Gun Rights, Updated

In Politics on June 17, 2016 at 3:08 pm



Five days ago the Orlando massacre occurred. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history (and you know every one of us is thinking, “until the next one.”) There have been over 1,200 mass shootings in the United States since Newtown (which was just in December 2012) alone. Every time this happens, I feel sick and heartbroken. I’m frightened for my loved ones. And although the vast majority of my friends and family are reasonable, intelligent people who recognize the desperate need for gun control in this country, I am still confronted with callous, heartless ignorance spewed forth by gun owners on the Internet in the aftermath of each of these tragedies.

I find this amazing. On nearly every other controversial issue, there are legitimate arguments for the other side. I believe abortion is wrong, but I can understand why people argue for it. I believe everyone is entitled to health care, but I can understand the reasons why barriers exist. In my heart, I don’t believe in capital punishment, but I certainly understand the arguments for the death penalty. But when it comes to gun control, I have never once been presented with a convincing argument for guns. Not once. In my experience, gun owners know this. Therefore, they resort to non sequiturs (“We should just do away with doctors and nurses then, since people die from medical errors”), insults (referring to Moms Demand Action as “Bloomberg’s minions”), self-determined absolutes (“Keeping guns away from the mentally ill might be OK, but further regulation and confiscation is too much.” Says who?) and death threats. Therefore, I’m reposting and updating my post from December 2012 with answers to nearly every anti-gun control argument I’ve encountered, in the effort to compile a comprehensive list to which we can all refer. When it comes to logic, proponents of gun control are clearly in the right. If you have additional arguments and rebuttals to add to this list, please send them to me.

  • Owning firearms is my right. It’s in the Constitution.

Perhaps it is, if you are an American. As a Canadian living in the United States, I can tell you that the idea that any person is entitled to own a lethal weapon seems patently absurd. I mean, you have the specified right to own a gun but not, say, health insurance or a refrigerator, things which are actually useful and much less likely to harm someone? That the government would even comment on this one object is bizarre. So why did they? Because the Founding Fathers intended to allow citizens to protect themselves from tyranny. Nothing else. If you are a gun-rights activist, do you imagine that the government today, in 2016, is coming after you? And if it is, do you actually believe that your personal store of firearms will stop them? It won’t and you know it, so your gun stash is not there to protect you from tyranny. I read somewhere that in the 1700s, it took a full 30 seconds to reload your gun after firing one shot. A mass killing using guns back then was virtually impossible. Do you think for one second that, if the Founding Fathers were alive today, they would stand for the 2nd Amendment being used for massacres — school massacres, at that? If so, you are, frankly, delusional. Because did you know that those same Founding Fathers banned guns at the University of Virginia, the school they founded, and my alma mater?

If you need further evidence, check this out. The Second Amendment clearly states that it is applicable to a militia, not to every Tom Dick and Harry. How convenient that it became twisted to say otherwise once the NRA became involved. And don’t even get me started on assault rifles. Where on earth do we find justification for every random member of the public to own one of those? Why not nuclear bombs or RPGs for everyone then?

We also know that the Founding Fathers were regular human beings who could no more know what society would be like today than we can know what the world will be like in 2350, if we haven’t destroyed ourselves by then. To stubbornly hold to everything they said without considering how they have also been wrong is what children would do, not intelligent adults. We know they got some things wrong, because THERE HAVE BEEN 27 AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION SO FAR. If the Founding Fathers had written in the right to own slaves and the 13th amendment hadn’t passed, would gun owners honestly be fighting for the right to slaves in 2016 just because the Constitution allowed it?

As it is said, “Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.” The fact that guns are legal increases the chance that I will be shot while buying groceries. (You can’t argue this. These mass shootings happen far more frequently in this country than in any other. The idea that the media is making this up and getting away with it is a new level of delusion and it costs people their lives.) Therefore my right to life and liberty is less important than your right to pack heat. If you are a gun-rights activist, at least be man enough to admit that.

  • Timothy McVeigh used fertilizer to kill people. I guess we should ban fertilizer, knives and cars too.

Except that fertilizer, knives, cars and anything else you can think of have other, legitimate, useful purposes. The only purpose of a gun is to maim or kill. Guns are far more effective at killing than any other weapon. Admit it, gun owners: that’s why you want them. Additionally, a gun makes it possible to kill many more people, in much less time, than anything else. How many people do you think you could kill with a candlestick before being overpowered? One? A perfect example is the tragic school attack in China just hours before the Newtown massacre. The perpetrator used a knife and had 23 victims. Guess how many died? None.

