Friday, May 27, 2016

The Pro-Gun Argument

The Omnivore is watching a gun-control argument unfold on Facebook and is struck by how, well, stupid some of the pro-gun arguments are. They don't have to be: there are internally consistent arguments for Americans owning guns that, at least, meet the standards of internal consistency and are on-topic.

A bunch of arguments like:

  • You must also want to ban cars then, huh--they kill a lot of people too! --or--
  • What about knives?? --or--
  • Look, look! Hillary is protected by guns. Why not normal Americans??

These are all bad on the face of it--instantly (cars are not used by murderers to murder, knives are both heavily regulated--look it up--and far less lethal than guns in the hands of a bad actor, and the risk profile of a president isn't the same as an ordinary person).

So let's look at some pro-gun arguments that are not instantly self-defeating.

Our Metric: Not Stupid

If you think there is no possible argument for Americans to have assault weapon-style guns, that's your standard and personal belief--and that's fine. The Omnivore, here, is going for arguments that are not internally inconsistent. Basically? One's argument should not be self-refuting.

Also: These arguments may or may not convince anyone--people making them are probably more concerned with convincing themselves they having moral ground to stand on. That's fine--but these arguments still need to have relevance to other people. If you come off as heartless--or worse, an idiot--you can make the whole side look bad.

Why are these arguments so bad? The Omnivore has a theory--most of the more solid ones imply some kind of compromise would be achievable. This is an anathema to the pro-gun side as they are afraid (perhaps rightly) that given an inch, the gun-banners will take a parsec or two. Still, it is better to use consistent arguments--even if that leads to compromise--than arguments that just make everyone look like they're talking out of their asses.

Argument 1: Because 2A

The first line of defense for Americans owning guns--including AR-15-style weapons--is "Because we get to." This is guaranteed by the Second Amendment--full stop. If you don't like it? Change the Amendment.

The Counter Argument: The counter-argument is that 2A is about well-regulated militias (which Bob and his 50 guns does not represent) and (b) because it is out-dated, as Bob and his friends cannot beat a government-deployed Specter gunship.

Why The Counter Argument is Bunk: These counters are bunk because the point of the 2A is to make it impossible for a Federal Government to illegally seize power from the citizens. The Founders conceived of that defense in the form of a series of militias--which do, in fact, still exist--and credited their existing militias with being the method by which they would resist England's army.

Today things have changed. By a literal reading of the Constitution, Congress could not fund an Air Force--but we still have one. State's identities as small nations have evolved a great deal since 1776--but the idea that a Federal Government could take over the populace is still a plausible, if very, very, very unlikely threat. In other words, the 2A is a lot less relevant--but it hasn't been proven irrelevant..

Ask yourself: as, today, no one is quartering troops in private homes, is it okay to get rid of the 3rd Amendment? No? Because . . . what if they started to, right?

As to beating the government? The idea isn't to win a ground war with the US Army. It's to make it too expensive for the Federal Government to hold America. We have seen, first hand, how weapons of the AR-15 / AK47 make it very difficult for us to hold Afghanistan. A collection of 9mm handguns would not work the same way. Assault-style weapons, even if not fully automatic, accomplish the goal of making America impossible to hold by force.

The Problem With 'Because 2A': The problem, of course, is that this sounds heartless if you are staring down a tragedy. Well, it kinda is. "Your dead kids don't trump my right to guns" is a asinine thing to say when a nation is grieving--but it is true and internally consistent.

A second problem is that most of the population finds it inconceivable that Washington D.C. is going to "take over the country," that we are going to be invaded by North Korea in the "Red Dawn" scenario, or that the United Nations will come in to take over Peace Keeping duties.

If you read The Omnivore's Facebook feed, of course, this has already happened (Obama, a literal tyrant, has abolished the rule of law, overturned the Constitution, and now rules the country with an iron first--apparently guns have not prevented this??). Otherwise the argument, while valid (we wouldn't repeal the 3rd Amendment--we still think keeping troops out of our house is a good idea even if it isn't especially relevant to modern times)--is not going to convince a lot of people.

Argument 2: The Moral Imperative To Self Defense

It is a widely accepted truth that we have the right to defend our lives and those of our loved ones. We also know that however good the police are--or are not--they cannot be everywhere at once. The Omnivore has a relative who suffered a home invasion. She had a gun--and ready to use it--they broke off before successfully making entry--but 9/11 wasn't there in time and if they had made it to her, the gun would have been a necessity.

Under certain conditions--specific conditions--guns are a moral right.

Worse, they may even be a moral necessity: if you are not armed, in those situations--it is possible to be reasonably found to be negligent (this sounds like the 2A version of "slut shaming"--but bear with The Omnivore here for a minute). The 'boxing rule' (defend yourself in the ring at all times) means that a boxer who is hit illegally, can't say "Well, the Ref Didn't Stop It." The boxer is responsible to defend himself--even if the match isn't currently "on."

If your risk-profile is such that you might be attacked (such as being in a boxing ring--or being a public figure--or being especially wealthy--or carrying large sums of money as your job--or living in a violent neighborhood)--then you probably ought to defend yourself.

Today, that means a gun.

The Counter Argument: If people didn't have guns you wouldn't need one to defend yourself.

Why The Counter Argument is Bunk: (a) This is not true for people significantly weaker or smaller than the average attacker (which is most women) and (b) unless there is a real, viable plan to get rid of all the millions of guns in America, it can be a true argument--but a useless one ("Sure--get rid of all the guns and we'll talk.")

