Dangerous Fallacies at the Heart of the Gun Debate
10 April 2019
9 min read
TheGunBlog.ca — Here are a few dangerous fallacies at the heart of discussions about guns and gun ownership.
Where do these fallacies come from?
- They come mainly from people who want to eliminate gun ownership. Many claims and assertions by firearm prohibitionists are based on fallacies, distortions and misrepresentations, many of which are below.
What makes these statements fallacies?
- Some of them are logically or empirically false.
- Some are incomplete half-truths that may be true under one set of conditions and false under another set of conditions.
Why are these fallacies dangerous?
- Because believing them and acting as if they were valid makes our society less safe — for individual life and for democracy.
- Many “gun laws” reduce personal and public safety while pretending to increase it.
- Many “gun laws” reduce individual freedoms and rights, make us more vulnerable to abuse or attack by domestic or foreign powers, and weaken our democracy.
- Politicians and others pass such laws while pretending to “make communities safe,” eroding public trust in the authority and credibility of our political institutions.
Dangerous Fallacies at the Heart of the Gun Debate
— TheGunBlog (@TheGunBlog) April 10, 2019
Fallacy: We have gun laws. (We have gun control.)
Reality: We have people laws. (We have people control.)
The government doesn’t regulate guns. Parliament doesn’t regulate guns. Laws and regulations don’t regulate guns.
Parliament and laws regulate humans. But only humans who accept by choice or by force to be regulated.
Things don’t obey or disobey laws, humans do.
All laws are people laws.
Fallacy: Laws keep us safe.
Reality: People keep us safe. / You keep you safe. Laws don’t protect people. People do.
A. The belief that laws protect us from intentional attackers or involuntary accidents is one of the most dangerous fallacies ever. It seduces believers to their graves every day through a false sense of security. The only one who keeps you safe is you, or the people you hire to do the work for you.
B. It’s (almost) impossible to stop determined, deliberate attackers from reaching their targets. It’s difficult to stop attackers of opportunity. (Both types are often stopped by bullets, never by laws, and almost never before they act.)
C. Laws are generally useless for prevention. They are useful for prosecution and punishment after the fact, but only if we catch the perpetrators.
D. Legislation is useful for people who care about obeying the law (Lawful). Legislation is useless for people who don’t care about obeying the law or who deliberately seek to disobey it (Lawless). Most laws aimed at gun ownership restrict the Lawful in the misguided hope of stopping the Lawless. That’s why they are as unjust as they are useless.
We’ve officially had “Thou shalt not kill.” as Law 1.0 for a few thousand years. Has it kept anybody safe?
E. Education and training are often much more effective than legislation in shaping human behaviour.
Fallacy: Guns are evil.
Reality: Guns are neutral. (But most of them bring joy.)
A. Guns can be used as weapons to protect and to oppress. They can also be used for survival, sport, investing, art, history, heirlooms, engineering, education, and more.
B. Some people use guns to do bad things to good people. In peacetime, a lot more people use guns to protect themselves and their loved ones or allies from bad people. Same tool, different users. If a person uses a tool for evil, blame the user, not the tool.
C. Guns and shooting bring joy, food and pride into the lives and homes of millions of families. They are at the heart of our culture, heritage and traditions.
D. In Canada, hunters provide valuable leadership, expertise and hundreds of millions of dollars of annual support to nature conservation, wildlife protection, habitat restoration and outdoor education.
E. Farmers use guns to protect themselves, their crops and their livestock, providing food across the country and beyond.
F. Target shooting is one of the safest, most-popular and most-egalitarian sports in the world. Look down any firing line and you’ll see all ages, sexes, shapes, sizes, colours, heights, abilities, nationalities, religions, social classes, incomes, professions, languages, educations, and so forth. Sport shooting is one of the only disciplines where a 9-year-old girl can beat a 20-year-old man.
G. Canada’s firearm industry directly and indirectly creates tens of thousands of jobs and contributes billions of dollars to the economy every year.
The Bill C-71 Fallacy
Bill C-71 is built on the same fallacy as most Canadian regulations for hunters, farmers, sport shooters and gun collectors:
Fallacy: Criminalizing good people will stop bad people.
Actually: Criminalizing good people makes them dislike you.#StopC71
— TheGunBlog (@TheGunBlog) May 17, 2019
Fallacy: Guns cause crime and violence.
Reality: Humans cause crime and violence.
Things are never cause, always effect. Guns are lifeless machines acted upon by their users. Violence applies to people, not things.
Fallacy: Gun ownership correlates to crime.
Reality: Gun ownership doesn’t have any relevant or significant correlation to crime.
Everything correlates to everything else. What matters is whether the correlation is meaningful, relevant and significant.
