In the wake of the appalling Northern Illinois University tragedy, it has been depressing to see the right-wing gun fanatics making the same tired and irrational arguments against any sort of gun regulation and, even worse, in favor of unrestricted concealed-carry laws on campuses. You can see all of these arguments brought forth by the extremists in the comments section of this post on Carpetbagger.
What astonishes me more than anything is that the extreme views of the gun fanatics make them living refutations of their own arguments. Reasonable people could convince me that there is a good middle ground on gun control, in which law-abiding citizens can own weapons with some restrictions; the fanatics push my temperament much closer to a full ban. This is a shame, because I have a lot of good friends who are gun owners and whom I have literally trusted with my life - I would hate to see crazies shift the gun discussion to the point where no reasonable solutions to gun violence can be found.
In the spirit of trying to push a reasonable discussion on gun violence - or maybe just to rant - I thought I'd refute, again, some of the common refrains of gun fanatics.
- Bans on firearms are doomed to fail, just like Prohibition - people will just get them from other sources. No law is perfect: if we required every prohibition in the law to be 100% successful, we would have no laws against anything. Heck, you know that in spite of our laws against murder, people still get murdered all the time? We may as well not have that law in the first place! Any law created, including laws which restrict 'freedoms', must be created in such a way as to maximize societal benefit minimize violations. To paint all legal restrictions with the same broad brush is ridiculously childish.
- If there had only students had been allowed to carry guns on campus, the tragedy could have been prevented. This is an idiotic action-movie fantasy which is probably unique to the United States, where the tough-talkers have never actually faced an actual gun. If a shooter walks into a room without warning and opens fire with an automatic handgun, he will likely be able to empty his entire clip before anyone in the line of fire can effectively respond to the attack: A Glock, for instance, can fire 40 rounds per minute. There is also the concern that, for every incident which might be prevented by the presence of additional firearms, a half-dozen other incidents would be created by the presence of those weapons. As a university professor myself, I don't want guns on campus: there are far too many students who, while not violent, might be tempted to use the presence of a weapon as an ill-advised attempt to intimidate the teacher. Even without weapons, threats against teachers are not uncommon.
- We need our guns to keep the government from being tyrannical. The only time in the history of the U.S. when the presence of arms amongst the citizenry helped repel a tyrannical government was the Revolutionary War. One could make the argument that the guns have prevented further abuses, but that doesn't explain how dozens of developed countries have representative governments which work just fine without armed citizens. Like pretty much all of Europe.
- The Second Amendment says we have the right to individually own any guns we want. Let me put this bluntly: I don't care. I've blogged before about the odd Founding-Father worship in the United States, and this worship seems greatest talking about the second amendment. In the end, though, I only consider a right enunciated in the Constitution to be a valid one if it serves, on the whole, as a positive rule for society. The Constitution was never meant to be a static, religious document: the Bill of Rights itself is a collection of Amendments, or additions, to the Constitution. In other words, if a law is demonstrated to be harmful, we change the law. This doesn't indicate my overall opinion about the validity of the Second Amendment, which I still have mixed feelings about: it simply says that we shouldn't parse the meaning of what a bunch of old men thought and instead ask if that law is functioning in a positive way in today's society. Until gun fanatics try and have a real discussion about the role of firearms in society instead of reciting 'scripture', there is little sense in paying attention to them.
Update: Addendum to point #2: Another problem with allowing everyone to carry guns on campus is this: how do we know that the people carrying on campus won't be 'spree killers' as well? The NIU and VT cases demonstrate that firearms screening can fail spectacularly: fanatics like to pretend that 'concealed carry' laws will somehow magically circumvent this problem and result in only 'lawful' people carrying weapons. It seems a pretty unavoidable conclusion that, until society figures out how to really prevent unbalanced people from obtaining guns, putting more guns in public will only make things worse.
Update #2: Here's another argument I see put forth often:
5. Crazed killers could just as easily kill a bunch of people with bombs, or poison. Yes, but they don't. Killers of the VT/NIU/Columbine type have used guns as their primary and most lethal weapons. This tells you one of two things: (a) It isn't as easy to acquire and deploy bombs or poison as it is to use guns, or (b) Guns have a unique psychological appeal for spree killers. I'm guessing that the truth is a little bit of both points. Both points suggest that making guns less available will reduce the number of these killings.