The U.S. is currently going though a massive student-led gun control debate, the Canadian government is introducing new gun legislation, and I recently found myself defending gun control on Facebook. So now seems like a pretty good time to talk more thoroughly about the subject.
We’ve all heard arguments against gun control, and I’m sure we’ve all thought or read about their inherent flaws. I know I’m treading well trodden ground here, but I thought I’d add a new flavour by pointing out the type of logical fallacy used in each anti-gun control statement
I’d also like to point out up front that when I speak about gun control laws I am in no way advocating for the removal of all guns. I think there are reasonable dangers if society were to go that far. What I am talking about is sensible gun control laws such as the following:
- No civilian access to military style fire arms (i.e. semi automatic rifles)
- Mandatory universal background checks (currently in the U.S. background checks are only required for licensed gun dealers. They are not required if a private citizen sells a gun to another private citizen)
- Continually updated database (if someone commits crime / becomes dangerous)
- Mandatory one week waiting period (studies show that a mandatory “cooling off” period between sale and delivery of a gun can reduce gun related murders by as much as 17%
Now, without further ado, let’s begin looking at fallacies:
Gun Control doesn’t work OR Prohibition doesn’t work
When a gun enthusiast makes this argument, they are likely referring either to prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, or to the current, ever ongoing war on drugs. This fallacy, known as a Faulty Analogy Fallacy, assumes that one thing is analogous to a different, unrelated thing. Because prohibition did not work for alcohol or for drugs, it will not work for firearms.
First let’s acknowledge that, yes, banning something will create a black market for that thing. Then let’s remember that we are not discussing taking away all guns, we are talking about regulating them. This critical difference means that people who want to purchase firearms legally will still be able to do so, they will just have to abide by laws aimed at protecting the public such as universal back ground checks, mandatory wait periods, etc.
People prefer to do things legally if they can (just look at how piracy rates have plummeted once streaming services like Netflix and Spotify became available). The majority of people will still purchase firearm legally leading to low demand for black market guns. Low demand means high prices, so your average criminal who isn’t eligible to get a gun legally will still have a difficult time affording one illegally. That doesn’t even go into the fact that people want guns and drugs/alcohol for different purpose, so the black markets that form around these items will behave differently.
Criminals don’t obey the law anyways
This is the Fallacy of General Rule. The assumption is that because something is generally true, it is always true. Criminals break laws anyways, so they’ll ignore restrictions on guns.
First of all, criminals don’t just break every law they come across. Those inclined to break the law selectively do so after weighting the cost against the benefit. People, even criminals, are very likely to abide by laws backed up by courts and a police forces. Banning assault-style weapons will cause criminals to think twice before (illegally) purchasing one. Mentally ill shooters will have difficulty obtaining one. Schools, churches, movies theaters will all be safer.
Beyond that, this argument also assumes that criminals will simply pick up guns at the local “black market corner store” on their way to rob a bank. But as I established, the black market will be small and expensive making it more difficult for would-be aggressors to get their hands on a gun in the first place. If a criminal can’t obtain a gun they will not be able to commit violence with it.
Furthermore, waiting periods dramatically decrease gun violence (see above). Even if criminals don’t obey the law, sometimes would-be shooters just need a chance to cool down.
Gun’s don’t kill people. People kill people OR If they can’t get a gun they’ll just use knives/trucks/bombs, etc.
I stuck these arguments together because they’re basically the same: don’t blame to gun, blame the evil person wielding it. If they didn’t have guns, they’d still find ways to harm people.
These arguments are known as whataboutisms. A whataboutism is an argument wherein someone tries to misdirect the discussion by changing the topic to something similar but different. An opponent of gun control might say: If they can’t use a gun they’ll just use something else like a hammer, knife, bomb, truck, plane, etc. “What about [fill in the blank]?”
This argument brings nothing new to the gun control debate. Yes, there are violent people who will find a way to hurt others. But is that any reason to make it easy for them? Of course not. These people should not be able to easily obtain a machine capable of killing masses in minutes. Let them try to kill thirty people by swinging a hammer, let them go on a massive stabbing spree. Not only are both of these killing methods much easier to avoid or stop, it’s also a lot harder to die from their wounds than from gunshot wounds.
Yes, sometimes kills do switch to much more deadly methods such as planes, bombs, and trucks. But these incidences are a lot rarer than gun violence in large part because of how controlled these things are. Want to make a bomb? Purchasing the ingredients is monitored. Want to get a truck? I don’t think I have to explain how difficult this can be.
It’s a slippery slope. If you start regulating guns, soon they’ll want to take away all of our guns.
This type of fallacy is literally called the Slippery Slope argument. It assumes that one thing will automatically lead to another thing. This is not true. You can look to democracies around the world (Canada is one of them) where guns are regulated, but available. Yes, there are people who advocate for complete prohibition, but that is not what will automatically (or likely) happen. I’m not even sure what else to say about is argument as there’s not much to it. One thing does not imply another.
Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun
No actual fallacy here, just an untrue statement.
To prove their point gun advocates will often point to the Sutherlands Spring, Texas shooting where an armed citizen shot the shooter. In truth they are simply looking at one piece of supporting data while ignoring a plethora of contradictory data. In truth many things can stop a bad guy with guns – including unarmed civilians. An FBI report from 2000-2013 showed that 13% of gun related incidences were stopped by unarmed civilians. According to that same report, how many armed civilians stopped the “bad guys with guns?” Only 3%.
A gun advocate might argue that that 3% would be a lot higher if more people had guns, but I would counter that that 13% could also be higher if less people had guns. It could be a lot lower if less (bad) people had guns to begin with. You can’t state what statistics would be if something were different, you have to take the statistics we have. Yes, a good guy with a gun could stop the shooter, but that is not the only thing that will do the job. One major thing that comes to mind is proper gun control. A bad guy would have a harder time shooting people with a gun he doesn’t have.
There’s actually a name for when someone takes a small number of supportive data points while ignoring contradictory data: The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.
We need guns to protect against tyranny, criminals, and wolves
This is the best argument I’ve heard. There is no logical fallacy here, and part of the argument actually makes a lot of sense. If someone lives out in the country where wolves, bears, and other wildlife are a real danger then they absolutely should have a gun for protection. If police response times are low, yeah, own a gun for personal protection.
This argument breaks down when someone suggests protecting themselves from tyranny in the government, specifically the U.S. government. The government has drones, heavy artillery, stealth bombers, and possibly even nukes. If they government wanted to seize control, very little would have a chance of stopping them. And with the ongoing militarization of police forces, the average citizen has no chance.
The arguments against control are all either logically flawed, untrue, or just plain bad. Every argument against gun control can easily be refuted. But this doesn’t have to be a thought experiment, you can look to other modern nations that do have some form of gun control to see evidence of its effectiveness. In the U.K. most police don’t carry guns. Canadaian firearms must be transported unloaded Japanese citizens must attend a day long class and pass a written test. These countries and many more have implemented some form of gun control and as a result the rates of gun violence and mass shootings are much lower than in the States.
The real conversation isn’t whether there should be gun control. The real conversation is what level of gun control will be the most effective? Look at how the above argument shift when viewed in the global context:
Prohibition doesn’t work -> But what about limited, legal access. Canada’s registration system seems to be working pretty well.
Criminals don’t obey the law -> Why don’t we look at Australia or the Japan. and see how their crime rates have been affected by gun control regulations
If they can’t get a gun they’ll use something else -> So let’s discuss what level of gun control is the most effective. Perhaps extremely tight restrictions will cause killers to switch to more deadly methods if these methods are more easily accessible. Maybe that is what happened in France with trucks. But allowing killers easy access to high powered killing machines isn’t the answer
It’s a slippery slope -> Look at any other modern nation if you want to see just how slippery that slope is. In Canada our guns are highly regulated but still obtainable.
Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun -> In the U.K. the good guys (the police) don’t carry guns yet the country has had only one mass shooting the past two decades.
We need guns for protection -> How does Australia, a nation famed for killer animals, allow citizens to still own firearms for protection while also preventing mass shootings?
Comparing gun control policies across nations is a big enough topic that it deserves its own post to fully flesh it out. But even the small glimpse above makes clear the effectiveness of sensible gun regulations. When we account for global examples the conversation transforms from “should there be gun control?” to “what level of gun control will be most effective for our culture?”