Guns Don’t Kill Americans, Stale Bad Arguments Do

This is a catch-all topic dealing with typical talking points regarding gun control in the U.S. that are regularly brought up on Boing Boing BBS.

‘No Way To Prevent This’, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” was a running series of articles in The Onion that was a satirical reaction to the regular incidence of mass shootings in the U.S.. It’s obvious to most observers why this keeps happening in America, even with dozens of kindergarten students killed in one horrific incident and lots of young people dying every year in school shootings.

It’s equally obvious why the situation has not been addressed with strong measures since the late 1970s. The defenders of supposed Second Amendment rights (some call them “ammosexuals”, “gun-strokers”, etc.) have deployed a regular and predictable set of fallacious, reality-challenged, deliberately distracting, and sometimes racist fear-mongering arguments to fight any sensible measure proposed to reduce deaths and injuries caused by firearms. This has directly paralleled the GOP’s own turn toward pandering to racism and its disdain for “reality-based” policy.

The National Rifle Association was, since a coup led by a racist murderer in 1977, the foremost provider of these talking points. It quickly became a vehicle of American conservatism’s shift toward an open embrace of white supremacy and misogyny (see, for example, the infamous "graphic novel"). In recent years the NRA’s effectiveness has collapsed under the weight of its own internal infighting and financial corruption.

Unfortunately, the damage that industry lobbying group has done lives on. In the context of Boing Boing BBS, every comment topic concerning gun control in the U.S. is regularly derailed by users desperate to distract from the very real problem that makes the U.S. unique amongst OECD countries in terms of firearms violence. The arguments and debate tactics used are also regular enough that a reference topic discussing them is in order.

Feel free to add an argument you’ve seen used on this site once or numerous times below (no straw men, please – there are plenty of legitimate examples to draw from). Also, feel free to debate a comment’s validity, and feel free to link to comments in this topic in reply to comments in other topics as appropriate to avoid repetition and derails.

[Note: Sub-threads that appear to be derailing a topic or distracting from the FPP’s main focus may be moved here by moderators or leaders as well.

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Claim: Mandatory insurance on the ownership of firearms would unfairly impact poor Americans and minorities who want to defend their homes and families.

This “crocodile tears” argument fails on a number of levels.

First, poor Americans and minorities who own cars are required to take out insurance if they want to use those vehicles. Premium rates are not so onerous that most of them will risk real financial ruin by driving uninsured. Firearms premium rates would be likely be significantly lower.

Second, firearms insurance premiums – like most insurance premiums – would be reduced significantly if the owner took certain measures regarding training, safe storage, and maintenance. “Responsible gun owners” should welcome such incentives.

Third, poor Americans and minorities (especially those who know that “moar gunz” doesn’t make a crime-ridden neighbourhood safer) generally do not collect large armories of weapons to defend their homes and families, so mandatory insurance costs would tend to be on the low side (in comparison to the costs to more affluent firearms collectors/hoarders).

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Claim: Switzerland has high levels of firearms ownership and the country’s citizen militia members are able to keep fully automatic rifles in their homes without American levels of firearms violence because the country is “ethnically homogenous” [or some other explanation that avoids discuss ing gun control]

This argument is both factually incorrect and racist (see also “gun violence is an ‘urban’ problem”). Switzerland, a country with four official languages and major ethnic divisions, is only “homogenous” if one is talking about skin colour. The reality is that Switzerland has strong laws concerning the acquisition of arms (in contrast to the ownership of arms) for any reason other than sport shooting, hunting, or collecting. It has a strong permitting regime and does prohibit certain categories of firearms. Fully automatic weapons held by milita members are subject to particularly strict restrictions concerning storage and maintenance.

This (and not “ethnic homogeneity” or other magical explanations) creates a situation of a country with a high rate of general firearms ownership compared to other Western countries but also a far lower incidence of per capita gun violence than that of the U.S.

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Poorer Americans are more likely to be victims and need the compensation that insurance would provide.

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The only thing that stops a bad guy with a bump stock is a good guy with a bump stock?

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Fourth: Mandatory Insurance doesn’t cure all ills with illegal and legal gun ownership.

Counterpoint: Solutions need not be perfect nor total to address an issue.

Mandatory insurance would drastically reduce the illegal gun trade by removing undocumented straw buying. It allows the ATF information to identify gun smugglers and hoarders without compromising personal liberties.

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That goes to another tactic we’ve seen here a lot, the Nirvana Fallacy of Gun Control.*

Claim: [Proposed gun control measure] won’t be 100% effective in reducing [negative outcome(s)], therefore we shouldn’t do it at all.

ETA: people who use this tactical sometimes come up with weird theoretical edge-case scenarios to support it.

[* Pedants will call this a perfect solution fallacy, but this has a nice ring to it]

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Also, the Swiss don’t keep ammo for those rifles in their homes.

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And are the Swiss ethnically homogeneous? They do have several official languages that seem tied to ethnicities. And the largest foreign born population in the world.

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True. I left that off because it had been covered.

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They do, in a sealed container. But it’s strictly verboten to open it unless officially sanctioned, i.e. in case war breaks out. And Switzerland being Switzerland, this works.

ETA: oops, not up to date, they stopped that in 2007. Carry on.

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Argument I heard recently
The US has a gun violence problem because of wealth disparity. Other countries have less wealth disparity and less issues with guns. Mexico has greater wealth disparity and more problems with guns.

Aside from being bogus, this one bothered me. There is a stench of classism and more than a whiff of racism- really just saying the US has a gun violence issue because of the poor people, many of whom are BIPOC. There was, implied by this since-banned user, the corollary that we can’t mitigate gun violence without fixing our wealth disparity.

