Understanding Some Common Arguments of Gun Rights Advocates (and How to Counter Them)

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Recently, a friend of mine posted a meme on her Facebook feed with a list of what gun control advocates believe are common sense measures that could reduce gun violence. Predictably, gun rights advocates attacked it with arguments that were, for the most part, filled with inaccuracies, distortions, name-calling, and outright lies. Usually, I let this kind of thing go by because these are people that you can’t really debate with regardless of how many facts or how much logic you throw at them.

This time, however, I thought it was important to look at the comments one particular gun rights advocate made on my friend’s post because they are arguments that have become talking points, used by both passionate and casual people alike, to suggest that gun control measures aren’t effective. My hope is that by dissecting them point by point, it will arm you (pun intended) with knowledge you can use should you ever encounter someone who says these things less because they believe or understand what they are saying but because they heard it somewhere and are parroting it back. You may not be able to change their mind, but you can stand firm in the knowledge that you know what you’re talking about and have the facts to back up your position.

Below are some of the points the meme made and the comments a gun rights advocate made against them followed by my analysis.

Point: Ban assault-style weapons
Comment: The “style” of a weapon has absolutely NOTHING to do with lethality.
Analysis: This is a commonly used tactic by gun rights supporters, using semantics to attack the words used as opposed to the actual point that is being made. They believe that by saying you are using the “wrong” words it somehow proves you don’t know enough about guns to have an intelligent discussion about them.

What I find most interesting about this is the pivot that has occurred in this specific argument. Gun control advocates were using the term “assault weapon” or “assault rifle” to describe guns like the AR-15 and gun rights advocates were saying that was incorrect. They say that an assault weapon is something that is fully automatic, meaning that you can hold down the trigger once and it will continue shooting bullets until you let go (a machine gun in old timey parlance). Guns like the AR-15 are semi-automatic, meaning that you have to pull the trigger every time you want to shoot a bullet, but the chamber reloads itself after each firing. This differs from older shotguns for instance because they required the shooter to “cock” the weapon – or move the bullet into the chamber – after each firing.

Fully automatic weapons have been largely banned in this country since the 1930s, so gun rights advocates said that there already is a ban on “assault weapons.” So, gun control advocates pivoted and started using the phrase “assault-style weapon,” but now the other side has pivoted and say things like “the style of the weapon has nothing to do with lethality.”

Fair point. It’s a semantic one designed to distract from the true issue, but it is a fair point. A gun’s “style,” or the way it looks, has nothing to do with how much damage it can do. But they know as well as we do that when we are talking about “style” we are talking about its industrial design and capabilities, not the way it looks.

Weapons like the AR-15 are more lethal than most hand guns for four reasons – they hold more bullets, they are capable of firing bullets faster, they have greater accuracy at longer distances, they fire bullets at a higher velocity. It is that last point that is the most crucial. An AR-15 fires bullets at a velocity nearly three-times that of a standard handgun. After that it’s simple physics – the higher the rate of speed an object is traveling, the more damage an object will make when it hits something. Need proof? Run your car into a wall at ten miles per hour and then do it again at thirty.

This article from a radiologist is worth a read but I’ll sum up the salient point. He was on call after both the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting and the Parkland High School shooting. The damage evident on the scans from victims of the Parkland shooting showed far greater damage than those from the airport shooting. Why? Because the shooter used a handgun in Ft. Lauderdale and an AR-15 in Parkland. All six victims that were transported to the hospital after the airport shooting survived. Many of the victims of Parkland did not.

So, instead of “assault weapon” or “assault style weapon,” let’s use the term “high powered rifle” and know that what you’re talking about are guns that fire more bullets at higher velocities than most handguns. It’s likely that gun rights advocates will pivot again and come up with some reason why that’s not correct terminology either, but you can be safe in the knowledge that they are just playing a semantics game.

Point: Stop sales at gun shows.
Comment: Sales at most gun shows require a background check.
Analysis: The commenter bungled this one a bit. What he meant to say was, “most sales at gun shows require a background check” and if he had gotten it right, he would have been technically correct.

Most gun dealers are federally licensed and are required to perform background checks on every sale regardless of if they are in a store or a gun show. Since most vendors at gun shows are federally licensed, most guns sold at gun shows are subject to a background check.

But this, again, is a semantics game. “Most” is not “all” or even “a vast majority.” And this is where the so-called “gun show loophole” comes in. (BTW, gun show loophole is another phrase gun rights advocates will try to use semantics against, but everyone knows what we’re talking about here)

In all but six states (California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island), anyone can by any type of gun through a private sale and not be subject to a background check. In three other states (Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania), only handguns are subject to background checks for private sales. That means in 41 states, any person can buy a gun from any other person and not have to undergo a background check.