Tautology 1: High legitimate gun ownership correlates to low crime rates. Not because of guns, but because lawful people are lawful.
Tautology 2: High illegitimate gun ownership correlates to high crime rates. Not because of guns, but because lawless people are lawless.
Sometimes firearm ownership deters crime.
Generally, the only connection between legitimate gun ownership and criminality is in the imaginations of people who desire to prohibit or restrict legitimate gun ownership. It isn’t science or statistics, it’s wishful thinking.
Fallacy: All guns are weapons.
Reality: “Every tool is a weapon — if you hold it right.” — Ani DiFranco
A. Many guns are designed to be used with ammunition as weapons.
B. Many guns aren’t designed to be used as weapons, but for sport. Many are meant as art, investments, historical artifacts, sentimental symbols, etc.
C. Jeff Cooper, paraphrase: The weapon isn’t the gun, the weapon is the bullet. The gun is just the launcher.
D. The weapon isn’t the gun, the weapon is the person holding the gun.
E. A firearm without its ammunition is about as useless as a weapon as ammunition without its launcher.
Important Note: For daily life, it’s useful to think of guns as weapons and to assume all guns are always loaded. Better: Check to make sure.
Fallacy: Guns are dangerous.
Reality: Actions are dangerous, under certain specific conditions.
Many people use guns and ammunition together as a pair because they are safe for the user, who wants the bullets to be dangerous for the target.
(Almost) No object is dangerous merely by its existence, presence, proximity or possession. (Almost) Any object is dangerous if used by the right person in the right way against the right target.
Table Test to Assess Danger of Objects
- Place object (e.g. firearm) on table.
- Sit in chair at table.
- Monitor health and safety.
- If health and safety decline, object is dangerous.
- If health and safety are unchanged or improve, object isn’t dangerous.
Important Note: “Guns are dangerous!” is a valuable slogan to remind ourselves to control them attentively. It’s similar to airline pilots, bungee jumpers or construction workers who remind each other, “Safety first!”
Fallacy: The shooting community should help to stop violent crime.
Reality: Everyone is free to work on the social causes of their choice.
A popular tactic by firearm prohibitionists is to blame hunters and sport shooters for crime.
Some gun owners want to work to reduce crime and violence. Many don’t. Both are fine.
Fallacy: Guns should be classified legally based on their danger.
Reality: Many governments classify guns, but it has nothing to do with danger.
See above: “Fallacy: Guns are dangerous.”
Many countries regulate different types of firearms differently. The laws often have nothing to do with the machines and everything to do with the lawmakers.
Size: In some places, (e.g. Canada) it’s more difficult to own small guns legally, in other places, it’s more difficult to own big guns legally.
Function, Operation, Calibre, Dimensions: Some countries regulate firearm ownership based on observable criteria.
Appearance, Arbitrary: Many countries regulate gun ownership using arbitrary criteria.
Fallacy: Guns threaten public safety.
Reality: Guns in the right hands increase public safety. Ill-intentioned humans are a threat to public safety.
Armed Canadians save lives every day, whether they are patrolling our communities with a badge or working in the remotest areas of wilderness. Every day, about 90,000 Canadian men and women, mainly police, are authorized or required to carry loaded handguns on their person for personal and public safety. When we feel unsafe or threatened, there’s a reason we call people with weapons.
Fallacy: We need to stop gun violence.
Reality: We need the means to stop violent attackers, regardless of their tools and methods.
In the past few decades, many violent attackers who are stopped have been stopped by bullets, often their own.
Fallacy: Strict laws make people more accountable.
Reality: Strict laws make people look for ways to avoid them.
Gentle laws, high compliance. Strict laws, low compliance. Prohibitions, no compliance.
Most of Canada’s “gun laws” are unenforced and unenforceable in any systematic way.
“The more laws, the less justice.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero
“There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” — Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957)
Fallacy: Guns are designed to kill.
Reality: Guns and bullets can be used to save or to kill.
A. (Technical) Guns are designed to fire bullets. Bullets are designed to fly through air. Some bullets are designed to perforate barriers and penetrate bodies, including human bodies covered by clothing or armour. Some people penetrated by bullets die within seconds or minutes.
B. (Practical): People can use guns to fire bullets at people. The practice is popular among people committed to our destruction. We should guarantee it as an option for people committed to our protection. (There’s a reason people facing a threat dial 9-1-1 for help from someone with a gun.)
C. (Practical) People can use guns to fire bullets at paper and steel. We should guarantee it as an option for people committed to recreation, competition and training.
Fallacy: A person with a gun is more dangerous than a person without a gun.
