorsement of the idea that guns did literally kill people (although the number of accidental gun killings is not low). Instead, reforming gun laws would be a recognition of the fact that, whilst it is indeed people who generally decide to kill other people, guns greatly facilitate these killings, with the assault-style weapons frequently used in mass-shootings having been designed to kill as many people as possible in a short space of time. It is for this ability to facilitate killing that there have been calls to reform to gun laws, and the argument that “guns don’t kill people” is little more than a straw-man, masquerading as a legitimate response to a position never genuinely advanced by those calling for reform.

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This, of course, does not mean that society cannot and should not do more to address the people carrying the guns, however the two options are not mutually exclusive; society can definitely do more to tackle issues such as mental health and socio-economic factors that can lead people to commit atrocities, whilst at the same time reducing the chance that would-be attackers can commit mass carnage with weapons designed to facilitate death.

“The second amendment protects my right to own and use guns, therefore the government cannot take my guns away from me.”

In modern political and media discourse, the Second Amendment has become synonymous with an unrestricted right to own and use whatever guns an individual pleases, wherever an individual pleases. So prevalent is the belief that the US Constitution protects such a right, that those who advocate for even minimal gun control laws are often characterised as “anti second amendment”, and those who would like to see even modest gun controls evaporate, “pro second amendment”. In order to assess this argument, it’s necessary to take a closer look at the Second Amendment.

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution is one the nation’s oldest laws having been adopted in 1791. It reads:

“A well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The US Supreme Court had the chance to decisively interpret the Second Amendment for the first time in a 2007 court case that came before it. This case involved a ban on handguns by the District of Colombia in Washington D.C and a requirement that all firearms in the home be kept trigger-locked in an unusable condition. In this case, the court decided that the Second Amendment did protect an individual’s right to own guns, however importantly, it restricted that right to no more than the right to keep a loaded handgun in the home for self-defence.  Far from arguing that this right was unrestricted, as many seem to believe today, the Supreme Court stated in its judgment that:

“nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

As well as endorsing restrictions on who may purchase guns and where they may be carried, US Courts have also interpreted the Second Amendment as placing restrictions on the type of guns individuals can own. In 2015, the Court of Appeals for Maryland stated that:

“…assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment”

More recently, in a case which had to do with a ban by the state of Massachusetts on AR 15 Semi-automatic rifles, in upholding the ban, the Court of Appeal for Massachusetts stated conclusively that assault weapons :

“fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment and may be banned”.

These cases show that the Second Amendment does not protect an unfettered right by anyone to own whatever gun they please. Instead, courts have recognised that it protects only a limited right to keep a weapon in the home for self-defence, and far from prohibiting the state from taking any action on gun reform, regulating the commercial sale of arms and prohibiting assault-style weapons has been held to be perfectly in accordance with the Second Amendment.

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“Hammers and plastic bags can be used to kill people, if we ban guns are we going to ban these too?”

In order to understand why this oft-cited argument is problematic, we have to look at two factors namely, the purpose an object was created for, and the consequences of its incorrect usage.

Hammers and plastic bags were both created for what we may describe as non-harmful purposes; hammers were created as tools of construction and plastic bags to carry consumer goods.  Granted, it is clear that if used for a purpose they were not created for, both objects can cause a degree of harm; a hammer, for example, can be used to hit someone over the head with, and a plastic bag for suffocation. Whilst this is possible and harm can be caused with almost any everyday object, this is plainly not the purpose these objects were designed for. Further, even if they were to be misused, the harm they can cause is relatively limited – a hammer could be used to hurt or seriously injure someone but the chances of someone with a hammer killing large numbers of people without being resisted or apprehended are extremely low. Likewise, a misused plastic bag could cause injury but the potential for harm and the likely scope of this harm is extremely limited.

Firearms, particularly the semi-automatic and automatic types frequently used in mass-shootings, are entirely unlike these everyday objects. These weapons have their origins in warfare and the purpose of their creation was to kill and/or maim as many enemy combatants as possible, as quickly as possible. Not only therefore, very unlike hammers and plastic bags, do they have an incredibly harmful purpose, but the potential harm that can be caused from their misuse i.e. not being used on enemies in warzones, is immeasurable. When unleashed on innocent civilians, these weapons can kill tens, even hundreds of people in seconds and, as past attacks have demonstrated, the nature of these weapons makes the attackers almost impossible to apprehend unless they voluntarily desist in their carnage.

With this in mind, it is therefore clear why, although it is true that hammers and plastic bags can be used to hurt or even kill people, the purpose for which they were created and the scale of harm that could result from their misuse, means that it is justifiable for us to take a different approach to their regulation as compared with assault-style weapons.

“Mass shootings always occur in gun-free zones, we, therefore, need fewer gun-free-zones to prevent this.”

