The recent tragedy in Arizona has reignited the debate about the role of guns in American society. Frankly, I don’t understand the pro-gun argument; it seems wrong on several levels. Here are my thoughts on the usual pro-gun talking points, and why I think society would be better off without firearms. If you’re more familiar with this issue than I (and I bet most people are), please let me know where I’m going wrong.
Argument 1: Bad people have guns, therefore we need guns to protect ourselves
This argument is flawed for two reasons, one logical and the other practical. The first flaw is obvious: it’s called begging the question. The argument is saying, essentially, that guns are present in society, and for that reason we need guns to be present in society. Of course, this doesn’t mean the argument is wrong, it just means it’s poorly constructed.
The second flaw, then, is where the argument really falls apart. Whenever a mass shooting occurs, pro-gun people decry the fact that there weren’t more guns present. They wonder aloud about how the incident would’ve played out if only more bystanders had been packing heat. According to this fantasy, the gunman would’ve been shot almost immediately by well-armed civilians, preventing further casualties.
Reality, though, is typically far messier than fantasy. Take the Arizona shootings, which happened outside a busy supermarket with dozens, if not hundreds, of people in the immediate area. Even if only a small percentage of these bystanders had been armed, that’s still tens of people shooting at each other. How would they tell the original shooter from the others? What if an undercover or off-duty police officer was present? Wouldn’t the ensuing chaos provide perfect cover for the original shooter to escape? Friendly fire casualties still occur in modern war zones, even though soldiers wear uniforms and use sophisticated communications equipment; just think of the innocent life that might be lost from dozens of untrained, panicked and isolated civilians shooting at each other. It seems like a recipe for disaster to me.
Argument 2: The right to bear arms is in the Constitution, therefore it’s okay
Another logical flaw: slavery was in the Constitution, too, but that didn’t make it okay (I’m assuming, of course, that you’re just pro-gun and not also a racist). But besides that, my problem with this argument is that it’s inconsistent with other right wing positions (I’m conflating pro-gun people with right wing people – if you consider yourself one of the former but not of the latter, I apologize). Take for example the controversy over so-called ‘anchor babies.’ Some conservatives are pushing for a constitutional amendment to rescind the clause guaranteeing citizenship for anyone born on American soil. Why is the 14th Amendment less sacred than the Second?
Argument 3: We need guns to keep government in check
This is probably the oldest pro-gun argument, and it actually stems from debates that occurred during the writing of the Constitution (the Wikipedia article on the drafting of the Second Amendment is quite good, and well worth a read). While the right to bear arms has been entrenched in common law since the English Bill of Rights of 1689, it was included in the American Constitution for several reasons, most of which are no longer relevant in the 21st century. Nevertheless, some gun supporters argue that the Second Amendment is necessary because a well-armed citizenry is the only way to ensure the continued freedom of the people. To me, this comes across as laughably naive. I’m not saying government tyranny is a good thing, but I am saying that should the government decide to go down that road, civilians wielding guns aren’t going to stop it.
The pro-gun argument just has too many flaws. Until I read something that addresses at least one of these problems, I’m staying firmly in the anti-gun (or, more accurately, pro-gun control) camp.
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