This article was originally written on July 24, four days after the Aurora movie theater shooting, and therefore refers heavily to arguments pertaining to that event. However, the arguments can still be applied to the continuing debate on gun control.
Gun control has been a hot topic for debate over the past few months given the serious tragedies witnessed this summer. The issue has reared its head once again with the recent Colorado Supreme Court decision to allow concealed weapons to be carried into public university classrooms.
I am firmly in the pro-gun control camp, and this article aims to gather common anti-gun control arguments and provide a response.
I support an outright ban on all firearms with the exception of weapons reasonably used for defense or hunting, i.e. pistols and certain rifles and shotguns, respectively. I realize that there are issues as to how to actually legislate such a ban, but this will focus on why one is necessary.
Here are the opposing arguments I have witnessed:
[I tend to pick on assault rifles in particular, but this applies to any gun not necessary for self-defense or hunting.]
1. It is our Second Amendment right to have firearms.
True, which is why I am not supporting a ban on every gun. Unfortunately, people frequently make the mistake of thinking this specifically means they have the right to assault rifles, or other high-powered weapons.
This is totally arbitrary.
There is no particular reason the Second Amendment would grant you the right to assault rifles any more than the right to a tank or nuclear warhead. In any practical sense, an assault rifle will not really offer you better self-defense than a pistol. Most crimes are committed by one person, sometimes two. Most break-ins in the U.S. are not committed by militias. Shooting that criminal 32 times with an assault rifle won’t give you more protection than shooting him once with a pistol.
A few people might also argue that it’s still a right just to collect them for fun, but again, that’s arbitrary. Some people probably would love to collect Stinger missiles as well, but most wouldn’t argue that’s a good idea.
2. Keeping strong weapons is necessary for maintaining a check on government power.
This is also claimed as part of the Second Amendment, but there are a few problems, both legally and practically.
Firstly, from what I understand, the Supreme Court doesn’t necessarily agree with it to the extent that it would unequivocally permit assault rifles. Part of the court’s decision in District of Colombia v. Heller was that military grade weapons are not necessarily permitted.
Secondly, unless you also think we have the right to tanks, bombers, etc., this is pretty much irrelevant. The U.S. military is by far the most powerful in the world, and even with our insanely high gun per capita ratio, the general population would hardly stand a chance. If you really think this is an issue, pushing for drastically downsizing the military would be much more useful. But either way:
Thirdly, for various reasons, fearing government oppression in the U.S. on a scale that would require armed insurrection is irrational. Unfortunately, elaborating on this would take another article, so I’ll have to graze past it. It’s mainly because of democracy in case you’re wondering.
3. If some people in the Aurora movie theater had their own weapons, more people would have been saved.
In a way I agree with this, which is why I support access to weapons that are reasonable for self-defense, such as pistols.
Anything more would not only be unnecessary, but probably would have made things worse. Having people try and fight back by shooting through a crowd and a cloud of tear gas even with a gun equally as big as Holmes’s would carry a huge risk of causing further harm.
However, with a pistol in the hands of someone who knew how to use it, the collateral damage would easily have been less than the incredible harm caused by Holmes. Obviously, it would still be a huge risk due to the crowd and gas, but in terms of total casualties, defending with a pistol could have done a lot of good.
As for banning guns in certain places, I would agree that making the movie theater, or many other places, a “gun free zone” is probably not helping anything. Places like schools and hospitals would certainly benefit from such a ban, but I’m not so sure about something like a movie theater.
4. Even with a ban, people like James Holmes could still find a way to get weapons.
This is a nonstarter. First of all, I certainly don’t see how a ban would make things easier for nut jobs like Holmes. If someone is going to shoot dozens of people, can’t we at least make them have to put in a little more effort?
Banning high-powered firearms would grant government groups like the ATF far greater ability to track and indict people like Holmes. As it stands, they are severely limited in tracking and acting on suspicious purchases of guns and ammo, which makes it exceedingly easy for people like Holmes to fly under the radar.
Also, people who say unequivocally that James Holmes would not have been stopped by increased gun restrictions are full of crap. Who knows what might have happened? Yes, someone so hell bent on mass murder can find other ways. There’s a black market for guns and explosives, or they can even make their own devices at home.
But saying that Holmes would’ve just cooked up some bombs to throw at people does little to persuade me that removing one source of death and destruction from the list is a bad thing. If there is even a 5 percent chance (I’m guessing it’s much more) that increased controls could stop things like this in the future, we should jump at the opportunity.
5. Why are pistols and hunting weapons any better? They can kill people too.
This argument could come from either side of the debate.
Disregarding what I said in answers 1 and 3, it might hold up. But in the face of the fact that American citizens do have the right to keep certain firearms, and that they have practical uses for defense and hunting, it is clear that certain guns must be allowed. The question is determining which ones.
The differences between things like pistols, hunting weapons, and high-powered firearms like assault rifles are clear: The first two have practical purposes; the latter is only useful for offensive killing. Yes, the first two can also be used for killing, but in a severely limited manner compared to assault weapons.
Pistols are sufficient for stopping an attacker, and hunting weapons are sufficient for killing animals. But neither one is as good at harming huge numbers of people.
This is the difference between someone like Holmes being able to shoot ten people and someone like Holmes being able to shoot 70 people. It’s a huge deal for those 60 people.
This discussion started too late, but hopefully the horrible events of this summer will finally encourage sensible gun reform so we can minimize the risk of something similar happening in the future.