  • Guns don’t kill, people do.

I love this one. Stop letting people have guns then.

  • Banning guns won’t stop criminals from having them.

Since when is the difficulty in enforcing a law an excuse not to write the law in the first place? Last I noticed, murder is still illegal in the U.S., but it keeps happening. Why don’t we legalize murder then, since people keep committing it? As a pain management physician, I can tell you how incredibly difficult it is to keep people from misusing their medication. Yet we don’t just throw up our hands and say, “You know what? Writing these prescriptions and drug-testing you is a real pain. From now on, you take as much Percocet as you want!”

We create laws because a) they act as a deterrent for, not an eliminator of, criminal behaviour, and b) they give us recourse to punish people when they break them. The fact that marijuana use has skyrocketed in areas where marijuana is legal is proof that when something is legal, it is more common. If guns were illegal except for law enforcement officers, police would be able to confiscate any firearm they came across. Gun producers would be shut down. Any intelligent person can see that simply in terms of sheer numbers, gun prevalence would decrease. With fewer guns, you have fewer shootings. I’m not saying no shootings. I’m saying fewer shootings.

  • I grew up with guns. It’s part of my culture.

That may well be the case. But sometimes cultures need to change. Slavery was once a financially critical part of America’s culture. Open discrimination against the disabled was once a part of our culture. Cannibalism was part of some cultures. But as society evolved, we recognized that these things were wrong and that we had to work to get rid of them. The disgusted reactions of the rest of the world to America’s “gun culture” is both telling and embarrassing.

  • We need guns to protect ourselves.

This conjures up the image of the nice, law-abiding citizen confronting an intruder in their home and thankfully having their trusty gun to protect their sleeping family. Except that’s not how it usually works. Most “self-defense” gun violence is between people who know each other, where the reality of who is defending and who is offending is not at all clear. Of all self-defense handgun homicides in 1997 for example, according to the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report, only 2.3% were ruled justifiable homicides by civilians. Which means the other 97.7% turned out to be just plain homicides. (And that’s not taking into account how often guns in the home are used in suicides or accidental injuries/deaths.) A tragic case earlier this week is a perfect example. This mom spewed the usual party line on Facebook about Democrats wanting to take away her guns and her ability to defend herself. She then used those guns to murder her two daughters in cold blood. She did this on her residential street. Who thinks that if she had used a bat or a knife that she would have been successful at killing both before being stopped?

And if you truly believe that you live in such a dangerous area as to need something with which to defend yourself, why not a Taser? That would incapacitate an intruder but not kill, and therefore could not be intentionally used to kill anyone else either. (And in case anyone is actually about to argue that occasionally people do die from Taser use, I will state the obvious – that the intention of the Taser, unlike a gun, is not to kill.)

  • Banning guns won’t stop violent crime. Crazy people don’t obey laws. 

It’s exactly because crazy people don’t obey laws that we shouldn’t give them the tools to break them. If a murderous person wants to be murderous, why would we not do everything in our power to prevent them from accessing a lethal weapon when it has no other possible use? Yes, they could kill with a car, but they can also drive to and from work in a car. The only thing they can do with a firearm is injure or kill. There is a serious moral failing in being lukewarm about preventing gun sales to the insane because it might infringe on your own gun rights. You are therefore saying it is fine with you that the rest of us are at risk every day.

  • We need better mental health care, not fewer guns.

As a physician, I totally agree with those who are calling for an overhaul of this nation’s mental health system. They are absolutely right. But this is yet another foil that gun-rights activists hide behind. First of all, it’s great to pay lip service to improving mental health care, but those same Congresspeople then vote against increasing mental health funding. In addition, this contributes to the stigma that the mentally ill are violent. Most are not. In fact a mentally ill person is far more likely to be the victim of violence than the instigator. Thirdly,  the United States does not have a higher proportion of mental illness than other developed countries. So mental illness alone cannot account for the nightmare we’re currently living in. Finally,why are the vast majority of mass murderers men? If mental health was the only contributor, the number of female killers should be almost equal.

