Gun regulations megapost:
I’ve gotten accused of a lot of frankly weird things in talking about gun rights, but one of the main things has been being too verbose and asking too many questions. I feel this is an incredibly unfair and frankly baffling contention, since gun rights are a dense, tricky subject, interfacing with property rights, self-defense rights, public safety, privacy, and a host of other issues and to treat them at all seriously you need to go into it in depth.
Still, to keep things to a minimum, I am going to lay out my thinking in this here megapost. I am going to include counterarguments where I can, and do a synthesis where I can.
You will notice a lack of reference to the 2nd amendment. This is because referencing the 2nd amendment is not an argument, but just a citation of fact. The majority of gun regulation laws decided at the Supreme Court level have been decided by a 5-4 majority. The constitutionality of gun ownership as an individual right, or as a highly unregulated right, etc. is as tenuous, if not more, than the privacy rights and abortion rights guaranteed in Roe v. Wade. The dissents make compelling arguments for guns as a collective right with self-defense as the individual right. Anyone who relies on the 2nd amendment during an argument about what our gun policy should be is missing the point: The question is what policy we should have. The 2nd amendment is not a part of that conversation except to the extent that it offers an argument. The argument in the 2nd amendment for the possession of guns is the need for a militia, and so the 2nd amendment, on its own, is a very weak, very poor argument.
1. For any firearm regulations to really change in the US, gun culture has to change.
This is rather obvious, but it needs to be stressed. The push, in the wake of school shooting tragedies, for legislation addressing the problem is not helpful. It is not helpful because these laws tend to be badly written, but also because, even if there is political will in the wake of a tragedy, that ground gained would not be permanent and can be rolled back. We would not be celebrating the gay rights victories in the courts if the culture of the US wasn’t also becoming more and more tolerant of gay people.
Counterargument: Changing laws will change culture. The Civil Rights movement wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if it didn’t focus on legal changes.
Rebuttal: This is relatively difficult to argue, but I don’t think it holds water because we have numerous examples to show that it doesn’t. Prohibition didn’t change US drinking culture for the better, it actually made it worse. The anti-abortion culture in the US has made abortion rights restrict even while gay rights expand. Laws are absolutely a part of this change, but they should capitalize on cultural change, not be expected to produce it on its own. The Civil Rights movement was very much a cultural as well as a legalistic force.
2. Guns are a tool designed for a purpose. The purpose of guns is to kill things. That guns are also used for plinking tin cans and for target shooting does not eradicate their actual purpose, which is to kill. Among the things they are designed to kill is human beings.
Counterargument: Guns are for fun, some guns can’t kill a human being, guns are for threatening and not for killing.
Rebuttal: Each of these may be true, but the reason that guns were invented, the improvements to their design, their central purpose is to kill. Corner cases do not contradict this.
3. If a person has a gun, they should be trained to use that gun for the purpose that they bought the gun for. This may seem like common sense, but there’s a surprising amount of pushback against this. Still, if one starts from the beginning, I think this contention is a very powerful one. If someone buys a gun for self-defense, then they should be able to defend themselves with that gun. If someone buys a gun for hunting, they should be able to hunt with that gun. They should be able to do these things safely, without presenting an undue risk to themselves or others. If they cannot use the gun safely for the purpose that they bought it for, then there is no purpose for which they actually have the gun.
Counterargument: Honestly, I have a hard time finding a counterargument to this. Currently, in many, many states, you can just buy a gun and keep it at home with zero training. This makes minimal sense, and I think is a large part of the PR problem of the gun community, that it has such a low barrier to entry. Many other places have an incredibly law bar to even carry a concealed weapon around, like Florida, where a hunter safety course is enough to get you a CCW. I have not yet had anyone articulate an actual reason why people who want a gun for a purpose should not get the training necessary to use and be tested on that training.
I have seen the argument that some current gun training courses are already sufficient for this. I’m fine with that argument, as long as that contention gets tested.
4. Gun bans are counterproductive, expending political capital for little return. The number of guns in the US is already so high that bans do little to affect actual numbers. Gun bans turn people who are just ignorant and/or fearful into criminals, when a better solution can be found.
Counterargument: Gun bans lower gun violence.
Rebuttal: While it may be true, though hard to prove, that bans alone can reduce gun violence, there are lots of places with gun bans and high gun violence, because the guns are simply brought in from more lax areas. There is little point to having a gun ban in the city when anyone can just drive into the city with a gun. This also leads to people who are legal carriers passing through another jurisdiction being arrested, which is a waste of time and money. Gun bans expend a ton of political capital and tend to focus on ‘villain’ guns like ‘assault rifles’, while cheap handguns contribute far, far more to gun violence. In theory, I kind of support the ‘right’ of a city to decide gun regulations inside it, but I see it as really besides the point and counterproductive.
5. Most people buying guns for self-defense don’t need them, and actually increase their risk by buying them. People look at the national numbers for crime and come to the conclusion that they are at risk for violent crime, but the simple truth is that most people are not at any particular risk for violent crime, and where they are at risk, it is from intimate partners, friends, or family, and a gun would be unlikely to be useful. Stranger crime—being attacked by someone you don’t know—is rare, and it is very rare in most places. It mostly occurs in particular areas of cities, along drug corridors, and between criminals or those who live among criminals. People need to assess their actual situational safety and not use national numbers, and they need to honestly self-assess their risk of gun accidents, too.
Counterargument: Even though the risk may be low, who is to say what’s too low? People have a right to make themselves safe even against unlikely fears.
Rebuttal: Guns are not just a danger to the person who has them, but to society at large. They can be stolen—which many, many guns are each year—or be used in suicides. We would not support the right of people to burn tires in their back yard to drive away rabid raccoons; the actual likelihood of an event has got to count for something, and the risk of the response to that event. Furthermore, this touches on one of the worst aspects of gun culture, the paranoid “You’re never safe” attitude, the vigilante attitude, that causes problems far beyond the actual physical gun problems.
Finally, we should remember that most gun owners are just ordinary people. Most gun owners are not the fetishists, and the bad habits of gun culture come from a minority of yahoos. Gun owners, in general, take gun ownership seriously. My proposals, I feel, would strengthen the gun community and protect them, long-term, against the loss of gun rights. In the current moment, more and more antipathy towards gun owners is building up in ordinary people, partially because of the unwillingness to compromise—but this unwillingness is mainly pushed from groups like the NRA. I think that responsible gun owners exist and are reachable, but that they have been propagandized for a long, long time and need to be approached rationally and patiently. We should remember that we live in a very safe country in general, and that most violent crime is confined to intra-group violence in areas that need a sociological solution.
I would also note that the proposal I’m making for training and testing doesn’t touch at all on the ‘good character’ thing which is so often cited.
If you’ve read this whole thing, thank you for your time and attention. If you feel I’ve made any errors, please point them out. All I ask is that, given I took time and care with this post, you take time and care in your reply. If I am in error, show where I am in error and actually demonstrate it, construct an argument, not just an assertion. This topic needs to be approached soberly and judiciously: it is not going to go away, and if responsible gun owners don’t step up, their gun rights may be severely restricted within our lifetime.