- “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” And
- “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”
Let me say, first, that both of these claims are slogans. They are simplistic, conceal assumptions critical to understanding them and are intended to appeal to our emotions, in part by concealing such assumptions. This much is obvious. But, although they are simplistic, I’ve seen a lot of car bumpers and windows carrying them around for everyone’s reading pleasure. To many people, they must be meaningful and important and must express some core belief succinctly. Our first task, then, is to discover this meaning. Statement A points out that guns, being material objects, don’t “intend” anything; people, being conscious and purposeful by nature (a discussion for another context), do “intend” specific outcomes. Statement A would be clearer, if written, “Guns don’t intend to kill people; people intend to kill people.” Still, this says nothing about accidental (unintentional) deaths due to gunfire or about gunfire wounds that aren’t fatal. Statement B, as written, is meaningless and owes its impact to the ambiguity and connotation of the term, “outlaws.” Prescription drugs are “outlawed”, yet, if I take a Percocet for pain after surgery, I am not an outlaw (I have permission from a registered, licensed physician). Am I an “outlaw” when I exceed the speed limit or “roll through” a “stop” sign? Are your sixteen-year-old children outlaws, if they see an R-rated film in the theater (or in your house, for that matter)? Would law enforcement, the military, the National Guard, the Coast Guard or your bodyguard (including the not-so-Secret Service) be outlaws if they owned or carried guns? When an American gives his 18-year-old son a glass of wine in a restaurant, are he and the son outlaws? When a Frenchman gives his 18-year-old son a glass of wine in a restaurant, they are not outlaws. In France, there is no age requirement to drink wine—outlaw in the U.S., law-abiding citizen in France. Obviously, Statement B uses “outlaw” in two ways. This use is intentional and is to good effect on those who are disposed to agree with it. Let’s scrutinize these claims further. Statement A, while true, is silly. It builds and knocks down the straw man argument that guns are evil because they can kill people. Nobody believes that argument. Substitute “strawberries” for “guns” in it. The result, “Strawberries don’t kill people; people kill people” is comical (to me, anyway). Or, use “poisons” or “cars” or try “Yorkshire Terriers” or “Bad breath and acne” or, well, anything in that sentence. The best reply to Statement A is, “So what?” It can be read as supporting gun control as easily as protesting it. Should we monitor and proscribe the usage of guns by people, then, instead of guns? After all, monitoring and proscribing behavior or the use of objects by people is not new. We have traffic laws and manufacturing standards for cars. We have building codes. Even law enforcement behavior is monitored and proscribed. In fact, virtually every other aspect of human behavior is monitored and proscribed by the societies in which we live. In some societies, raping, killing or beating disobedient wives are accepted; yet, oral or written expressions of discontent with authorities or institutions are not. Statement B was constructed to exploit the connotation of “outlaws” as “evil people” in the service of resisting firearms regulation. It’s meaningless because the middle term is undistributed (by changing its meaning, you change the term). For example,
All trees have leaves. This plant has leaves. Therefore, this plant is a tree.
All criminals have guns. I have a gun. Therefore, I am a criminal.
Or, Statement B is a tautology.
If owning guns violates the law and all violators of the law are outlaws, then all gun owners are outlaws (i. e., violators of the law).
To get an idea where you stand on gun control, try this short quiz: Why is gun regulation bad? (Choose all that apply) a) It violates the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States. b) Being shot is so unlikely that I don’t need to know who probably didn’t shoot me. Neither do the cops. 32,000 deaths is only 0.01% of the U. S. population. That one of them is mine is too improbable to care about. I wouldn’t care about anyone else’s even if the probability were 0.1%–maybe at 1%. Now, if I lived in El Salvador, I might feel differently about this issue and get myself a gun, even if I had to register it. c) I want to be able to defend myself against attack, but I don’t want the gun I used traced back to me. d) I want to be able to shoot someone who looks like he’s going to rob or hurt me, and I don’t want the gun I used traced back to me. e) It makes it too easy for law enforcement to arrest and convict me for a crime I committed while using a gun. It’s like hide-and-seek with breadcrumbs for the seeker, which is unfair to the hider. f) It would make it too easy for law enforcement to find out that I bought a gun for my cousin, who can’t buy his own gun because he’s a convicted felon, so he could defend himself from his competitors, witnesses of his crimes, or other enemies. If they catch him and he keeps his mouth shut, they may not catch me. g) The (federal, state, local, circle all that apply) government would know exactly how much and what kinds of firepower I’ve accumulated in the event that I need to participate in or lead an armed insurrection against it. They could use this knowledge to make their overthrow more challenging (and cost more lives) by reducing my advantage from the element of surprise. h) The cops could be prepared to defend themselves against or anticipate my possession of firearms when they come to my house. I would have no advantage in case I wanted to resist whatever purpose I thought they might be there to achieve or in case I want to scare the hell out them so they’ll shoot me and I can sue the department. i) I don’t want the cops to know and find the guy who murdered my daughter while attempting to shoot someone else. Why punish incompetence? It was just an accident. j) Just in case I’m able to shoot 26 other students at my school without being identified by -witnesses (eye-, ear-, tongue- or finger-, your choice), I can leave my gun behind and go about my business as usual without fear of arrest or reprisal. k) All of the above. l) None of the above. m) Some reason not listed above. Please provide it here:_____________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________.