One of the most widely perpetuated assertions is that mass shootings occur almost exclusively in gun-free-zones. Supporters of this argument point to the shootings in elementary schools and concerts and make the argument that if only people were allowed to carry arms everywhere they went, then these tragic events would have likely been avoided.

The first problem with this position is that it is simply not true that mass-shootings occur only in gun free zones, or even that they occur mostly in gun-free-zones. In a study of mass-shootings between 2009 – 2015 it was found that only 13% took place in areas where the carrying of firearms was prohibited. The vast majority of mass shootings catalogued actually took place in private homes (70%) with the rest Related imagetaking place in public areas where the carrying of firearms is permitted. Just a brief look at the history of mass shootings show that they have and can occur everywhere, from heavily guarded army and naval barracks to little children’s schools and there has been no, conclusively proven, link between a prohibition on guns in a given space and the likelihood of a mass-shooting occurring there. Even if we were to accept, for argument’s sake, that mass-shootings do mostly occur in gun-free-zones, would more guns really be the answer? Several studies have pointed to the fact that when confronted with a mass-shooting, humans are more likely to freeze from fear and panic than to shoot back. The fact that this response is more likely than any other is supported by the lack of cases where an individual carrying out a mass shooting has been apprehended by another individual in the vicinity with a gun. With this in mind, it seems strange to say that more guns is a sensible response to the problem.

There is also a moral argument to be made. At what point is the militarisation of public spaces simply unacceptable in a developed society? It has already been suggested that teachers should be armed in schools – if this happens and there is yet another mass shooting, will the answer then be to arm the children? Where does it stop until there is no longer an inch of space where someone is not armed? Whilst it is clear that those making enormous profits from the sale and manufacture of arms have no limits to what they deem acceptable, surely society must preserve some space where weapons of death are not permitted.

Common objections to meaningful gun reform do not stand up to careful scrutiny. Whilst these arguments are deployed with great frequency and certainty by certain people after mass-shootings, this article has demonstrated that there is both weak logical and evidential basis to support them. It is hoped that those discussing gun reform, particularly those within media circles, will engage more readily with anti-gun reform arguments in order to identify and highlight their flaws. This will make it increasingly difficult for them to be deployed as template responses in the aftermath of tragedies, which could have a decisive impact on a debate which has become very much stagnated.

 

 

 

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One comment

  1. Stu Chisholm

    Your arguments against flawed arguments have some flaws. Here’s how…

    In your opening paragraph, you speak of the problem of mass shootings, but then add, “…more states than ever adopting “right-to-carry” laws, which allow citizens to acquire a concealed-carry gun permit.” You DO realize that one has nothing to do with the other, right? As a group, those with legal permits commit the LEAST amount of crime. This includes police! Go down any list of mass shooters/killers. None have a legal CCW permit. In fact, it’s extremely rare that they have an NRA membership! Now on to the main course.

    First, you destroy your own assertion re: “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” by ADMITTING this to be the case! Guns facilitate nothing, any moreso than a truck facilitated mass murder in France. It was MISUSED; any “facilitating” was due to the KILLER. A better word might have been “enabled,” which a weapon certainly does, but again, weapons can be used for defense or offense. It’s the person HOLDING IT that determines this. Always.

    Further within your spinning argument, you also state:

    “…the number of accidental gun deaths is not low…”
    Actually, accidental shooting deaths recently hit record lows.

    “…assault-style weapons frequently used in mass-shootings having been designed to kill as many people as possible in a short space of time…”
    Absolute hogwash; they’re simply rifles, designed to do whatever its owner has in mind for a rifle to do. There’s nothing magical about the rifles smeared with the “assault weapon” tag. It does NOT refer to machine guns, which are already tightly regulated and illegal, for the most part. They’re no more deadly, accurate or dangerous than most hunting and sporting rifles that don’t look scary enough to have been slandered with the made-up, political term.

    “…calls to reform to gun laws…”
    How, exactly? What area does current gun law not cover? Weren’t dozens broken in Parkland? In Vegas? So what NEW law would suddenly make violent killers stop being violent killers? What “reform” would stop mass shootings without infringing on the rights of the innocent?

    Next, you regurgitate every faulty argument ever uttered re: the Second Amendment. You even POST it! Yet the second clause of the amendment clearly states: “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It does not say “some arms,” or “sporting arms,” or “those deemed legal by authorities.” After discussing a court decision, you conclude: “courts have recognised that it protects only a limited right to keep a weapon in the home for self-defence.” Again, read the Second Amendment. Do you see “in the home” anywhere?

    “…prohibiting assault-style weapons has been held to be perfectly in accordance with the Second Amendment.” Indeed, but whoever held that notion is, was and always WILL be WRONG; the DC ban existed for nearly three decades, and was UNCONSTITUTIONAL THE ENTIRE TIME. Let that sink in. Sometimes the courts are wrong. The DC ban was wrong. Smearing certain scary looking guns as “assault style weapons” and prohibiting them is ALSO wrong, full stop. (And as I state above, it begs the question: what, exactly, constitutes an “assault style” weapon?