We certainly do need better mental health care. But it makes no sense to do nothing in the thirty or forty years until that happens (if ever.) And what about all the perfectly sane people who kill using guns? How do we stop them from accessing guns when we have no way of figuring out who they are?

  • Guns are a fun hobby. There’s nothing wrong with hunting.

For those of us who are meat-eaters, we don’t have a problem with hunting. In a more moderate mood, I might be willing to concede that guns, when genuinely used for humane hunting with the goal of obtaining food for consumption or sale, might have a place in modern society. But if the gun lobby is so unwilling to be moderate, then I am too. Your hobby is not more important than human beings’ lives. There’s no way to adequately police whether people are using their guns only for hunting food. I enjoy knitting, but if knitting needles were being used in multiple mass killings of innocent bystanders, then I would gladly give up my hobby if there was a chance that just one fewer person would be killed. Because I’m, you know, a compassionate human being.

  • The solution to gun violence is more guns. If the victims had been armed, this wouldn’t have happened.

If anyone is actually saying this in regards to Newtown, we are not having a discussion with intellectual equals. Do you really think we should put lethal weapons into the hands of kindergartners? And to suggest that teachers should be armed is just laughable. The NRA has shown its simultaneously sociopathic and infantile worldview on this one. What happens when the school bully, or even the class clown, pinches his gym teacher’s pistol(s)? After the Virginia Tech killings (an event that hit close to home for our family, since my father-in-law has worked there for 30 years and my brother- and sister-in-law were freshmen in lockdown on campus that day) many sick gun activists have fought for open carry on college campuses. Why do the people who put forth this argument never acknowledge that human beings are volatile? Especially on a college campus where youth and alcohol use intersect? All it takes is one disagreement, one bad day, one bad grade, one person cutting in front of you in traffic, and your self-control can be weakened. We know that kids have been killed in road rage incidents. Why is this acceptable? For some people, it might take a lot to get them to actually brandish their gun. For others, it might not take much. How the heck would we know who is who? Why should my life depend on 100% self-control from every single person around me (which we all know is impossible to achieve)?

In the case of more recent mass shootings, how on earth do we know the victims weren’t armed? Who honestly thinks that in this gun-loving country, not one single person in the Pulse club that night in Orlando had a firearm? I have no doubt that someone did! But in the dark when there’s shooting, what are you going to do? Shoot back blindly and hope that of all the people you kill, one of them is the gunman?

(Updated to add: We know that the “good guys with guns,” as if there is such a thing, complicate law and order or turn tail and run when faced with gunfire. That’s exactly what happened at the Dallas Black Lives Matter protest when police officers were killed in July 2016. It was impossible to tell who was an attacker and who wasn’t when lots of random people were carrying assault rifles. And by the way, it wasn’t an open-carry proponent who brought down the killer. It was a robot. So the presence of gun owners did not make that situation one bit better. It is so clear, as the police are saying, that more people with guns just creates more confusion and more opportunity for death. I love the quote from the gun lover in this article, though. He claims it’s really simple to tell a good guy from a bad guy, because when the police ask a good guy to put down their gun, they do, but a bad guy will start shooting. OH, SO WE SHOULD GO UP TO A GUN-WIELDING LUNATIC AND ASK HIM HIS INTENTIONS. If we end up dead, he was bad. Simple indeed! How do these people sleep at night, knowing how they’re putting us all at such risk? How intellectually stunted do you have to be to believe these insane rationalizations?)

  • Places with gun control still have shootings. 

But they have fewer of them. Howard Stern said gun control on planes didn’t stop the 9/11 attackers (I have no desire to link to this statement and give him more traffic.) People have said that France’s gun control didn’t stop the Paris attacks. Gun advocates always say such nonsense, conveniently forgetting that the ATTACKS WOULD HAVE BEEN MUCH WORSE WITH GUNS. The existence of gun control means that there are countless attacks that have never occurred. How many hijackings of American planes have occurred since 9/11? Zero. How many gun deaths are there in France? 0.06 per 100,000 people, compared to 3.2 per 100,000 in the United States (and that’s an old statistic.) We can thank gun control for both of these.

  • We need guns to protect us from Islamic terrorists. All this gun violence is because of them.

So many things wrong with this statement. First of all, gun advocates are cravenly using the ISIS connections of the San Bernardino and Orlando tragedies for their own purposes again: to obscure the real issue of gun control. Islamic terrorists are on a suicide mission. THEY DO NOT CARE IF THEY DIE. What difference would anyone else’s gun make to them?

