It’s uniquely terrifying to consider the absurd extent to which many gun people are willing to suspend reason just so they can remain armed and dangerous. It’s like they are all in abusive relationships and every time there’s another shooting, they show up at work the next day with a black eye and a split lip. And they say, “You don’t understand. My guns LOVE me. They’d never do anything to hurt anyone. It’s the rest of the world that’s wrong.”
I am a gun owner.
I inherited five antique rifles from my father, a WWII vet and lifelong liberal, including an M1 Garand that’s pretty danged impressive. I keep them safely locked away and don’t have any ammo. I’ve done some shooting at the range and am a pretty good shot. I don’t believe for a moment that having these weapons in my home makes my family safer, nor do I believe I will ever use them to protect me or my family. In fact, my biggest worry is that someone will try to steal them, as a couple of them are rather valuable, or that they will be stolen and used to harm someone. I have tried twice to register these rifles officially. But, because I live in Virginia, I’ve been told it’s unnecessary. One of those handy loopholes. I’ve been able to buy ammo and go to shooting ranges without ever showing an ID. But I can’t buy Sudafed without one.
In the 90s, my wife was a reporter for WDBJ-7, a fine news organization that is now most famous because two young journalists were gunned down on live television while they were simply doing their job. The assailant had a long history of work turmoil and mental illness. A few months ago he was able to walk into gun stores and buy two handguns legally. Before the shooting the only scrape he ever had with the law was some traffic tickets. He was a law-abiding citizen.
Until he wasn’t.
I live 45 minutes from Virginia Tech and know several people who were directly affected or involved in the massacre there. My fifth grade history teacher was accidentally shot and killed on a hunting trip when I was still his student. I have several friends in law enforcement and the military, several friends I consider to be reasonable gun owners, and several friends I would classify as gun obsessed. I’ve had many, many conversations with many people of every stripe about the issue of guns and gun control.
Pretending that this is an issue of race or privilege or the fault of the media or [most insanely] an indicator that more people need to be armed is flat-out crazy. The reality in just about every single mass shooting in the last couple of decades is that a person with one or more diagnosed mental disabilities was able to legally purchase an arsenal of weapons, spend days or weeks or even months planning an attack, and then strike seemingly “without warning.” Except that typically there has been plenty of warning.
There are lots of carefully crafted, even clever arguments against gun control. They typically start with the Founding Fathers and statistics about other factors involved in gun deaths. Factors like mental illness, drugs, the media, race, man’s inherently violent nature — and that I’m just some kind of “fucking idiot.”
What I propose to do here is take down every one of these arguments, one by precious one. There are plenty of places online with prolific data showing the value of effective gun control. But data and facts and the lessons of history only work when people are willing to listen. We are, after all, talking about a large group of people who put more faith in information provided by organizations created to help industries like energy, firearms, insurance, or tobacco capture more profits than they do in more objective areas like scientific consensus, public education, and well-regarded news sources.
So, I’ll briefly present some familiar, often frustrating arguments against gun control measures, and provide what I believe are reasonably sound rhetorical arguments to dismantle them.
But, what should we do?
So, here’s what I think in a nutshell:
- I think it should be much harder to own a firearm, whether a purchase, gift or inheritance.
- There should be a permanent national registry of every firearm in the country. Just like there is for cars.
- There should be far deeper background checks before anyone purchases a firearm, and these background checks should be kept on file. Anyone wanting to purchase a firearm should forfeit any privacy regarding diagnosis and treatment of any mental illness, history of domestic or workplace violence, etc.
- There should be stricter limits on the type and capacity of firearms an individual can possess.
- There should be stricter limitations on open and concealed carrying of firearms.
- Everyone who owns a firearm should be licensed to do so, just like car ownership is. That license should require training and a qualifying exam.
- Basically, potential gun owners should have to prove they are not dangerous to themselves or others before they are allowed to purchase a gun. Not the other way around.
- There should be a single, robust federal agency dedicated to guns, gun sales, and gun safety. They shouldn’t have to spend their time worrying about tobacco or alcohol.
But, aren’t you saying you want to take all our guns away?
Notice that nowhere have I mentioned taking everyone’s guns away.
But, the Second Amendment and Freedom!!!
For some reason, strident gun advocates appear to be terrified of these simple measures I’ve outlined. They start talking about a police state and “the founder’s intent” and panting a lot. Basically, when the Second Amendment gets talked about, it feels like the only part I hear is “well regulated” while the only part they hear is “shall not be infringed.” If there was ever a good use for a time machine, it would be to go back to when they were scrawling this incomprehensible passage and ask, “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” We’d also have to explain about “Different Strokes” and television and the end of slavery and stuff, so we might want to pack a few sandwiches. Also, we should mention that, in the not too distant future, you can own a gun that will kill 20 school children in a minute or so.
If you believe that the Second Amendment is the only thing preventing tyranny in the US, then you don’t believe in the rest of the Constitution. It’s that simple.
