Shootings are now a slice of Americana, bringing out SWAT teams, burly police chiefs, grief counselors, media speculation about the usually-20-something-year-old-male shooter’s motive, and impromptu flower pile memorials. They also bring out the peculiar logic of the NRA and extremist gun nuts. I’m not talking about responsible gun owners here. I’m talking about the ones who claim that guns and the wide accessibility of them have nothing to do with shootings, ones who cry that we shouldn’t blame the gun and make our right to bear arms another victim of the tragedy.
Let’s fire back:
Gun Nut: “Guns Don’t Kill People. People Kill People.”
This argument just makes the obvious point that some events have multiple causative factors. A tool alone can’t do anything. Hammers don’t build buildings. People build buildings.
True, a little old gun minding its own business in a gun locker never harmed anyone. Neither did Hitler’s Panzer divisions when they were simply parked in Germany.
Point out that people are more likely to kill people by using guns than other tools because guns are easy to get and oh-so convenient. Unlike with knives or clubs, you don’t get all messy when you shoot someone. (Clean up is easy!) Also, it’s hard to commit a mass killing with a club or knife. Eventually the crowd will fight back and probably kick your ass.
If you really want to show the stupidity of this argument, just fire back, “Guns don’t cause school shootings. Schools do.”
Gun Nut: “Banning guns won’t prevent mass killings. Evildoers will just find another way to kill people.”
This is the “If there’s a will, there’s a way,” or, the “Let’s just throw up our hands/I give up!” argument. You can’t always stop someone who’s committed to doing a particular act. It’s also a general/specific argument: You can’t prevent a general harm by eliminating one of the specific things that can cause it.
Fire back, saying that while we can’t completely eliminate the possibility of mass killings, we can lessen their likelihood and magnitude by banning or limiting access to guns, or certain kinds of guns. If the gun nut disagrees, tell him to try committing a mass shooting with a musket.
Or fire back with satire: “Locking your house is not the answer to preventing theft; bad guys will always find a way to steal your stuff. Banning pedophiles from schools is not the answer to protecting children; sickos will always find a way to harm kids.” I mean, why ever bother with preventive measures?
Gun Nut: “I have a constitutional right to bear arms!”
You don’t need a law degree to fire back here – trust me on that, I’m a law professor. Tell the gun nut that constitutional rights aren’t absolute. There are times when the government can infringe upon them. Some speech is outlawed. Some discrimination is OK. And so on.
Point out that the second amendment doesn’t even mention guns. It’s about “arms.” Ask the gun nut if he believes we have a right to bear grenades, tanks, bazookas, bombs, and anthrax. If you get the gun nut to agree that any of those should be banned or controlled, bang, you win. Because you’ve been arguing all along that the right isn’t absolute; it’s about line-drawing. Argue that assault rifles cross the line into the very dangerous weapons your friend agrees should be banned.
If the gun nut says he interprets the constitution according to “original intent,” never fear. Fire back, “I support your right to own a musket, hatchet, and horse-drawn cannon. “
Gun Nut: “I need a gun to overthrow the government if it violates our rights.”
I used to like this argument – I’m a huge civil libertarian. But a few years ago, I noticed a funny thing when our government started violating our rights by using torture, detaining people indefinitely, and spying on us: None of the gun nuts I knew overthrew or even tried to overthrow the U.S. government. They didn’t even talk about doing it.
The only right they care about is their right to own a gun.
Gun Nut: “Just arm everyone – mass shootings won’t happen!”
True that some would be prevented. But fire back by pointing out that arming everyone would cause more harm than good. There would be a lot of … little shootings.
I’ve confessed to many a gun nut that there have been times when it was very good that I wasn’t armed. I’d have blown away some prick who cut me off in traffic or stole my parking space – slights that don’t deserve the death penalty. I’ve even bonded with some gun nuts over such anger – a good way to end an argument.
Gun Nut: “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.”
This claim is just wrong, because POLICE will still have guns. (Ask the gun nut: “Are you calling POLICE outlaws?! They’re heroes!)
But let’s take on a more generous interpretation of this claim. The argument capitalizes on fear: If only outlaws (evildoers) have guns, they’ll take advantage of us non-outlaws (inlaws?).
Fire back by saying that if guns were outlawed, there would be fewer bad people using guns against good people. Beef up police forces to catch these outlaws. Or don’t bother – with fewer firearms out there, we might not need so many cops.
Have fun by using an “If there’s a will, there’s a way” argument against the gun nut: “Banning guns won’t prevent good people from defending themselves. Good people will always find a way to defend themselves and their families.” Ask the gun nut: What’s your problem?
Continue your rhetorical jujitsu by saying, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Tell the gun nut that he doesn’t need a gun to kill an assailant.
When the gun nut whines, “But it’s way easier to kill with a gun!” well, bang: you got him. He just agreed with your main argument.
Brian J. Foley is a law professor and humorist. He’s the author of the satirical financial self-help book, A New Financial You in 28 Days! A 37-Day Plan. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org