Secondly, what about all the other mass shootings we’ve endured? Columbine, Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Oregon. None of those shooters had anything to do with ISIS. What excuse do you have there, gun lovers?

Thirdly, if you believe this, why on earth wouldn’t you want to prevent terrorists from obtaining weapons? Yet one of the reasons the Democrats filibustered this week was to force a vote on preventing terror suspects from legally buying guns – something Republicans have actually opposed.

  • In the same way banning all Muslims would hurt law-abiding Muslims, banning all guns would hurt law-abiding gun owners.

In my opinion, it’s pretty insulting to equate the “hurt” of giving up a possession to the same hurt a Muslim feels when they’re the target of a hate crime or deportation. Not being willing to give up an object in pursuit of the greater good – saving countless lives – is indefensible. To see gun control as punishing gun owners, instead of as protecting innocent lives, is a truly self-centred worldview.

  • I don’t like government regulation. 

Then why do we regulate Sudafed sales? Why are Kinder eggs illegal? Why do we all take our shoes off at the airport and limit our on-board fluids to 3 ounces? In a civilized society that values the safety of its members, regulation is imperative. What does it say about this country that guns are legal and Kinder eggs are not?

  • Requiring all guns to be registered will give Donald Trump or another future dictator an easy way to identify and disarm citizens who could oppose them.

When I first heard this argument, I was dumbfounded. Then I realized that being a gun advocate must actually be more terrifying on a day-to-day basis than being a gun opponent. I’m frightened that my loved ones or I will be the victims of gun violence in a public place. But they are frightened that, at any moment, criminals will storm their houses and kill their families, or that the government will be taking them hostage any day now. It must be truly exhausting. Here’s the thing, though: this scenario is a remote possibility. The massacre of thousands of people, some of them kindergartners, is our current reality. It is fundamentally selfish and delusional to refuse to do what we can to change our bad reality because of the fear of an unlikely possibility. In addition, it doesn’t make sense. Don’t we currently register our cars? Aren’t the deeds to our homes public record? Couldn’t the government just as easily seize those? If the American government really became a dictatorship, does anyone believe their personal weapons would outmatch the government’s?

  • We don’t know if changing gun laws will actually do anything.

And that’s a reason to not even try? But the truth is, we actually do know. There was another New Town mass shooting once, in New Town, Australia in 1996. 12 days later, gun control laws were put into place. There have been no mass shootings in Australia since. By now we have all seen the statistics: every other industrialized country in the world has strict gun laws and nowhere near the gun violence the U.S. does. This New York Times article takes a succinct look.

  • The NRA isn’t evil.

Ah, I beg to differ. I truly believe these people should be prosecuted for mass homicide. Much like the tobacco industry in the 1960s, they have brainwashed the American public into thinking that what they’re peddling is great. And why do they do it? For profits. As ill as it makes me to type this, mass shootings mean mass profits. The deaths of human beings makes money for gun manufacturers, and naturally we can expect that kickbacks go to their tireless supporter, the NRA. Any group that is against background checks, that is against closing the gun show loophole, that would try to hold a rally in Newtown, Connecticut on the anniversary of that tragedy, is evil. Many people don’t know that the NRA also fights to prevent the CDC from conducting research into gun violence, and they fight to prevent doctors from discussing gun safety with their patients. What utter hypocrites! They believe in the Second Amendment, but not the First Amendment (the right to free speech)?

What unique kind of evil is required to behave in this way? If they’re so sure that guns don’t kill, why are they afraid of research into it? Why do they want to stop physicians from preventing the deaths of their patients? Because they want to continue brainwashing Americans into thinking guns are wonderful, and because they want to continue profiting from the deaths of those same Americans. Their desire for death is the only explanation for mind-boggling bills like the one in Iowa allowing children of all ages to own guns. Because the amount of tragedy we have already isn’t enough??? We should all be outraged. Non-insane gun owners should stand up and renounce this organization. Because if they don’t, they are morally culpable too. We’ll all have to account for our actions before God one day, and supporting the NRA will have no excuse.

  • It’s hopeless to stop gun sales, because America has so many guns out there already.