Maybe we Americans need to get a better grip on what exactly our “traditions” are. We have a tradition of marginalizing non-white people. We have a tradition of ignoring facts. We have a tradition of trying desperately not to offend the most offensive people in our culture. We have a tradition of celebrating white losers and demonizing black leaders. We have a tradition of making excuses for hatred.
We are a nation that “prays for the victims” over and over and over and over again, and then conveniently ignores everything that made them victims in the first place. We fight guns with more guns. Drugs with more drugs. Racism with more racism. We fight poor schools by taking money away from them. We fight poverty by screwing the impoverished. We fight inequality by reminding people that equality isn’t for most people.
We’ve become a preemptive, shoot-first, because-me-and-my-bible-said-so, asshole nation. America was a really good idea. But it has too many traditions for it to ever catch on.
But, mental illness!
This brings us to the mental illness can of worms, obviously an entirely new subject. But I think a start would be to ask potential gun buyers these questions: 1. Do you believe you will use this weapon to defend yourself against your own government? 2. Do you believe carrying this gun will make you safer or freer? 3. Do you believe you will use this gun to heroically protect your family from a deranged killer? 4. Do you believe you have actually heard Barack Obama say out loud that he wants to take your guns away?
I believe answering “yes” to any one of these questions makes one a candidate for mental illness. And this doesn’t even get into the whole “are you a loner with murder fantasies?” or “are you currently ingesting any illegal substances other than pot?” side of things. Or “do you have periods of rage?” Or “do you belong to a gang?” Or “are you afraid of people wearing hoodies?” Or “are you constantly being spoken to by a tall, dark-cloaked, hooded figure that no one else can see?”
Then there’s the argument offered up by some gun advocates that “man is by nature passionate and violent. If he doesn’t kill with a gun, he’ll just find some other way to do it.” Following this up with “so, everyone’s right to own an AR-15 ‘shall not be infringed'” sounds batshit looneyballs to me. “Killers gonna kill. So, let’s make it as easy as possible.” But that’s what they say.
Here’s the problem with the “it’s not the guns, it’s the mental illness” argument. You’re essentially saying that “People use guns to kill because they are mentally unstable.” But isn’t it also possible that some people who are mentally unstable are actually drawn towards guns — out of fear, revenge fantasies, or fetishism? And then, by refusing to consider stronger background checks, etc., you’re basically saying, “If you prevent the mentally unstable from getting guns, then I might not be able to get guns either!” That’s when you really need to ask yourself some hard questions. Or better yet, ask a therapist. You’re essentially taking the side that wants the mentally unstable — the very people who you’ve identified as the real danger — to be able to arm themselves, just to ensure that you can arm yourself as well.
But, law-abiding citizens!
I recognize that, in general, violent crimes have dropped dramatically over the last two decades, including gun crimes. I don’t think for a second this has anything to do with relaxed gun laws. The per capita gun crime rate in the US still far exceeds those in every other first world nation.
I am sick to death of the phrase “law-abiding gun owner.” The NRA and its disciples insist that stricter regulations like universal background checks and a national gun registry would infringe on the rights of “law-abiding citizens.” When I point out that Cho, Loughner, Lanza and Holmes owned their weapons legally, the advocates quickly explain that, because they used their weapons in the commission of a crime, they were no longer law-abiding citizens and therefore, could not own their guns legally. Seriously, I’ve had this conversation at least twenty times. What this twisted and dangerous “logic” does is conveniently nullify the issue of legal ownership and thereby remove the Second Amendment from its own defensive argument.
But, only outlaws will have guns!
We’ve heard it a million times. Gun control measures are absolutely pointless because criminals have absolutely no respect for laws. This is true. Criminals have absolutely no respect for laws. That’s what makes them criminals. And yet, for some unknown reason, we have laws anyway.
It’s true that a considerably larger number of homicides are committed by guns owned by people with criminal backgrounds and that they are likely to possess one or more firearms illegally. But, a significant number of gun deaths are perpetrated by people who are, up to the point of pulling the trigger, law-abiding citizens.
Making guns more difficult to purchase legally makes it more difficult to purchase a gun illegally. Demand drives up black market prices astronomically. Tighter scrutiny of gun sales in general makes it more difficult for legal weapons to enter illegal markets.
None of this would wipe out gun violence entirely. But, by simply making it more difficult for a person with a violent history, a criminal history or a history of mental illness is a start in the right direction. What’s wrong with that? And ultimately, if “only outlaws have guns,” wouldn’t that make outlaws easier to identify?
But, guns don’t kill people!
Gun fans like to portray a loaded weapon as an inanimate object that poses no threat in a restaurant or mall or church. It’s the “guns don’t kill people” argument. They accuse proponents of greater restriction of labeling these pieces of metal and plastic as “criminals.” The reality is that a loaded gun is dangerous and, by its presence in a restaurant, raises the risk of someone being harmed. If it didn’t, no one would carry a gun in the first place. The whole point of carrying a gun in this way is “personal protection” by way of making yourself more potentially dangerous to someone else. That, by necessity, makes you more potentially dangerous to everyone else within range. It’s a simple fact.
