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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.

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  1. Sorry, forget trying to reason with people who approach this only from an emotional standpoint. “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts!”

    The bottom line in this debate must ALWAYS be that the right to self defense is a natural and personal right NOT a right given to us by the government. It is enshrined in the Second Amendment to the constitution and says specifically: “…shall not be infringed.” That is an admonition by the framers that the Federal government has no say over our right to bear arms and emotional or democratic arguments hold no sway. If a person cannot understand this no amount of debate gymnastics is going to convince them to change their stance.

  2. I appreciate the sentiment, seriously. Unfortunately, I’ve come to believe that trying o talk sense to people (who aren’t interested in sense) is like bringing a PopTart to a gunfight. You are simply overlooking the well-practiced capacity for anti-gunners to simply change the subject, ignore the facts, or otherwise engage in committed acts of cognitive dissonance.

    To whit:

    Crime rates in England/Canada/Japan: “Doesn’t matter. GUN crime is down, so gun control works!”

    Cop killer bullets not used in crime: “Doesn’t matter. Why would anyone want something designed to kill cops?”

    Gun registry failure in Canada: “Doesn’t matter. We have unique problems with gun crimes here in the US because we have so many more guns. We need to know who has them so we can help Law Enforcement catch criminals. Who could be against catching more criminals?

    It’s not “hard” at all for an anti-gunner to argue with any of the approaches you’ve outlined. The reason is that they do not so much “argue” as utter a collective set of “nuh-uhhhhhs” devoid of reference to reality. They honestly do not even care if any of the above positions are at odds with fact, logic or morality … they FEEEEEEL differently about guns, and will leap to an construction of fantasy they FEEEEL supports them.

    • Certainly many are like that, but some can be convinced, especially with the addition of a range trip.

      Besides, what other choice do we have? Withdraw from debate and hope more become pro 2a?

      • I don’t pretend to have perfect answers, but I do suggest that we have to be very ruthless and flexible with our arguments.

        I am known to start conversation with anti-gunners with “You do not care at all about dead children, at least not enough to do anything sensible about it.” That’s in a soft voice, almost as about to cry at the thought of their callous cruelty.

        That is usually answered with “How can you say that?” … and that’s an opening if you can exploit it properly.

        The art employed should not be one of asking easily answered questions, but of getting your opponent to internalize the meaning of questions you can easily (and factually, truthfully, accurately, compassionately) answer.

  3. The biggest problem is that there are sooooo many myths and lies about guns out there. Add to that the fact that the antigun crowd has controlled the conversation to date, so you end up with made up meaningless terms like “gun crime” and “gun violence” that the sheep simply accept becuase they’re too wrapped up in their own lives to care. It’s from a “trusted source” in the minds of most people, so why question it?

    That being said, I applaud your stance, and I’ve done similar things. I always ask them to explain to me how the newest law is going to help where the other 10 covering the same thing did not.

  4. What’s VDC?

    “Shifting the burden” is an expression the author coined? I didn’t realize the origin of the phrase, used all these years, was originated by the author.

    I appreciate the effort, but the submission isn’t ideal. However, gun violence isn’t simply a product of drug crime/culture. Frankly, it doesn’t amount to a large portion either. Gun violence stems from crime. Crime stems from financial and morality issues. People commit crimes from needs and wants. There are pathological reasons, where people do crime because they can. Legalization isn’t a “magic bullet” that will fix everything.

    In the end, the 2nd Amendment and the protections from fellow man (crime and tyranny) is the only argument. Outside of that, the challenge is between an anti-gun person or an anti-2A person. There are nuance differences between the two. I’ve convinced the latter to appreciate and understand the 2A, even if they won’t like or own a gun. The purely anti-gun can’t be swayed or convinced, no matter what verbal judo you do (you see what I did there?). What it does take, and the portion I agree with, is sound logical arguments without resorting to name calling or offending. You have to get them to think about their side, instead of parroting.

  5. An excellent write-up, and it follows almost exactly the line of reasoning I use. This doesn’t work all that well when preaching to the crowd, but when debating the subject one-on-one, or at least in a small group, and with reasonable and rational people, it is often very successful.

  6. Like the article. Very good advise. Some people do come from a strictly emotional viewpoint. Some just have the inability to take any/all differing views without getting hyped up. Immature adults are a fact of life. Those are the one who have no clue about Constitution, Bill of Rights, Since my grandkids all go to private schools, have no idea if it’s even taught in public schools. Have never attended public school myself.
    Right to self defense rarely if ever enters their brain. They don’t give a rat’s rear end about your right to self dense, not their problem, nothing bad is ever going to happen to them, of course until it does. Then you might be able to have a conversation with them. We are becoming a nation of perpetual children who will never grow up.

