As I write this, we are between mass shootings in the United States. I don’t mean mass shootings in the way that statisticians use the term — referring to four or more people injured or killed (besides the shooter) — because there has been literally no breathing room between gun incidents of that variety this year. I’m talking about mass shootings in the “demand widespread public attention” definition of the term. Shootings with simple, chilling designations: Kip Kinkel, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Pulse Nightclub, Vegas, San Bernadino, Isla Vista, Parkland. (These are out of order and off the top of my head.)
The fact that we are between mass shootings by its nature implies that public outcry for a remedy to gun violence is at a low. Though Parkland’s students have done a valiant job pushing their agenda forward and keeping people focused, this is the cycle we’re in. People fighting for social justice on a variety of fronts are always going to struggle going up against a singularly-focused organization like the NRA. Gun zealots use the calm between shootings to pass small-scale gun bills (like the silencer bill in Arizona); those fighting for gun control would be wise to do the same. Part of that means deepening their knowledge of the issues they’re up against.
You remember the end of 8 Mile when Eminem’s B-Rabbit predicts what everyone is gonna say to beat him? It’s a hell of an argument tactic and one well worth paying attention to if you’re fighting for reasonable gun control. To win the battle, you have to be ready to parry the other side’s attacks. You even have to be able to see some degree of logic to their thinking. Sure, you can act totally baffled that they believe what they believe and mock them to your private echo chamber, but… how’s that been working out over the past two decades?
If you really want gun control — and plan to be vocal about it — you need to understand these pro-gun arguments.
1. Mass shooters are statistical anomalies.
There have been 250 mass shootings (four or more shot, not including the shooter) so far in 2018. We don’t know how many people own guns in the US (it’s against the law!), but the rock-bottom estimate is 40.4 million. That’s less than a 0.0007% chance that one of America’s gun owners has been involved in a mass shooting this year. It’s statistically negligible. We’re talking lightning strike-level odds.
If you include all 36,378 gun incidents this year (in which a gun was discharged leading to injury or death), you’re still down at less than a 0.09% chance of any given gun owner being involved. You can play with these stats all you want, but what you’ll find is that when grouped in with gun owners as a whole, mass shooters are statistical anomalies. If that’s your sample size (total population of civilian gun owners), this sort of violence is indeed exceedingly rare.
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST — For a pro-gun advocate to act as if you are in contention with all gun ownership and thereby contrast statistics on shootings with a sample size of “all guns in circulation” or “all gun owners” is disingenuous. You’re not fighting those battles. Because — most likely — you don’t want all guns removed from circulation. You simply want tighter rules and regulations, more oversight and licensing, mental health evaluations for certain gun owners, and the restriction of specific weapons.
In these cases, there really is no way to parse statistics because we’ve never tried things any other way in America. So your argument against the “mass shooters are an anomaly” line is to say: “Right, but they are a preventable (or at-least semi-manageable) anomaly. Throughout history our government has always tried to prevent/ minimize the effect of disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfire), there is no reason we wouldn’t do it with mass shootings.”
Or, if the person you’re arguing with just won’t let go of statistics, “The U.S. has no useable statistics because things have always been this way — there’s no ‘experiment in progress.’ If you won’t allow us to compare gun statistics from literally any other country on earth, then let us try things another way for 10 years so we can have data to study.”
2. The Second Amendment protects gun owners. End of story.
Our nation is governed by a constitution. It is the framework of our democracy and the document that irrevocably separates us from monarchies, communist-states, and dictatorships. That constitution protects the right to bear arms. It is clear and unwavering in that point.
Yes, people have died and yes, that is a tragedy. But because those various tragedies are essentially anomalies (see above), they aren’t worth sacrificing the constitution for. This sacred document is the foundation of everything we do. To alter it in order to prevent an absolute statistical improbability is absurd.
Do we change the first amendment every time someone yells “fire” in a movie theater?
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST — We absolutely should not abolish the second amendment. It has a place in the constitution for a reason and belongs there. But the “‘fire’ in a movie theater” example reminds us that the Constitution itself (via further amendments, state laws, and the Supreme Court) is always being reinterpreted to reflect changing times.
When the document was written there were no AR-15s. Putting restrictions on gas-operated assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, and gun purchasing for those with a history of mental instability is not a gutting of the second amendment. It’s the sort of clarification that our Supreme Court has made since it was founded. States are usually left in control of these decisions (which is why the NRA so often fights on the state level), but if the conversation gets stuck on the federal government, so be it. In 2014, the Supreme Court modified the first amendment with a ruling about the speech of public employees — so don’t pretend like this is some unheard of constitutional doomsday scenario. It’s literally part of our governmental system.
3. The threat of tyranny is real.
This is a more common argument than you might think. In fact, if you’re unwilling to fully fathom any other pro-gun argument, do yourself a favor and savvy out this one. Like the second amendment itself, the idea of protecting the right of the people to bear arms in order to resist tyranny is rooted in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. The section pertaining to this subject was interpreted by Sir William Blackstone with the following:
The natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.
That line sums the issue up pretty neatly, and the response to this argument by liberals or anyone who is pro-gun control is often an eye roll. To talk as if the citizenry may need weapons to revolt against a tyrannical government is treated like some conspiracy-brand mania.
If you’ve done this — waved off arguments of “freedom from tyranny” with regard to guns — shame on you. Think of the marginalized people in this nation who could make a compelling case that the nation’s government has treated them tyrannically.
- Native Americans could make an excellent case that this government has been tyrannical to them from its founding days until the present.
