Some questions can never truly be settled. The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the Star Wars movies. But some people prefer Return of the Jedi. As this is a question of taste, there will never be a final answer (although I think we can all agree that, objectively speaking, The Phantom Menace sucks). Similarly, no religion can ever be “proven” to be the correct answer to life’s spiritual questions. Such questions rest on faith. There’s no way to draw an objective conclusion. But on matters of public policy people can and should be able to negotiate in good faith and draw conclusions based on evidence . . .
I love evidence. As a skeptic what I want on any issue is for someone to convince me. Like all people, I approach any question with my own biases and assumptions. But if someone can give me reliable evidence that contradicts my beliefs I’m willing to modify or even abandon my opinions to make them fit reality. That’s the only reasonable choice.
I joined the NRA when I was 12 and ever since then I can honestly say that no proponent of gun control has ever spoken to me. They have only spoken at me (often to tell me how little I care about dead children). I’d like to change that. In the interest of honest, reasonable debate I’d like to ask some questions of people who are in favor of stricter gun laws. I’d love for anyone on the other side of the divide to offer some answers, offer me some evidence or point out if any of my premises are flawed.
For the sake of this argument, I’m going to avoid Constitutional issues. I’d like to examine gun control strictly from the perspective of someone interested in the pragmatic public good. Right. Q&A time . . .
The first premise for more gun control: it’s too easy for too many people to buy guns. Legal gun sales are currently prohibited for minors, the mentally ill, felons and those guilty of certain misdemeanors.
- Whom would you add to that list?
- Why would you add them?
- What public good is served by adding them?
- How will your law succeed in keeping guns out of prohibited hands where others have failed?
The second premise: we should be keeping guns out of the hands of felons. Agreed. Keeping weapons away from felons is an obvious public good. However… it is already illegal for felons to own guns. So . . .
- On what do you base the belief that the next law we pass will be the one the felons obey?
- Do you take into account the various nations with absolute gun prohibitions that are nonetheless awash in armed criminals? Why do you think that the experience here would be different if we further restricted guns?
- How do you account for the fact that across America, without exception, areas with stricter gun control have more violent crime?
Related to the second premise: some types of guns are suitable only for crime and should be banned. These are generally referred to as “assault weapons”.
- What features make a gun particularly desirable for criminals but not for citizens?
- Are you aware that these so-called “assault weapons” are functionally identical to so-called “sporting arms”? Are you aware that such rifles are used in crime extremely rarely?
- Knowing that would you still want to ban them? Why?
- If we banned these weapons and criminals did want them do you think that the same organizations that smuggle cocaine by the ton would be unable to smuggle weapons? If so, why do you think that?
The third premise: guns are designed to kill things, and as such their very presence promotes and encourages violence. It is this rationale that informs the idea of “gun free zones”.
- If that’s the case then why do all the high-profile mass shootings happen in “gun free zones”?
- If guns encourage violence shouldn’t schools be peaceful oases while gun shops, police precincts and military bases are knee-deep in blood on a daily basis? Do you make any inference from the fact that they aren’t?
- Are you expecting someone who intends murder to respect a sign that says “no guns allowed”? If not, why pass such laws?
- Is it because you distrust your fellow honest citizens? If so, why? Do you have a rational basis for your distrust or is it an emotional reaction? If it’s emotional, should we really be making laws based on emotion?
Fourth premise: guns are inherently dangerous and fewer guns means a safer society. But for decades now gun ownership has been increasing while negligent discharges and criminal activity have decreased.
- Does that matter to you? If not, why not?
- If your answer is “one death is too many” then are you also advocating that we ban other non-essential items and activities that “cause” accidental deaths? Swimming pools, trampolines, fireplaces, and all kinds of sports are involved in many injuries and deaths every year, often with children as victims. Does the “one death is too many” logic apply to them? If not, why not?
All of the above can really be summed up in these four questions:
- What public good is your new gun control law intended to accomplish?
- Is it the same good some prior law was supposed to accomplish?
- Why do you think your new law will succeed where hundreds, if not thousands, have failed before?
- If you have no reason to think it will accomplish anything, then why do you want to pass it?
As I said in the beginning, I’m a skeptic. But I want to be convinced. If you have plausible, provable answers to my questions I’m willing to change my opinion. On the other hand, if you can’t answer my questions, maybe you should think about changing yours.