By Ryan Le
A common recurring logical fallacy I’ve noticed in online comment threads and public rhetoric used by anti-gunners is the argument from authority. The line of thinking behind this fallacy is as follows:
- Person A is (claims to be) an authority on subject S.
- Person A makes claim C about subject S.
- Therefore, C is true.
Gun control advocates often employ this tactic when they attempt to buy credibility in the eyes of other readers and commenters for themselves and their position by claiming to be gun owners or having experience with firearms. The most profuse example of this fallacy in action is claiming they or a family member is or was in the military or law enforcement.
“I grew up around guns all my life, and my dad was a SEAL-Delta-Marine-SWAT-commando. So I understand that no civilian who isn’t part of the police or military needs these dangerous assault weapons that belong on the battlefield, not the streets.”
“I own guns and believe in the 2nd Amendment. But the NRA doesn’t represent me and sensible gun owners, and they are bullying our politicians into blocking the common-sense laws that we desperately need in this country.”
“I’m a good shot with bolt-action hunting rifles and double-barred shotguns. No one needs an AR-15 with 30 round magazine clips to defend themselves.”
Of course, it’s not hard to test the veracity of the “expert” status these self-appointed firearms authorities. Just ask them a couple of questions pertaining to the guns they supposedly own, or their alleged service as an armed member of the military. More often than not, these wise idiots are simply lying about their bona fides. And now, if they falsely claim to be a vet, they’ll be considered violators of the Stolen Valor Act.
Once you’ve confirmed that they aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, fact-check and scrutinize their claims. You’ll probably find that the claims are either subjective, unverifiable or just plain inconsistent with reality. From that point on, you’re done. They have no leg left to stand on.
But, let’s play devil’s advocate – what if these anti-gunners really are who they say they are and their claim to authority is validated?
As it turns out, claiming authority or expertise on a subject is a double-edged sword. While doing so may lend you some credibility to the less-informed members of your audience, it also holds you to a certain standard of knowledge that you are expected to be consistent with. Simply saying that you’re informed or an expert on a topic does not, in any way shape or form, make the burden of proof for your claim go away – it only strengthens it.
The moment you put forth a claim that’s inconsistent with what’s demonstrated and observed in reality, not only is your claim intellectually indefensible, but you have also failed to meet the expected standard of knowledge set for experts in your field. Both your credibility and intellectual honesty are gone – even if you had the proper credentials to begin with. It’s like a Ph.D physicist claiming that gravitational theory is all wrong because an invisible fluffy pink unicorn the force causing masses to attract, assuming that people will believe him because he has the proper credentials – despite the vast majority of academia and mountains of research contradicting him.
Now let’s relate this to the subject of guns. If an anti-gun ex-soldier says civilians shouldn’t have “rapid-firing assault weapons” – and he would know because he allegedly shot them all the time in the military – he’d be shown to be ignorant on multiple levels.
1) The so-called “rapid fire assault weapons” that antis so fervently want to ban are strictly semi-automatics with virtually the same rate of fire as handguns.
2) Considering most standard-issue rifles in the U.S. military (and worldwide) have been select-fire for over half a century, the guns that this guy would allegedly have handled were substantially different than those he supports banning.
So not only have this “expert’s” claims been proven patently false, he failed to meet the standard of knowledge he set for himself, and his appeal to authority did him more harm than good. In the end, he had nothing more to run with than a “should” argument based on nothing more than subjective feelings.
Note that the explicit appeal to authority is different from the Dunning-Kruger effect, where the self-illusion of expertise in an area is often implicit. The false claims, ignorance and arrogance do not come pre-packaged with an alleged background to your name. Just because you stayed at a Holiday Inn last night doesn’t mean you can speak intelligently on firearms and their costs and benefits to society.
Anti-gunners who make the argument from authority often know they aren’t experts on the topic at hand and their opinion is little more than subjective blather. So instead, they claim to be experts because, what better way to mask their ignorance persuade the undecided?
It’s the reason why groups like Moms Demand Action and Coalition to Stop Gun Violence say they have the support of gun owners, military service members, veterans and law enforcement: not because their agenda is consistent with both reality and experience of men and women sworn to protect the Constitution with guns. The reason is simple: they want to appear credible in the eyes of the uninformed.
As a classic of the genre, there’s this “gun owner” in Michael Bloomberg’s ad for his gun control group – trying to give us the impression he’s just another responsible gun owner who favors gun control, all the while violating most of the four rules of gun safety. Mission accomplished.