    Your next argument deals with comparison arguments to other dangerous items being restricted. You state that we need to consider “the purpose an object was created for, and the consequences of its incorrect usage.” While I have no argument to the last half of that sentence (we no longer allow “Jarts”/lawn darts to be sold in the wake of numerous injuries), you cannot broadly infer purpose when it comes to arms. Hammers and axes WERE originally battlefield implements. (Study Viking history.) Yet over time, we repurposed them. Clubs were weapons of war at one time. Today, they’ve been repurposed to recreational use (baseball/cricket). ALL still remain deadly if misused. Similarly, by the number of rounds fired annually, wars aside, ALL firearms are used mainly for recreation. This is empirically demonstrable; rounds fired in sporting events, recreational target practice and hunting VASTLY outnumber those fired during assaults, homicides or suicides. We could, therefore, classify ANY homicide or mass shooting as “misuse” of a firearm.

    “Firearms, particularly the semi-automatic and automatic types frequently used in mass-shootings, are entirely unlike these everyday objects.” How so? Like the above objects mentioned, they ARE weapons, so they ARE dangerous. (As are band saws, nail guns, concussion drills, etc.) But you err in the fact that nearly NO “MASS SHOOTINGS” have involved a fully automatic firearm to date in the U.S. The ONLY one I can find was a bank robbery where two illegally modified AK rifles were used. Otherwise, ALL recent shootings since the University of Texas in 1966 involved semi-auto or other types of non-automatic firearms.

    “These weapons have their origins in warfare, and the purpose of their creation was to kill and/or maim as many enemy combatants as possible, as quickly as possible.” Incorrect. Rifles have their genesis in hunting, as does the spear, bow and arrow and sword. Humans aren’t fast, nor do they have fangs or claws. In order to feed ourselves, our ancestors looked to the tools they could create in order to feed themselves. It turns out, however, that the tools most handy to take down large game is also great in warfare. What kills a bear can also kill a human. But this argument is used to demonize all firearms. It it were true, then why would we allow even police to have them? Are we fine with the idea that police can have the power to kill as many people as possible quickly? No, that’s not why they have them. It’s not why ANYONE has them. Guns (pistols and rifles) have SIGHTS. They are NOT WMD; they are designed to engage ONE TARGET AT A TIME. If you want to kill as many “enemy combatants” as quickly as possible, bombs and grenades are MUCH better. This is why terrorists use them so much more often than they use guns. The attacks on 9/11 involved ZERO guns.

    “…but the potential harm that can be caused from their misuse…is immeasurable.” This is EXACTLY the point with hammers! Or cars! And how much MORE horrible is it when something NOT designed to harm, nor considered dangerous, ends up being MORE lethal than guns? Cars, for instance, kill more people each year. Your chances of dying in a car far exceeds your chances of being shot and killed. More children die of drowning in swimming pools and bath tubs than gunfire. I lost a good friend to a killer wielding a crowbar. Face it: this IS a “people problem,” NOT a gun problem.

    You go off into science-fiction when you then state: “When unleashed on innocent civilians, these weapons can kill tens, even hundreds of people in seconds and, as past attacks have demonstrated, the nature of these weapons makes the attackers almost impossible to apprehend unless they voluntarily desist in their carnage.” During the Las Vegas shooting, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, the killer fired around 1,100 rounds. 58 people were killed, 851 were injured. It took place over a ten-minute period. So, yes, “tens” of people killed would be accurate. NOT “hundreds.” (In fact, eight out of ten people who have been shot survived the experience.) And it took MINUTES, not SECONDS. Most mass shootings are far less lethal. Also, a cursory look at how most mass shootings end, it is, most often, when the shooter finally meets armed resistance. At that time, he is either killed or takes his own life. This gives validity to the often maligned saying that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

    RE: “gun-free” zones, the FACTS show that the majority (88%) of all the high-profile “spree killings” took place in a so-called “gun-free zone.” You state: “The vast majority of mass shootings catalogued actually took place in private homes (70%).” This is POLITRICKS; the definition of “mass shooting” was changed, lowered to any incident where four or more people are shot. Naturally, any domestic squabble or bad drug deal where guns are present can now become a “mass shooting.” What those who seek HEADLINES look for are unprotected victim pools; schools, theaters, concert venues and anywhere else that prohibits legal carry. Columbine, Sandy Hook, the Colorado theater, Parkland, Virginia Tech…ALL were “gun-free zones.” Ironically, in the wake of Virginia Tech it was learned that many adult students and faculty had valid CCW permits, and state law allowed carry on college campuses, but SCHOOL POLICY prohibited it. This put them in the position of disarmed helplessness.

