Archive for December, 2012

Rationality in the Wake of Sandy Hook

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

No, you haven’t been too adamant in favor of gun rights. No, you should not feel guilty that maybe the tragedy at Sandy Hook could have been avoided if you and others had agreed to toss out the Second Amendment a long time ago. To those who feel overwhelmed by the surge of public opinion against gun ownership, I offer the following thoughts.

Arguments against freedom to own guns rely on false assumptions about consequences and causation. The usual anti-gun argument goes something like, “Guns are dangerous; people with guns sometimes kill other people; so we should take away guns.” A more moderate version includes the same false assumptions: “Some guns are especially dangerous; people with these especially dangerous guns sometimes kill other people; so we should take away these especially dangerous guns.”

Can you spot the fallacy? Unlike nuclear material, unstable explosives, or untested chemicals, guns are not inherently dangerous. A gun only becomes dangerous by intervention of human will. A gun sitting on a shelf can’t hurt anyone—even in an earthquake, fire, or flood, a gun does not become any more dangerous than other household items. This applies equally to assault weapons.

The anti-gun lobby would reply, “Guns are different because with a few pounds of pressure on a gun’s trigger, a person can kill someone. This makes them different than kitchen knives, shovels, etc. that sometimes double as weapons. The ease with which a person can kill with a gun places them in a different category—a category meriting government regulation.” But this doesn’t change the fact that human will, not the gun itself, is the necessary ingredient. Guns are precision weapons. Unlike hand grenades or mortars, a gun shoots where it is pointed.

The irrationality of restricting gun ownership based on the inherent danger of firearms is further highlighted by a comparison of gun deaths with car-crash deaths. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “32,885 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2010.” 962 of those deaths were children younger than 13. The FBI recorded only 8,775 total firearm murders in 2010, with 96 of the victims under the age of 13. This also shows the irrelevance of comparing rates of gun deaths in the U.S. with rates of gun deaths in other countries. Of course where there are more guns there will be more gun deaths. That doesn’t answer any relevant question. One would also not be surprised to find car-related deaths are wonderfully low in societies with few cars. So arguing against gun-ownership because “guns are dangerous” simply doesn’t hold water. Very few would advocate that we ban cars.

Of course guns are especially well suited to killing. For most gun owners that’s why they buy guns. If the anti-gun folks are honest, they will admit that the real reason behind their anti-gun sentiment is that they don’t want others to have the power to easily kill. In their narrow personal experience, they don’t think that the average person has need for or can be trusted with this power. Having mentally remade the world in the image of their own lives, they can’t see the value to a mom who has to walk her kids to and from the bus stop in a bad part of town. They can’t see the value to a business owner who has been robbed and terrorized in the past by local thugs. They can’t see the value to a woman who fears she will be raped or murdered by an angry ex-boyfriend/husband who physically is far stronger than she is.

LTC (Ret.) Dave Grossman, a U.S. Army Ranger and the author of On Killing, related a conversation that he had with an veteran of the Vietnam War.

“There are the wolves,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep.

There is no safety in denial.

“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.” If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.”

Some might argue that this metaphor only applies to soldiers and policemen. Not so. Status as military or law enforcement doesn’t mean the person is not a wolf—anyone who follows the news will accept that without argument. Moreover, a person’s civilian status doesn’t mean they are sheep. FBI statistics show that 278 private citizens justifiably killed a felon during the commission of a felony in 2010, and 232 of them used a gun. Compare this with 385 instances in which a member of law enforcement in the line of duty used a gun to kill a felon.

That means that in 39% of all legally justified shooting deaths, it was a civilian who stopped the felon. This doesn’t account for the many, many instances in which displaying a firearm deterred an attack without needing to fire it.

Simply put, proponents of gun-control want to take away your right to defend yourself because they don’t trust you. They are afraid of you. They fear the wolf, so they pull out the sheepdogs’ teeth.