  7. In your plan to accept drugs I assume you will be moving to the Hilltop area of Tacoma (or where ever the current drug scum hang out this millenia).

  8. This is an EXCELLENT post. I feel like those of us who are pro RKBA who often end up in a debate with an anti rights person end up thinking that just because we know way more about the subject, and we do, that it’s our job to prove that the right exists.

    Chase’s strategy seems a lot more like the way I would approach any other debate on a natual inalienable human right. If I were making an argument for equal rights for women I wouldn’t try to find statistics that show why women deserve equal rights, I’d put it on the other person to make a fool of themselves trying to convince me that women don’t deserve the same and it’d be over right there. Even if the opposing arguer didn’t get there mind changed everyone else in the vicinity would.

    I really REALLY like this post.

  9. “First off, forget the 2nd Amendment . . .”

    Sorry, Comrade Zimmerman, but that’s precisely what all the whoopla is ABOUT!

    • Posted on June 28, 2013 by Dan Zimmerman

      By Chase J.

      It wasn’t written by Mr. Zimmerman, but it was written by Chase J. as a contest entry.

      I think the reference to forgetting the 2nd is geared more towards: If you use the 2nd in your arguments, there will be those who will take on the position that you are being a selfish little _%(%( about the whole thing, and ruin any chances of converting them.

  10. Ending the drug war would be the best thing to happen for pro-gun forces since Heller/McDonald. All that inner city crime, that’s related to the black market in drugs, will be gone overnight. Inner city people will not see that constant violence and will be far less likely to support disarmament. We’ve all heard the stats that if you removed Chicago, DC, Detroit from the country that we’d have the 4th lowest homicide rate in the world, so if we can do anything to lower those drug-war related homicides, thus bringing our homicide numbers to average or lower numbers for developed countries, we’d take away the anti’s argument entirely. End the drug war and you’ll see whatever is left of the anti’s arguments evaporate into thin air.

    • This is an interesting claim (removing the three cities you mentioned). I’m not doubting you, but do you have a link to data supporting this claim, or can you link me to an article or research? I’m hoping to add ths little fact to my quiver.

      • There is no existing data because it hasn’t been tried before.

        But everyplace that drugs have been legalized, there has _NOT_ been an ensuing increase in their use (other than possibly a brief blip), much to the chagrin of the bloodthirsty drug warmongers.

        But the two main reasons to end the insane war on drugs are that it’s costing trillions of dollars and accomplishing nothing but death and destruction, and, most importantly, there is no Constitutional Authorization to do violence to persons who have done no harm to any other person.

        • Put the bong down. Wink. This quote:

          “We’ve all heard the stats that if you removed Chicago, DC, Detroit from the country that we’d have the 4th lowest homicide rate in the world.”

          Where’d it come from? I like it, but I want to know how/where to back it up.

        • FBI UCR 2011,
          Table 6
          District of Columbia murders 233
          Detroit 370
          Chicago 609
          Table 1
          National 14,612

          233+270+609= 1112
          1112/14612 = 0.0761018341 = 7.6%

          It would be fair to say 7.6% of US murders occur in those three areas.

          National murder and non-negligent homicide 4.7/100,000 (table 1). Minus 7.6% = 4.3851.

          Which using the UN data ( just about moves us up one. Of course, the UN data depends on countries accurately reporting murder, which they don’t.

        • Got a link to something supporting the ‘everyplace’ claim?

          Are you claiming that alcohol consumption didn’t go up when Prohibition was repealed?

  11. If that area of argument works for the author, that is fine. My argument comes from a much different approach. I get the anti to acknowledge that firearms kill. I then ask that individual what a firearm is made from. Once I have established in that persons mind they are made of non-organic material, I then ask how if they are non-organic, that is they do not have the ability to grow, to develop a nervous system, etc., then how is it they have the ability to kill?

    At this point, the anti must explain it takes a person to load and fire. Once that is made clear, that a firearm is incapable of loading and firing itself, then their argument of “…guns…” killing people becomes moot. As they have already stated that a person must load, aim, and fire the pistol, revolver, rifle, or shotgun.
    This argument as I have said works for me. I do not expect it to work for some else as it must be carried out in a logical sequence, which others may not be able to employ.
    Yelling and screaming at these morons does no good. They don’t care about your rights. They don’t care about the Constitution. What they do care about is making themselves look good. Once they look foolish, and sound foolish, YOU have won the argument.

  12. Reasoning with a democrat/progressive is like going to the bathroom in a hurricane and not getting wet, not going to happen. BUT, planting a seed of doubt by questioning them as the author proposes is a good start. Taking them to an OUTDOOR gun range is a better idea, if they will go.

  13. I have been around guns my entire life, so I have never been anti-gun, but I will admit that I have never been too big a fan of CCW. It is a pragmatic thing, not an ideological issue for me. I spent quite some time working in bars and restaurants as a bouncer, a manager, and a bartender, and as I spent too much time diffusing situations where angry patrons wanted to beat on each other, on me, or on my staff, I just never thought that it would be a good idea to add firearms into the mix. I know that most all people of the gun would not put themselves into that situation, but I do know enough idiots who would not consider the ramifications and the responsibilities that come with carrying a gun.

    That said, I have changed my mind about CCW by coming to a simple realization, a realization that can be used as an effective argument: there are literally hundreds of millions of guns in the US. It will not have any influence on criminals’ behavior if there are anti-gun laws in place, and because of the huge number of guns out there, criminals will have a never ending supply of weapons with which to do people harm–both other criminals and innocent victims. CCW simple allows those who want to have the opportunity to defend themselves to do so. Some people choose what vehicles to buy by their safety ratings and the number of airbags they have, even though the risk of serious injury or death is minuscule for any particular driver. All a CCW gun owner wants is the opportunity to have the chance to carry his or her airbag. The chances are remote that the weapon will ever be used, just like airbags, but some people want that peace of mind.

    I do not think that getting into a debate about the 2nd is a good strategy, for there are a good number of lawyers, scholars, and lay-people who do not see the right as absolute. It is not unreasonable to emphasize the introductory clause in the amendment, so just avoid that argument altogether. Stick with a pragmatic, logical argument. 100,000,000 guns are not going to disappear.

  14. I can’t say as I’ve “won” an argument with this, but I have stopped some arguments in their tracks and made them think by admitting I don’t understand gun control and want to make sure we’re having the same conversation and that I’m not making assumptions about their position or using straw men. So, I ask them to define what we’re talking about from their point of view with four points.

    A. What is the problem you seek to address?
    B. What is the goal? What is the measure of “success”?
    C. What is your proposed solution? How do you think we should bet from A to B? (I expect it to be “gun control” but a lot of things are gun control and I’m trying to keep my assumptions out of it)
    D. How is your proposed soultion expected to work? What is the mechanism that gets us from A to B due to C? Please detail all logical chains and cite to any sources for authority or data, preferably public sources we can all access and make sure we’re looking at the same data.

    Haven’t had one finish that yet.

  15. Crime would go away if we made drugs legal? Wasn’t a similar argument made in favor of ending Prohibition?

    Under this proposal would all prescription and recreational drugs be legal for everyone? No prescription requirements anymore?

    Would drugs be legal for minors? Would sale of drugs to minors be legal?

    • Which is pretty much what I hear from anti-gunners:

      Crime would go away if we made drugs guns legal? Wasn’t a similar argument made in favor of ending Prohibition?

      Under this proposal would all prescription and recreational drugs guns be legal for everyone? No prescription license requirements anymore?

      Would drugs guns be legal for minors? Would sale of drugs guns to minors be legal?

      It’s useful if they’re not consistent (anti-voter ID but pro gun ID, anti-gun but pro drug are favorites)

  16. “Shift the Burden” is a good idea… why must those of us who support the 2A produce all the evidence?

    Chicago and Washington DC have some of the strictest gun control laws in the country yet the worst violence – almost every anti-gun person I’ve had a discussion with still has problems countering that one.

    Good article, Chase. Glad to see a fellow Seattleite here on TTAG.

  17. This is a timely and well-written article, thank you. If you simply present you facts, however truthful, your ‘opponent’ will always have an inbuilt psycological resistance to them, to varying degrees. However if you help them ‘discover’ the facts, they can excuse their wrongness with the fact that the changed their mind themselves.

  18. I will quibble with one statement. Don’t “…forget the 2nd Amendment.” I agree that the text of the 2nd Amendment is a risky subject to discuss. Instead argue for the right behind it without mentioning the 2nd Amendment. Argue for the right of a 90lb woman to be the equal of a 250lb man who wants to rape or rob her. Argue for the right of an old man or woman to be secure in their home from the two men who see their house as an easy target.

    The correct part of the post (most of the post) is to identify the argument that is compelling to the person you’re talking to and focus on that argument first.

    I personally find the “end drug prohibition” argument to be a usefully limited argument. I like to use it as an alternative theory for the gun violence statistics that are trotted out about why we have to do something about gun violence in the US (I actually believe that the US national gun violence rates are largely due to urban drug violence). My suggestions to resolve it: improve mental health care and end the war on drugs. Leaving it vague about what “ending the war on drugs” means allows the person on the other end of the discussion to decide to demilitarize the war on drugs to fully ending prohibition.

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