Shooting Down Straw Men

In the wake of the terrible string of shooting sprees that made their way into the public conscious through focused media coverage in 2012, there has been an upsurge in the debate over gun ownership:

Shortly after the Connecticut shootings, I began observing cheeky memes that attacked advocates of stronger gun control laws by humorously implying that since criminals don’t obey the law, then gun control laws won’t be effective. A similar kind of attack is to point out that laws against drug usage don’t prevent people from using drugs. Beginning with the first point, we can agree that, of course, criminals don’t obey laws – by definition a criminal is someone who breaks the law. It does not follow that laws are therefore useless. Indeed, I’d wager the vast majority of the people putting forth this “clever” argument are far from advocates of abolishing all laws. That’s because laws do accomplish things for good and ill. Breaking a law is risky and in most cases, fear of punishment for breaking a law is a deterrent. Thus, laws reduce behavior even if they do not eliminate it. The fact is that the criminals-don’t-obey laws attack is setting up a straw man by subtly slipping in the idea that supporters of gun control seek to eliminate mass shootings when in fact they merely seek to make them less likely. By holding up an impossible standard, the arguers give the false impression of absurdity to the political view that they oppose.

The related meme concerning drug laws has the same implied false standard of effectiveness, but also falsely equates drug usage and gun usage when they are very different behaviors. Drugs directly stimulate pleasure zones in the body and are addictive. Thus, people are more likely to take risks such as breaking the law to acquire them as the short term pleasure reward overrides their ability to reason correctly about the dangers of the long term health risks or the possibility of getting imprisoned. In contrast, gun ownership doesn’t directly tap into the body’s pleasure system and so most gun owners aren’t going to find continued gun ownership worth the risk of imprisonment or the risk of dealing with the black market. Therefore, while guns would continue to exist and criminals would find ways to still acquire them, if guns laws were strengthened or if guns were banned, overall ownership would be reduced significantly and the chances of someone who is likely to go on a shooting spree having access to a gun would also be reduced.

It is not gun enthusiasts nor even professional or semi-professional criminals who are the ones using guns to commit mass murder. Gun enthusiasts just want to collect guns and use them for hunting and marvel over their crafting. Criminals just want to use them to help conduct their “business” – not to kill random members of the general public. It’s the mentally disturbed or those who pick up a gun impulsively in the heat of emotion or distress who are using them to slaughter people. The logic behind tighter gun regulation then is to make it harder for these people to get their hands on guns.

Personally, I find guns repugnant as agents of death. Politically, however, I support a regulated right to bear arms, especially when exercised collectively in the context of collective defense. What this means for me varies depending upon the culture in question. In our society and culture, I support strengthening our gun regulation laws to include aspects of Japan’s gun control laws such as restrictions on what kind of weapons can be owned, successful completion of safety courses for gun owners, periodic mental health evaluation for gun owners and those with whom they live, and verification that guns are stored securely and safely.

1 Comment

  1. It is indeed possible that certain regulations may make some shootings less likely. This may even be the genuine goal of many proponents. It is by no means a given that these are the genuine goals of the regulators. A sober and informed worldview, IMO, makes this nearly impossible to believe.

    It’s also relevant to take note of the nature of the institution that people are turning to for a solution. I honestly consider it madness to think that a state solution is a step in the right direction. Actually, I consider it to be the result of a strange mysticism. Whether that’s madness is debatable.

    In any event, if one must focus on the state for a solution to violence in society, I maintain that there is much more utility to be had by curtailing the war on drugs. This brings up a conundrum, of sorts though. The drug warriors and the gun crowd are the same people, largely. If a savvy political type could bring this to light, I’d bet the gun crowd would give up on their corrupt philosophy of control to keep their weapons. But the fact is that that’s not what anyone really wants.

    The gun crowd wants to use the violence of the state, and so does the other side. And this boils down to a general attitude that spans the left and right which I identify as a pragmatic utilitarianism which is devoid of principles. While their values differ, but their means are the same. Force.

    I respect you as a thinker, John, but I don’t for one minute believe that much of the left is honestly against violence in any real fashion. Rather, they seek a false sense of security. The religious belief in state power as efficacious blinds people to the reality that the greatest danger this society faces is the further centralization of authority in to the hands of what is a fascist state comprised of sociopaths, sycophants, and worse.

    My personal view is that the “conversation” is fundamentally a non starter because I reject the premises that such a conversation assumes. But, I am willing to both mock the system and honestly engage folks such as yourself.

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