To reiterate, in these 41 states, any person – a felon, a terrorist, a convicted domestic abuser – anyone can buy a gun (or a lot of them) through a private sale (at a gun show, for instance) and not have to undergo a background check.

So, let’s go back to those gun shows. Yes, most vendors at gun shows are federally licensed and require background checks for gun sales, but many vendors are not federally licensed and therefore don’t have to perform a background check. They will usually call themselves “collectors” but in many instances these are people who are making a living by buying a bunch of guns from licensed gun dealers (and going through the requisite background checks when doing so) and then turning around and selling them through so-called “private sales” without a background check.

Although there isn’t a lot of research on the topic, a 1999 study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that licensed dealers make up anywhere from 50-75% of vendors at gun shows, meaning that 25-50% are not licensed. A Harvard study found that as many as 15% of gun sales in this country were not subject to background checks. That equates to more than 5 million gun owners and who knows how many actual guns.

So yes, most sales at gun shows are subject to background checks. What gun control advocates are saying is that they should all be.

Point: Limit magazines to 5 rounds
Comment: 5 round magazine limit? What jackwagon arbitrarily decided 5 rounds is all we need? The public should have the same capacity magazines as law enforcement.
Analysis: This is a dog whistle argument, using language that is specifically designed to appeal to a segment of the population that most people will miss the meaning of. In this case, what the commenter is really saying is that someday, the police, the military, or some other jack-booted thug is going to come to take your guns and you need to be as well armed as they are, so you can fight back.

First, let’s take a look at the idea of equity with law enforcement. There are all sorts of things that police officers have access to that private citizens don’t including types of weapons, tactical assault vehicles, communication devices, specially equipped cars, lock picking devices, and on and on. The idea that average citizens have some sort of “right” to everything the police have is not only ludicrous but not supported in the constitution anywhere.

Second, it has already been determined that limiting rights granted by the constitution is constitutional. This is why the second amendment can exist alongside a ban on fully automatic weapons and the first amendment can exist alongside the idea that if you yell fire in a crowded theater with the intention of inciting panic, you can go to jail for it. There is nothing in the constitution that says you should have unlimited access to as many guns and as many bullets and as big of magazines as you want. A five bullet limit may seem arbitrary but it is simple math designed to limit the number of bullets a gun can fire without reloading. When a shooter needs to stop to reload, people have a better chance at survival.

But third, and more importantly, let’s dissect the concept behind the argument. At its core, what that is saying is that if the city, state, or country that you live in passes a law that you don’t agree with, you have the right to not obey it and to use deadly force to resist anyone trying to enforce it. We could be ridiculous and say that means if you don’t feel like the speed limit is too low, you have the right to shoot any cop that pulls you over for exceeding it, but that won’t really get us anywhere.

Instead, let’s apply it to the scenario that they are warning against. If two-thirds of both houses of Congress proposed an amendment to the constitution banning all guns in the United Sates and that amendment was ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures and it became constitutional law in this country that owning a gun was illegal, these people would feel like they had the right to murder anyone coming to enforce that law. If that doesn’t chill you to the bone, something is wrong.

Point: Ban bump stocks and all other rapid-fire technology.
Comment: Banning bump stocks leads to banning other firearm parts and some people can fire a rifle almost as fast WITHOUT them anyway.
Analysis: This comment employs a type of intellectually lazy argument that need to be called out.

It’s called the slippery slope – if we do one thing it could lead to all these other things. That’s like saying because we impose a 55mph speed limit that it could one day lead to a 45mph speed limit and eventually to banning cars all together. Or, if you want to turn it back the other way, it’s like saying that if we allow bump stocks it could lead to allowing fully automatic weapons.

Debate the point being made, not some mythical future that “could” happen because of it. In this case, it is talking about bump stocks, devices that when used with a semi-automatic rifle, can make it act like a fully automatic one. What it does is moves the gun back and forth (bumping it) so that instead of needing to squeeze the trigger once for every bullet, a shooter can simply press the trigger and the gun moves instead, increasing the number of bullets that can be fired at any one time and therefore making them more lethal.

If, at some point in the future, we want to talk about banning other firearm parts then we can do that, but for now we’re only talking about bump stocks.

But the bigger point here is the part of the comment that says that some people can fire a rifle almost as fast without a bump stock as those that have them. This is, put simply, not true.

The average person can fire between 2-3 bullets per second using a standard semi-automatic weapon. This is obviously dependent upon how fast the shooter can pull the trigger and can vary, but analysis of the recordings of gunfire at mass shooting events has shown that the 2-3 per second is typical.

In the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the gunman employed a bump stock and analysis of those recordings showed that he was firing off about 9 bullets per second. There is no way that a human being could pull a trigger nine times in a second – it isn’t physically possible – and 2-3 is not “almost as fast” as 9.