But, guns save lives!
Yeah? Then why can’t they also kill people? I thought they were supposed to be inanimate objects.
But, car wrecks!
More people die in car accidents every year. So, shouldn’t they be outlawed too? Cars that are designed expressly for killing should definitely be outlawed. No question. Meanwhile, think about this: Cars don’t carry people great distances with little effort. People do! See? It’s not the same thing. So, let’s not muddy our discussion with false equivalencies.
The “Hitler took everyone’s guns away” thing is a bit of a misrepresentation — thanks to the NRA. For instance, the 1938 law signed by Hitler that Wayne LaPierre mentions in his 1994 book “Guns, Crime, and Freedom” basically does the opposite of what he says it did. The 1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as well as ammunition. Meanwhile, many more categories of people, including Nazi party members, were exempted from gun ownership regulations altogether, while the legal age of purchase was lowered from 20 to 18, and permit lengths were extended from one year to three years. But even more important, the remilitarization of Germany actually put quite a lot of firearms in the hands of millions of men and boys. Yet, rather than rising up against their government, they marched into Austria, Sudetenland, France, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Hungary, Russia, North Africa, Greece, Yugoslavia, and more. Why? Because they were so easily misled by a propagandist organization that knew the value of inventing and exploiting “demons.” Whipping up fear leads to simple-minded obedience. Even, say, the fear of having your guns taken away.
But, a good guy with a gun!
Mr. LaPierre [a Roanoke native] famously stated that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He said this after the Newtown massacre. And he appears to believe it. Since then we’ve seen dozens of active shooters disarmed by unarmed people. Yet, in his world the WDBJ journalists should have been armed so that, despite the fact that they did not see their assailant until he was shooting them, they could comprehend the situation well enough to unholster their firearms and kill the shooter. Or perhaps they should have had an armed guard. Ultimately this fantasy would require an armed guard wherever one or more American citizens are at any given time. On the plus side [for the NRA], this would mean the sale of a whole lot more guns.
And here’s the problem with screaming “Chicago!” and the whole topic of legal guns versus illegal ones. “Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the country. And the most gun deaths.” In gang killings and such, we’re typically talking about a seriously illegal weapon or weapons. Where do they come from? Are they built in illegal, underground gun factories? No. They are manufactured legally by a legal manufacturer and sold to distributors, most of whom sell them legally but some of whom then sell them illegally. It’s pretty darned easy. Why? Because the NRA makes sure it is, that’s why. So when we wonder why there’s so many gun deaths in Chicago, with all its strict gun laws, it’s important to remember that the guns are still getting there, in part, because of lax laws and lax enforcement policies driven by the gun lobby. Keep in mind, there are a lot of places on earth with stricter gun laws than Chicago that have far, far fewer gun deaths. Those places typically aren’t surrounded by other places where you can buy several guns at a civic center.
Think of it this way: You have a stern “No Dog Shit In My Yard” policy. And your neighbors on both sides of your yard have a lax “My 20 Dogs Are Free To Roam And Shit Wherever They Want To” policy. How long do you think it’s going to take before you step in some shit? And when you DO step in that shit, will it be because you don’t allow dog shit in your yard or because your neighbors do in theirs?
But, blacks killing blacks!
The majority of African-American and Hispanic gun violence is gang-related. And gangs are essentially militias in that they are groups of like-minded individuals who have armed themselves so that they can protect themselves from rival militias and law enforcement — or rather, the government. Shouldn’t they be more well regulated?
What possible difference does it make what color a shooter or victim is? There are actually people who insist that if you removed all the black shootings from American gun death statistics, we’d be no worse than any other nation. But, they’re talking about black people who are American citizens — human beings — and are dying. If you don’t see them that way there’s really no point in talking with you about anything.
But, the safety of my family!
Finally we come to the gun lobby’s crowning achievement — fear for personal safety. Gun advocates are terrified of rare, random events like home invasions, armed robbery, and the need to stand their ground against an armed assailant. They insist that in the twenty or so minutes it takes for the police to arrive [it’s always more than twenty minutes, according to them] they could unlock a hidden box, take out their weapon and blow the intruder away.
Let’s ignore the argument that a gun in the house is more likely to harm a resident — through accidental shooting, suicide, or domestic violence — because gun advocates are heavily armed with contradictory statistics of dubious origin, like “2.5 million defensive uses per year!” and won’t let them go. They are convinced that easier access to more deadly weapons will allow them to defend themselves against someone who should not possess these weapons but does. Look at their circular logic. A. Someone very dangerous has access to firearms. B. I should be allowed to protect myself against that person. C. Therefore guns should be made easily available to everyone.
This fever deludes them into thinking the founding fathers believed this absurd scenario. To this argument I simply point out that Adam Lanza’s mother was arguably the most heavily armed woman in Newtown. And she was the first to die.
© 2015 Chris Henson