- Black Americans could make an excellent case that this government was tyrannical to them from the days of the transatlantic slave trade to the redlining era (or perhaps until the present).
- Women could make an excellent case that this government was tyrannical to them from its founding days until 1973 when Roe v Wade was decided (or perhaps until the present).
- The poor could make an excellent case that this government has been tyrannical to them from its founding days until the present.
You can not fight for social justice in this world on one hand and completely discount the right of people to protect themselves from a government which they believe — with ample evidence — has treated them unjustly. If you do, or if you somehow think every “militia” is made up of angry white men, it’s time you read up on The Deacons for Defense and Justice — who literally changed the entire landscape of the city of Jonesboro, Lousiana by forming a militia to combat the Klan. Spoiler: It worked.
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST — Sir William Blackstone wrote that the right to bear arms to fight tyranny required “due restrictions.” The Second Amendment allows for a “well regulated” militia. Those modifiers are important. Because it’s not like five angry dudes with AKs are going to overthrow a government that insists on spending so much money to arm itself that its allies gleefully cut their programs to the bone. More importantly, we have an entire system of checks and balances, the constitution, plus strong state rights to secure us against this sort of systemic villainy.
To completely discount the idea that America might one day have a revolution is to know nothing of the wealth gap or to be unable to fathom how it will eventually connect all people who feel powerless. America is not a true democracy. The rich have a disproportionate amount of power, making it more akin to an oligarchy or plutocracy. But until you’re ready to throw the proverbial tea into the Boston Harbor and get things really revved up, you have to follow the laws of the land and the laws of the land make allowances for the militia to be “well regulated.”
Someone who is pro-gun control shouldn’t write off the “defense of tyranny” argument, it is indeed a right of the people — but it doesn’t supersede the right of the people to regulate the shit out of said militia to keep our children from getting killed at school.
4. A good guy with a gun can prevent a bad guy with a gun.
Good guys with guns have indeed stopped bad guys with guns over the years — dating back to the Wild West. There’s Jeanne Assam, who stopped a church shooting in Colorado; Alton Nolen, who protected a clerk at his grocery story by shooting her assailant with his private sidearm; and a healthy smattering of bold grandmothers staring down intruders.
The logic here is that a person with a gun and a level-head can save people from an armed maniac. Or that a well-armed adult can protect his or her family from intruders. Not surprisingly, a Gallup poll found that protection was the #1 reason Americans gave for wanting guns.
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST — This is literally the easiest of all pro-gun arguments to defeat. Sure, there have been cases of good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns, but they are 1) exceedingly rare and 2) typically concern people who have extensive gun training (Assam was ex-police, working on-site as a security guard; Nolen was military trained). Regardless, these are all pieces of anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is fun and emotional and splashy but it’s not real. Cherry picking cases proves nothing.
The truth is, no statistics get anywhere close to suggesting that the number of “good guys with guns shooting bad guys with guns” outweighs the risk of in-home shooting accidents and impulsive suicides.
Good guys with guns are real, but they’re far too rare to build a cogent argument around. It’s silly.
“Sure,” the gun advocate says, “but I’m different. I’m smart and steady and know what I’m doing.”
Statistically speaking, that’s not true. And if you are a male, there is a significant possibility that your very desire to own a gun comes from feelings of powerlessness in your day-to-day life, like the open carry advocates who videotape themselves making the public squirm. In short, you may trust yourself, but we don’t trust you and there is literally no metric on earth that supports the claim that we ought to.
5. “Fuck off, I like Guns” – Jim Jefferies.
This is big. It’s actually a relatively strong argument.
- My constitution protects them.
- My state allows them (under rules which I follow).
- My paid advocates (the NRA) help protect them.
- And I think they’re fun.
So fuck off, I like guns.
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST — Fair enough. But fuck off back, because your toy does not come before my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I get to live. I get to feel safe. These are unalienable protections under the Constitution.
The “fuck off, I like guns” argument is counteracted by essentially saying, “Great, but you liking something doesn’t mean you get to do it without restrictions.” Speaking personally, I was recently thwarted in an attempt to bring a vacuum-sealed cured pork butt (culatello) from Italy to the United States. My love for cured meat was blocked by government regulations.
“Fuck off, I like cured meat.” I could have said to the customs officer. But he would have still been within his rights to take my culatello from me. He has a higher law to answer to than my passions.
This is a good time to say to someone:
“Virtually every hobby on earth has regulations. Why is yours different? Rock climbers, pot smokers, home cooks, surfers… we all deal with restrictions and rules with regards to our hobbies. And our hobbies aren’t inextricably tied to violence.”
Which opens the door to remind people that very few gun-control activists want to snatch guns from everyone’s cold dead hands. Instead, we want to manage them in a way that takes the anomaly of mass shootings and makes it even rarer. So rare that writers can no longer rattle them off like a shopping list without having to turn to Google. So rare that families aren’t routinely shattered and communities aren’t forever changed. Sure, maybe we want to take your gas-powered AR15 from you, but you’re welcome to replace it with a different rifle.
The arguments for guns aren’t crazy. They aren’t even inherently evil. They deserve to be taken seriously and debated. Once debated, it becomes clear: Though pro-gun arguments are based on logic, they are also frail and weak. They stretch anecdotes in order to battle unassailable facts.
By understanding these arguments and the fears and ideas that give birth to them, you’ll better understand the conversation as a whole. In doing so, the window to actually shift someone else’s thinking is eased opened a millimeter more than it was before. That’s not a sea change, but it’s something.