Point: Require licenses for all firearms, just like cars.
Comment: Some states already require licenses to purchase/own firearms yet criminals still have them.
Analysis: There are a lot of ways to counter this argument, the easiest of which is to say that what the commenter is suggesting is that because people break laws we shouldn’t have any laws. But that’s kind of a slippery slope style argument and we shouldn’t use it. Instead, let’s talk about the basis of the argument and refute it with facts.

I’m surprised the commenter didn’t use “Chicago,” another dog whistle word that gun rights advocates will bring up all the time. What they usually say is some derivation on this: “Chicago has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation and yet gun violence there is among the highest.” This is a more specific way of saying what the commenter did, which is gun control doesn’t work.

But let’s examine Chicago and why its in the situation it is in and to do that, let’s start by asking a simple question: where do illegal guns come from? The answer is fundamental and yet somehow shocking to people – every illegal gun started out as a legal one.

Yes, it is true that Illinois has gun laws that are stricter than many other states. There are bunch of things they do differently like banning people from openly carrying guns, requiring waiting periods, and so on but the primary thing that critics point to is the FOID. This is the Firearm Owners Identification and anyone who wants to own a gun must have one before they purchase a weapon. This requires them to apply to the Illinois state police with small fee and subjects them to background check. So, in order to buy a gun anywhere in Illinois – at a gun dealer, a gun show, or a private sale – you are supposed to have the FOID card ahead of time. This differs from other states who run the background checks at the point of sale and, as we have discussed, often don’t require background checks at all for private sales.

When people talk about how strict the gun laws are, they want you to believe that it is virtually impossible to buy a gun when in fact it isn’t. It’s a little harder and takes a little bit more time, but if you want a gun and you’re not legally restricted from owning one, you can get as many as you like.

Now, let’s talk about gun violence in Chicago. Yes, it is a problem, but when looking at national statistics, Illinois usually rates around 40th in terms of per capita gun deaths. That’s a little misleading because the rest of the state waters down the overall numbers that are primarily recorded in the south side of Chicago. If you were to compare metropolitan areas, Chicago would be pretty high up on the list.

States like Connecticut and Massachusetts also have strict gun laws (in some cases stricter than Illinois) and their gun violence stats are lower even when comparing metropolitan areas. So why do the gun control laws in Illinois seem to have less of an effect than they do those states? It all boils down to simple geography.

Connecticut is surrounded by other states that have strict gun laws. Illinois, on the other hand, is not. And if you look at a map, pay special attention to where the south side of Chicago is. It’s a quick drive – and sometimes just a quick walk – to Indiana, where gun laws are among the most lax in the United States. Indiana does not require background checks by private sellers at gun shows, so anyone – and I do mean anyone from felons to terrorists and beyond – could take a quick jaunt from Chicago into Indiana to buy as many guns as they want and then bring them back to the city to sell them out of the trunk of their car.

There is not some secret manufacturing facility where people are making illegal guns. They don’t come here from other countries. They are made and sold right here in the United States. As I said, every illegal gun starts out as a legal gun but if every state had laws like Illinois, it would be harder for that legal gun to become and illegal one.

Point: Raise the minimum age to buy guns to 21.
Comment: Raising the age to purchase firearms to 21? Sure, as soon as the same age is required to use every other Constitutionally protected right along with joining the military, voting and driving.
Analysis: Up until 1971 you had to be 21 to vote. That’s what the constitution – you know, that document you consider so sacrosanct – called for until the 26th amendment was passed lowering it to 18.

I’m not sure what amendment made driving a constitutionally protected right.

If we can limit the sale of alcohol, the sale of marijuana (in the states in which it is legal), and gambling in a casino to people 21 and older, I see no reason why gun sales can’t be restricted as well.

Point: Ban sales to domestic abusers.
Comment: Background checks are already run and domestic abusers are already prohibited from owning firearms.
Analysis: We’ve already covered the background check comment, but let’s look at the domestic abuser prohibition.

In 1997, Congress passed the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which blocked anyone who has been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from being able to own or buy a gun. But there are enough loopholes in the law that it is not as effective as it could be. It does not prevent sales to people who have been convicted of beating a girlfriend, boyfriend, father, sister, or anyone other than a legally married spouse or child. It doesn’t apply to people who are convicted of stalking. And most importantly, it does not require a person who is convicted of domestic abuse to surrender their weapons, it just prevents them from buying more.

Additional laws have been passed in many states that add more teeth to the domestic violence statute, but it is still a patchwork of laws that allow people to go to neighboring states to buy guns and, in most cases, allow people who already own guns to keep them even after they have been convicted of beating a spouse or child.

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The most powerful thing you can do to prevent gun violence is to be educated about the issues surrounding them. The more people that know the kinds of facts I have talked about here, the more chances we will have in winning the argument for gun control in the future.