    “…when confronted with a mass-shooting, humans are more likely to freeze from fear and panic than to shoot back. The fact that this response is more likely than any other is supported by the lack of cases where an individual carrying out a mass shooting has been apprehended by another individual in the vicinity with a gun.” Logical fallacy: the parochial argument, i.e. “I never heard of such a thing.” Yet even a cursory Google search yields hundreds of stories of attacks stopped by armed citizens, including mass shootings. Of course, such accounts ARE rare by their nature! After all, who reports on a crime that didn’t happen? Other studies show that the vast majority of defensive gun use involves no shots being fired, but the encounter ending with the would-be victim displaying a gun.

    “At what point is the militarisation of public spaces simply unacceptable in a developed society?” You imply that WE have a “developed society”! What we’re talking about is basic human nature. Any and every population of human beings has, within it, a certain percentage of sociopaths, some of them dangerous. This is simply a fact, and HAS been since there have been human beings. Until this changes, then the innocent need to take reasonable, sensible precautions. We applaud such precaution when preparing for, say, a house fire, but are called “paranoid” when buying and training with a firearm. The FACT is that you’re more likely to die at the hands of an assailant than to die in a structural house fire. The statistics don’t lie.

    “…surely society must preserve some space where weapons of death are not permitted.” Why? ‘Cause Jesus?
    If the simple presence of a firearm seems offensive to you, then let’s instead refer to them as “defensive weapons.” Such weapons will never be a concern unless someone tries to kill someone else. Wherever humans exist, this is ALWAYS a possibility. History also doesn’t lie.

    “Common objections to meaningful gun reform do not stand up to careful scrutiny.” The flaw in this sentence is that “meaningful gun reform” is never defined. WHAT reforms are you talking about? What makes one “meaningful” and another not? MOST so-called “gun control” amounts to little more than political theater. For instance, the ban on “bump stocks” amounts to this, since they were used in ONE mass shooting — ONE — and it arguably made NO difference in how many were killed or injured. In fact, gun enthusiasts consider them a novelty, at best, and eschew them as they make sighted (accurate) fire nearly impossible. Waiting periods SOUND like a good idea… that is, until you consider that the average age of a recovered “crime gun” is six-years-old from purchase to crime. You could give me a list of all the usual “gun control” reforms brought up time and again and I could show you where they’ve been tried before and why they failed. Most have. Of the very FEW that remain, some have been the victim of POLITRICKS. Background checks is one of them.

    When first implemented, the NICS (National Instant Check System) reportedly denied over 200,000 prohibited people from buying guns through legal channels! Even though nearly 80% turned out to be false-positives, eventually being cleared, that STILL means that thousands of convicted felons and dangerously mentally ill people were denied. This is a success in anyone’s book! Further, it’s instant, so even us 2nd Amendment fans cannot gripe about “infringement.” At worst it’s an inconvenience; false positives are quickly cleared, usually in minutes, but all within three business days by law. To save lives, most of the more reasonable gun fans find this compromise reasonable. But not all gun sales require a check, which some see as a “loophole.” While ALL licensed dealers MUST do a check, by law, even at gun shows (where they make up the majority of sellers), what we’re really talking about is PRIVATE SALES; guns legally owned by individuals who then want to sell them to other individuals. This is where it gets political…

    Gun prohibitionists want to stop as many gun sales as possible. To this end, they INSIST that all sales be done by a licensed dealer, because private citizens cannot access NICS. Of course, dealers see this as a burden, as such a sale TAKES AWAY a sale by them! Further, they must shuffle the paperwork to facilitate said sale. This could take up considerable time, and so they rightfully would impose a hefty FEE to conduct a transaction. Gun prohibitionists want this, as it can price out the poorest among gun buyers (who are often those needing protection the most)!

    On the gun RIGHTS side, we simply would like to see NICS put online, just like any sex offender registry, and allow ANY citizens with guns for sale to run their own checks free of charge! This way, ALL sales could be checked anywhere there’s cell, phone or internet service. In short, nearly anywhere on the planet. The only thing it would take would be to beef-up NICS in order to handle the traffic. Naturally, groups like Sarah Brady’s and “Everytown” oppose this, as it wouldn’t stop any sales.

    There are other effective reforms that could be made, but most focus on the shooters rather than the guns, and for good reason: short of an outright ban, guns are already tightly regulated despite what you’ve been told. There are tens of thousands of state and federal laws on the books covering every aspect of firearms, from design, manufacture, distribution, advertisement, sales, use, carry and on and on, right on up to final disposal. So again, we rightfully must question exactly what anyone considers “meaningful gun reform.” Keeping guns out of the hands of the innocent makes nobody safer.

    Thank you for your eyeball time and fair consideration!

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