First of all, nothing is hopeless. The gun lobby wants reasonable citizens to believe exactly that — that it’s hopeless — so that we’ll shut up. But it’s not true. First of all, popular culture can change. Eliminating slavery and beating Hitler probably seemed hopeless too, at the time, but they both happened. In this case, one possible solution would be a widespread government buyback program, something that has been used successfully in other countries. I have no doubt that there are many people whose supposedly undying devotion to their Constitution (despite the fact that they probably can’t tell you anything else about it) will evaporate in the face of easy cash. In addition, if law enforcement was given authority to seize weapons, that would eliminate many of them as well. There are many gun lovers who claim that people will engage in shootouts with the police rather than give up their guns. That only bolsters my concern that gun advocates must be selfish, amoral individuals who believe their possessions are more important than others’ lives.

  • I believe in guns because I’m a Christian.

It is alternately fascinating and sickening to see how American Christianity has gotten mixed up with guns. That some people could consider guns justifiable from a Christian perspective is hideous. What does it say when a “Christian” belief exists only in your country? Why is it that this “Christian” perspective is not the same for Christians of any other nationality? Do any of us honestly believe that the loving God who knit every one of us together in our mothers’ wombs is pro-gun? In addition, how on earth can you be anti-abortion but pro-2nd Amendment? You care about an unborn child but not the children we already have with us? I am anti-gun because I am pro-life. The pre-born are important, but the post-born must be at least equally so. Who could possibly think that fetuses are worth fighting for but toddlers who accidentally shoot themselves are not? I’m glad that Pope Francis has spoken out about guns and Christianity, and I pray that other church leaders will wake up and do the same.

I appreciate this Christian author’s perspective, and I want to quote him because he gets it exactly right: “Would I be willing to give up my guns in northern Wisconsin if it would save a life in downtown Chicago? Yes. If it came to it. A thousand times over.” If there is any chance that limiting guns would decrease deaths — and there is no way you can claim that it wouldn’t save at least some lives — then any human being with a shred of decency should be supporting gun control. What it comes down to is, do you love your neighbour more than you love your rights? Your possessions? Did Christ not say that loving your neighbour was second only to loving God as the most important commandment? Cheering for guns that will only injure or kill your fellow man is the very opposite of love.

The simple fact of the matter is that America’s gun culture puts all of us at risk. I am at risk, you are at risk, our precious children are at risk of being slaughtered every single day because anyone around us may have a gun and could snap. Gun activists, how long will you put your heads in the sand? Does this not matter to you? Will it only matter to you if your own child is murdered by a madman? Will it even change your mind then? Understand this — if you support guns, you are saying you are OK with the murder of others. Gun ownership is unequivocally selfish. If there is ANY chance that eliminating guns could decrease the number of homicides in this country, you should be supporting gun control. And if your reaction to every gun tragedy is not wondering how to stop this from continuing to happen, but wondering how to make sure your gun rights aren’t affected, you are, quite frankly, a bad person. There’s no other way to say it. You are a bad person and you will have to answer to God for it. This New Yorker article says it well: that people who argue against gun control have made a clear moral choice, that the comfort they derive from carrying a weapon is more important than the safety of innocent children.

I feel like I live in a society that couldn’t care less about the safety of my children or theirs, because if they did, they would act on the one thing they could control: guns. We can’t control the prevalence of hate. We can’t control the prevalence of mental illness (although we could improve our care for those people, not that that’s happening either.) We can’t control the absence of self-control. These things have existed in every society since the beginning of time. But widely available guns don’t exist in every society. They don’t exist in any other society like they do in this one, actually. And that tells me that our lives are worthless to this society’s gun advocates, my fellow citizens. It makes me sick to my stomach. Many gun supporters (eg. the NRA) benefit financially from pushing guns. But gun control proponents gain no monetary profit from limiting guns, and instead endure incredible abuse from the other side. The reason we still feel so strongly about this because we feel so strongly about our fellow humans’ lives. Isn’t that how anyone would feel … that is, if they were a decent human being?

  1. Excellent article that thoroughly debunks many of the typical pro-gun arguments. As someone who grew up using guns for sport and hunting I couldn’t agree more that the time has come for this country to make a drastic change. I believe that we have reached a critical moment in the history of our country and like a people in other critical times (WWII, Civil Rights, Civil War, Revolutionary War, to name a few) we will be judged in the annals of history by our response.

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