Unfounded Assumptions on Gun Control

When I wrote about the value of empowering my son to use sharp knives rather than restricting him from using them and compared that to the issue of gun control I got a number of opposing comments that were so full of assumptions that it warranted a separate post to address those assumptions. This is that post.

In the very first comment the assumption was stated that because I was raised pro-gun and the commentor was raised anti-gun our biases might prevent us from being able to have a productive conversation. I sincerely hope that is not the case but for the record I was NOT raised pro-gun. I was raised without any real reference to guns. My bias is not so much pro-gun as it is pro-solution with a bias towards individual liberty.

Another assumption -unspoken but clear from the context of multiple comments – is that my position is essentially that all restrictions on gun ownership are either wrong or pointless. I’m not sure how I failed to convey my true position which is that while there are a number of restrictions that I can fully support, no amount of restricting access to guns will be sufficient to end the issue of gun violence. Perhaps the reason for this disconnect comes from the apparently different context in which I and this commentor are speaking from.

He is obviously speaking from an individual context. He states that he has never seen a gun and thus guns are effectively harmless in his life and will remain so barring the unlikely event that he becomes the victim of a crime involving guns at some point in the future. (This also helps explain why he finds guns scary beyond all reason.) From that individual context I must agree that guns can  be removed completely as a likely source of harm in a persons life in many situations (I don’t think that can be said of some high-crime areas where some people live but certainly in some places it is true).

The disconnect is that I am speaking on a national scale where the possibility of removing guns from society is effectively zero. We have an amendment to the most basic law of our land explicitly allowing for gun ownership and even if we could nullify that amendment – through the concurrence of 2/3 of each house of Congress and 3/4 of the state legislatures – we have millions of guns legally owned which cannot legally be confiscated because it is unconstitutional to enforce a law against someone who supposedly broke that law before it was passed. In other words, the scope of my position cannot operate on the theory of no gun ownership because no gun ownership is simply not realistic.

Finally, while this is not specifically a matter of faulty assumption, there is the issue of definitions. We cannot have a productive conversation if one conversant is allowed to redefine anything so that it conforms to their pre-determined position. In this case I am referring to the purposes of guns. When I argue that guns have purposes other than taking life the response is to redefine the mere presence of a gun as a threat to take a life and hence its purpose is to take a life. No amount of facts is likely to change such a closed mind – like the fact that the vast majority (the evidence suggests more than 90%) of defensive gun uses do not involve discharging the weapon. In other words, the fact that the vast majority of times the actual use of guns is as a show of force (defensively and offensively)  is overridden by the declaration that the only purpose of guns is to take life. Somehow the person making this statement fails to see the cognitive dissonance between the position that while the majority of gun uses do not involve the taking of life that is their only purpose and the assertion that while knives have been used to kill people many times their primary purpose is not to take life.

I agree that no productive conversation is possible if those who disagree with my position cannot accept my true positions that there are useful restrictions on gun ownership that can be made, that a show of force is a purpose unto itself distinct from the taking of life, and that the complete removal of guns from society is not feasible. If someone insists that I am against all restrictions on gun ownership, that guns have no purpose other than to take life (because a show of force is for that same purpose), or that we can reasonably remove all guns from our society then they are obviously more interested in debating a straw man than in having a productive discussion.

If those descriptions of my positions are accepted as accurate then the only thing left to interfere with a productive conversation would be using allusions in place of facts. This practice is often prompted by biases but we can have our biases and still have a productive conversation so long as we back our positions with facts rather than allusions. (I recognize that this does not guarantee that we will come to agreement but it does make productive conversation possible even with opposing biases.) That being said, the biggest impediment to a productive conversation is not the erroneous assumption about my biases but the opening statement about “the old evidence” which was stated as a fact but had zero substance to back it up.

There is a hollow (meaning devoid of facts and figures) statement in that first comment that gun crime in Europe is lower than gun crime in the U.S. but that statement – even if true – masks the well documented fact that violent crime (a category that does not require the presence of guns but is a much more useful measure of safety in society)  is much higher in Europe than it is in America and that  it has been documented that there is a direct correlation between the rate of violent crimes and the barriers to firearm access. In other words, the harder it is to acquire a gun the more violent crime tends to be perpetrated in a population and when new barriers to acquiring a gun are enacted higher rates of violent crime tend to follow.

The question that remains is whether there is any possibility left for productive discussion after this attempt to clarify my position.