FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

If You Don’t Support Gun Control, Then You Don’t Support the Police

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” So said National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre almost four years ago, shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre. This was a weak argument then, but now – with the mass shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge – it is completely untenable. “Good guys” with guns were still unable to prevent the “bad guys” with guns from inflicting terrible damage.

For far too long, the NRA has managed to get away with three very flimsy reasons for opposing gun control. The “good guys”/”bad guys” argument above is just one of them. The other two are what we might call “Second Amendment Fatalism” and “False Dichotomism.” Once we subject these three reasons to the slightest bit of rational scrutiny, they quickly unravel.

According to Second Amendment Fatalists, the only governmental action that might prevent dangerous people from possessing and misusing guns is confiscation. But, they claim, confiscation of most or all 300+ million guns out there is prohibited by the Second Amendment, not to mention logistically impossible. So we have no choice but to resign ourselves to the status quo. Gun violence is the “new normal” and we all just have to hope that we don’t get caught in the crosshairs.

Aside from sounding disturbingly complacent, Second Amendment Fatalists are simply wrong that confiscation is necessary to reduce gun violence. Many other comparably wealthy countries that permit gun ownership do not suffer nearly the same numbers of casualties. There must, then, be something different about us – what has been referred to as the “dark side” of American exceptionalism. And whatever this difference is, there is no reason to think that it can’t be addressed.

For decades, American media and entertainment industries have glorified rugged, violent individualism. They have continually conveyed the message that males can become instant celebrities – intriguing, masculine, powerful, and decisive – if they finally, dramatically take matters into their own hands. This cultural “script” underlies all gang warfare – hundreds of thousands of boys and young men trying to prove their toughness, courage, and loyalty by shooting their rivals. It also helped to motivate the spate of school shootings in the 1990s; the students who committed these acts were merely following, consciously or unconsciously, in the footsteps of people like James Earl Ray, Charles Manson, the Son of Sam, Michael Corleone, Rambo, and the Terminator. They saw random violence as the most effective way to vent their rage and ascend the social hierarchy. Adult “copycats” then helped transfer these mass shootings out of middle schools and high schools and into colleges, malls, movie theaters, workplaces, and – now – the streets.

So a large part of our effort to reduce gun violence must involve de-romanticizing it. We must also start chipping away at the other cultural causes of our pathologically high suicide and homicide rates. This means, among other things, reforming drug laws to make illegal drug-dealing less profitable and therefore less susceptible to “turf” battles and making a concerted effort in our various institutions – especially schools and workplaces – to minimize the causes of suicide and “going postal”:  marginalization, bullying, unfair treatment, and exploitation (including excessively low wages). Police departments would also do well to implement policies that reduce bullying and unfair treatment as well.

All of this brings us back to LaPierre’s notion that we need many more “good guys” to be armed so that they can take out the “bad guys.” People who agree with LaPierre – call them “Superheroes” – are the lame foils to mass shooters. They fancy themselves as modern-day John Waynes and Dirty Harrys.

Again, the mass shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge expose the fallacy of LaPierre’s “wild west” mentality. What he and his many followers fail to realize is that, despite first appearances, it is extremely difficult to be a successful Superhero. Accurate and effective shooting in a sudden, stressful, and fast-paced emergency situation requires extensive tactical training. Without this training, a would-be Superhero will likely do much more harm than good – not only during a mass shooting but at all other times. The mere presence of a gun on one’s person significantly increases the chances of bringing about the very panic and violence that carrying the gun was designed to prevent – sometimes from trained police themselves, as the recent fatal shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, Philando Castile in Minnesota, and Dylan Noble in California attest.

Indeed, it will be tragic but not at all surprising if there are similar incidents at the Republican Convention this week, where both pro- and anti-Trump forces may take dangerous advantage of Ohio’s open-carry laws. At the very least, the possibility of all these angry people bearing arms poses a real threat to the many Cleveland police officers who are tasked with maintaining order and safety.

The third camp of gun-control opponents – False Dichotomists – insist that only people, not guns, kill people. So if we genuinely want to reduce the number of homicides and suicides, we need to figure out a way to control the people who misuse guns, not the guns themselves. Merely putting more serious restrictions on the manufacture and sale of guns will not prevent “bad,” “mad,” and “sad” people from deciding to kill themselves or others. Instead, they will all resort to stealing them, buying them on the “black market,” or finding some other means of killing (bombs, bats, knives, chains, bows and arrows, blow torches, etc.). After the terrorist attack in Nice, False Dichotomists were proclaiming – sarcastically – that we should now ban all trucks.

What False Dichotomists fail to realize is that, true to their label, they have set up a false dichotomy between “bad guys” and guns. It doesn’t have to be one or the other; both can be – and are – part of the problem. The fact of the matter is that guns are designed to kill much more easily, rapidly, and efficiently than most other objects – including trucks. So it stands to reason – and the data in different states indicate – that certain gun-control measures are the most effective cure for this part of the problem. These measures include expanding background checks, requiring rigorous background checks for all online and gun-show purchases, requiring a license for gun ownership, renewing the federal ban on assault rifles (both automatic and semi-automatic), repealing these ridiculously permissive open-carry and concealed-carry laws, and raising taxes significantly on bullets (“bullet control”).

Still, False Dichotomists do get something right. Unlike Second Amendment Fatalists, False Dichotomists often claim that we should expand access to mental healthcare. Of course, we need to take this suggestion with a huge grain of salt. Most False Dichotomists are Republicans, and Republicans are generally opposed to Obamacare and any other government-related mechanisms for delivering expanded mental healthcare. Once again, though, it doesn’t have to be one or the other – either expanded access to mental healthcare or gun control. We can and should do both.

The NRA and their Republican supporters’ enthusiastic encouragement and passage of lax gun laws and policies over the past 30 years have sadly enabled hundreds of thousands of senseless, needless deaths and injuries. It’s high time, then, that they atone for their destructive influence by renouncing the same old unproductive, callous platitudes and canards and finally getting on board with a sensible multi-pronged approach that includes gun control. In the end, this is really the only way to honor the Baton Rouge and Dallas police officers who were viciously murdered – and to better protect all of the police officers who are still serving.

Ken Levy is the Holt B. Harrison Associate Professor of Law at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University.

More articles by:

Ken Levy is the Holt B. Harrison Professor of Law at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University.

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail