I wrote a post like this a few months ago, and I didn’t post it because it’s not really in my field. With the shooting last week, it seems right to revisit the topic regardless. The issue of gun control is too important to ignore.
What prompts these particular observations is Facebook. A friend of mine posted about how sad he was on Friday, and asked “is a right to bear arms really more important than the lives of innocent children?” What followed was a series of comments sharing the sadness, but excusing the role of guns.
These conversations are repeated again and again, every time there’s a shooting. They’re predictable cliches, obvious at the point of saying them but not true in reality.
If the victims were armed too, it wouldn’t happen
Seems logical – all you need is someone to shoot back and the massacre is averted. Unless of course the victims are six year olds, who don’t carry guns. Or people sitting in the dark in a movie theatre, who wouldn’t know where to shoot. Or people shot in their beds, like this particular killer’s mother on Friday. Even if this was true, do you really want a guns locker in your kindergarten classroom or the lobby of your Sikh temple?
Guns don’t kill people, people do
Spoons don’t stir coffee and cars don’t drive, but they were designed and created for the purposes of stirring and driving, and that’s what people use them for. Most guns are designed for the specific purpose of killing human beings, so let’s not act surprised when some people want to use them for it. Technology is not neutral, and you can’t divide an object from its purpose. Yes, people kill people. People kill people with guns.
People would use knives if they didn’t have guns
I live in a country where even the police don’t carry guns, and we don’t have knife-killing sprees. Killing someone with a gun is very different from attacking someone with a knife. With a gun you can kill quickly, at a distance, detached and completely in control. Anyone can kill with a gun, but with a knife you have to physically overpower your victim. There’s no way you can take on 20 people with a knife.
Guns used to commit crimes are usually obtained illegally
This isn’t an argument, it’s simply said in ignorance, but even if it were true it would be a good reason for more gun control, not less. As it happens, it’s not true. Three quarters of the guns used is mass shootings are obtained entirely legally. Most of the shooters don’t have previous convictions, and they are well within their rights to buy and own their murder weapons.
The real problem is mental illness
Sane people don’t take a gun to work and slaughter their colleagues, says the logic, so the real task is to identify and care for vulnerable young adults. That sounds fair enough, except that mental illness is only a factor in 3-5% of violent crime. The shock of family and friends is a recurring theme of these incidents, which suggests we’re not very good at seeing it coming. And mental illness could develop after you’ve bought your guns. Besides, the logic fails when we apply to other things. People can become alcoholics because they’re depressed, lonely or bored, but we’d still say they have a ‘drink problem’, and solving that problem means addressing the addiction and the causes together.
These things just happen
Mass shootings can happen anywhere, it’s the frequency of them in the US that’s exceptional. In Britain there were 39 people killed with firearms last year, and 9,484 in the US. The US population is five times bigger than Britain’s, but gun deaths are 240 times higher. There’s a problem here, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out the correlation between the availability of guns and the use of them to shoot people dead. The rest of the world knows this and has dealt with gun crime, without compromising individual liberty or making people feel less safe. Controlling access to guns doesn’t mean an all-out ban either, you can still own guns and shoot for recreation in Britain.
It’s not politically possible to change the law
All the excuses above are from those who don’t want the gun laws to change. This one is from those that do, but who have given up – ‘nothing will change, nothing ever does’. That’s no more helpful than those arguing against gun control. The fact is, gun control is entirely possible if it’s done right. Surveys show that the majority of people would support specific measures such as banning high capacity clips and semi-automatic weapons, or registering guns. The gun lobby is powerful, but it is not a lost cause. Despite the hype, gun ownership is actually falling and 57% of Americans don’t own a gun. The time is right for new compromises and fresh approaches to the issue.