The Problem With Moral-Imperative: The problems with this are that while the absolute version of the counter-argument above is bunk, there is a valid argument to making guns harder to get. Making guns harder to get will limit some criminals who find it too expensive, too much of a pain in the ass, or whatever--to get a gun if they don't really need one.

There is also a question of what risk-profile a person has to have before they are negligent in not having a gun. We know presidents can be attacked by foreign nations. They need hard-target defense. We know celebrities attract crazies. After that, though, it becomes a much bigger question.

Clearly ordinary citizens do get attacked--but how often? What's the cost-to-benefit ratio of having a lot of guns vs.defensive uses. No one knows. This creates the possibility that the argument will be perceived as unconvincing--even if logically correct.

Finally, the conditions under which a weapon is useful in an unpredictable civilian-assault-style situation are very narrow. Guns that are locked away, unloaded, and not-practiced with, are potentially useless in a home-invasion scenario. Guns in purses sometimes create tragedies when kids get their hands on them.

While there is a moral right to self-defense, the logistical requirements of a gun for that defense also imply things like smart-gun technology making it impossible for the wrong person to use the gun (this is something the gun lobby absolutely does not want). If there is a moral imperative to not be negligent in your defense, there is also one to ensure that your method of defense does not statistically create more danger. This is a narrow line to walk.

Finally, this line of defense doesn't apply to AR-15 or other similar weapons.

Argument 3: Legitimate Recreational Uses Of Guns

This may sound odd--but there is a real argument for having guns that is based on (a) hunting is a legitimate American activity and (b) guns are fun to fire. Both of these things are indisputably true whether you like it or not. The US Army credits the tradition of American hunting for a significant part of its battlefield superiority in terms of personal marksmanship.

The Counter Argument: Your hobby is getting people killed.

Why The Counter Argument is Bunk: Hunting weapons are not getting people killed in any great numbers. Handguns used primarily for recreational shooting are also not generally in the hands of criminals or murderers. Simply put, there does not seem to be a lot of overlap between recreational gun users and murders--at least not historically.

The Problem with Legitimate Uses: The problems are that (a) there is some overlap. People who have purchased guns with intent to murder (Adam Lansing, Elliot Rodger) have gone and fired them at ranges and such. There is no clear way to tell who is an enthusiast and who is a guy training for murder.

This argument could also be used to justify smart-guns (if you aren't arguing self-defense then the idea of the security failing temporarily doesn't matter so much) and could let out some kinds of weapons (if you restrict to hunting weapons, for example, or cheap "Saturday night specials"). Neither configuration is of interest to the gun lobby.

Argument 4: It Ain't The Guns, It's The People

The argument that bad people use guns badly is unquestionably true. If we could catch people like the San Bernadino shooters--or Lansing--before their rampage, the presence of the gun would be meaningless.

Counter Argument: You can't do that. Or, you aren't even trying to do that.

Why The Counter Argument is Bunk: We know that there are tells. Studies of school shooters have found there is significant leakage in that people talk--it just isn't reported or isn't taken seriously. The Aurora theater shooter was notably unstable and talked to his psychiatrist before his rampage. The San Bernadino jihadis has a trail of evidence on social media.

Clearly some technology or program could catch some of these people. And really, these incidents are not that common. If we could stop half of the ones that get through today . . . that'd be significant.

The Problem With It-Ain't-The-Guns: The problem here is the second part of the counter argument--no one is even trying to do this. There is no gun-lobby support for improved mental-health services. The specter of a false-positive--of well meaning authorities descending on a law-abiding gun-owner because he has triggered a profile would be seen by gun owners as proof door-to-door gun-grabs were beginning.

The idea of AI's scanning social media--of having guns registered--of basically doing anything to invade the privacy of gun owners to determine if they are dangerous--is an anathema to them. If the It's-The-People argument is made, it needs to be followed up with some kind of plan to do something, you know, about the people.


The rational for limiting guns is to make it harder for murders to murder. Failure to acknowledge that leads to bogus arguments like "Shouldn't you restrict knives??" (Firstly: Knives are greatly restricted and Secondly: knives are far harder to murder with than guns). It leads to arguments that "your favorite candidate" shouldn't have guns protecting them (as though the risk profile of everyone is equal and steps should not be taken to protect our hard-targets).

In short, it leads to stupidity.

The obvious fact is that in the hands of a bad actor, a gun is a powerful "force multiplier." If we can find some way to keep guns out of the hands of bad actors--or even reduce their presence in the hands of bad actors we limit the damage they can do.

Whether the cost-to-benefit ratio of any attempt to actually do this would be worth it specific to the plan--but failure to acknowledge this wholesale leads to stupid or meaningless arguments or makes the person sound like a conspiracy theorist.

It is true that all the sound arguments have problems--but having problems is not the same thing as being invalid. The gun-control side has issues as well (that banning assault weapons seems unlikely to have any real effect other than pissing off recreational gun owners). These arguments need to be refined so that people are actually talking about things that make sense instead of trying to tie rhetorical knots.

1 comment:

  1. Those on the right are doubling down on argument #4, though not sure how they succeed with a simple as can be 'don't let those on terror watch lists buy guns' bill from the left. If the right votes that down they will be pummeled by a weapon of their own choosing come November.