By Chase J.
As an “out” gun guy living in the Seattle area, it would be fair to say that I argue gun control a lot, online and off, and I’d like to say a few things about what I’ve learned over the years about more and less successful ways of approaching the subject. I’ve seen a lot of bad anti gun arguments, but I’ve also seen a lot of bad pro gun arguments, and it’s the latter that I’m going to be talking about here. I’m going to say right off the bat that these are my opinions, and that my debating tactics are specifically geared towards small, interpersonal arguments rather than cross net take downs, where fisking and liberal citations of contradicting data are the more appropriate tools. YMMV, etc. First off, forget the 2nd Amendment . . .
It’s not going to help you here. You can argue over the commas and the grammar of the time, the meaning of the phrase “the People” in other areas of the Constitution, etc. till you’re blue in the face to no avail. As an argument, it amounts to an appeal to authority, and will be dismissed out of hand by any experienced debater.
Next, ditch the slogans, or anything remotely reeking of being a canned sound bite. I’m just as sick of hearing about only outlaws having guns and people killing people as I am of hearing about “assault weapons” or “intermediate caliber sniper rifles” or whatever new word the VPC has tortured into existence. They’re not effective and make you look like a shill.
Finally, ditch the attitude. Smug condescension isn’t a good look for anyone, whether you agree with them or not. It also has a way of making enemies out of potential friends, and hardening the positions of people who might have gone either way until someone started acting like a jerk to them.
So, what should you do? Shift the burden, pin down motive, and use the verbal judo flip. Allow me to explain.
Shifting the burden is an expression I coined after I grew tired of gun debates where I was always the one digging up supporting data, meticulously dissecting misleading poll questions, explaining the bad methodology behind quoted studies, and generally putting lot of work into the debate, only to have it all dismissed in the end anyway. My technique is now not to attack gun control proposals directly with evidence of why they won’t work or will be abused, but instead to ask the person proposing them to defend the ideas specifically, with evidence of them being effective.
With one move, I’ve now shifted the burden of proof onto the person trying to curtail my rights, and put myself in a much better position to question them when they inevitably come up short on the supporting data. They want to ban all guns, and hold up England and Japan as examples; I ask “what were their crime rates like before the bans?” They want to get hysterical about “cop killer bullets”? I simply ask “how many people have been murdered with “cop killer bullets”? Gun registry? “How well did that work out for Canada?”.
Even better, by forcing them to confront the data directly or discontinue the argument, I have a much better chance of causing them to actually change their mind, as the information was uncovered by them and not thrown in their face by a “gun nut”.
The judo flip is a technique that involves coming at the ant-gun person from a direction in which they think they’re strong, getting them to commit to a position (pinning them down), and then using their own position to hurl them over a logical cliff (the flip). There are many ways to do this. I’m a libertarian, so mine tends to lean in that direction, but is still a good template.
What I’ll do is get an anti-gun person to commit to the idea that their ideology is rooted in the idea of saving lives, and then I’ll point to a much simpler and less intrusive policy that would save many more lives, and ask why they’re not doing that instead of trying to take my guns. Ending the drug war is my go-to policy here, as many liberals in particular have a hard time countering that argument, and it’s a good idea regardless of how one feels about guns.
If they say “why not do both?”, I’ll point out that people wanting to kill each other is a societal problem, not a gun problem, and that if you fixed the social issues gun control would become irrelevant, leaving irrational fear of firearms as their only motive. I also have the DGU numbers, the plummeting crime rate and skyrocketing CCW rate, and other supporting data up my sleeve, but that kind of stuff inevitably leads to endless rounds of “whack-a-source”, so I prefer to use a more free form style whenever possible.
See how hard that is for the average anti gun person to argue with? I’m using their own language and ideology against them, and giving them the choice of contradicting core tenets of their belief system, or admitting the irrationality of their stance on guns.