John Sheirer: Debunking gun control arguments
NORTHAMPTON — Reactions to mass shootings in the United States have followed a depressing pattern in recent years. People were outraged by the Tucson and Aurora shootings, but gun advocates quickly managed to control the discussion, primarily through misinformation and faulty arguments.
But the Newtown shooting has been different. Outrage hasn’t given way to short attention spans but has focused the public on the obvious fact that our laws aren’t helping to prevent these tragedies. Americans are now strongly in favor of commonsense gun-safety reforms.
Unfortunately, a small minority of gun fetishists has a disproportionately loud voice in the current debate. These are well-paid lobbyists for the gun-manufacturing industry (Wayne LaPierre), media figures whose radicalism attracts far more attention than their talent (Ted Nugent, Alex Jones), or everyday folks who are far too influenced by lobbyists and media extremists.
Many of these everyday folks mean well. They don’t want to see government micromanaging private citizens, and they certainly don’t want to see people killed in mass shootings. Unfortunately, they accept and repeat wrong-headed views on gun-related issues.
Ignoring extremists should be our first choice, but, unfortunately, much of the media gun-safety discussion gets filtered through radical views. Responsible people have to meet this misinformation with clear, reality-based rebuttals.
So here goes — basic facts to answer extremist gun claims.
• “Talking about gun control disrespects the victims and politicizes the tragedy.” Not discussing gun-safety reforms politicizes the tragedy in favor of those who don’t want gun-safety reform.
• “Obama is coming for our guns.” During Obama’s first term, he actually expanded gun rights.
• “We need guns for self-protection.” The Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment grants citizens the right to own guns for protection. No one disputes this right. But it’s important to note that having a gun at home greatly increases the odds of people living in that home becoming victims of gun violence.
• “The Second Amendment says guns can’t be regulated.” The Supreme Court has ruled that the government has the right to regulate dangerous weapons.
• “The Second Amendment says that citizens should have guns to protect themselves from a tyrannical government.” No informed reading of the Second Amendment suggests an anti-tyranny purpose, which is only advanced by gun advocates to vent their frustrations with elections results or legal reforms they don’t like.
• “The previous assault weapons ban didn’t work.” Although the law had too many loopholes and wasn’t in place long enough to have full impact, there’s evidence it helped hold down the number of mass shootings while not depriving responsible gun owners.
• “Hardly anyone is killed with assault weapons.” Assault weapons are common in mass shootings, the worst crimes our society experiences. Would any reasonable person advise us not to worry because “only” 20 children were killed in Newtown?
• “Killers will find a way to kill people even if we ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.” Of course, these bans won’t stop mass shootings. But such bans make mass shootings more difficult, less devastating, and less frequent.
• “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” States with more gun ownership and laxer gun laws have a higher gun death rate than areas with lower gun ownership and tougher gun laws.
• “Cars kill more people than guns, and we don’t ban cars, so banning guns would be crazy.” No one is talking about banning guns — just regulating them because, like cars, guns are undeniably dangerous.
• “Criminals won’t obey gun laws anyway.” Criminals, by definition, don’t obey laws. But laws can reduce crime. Civilized society has laws even when they don’t prevent all crime.
• “Background checks are just a slippery-slope that leads to gun registration, which is a slippery-slope to gun confiscation.” The “slippery-slope” argument is an example of a classic logical fallacy that relies on a sloppy thinking rather than facts.
• “Violent video games and movies are the real problem, not guns.” Many countries consume violent video games movies yet still manage to have far less gun violence that the United States because those countries have stricter gun laws than we do.
• “Mental health is the real problem, not guns.” Improving access to mental health care is part of responsible gun-safety reforms, not a separate issue.
Of course, gun fetishists will dispute these points and dig up questionable sources friendly to their cause as “evidence.” But commonsense and the vast majority of reliable data contradict their extremist talking points and support gun-safety reform. As responsible citizens, we need to debunk the extremists and focus on reality-based discussions to make our country safer.
John Sheirer of Northampton writes a monthly column. (Sources for the information in this essay can be found at http://realamericanliberal.blogspot.com/2013/02/debunking-extremist-gun-arguments.html.)