Take the Elevator Test With Joe. You and my friend Joe get into an elevator on the first floor. You bring all the guns you want. The only equipment Joe will have is his shorts. Let’s see who walks out of the elevator on the second floor. If you walk out, we correct this point.
Fallacy: All gun owners are potential killers.
Reality: The statement is true. The fallacy is believing it says something meaningful.
How it works:
- All gun owners are human. All humans are potential killers. Therefore, all gun owners are potential killers.
- All drama teachers are human. All humans are potential killers. Therefore, all drama teachers are potential killers.
- All politicians are human. All humans are potential killers. Therefore, all politicians are potential killers.
- All journalists are human. All humans are potential killers. Therefore, all journalists are potential killers.
All logically true. All irrelevant. All potentially insulting to the people concerned when used to promote regulations to restrict them.
Fallacy: Nobody needs a gun in our city.
Reality: Nobody needs anything except food, water, clothing and shelter in our city.
We certainly don’t need you or me. Thank goodness we live in a society that allows things and people we don’t need.
Fallacy: It’s important to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
Reality: It’s important to (1) keep guns in the right hands, and (2) keep guns out of the wrong hands.
If we have to prioritize, focus on (1). We have more control there. It’s easier to work with allies than enemies.
“Gun laws” are almost universally a triple-whammy of injustice, danger and lies. They take guns out of the right hands, do nothing about guns in the wrong hands, and reduce public safety while pretending to increase it.
Fallacy: Men can use guns to attack women.
Reality: The statement is true, and incomplete.
Men can use guns to protect women.
Women can use guns to protect women.
Anyone can use anything to attack anyone.
Anyone can use anything to protect anyone.
Fallacy: “If it saves just one life, it’s worth it.”
Reality: “If it saves just one life, are you kidding me?”
Every policy has benefits and costs, intended and unintended. Any policy will save lives and take lives. This is a ridiculous slogan that doesn’t belong in a serious policy debate.
- “Let’s donate all your blood to the Red Cross. If it saves just one life, it’s worth it.”
- “Let’s ban wheat. If it saves just one life, it’s worth it.”
- “Let’s incarcerate politicians. If it saves just one life, it’s worth it.”
Fallacy: Every illegal gun started as a legal gun. So if we eliminate legal guns, we eliminate illegal guns.
Reality: Guns are neither legal nor illegal. But posession and usage may be.
Legality and illegality relate to behaviours, not things. A gun that is illegal for me to possess might be legal for you to possess.
If you believe the fallacy is correct, you also believe this: Every bad adult started as a good kid. So if we eliminate good kids, we eliminate bad adults.
Fallacy: If we ban guns, we’ll have fewer people hurt or killed with guns.
Reality 1: Gun bans disarm only those obey them. (Like Stop signs stop only those who obey them. Most of us can ignore them without consequence.) The people who want to hurt or kill us don’t obey them. The people who might protect us do obey them. Gun bans disarm only our allies, never our enemies. They make us less safe, not more safe.
Reality 2: In Canada, the number of guns owned by well-intentioned users goes up every day by more than 1,000. The rate of violence with or without guns has fallen for decades.
Reality 3: Many people in the world are training right now to kill you. Some of them live very close, some of them live very far. Do you think any of them will obey our bans?
Fallacy: All licensed gun owners are angels or saints.
Reality: All licensed gun owners are human.
Every group has its crooks, liars, thieves and killers.
Canada has decades of statistics showing that people without a firearm licence are a much greater threat to personal and public safety than people with a firearm licence.
Fallacy: What if they snap?
Reality: What if you snap?
This is the concern raised by people who imagine a gun user might suddenly have a mental or emotional breakdown and decide to send bullets into themselves or others. It’s a valid question. The fallacy is to apply it exclusively to shooters.
You have a car. You have gasoline. You have knives and scissors. You can buy baseball bats, hockey sticks and swords. You have an iron. You have hands, elbows, knees and feet. What if you snap? Which of your rights, privileges or belongings should we revoke pre-emptively?
Fallacy: The gun debate is about guns.
Reality: The gun debate is only marginally about guns.
The much bigger, more important and more interesting parts of the debate involve complex topics of values, principles, political philosophy, public policy and culture.
Who is allowed to own guns? Who decides? What is the value of armed or unarmed men and women in a 21st century democracy? What is the proper role of legislation in shaping behaviour? Why do hunters and sport shooters have to obtain permission from the federal police to practice their activity? Why do we treat society’s safest and most-honest men and women with greater suspicion than the worst offenders?
And so on.
The fight for gun rights goes way beyond policy and law.
It’s a fight over values, principles, culture and the future of our society.#StayInTheFight
— TheGunBlog (@TheGunBlog) April 10, 2019
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