Saturday, December 15, 2012

You’re an idiot if you don’t think gun laws need to be reformed

Sorry, but you are.

I’m astounded by the ideological rigidity that has apparently so immobilized some people—including some I normally think of as perceptive and intelligent—that prevents them from seeing what is obvious to so many of us: the US needs tighter gun control laws.

Disclaimer: Some of the following arguments are so intellectually vacuous that you might think they are “straw man” arguments designed to be shot down, but sadly, every one of them was proposed by someone personally known to me.  (Not all by the same person, though.  That would be tragic indeed.)

“If you ban guns because of mass shooters, you’d have to ban jet planes because of 9/11.”Don’t laugh, someone actually made this comparison through what I assume was a fog of ideology.  First, airplanes are primarily designed to transport people and things, but were tragically misused for an evil purpose; killing someone by beating them with a brick doesn’t mean we should ban bricks.  In contrast, killing someone is the sole purpose for which a gun is designed.  This is even more true of semiautomatic assault weapons, which are optimized to cause the maximum amount of damage with the minimum amount of time, effort and risk to the shooter.  Second, while 9/11 resulted in swift (and sometimes ill-advised) changes in airport security, at least there was a response.  In contrast, despite Columbine, Virginia Tech, Portland, and now Newtown, there’s beenno change whatsoever in gun policy, and indeed there have been public officials whose first reaction is apparently to ensure that such events aren’t used as a pretext for making any such changes.  There was even legislation that just went into effect in Michigan allowing concealed weapons in schools, on the pretext that “armed teachers could have minimized the damage” in such a mass shooting.

“If you ban guns because of mass shooters, you’d have to ban cars because of drunk drivers.”Bzzzt, wrong.  Besides the fact that the same argument applies—drunk drivers are misusing a technology whose primary purpose is generally beneficent and completely unrelated to killing people—the rules for getting and keeping a drivers’ license are actually stricter than the gun laws in most states, including Connecticut, whose gun laws are considered among the toughest.  To operate a motor vehicle, you must take an eye exam, a written test, and a road test, and at least the first two must be repeated every few years.  In contrast, we don’t even have a national registry of gun ownership because of the patchwork of (largely permissive) state laws that often don’t require registration.

“You won’t eliminate guns by banning them.” True, but you will greatly reduce them.  And as the NIH and others have reported, gun homicide rates monotonically track gun ownership across the US already, with people in “high gun ownership” states being 2.5 times more likely to be homicide victims than those in “low gun ownership” states.  Similarly, tougher DUI laws and safety laws have not eliminated vehicular deaths, but they have reduced them by 90% (per mile driven) since the 1950s when no such laws were in place.

“You shouldn’t infringe on the right of law-abiding people to own a firearm of their choice.”Sorry, but yes you should.  Just because I am interested in, say, chemical weapons doesn’t mean I should be allowed to own them.  The Second Amendment is erroneously interpreted as enshrining all firearms past and future, when in fact it was written when the state-of-the-art firearm took nearly a minute to reload between shots rather than an automated technology designed for rapid and efficient mass slaughter.  And as everyone knows (or should), the Constitution and its Amendmentsare not absolute but rather subject to specific limitations.

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The statement “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is false on both counts: guns do kill people—in fact that’s all they are designed to do—and people kill more people with the help of advanced killing technology than without it.

“We need to focus on the root problem of identifying and helping the mentally ill.” While I’m all in favor of helping the mentally ill, this statement is usually used as a dressed-up version of the previous tired cliché.  First, while the most horrific mass shootings recently have been committed by such people, these represent an insignificantly tiny fraction of all US gun homicides.  Second, in case we don’t identify someone’s mental illness in time or help him or her quickly enough, it should be really, really hard for them to get their hands on technology that amplifies their rage or illness.

“We tried banning alcohol during Prohibition, and it didn’t work.” Alcohol doesn’t give me the immediate means to mow down 20 kids in minutes with minimal physical risk to myself.

“If [teachers, citizens, etc.] armed themselves as is their right, they could mitigate the damage caused by [mass shooters, loonies, etc.]” This is the “mutual assured destruction” stance: in the limit, everyone is visibly armed to the teeth, so no one dares actually use their firearms for fear of immediate and devastating retaliation.  Setting aside the question of who would actually want to live in such a society, it doesn’t work: especially in the case of recent mass shootings and many assassinations, the killer frequently takes his own life or is taken down by law enforcement, after the damage has been done.  (The same people who talk about “helping the mentally ill” also trot out this argument, apparently not realizing they are barking up two mutually contradictory trees in so doing.  In the recent shootings, the mentally ill shooter didn’t  exactly give a lot of heads up before opening fire.)

But all of the legalistic arguments pale in comparison to a simple moral truth: automatic weapons designed solely to kill large numbers of people in short amounts of time simply have no fitting role in civilized society. If you don’t believe that, I’m afraid you are just on the wrong side of history.