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Yeah, that GINI index argument was pretty crappy. The index difference between the UK or Italy and the US was about 10%, while the difference in firearm fatalities was greater than 50 times higher in the US. The only metric that corresponds to that massive difference in firearm fatalities is, you guessed it, firearm availability.

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I think it’s worth noting that the NRA is no longer the driving force of gun culture as stated in the top post, however it has been replaced. The new driver is the No Compromise movement which lives on Facebook, driven by charismatic leaders (all selling stuff, of course). A good overview of this is the No Compromise podcast:

The name, if you aren’t worried yet, derives from their belief that ALL forms of gun control are intolerable. This new movement literally believes we should all get tanks and nukes and stealth bombers. Seriously. Like everything else in US politics, the gun movement is a lot more extreme now and more under the radar than when the relatively tame old NRA was tromping around providing talking points.

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Which means they are probably leaning more heavily into the white supremacist bullshit that was barely subtext with the NRA.

“We need guns to protect ourselves from those people”

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Claim: People arguing for gun regulation know nothing about guns and how they work, and so are motivated by irrational fear and aren’t qualified to have an opinion about them.

This is intended to have the effect of burying the discussion in a heap of technological bafflegab that goes something like this:

“Describe the function of each part shown in the diagram, and submit draft legislation for each to address the issue of gun violence. Then we’ll talk regulation.”


There have been enough discussions on the BBS to make it clear that many people here own guns and/or have a good working knowledge of them. Heck, even I know not to call a rifle a gun, but let’s not nitpick.

As for the rest of the commenters, even those who couldn’t tell a trigger sear from a magazine follower spring know that guns fire little pieces of metal (“bullets”) that can kill and maim, which is why we are talking about them here.

Fiddling around with narrow definitions of specific firearms or features is accepting the other side’s definition of the problem and their fatalistic argument that nothing will work because if we ban [a] people will just do [b].

The gunstrokers have repeatedly stated their position: no regulations about gun ownership or use. I doubt if many believe the parts about tanks and cruise missiles. It sounds like an attempt to shift the discussion rightwards in the hope that negotiation will start from there.

It’s never a good strategy to go into a negotiation starting from the other guy’s initial position, so here’s my counterproposal:

  1. Handguns. Ban them. Semiautos, revolvers, single shot, ban them all. There is no reason for civilians to have handguns that is compelling enough to outweigh the harm they do.

    1(a). “Aha,” you say, “Gotcha already. Define a handgun.” Good point. I’ll rephrase. Ban all firearms that may be folded or telescoped to a length less than 24 inches (US customary units for obvious reasons).

  2. Semiautomatics. (This term has been so frequently discussed in mainstream media that I won’t bother with a definition.) Ban them. Ban them all.

  3. Removable magazines. Ban them. This will stop Mr. Clever Gun Tinkerer looking at Section 2 above and building a .30-30 lever action carbine with a 100-round drum magazine (“The gun that won the mall parking lot”).

  4. Ban firearms that can hold more than two or three rounds, manually fed.

  5. Require licensing of owners and registration and insuring of all firearms.

  6. Second Amendment? Here we go.Throw it out. It didn’t come chiseled on stone tablets from God. It’s a document created by men for the conditions existing in the late 18th century, and misinterpreted by commercial interests in the latter half of the 20th century.

What are we left with? Conventional rifles and shotguns that have met the needs of hunters and farmers for generations. It’s hard to make the argument that a shotgun is inadequate for home defence. Defence on the street? Sorry, you don’t get to carry your guns on the street. We are all safer if that’s not allowed.

Issues of registration, background checks, red flags, exceptions for special requirements, etc to be worked out by the legislators.

A radical dream? No, I’ve just described laws not very different from those in most civilized countries. Will it fly in America? Of course not, silly, because Americans. I’m perfectly aware of that.

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Billionaires with private armies

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You say “warlords” and we say “job creators.” Potato, potahto. /s

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Claim: The right to keep and bear arms is explicitly named as a right retained by the people. Federal firearms regulations are an infringement of that right.

This tortured pseudo-“originalist” argument (see Scalia re: DC vs. Heller, 2008) ignores the inconvenient bit about the well-regulated Militia that was necessary to ensure the security of the free State defined by the main document which this clause amends. To be clear, the well-regulated militia to which the Framers referred was a regularly drilled and trained (by military professionals) state- or local-level defense force of citizen soldiers who would be called up to defend the federal state (this in contrast to random yahoos with nothing more than enough cash to buy themselves a masculinity totem).

It also assumes that the Constitution and its amendments is a document written in stone by authors with deity-like prescience who were sure they were taking into account all eventualities in one short clause. The Constitution is, in reality, a living document that is regularly adapted and altered to address changes in technology, demographics, obvious dangers (e.g. allowing mentally deranged individuals access to firearms), assumptions regarding who is considered a person in full, etc. It was drafted by 18th-century intellectuals, products of a very non-absolutist/non-dogmatic Enlightenment philosophical tradition who built in mechanisms for changing and altering and limiting even its cherished core rights in response to what they understood was an ever-changing world. The Framers also did not limit the ability to make such changes to the several states.

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Claim: the Second Amendment acts as a check/“solution” against the potential overbearing authoritarianism of the federal government.

This nonsensical and baseless interpretation – beloved of Libertarian anti-statists, white supremacist and fascist “militias”, and pandering GOP politicians – assumes that the Framers lacked so much confidence in their main document and the free State it defined that they inserted the Second Amendment as a sort of “suicide clause”. In fact, the Second Amendment specifies that its basis is to help protect that free State, AKA the United States of America, from its authoritarian enemies.

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