7 Reasons Why “Gun Control Doesn’t Work” Doesn’t Work

gun control

Polls indicate that most Americans prefer stricter gun laws.  That includes even most gun owners. Even NRA members tend to favor gun restrictions of some kind or other. Yet the NRA itself, guided by such voices of sanity and reason as Wayne LaPierre and Ted Nugent, has succeeded in making “gun control” a dirty word, portraying it as more evil than gay marriage.

The attack on “gun control” is two-pronged. First, it is pegged as an enemy of “liberty”; and second, it is proclaimed to be ineffective or even counterproductive. We’ve touched previously on the first absurdity — that regulating firearms is an encroachment upon freedom or constitutional rights — and will be examining it even more in the future. For the moment, let’s focus on the second. There are at least 7 reasons why the credo that “gun control doesn’t work” should be taken with a grain of saltpeter.

1. What does it even mean?

The veracity of any statement is only as good as its meaning. And with the sentence, “Gun control doesn’t work”, there is just way too much leeway to make a positive declaration of its accuracy.  What is “gun control”, anyway? Well, it’s not any one thing. It’s a pejorative designation for a very wide variety of regulatory measures, from the legendary and chimerical total gun ban to a simple background check or waiting period. And what does it mean for such a measure to “work”? Would it have to eliminate crime or gun violence altogether? Or at the other extreme, could it be counted successful if it prevented only a single such incident?

2. They don’t entirely buy their own medicine.

Whenever there’s one of those all too routine mass shootings, gunsters scramble to defend guns from being implicated in the massacre, and to point the finger of blame instead at anything else they can, from video games to abortion. So far, they’ve never blamed solar flares or pork belly futures, but be patient.

One of their favorite whipping boys is mental illness. After all, these mass killers are often rather disturbed. So, say the Second Amendmenters, maybe it would be a good idea to address the problem of mental illness rather than to “blame the gun”. But what exactly would it entail to address the problem of mental illness? Well, in terms of preventing these violent acts, it must involve, among other things, ensuring that these disturbed individuals don’t get their hands on deadly weapons. And don’t look now, but that’s a form of “gun control”.

Nor is the self-contradiction among the gun culture merely theoretical. They not infrequently put it into practice whenever their own safety is at issue. When Dick Cheney addressed an NRA convention a few years ago (and it wasn’t exactly the most brilliant PR maneuver to make him the poster boy for the virtues of responsible gunmanship, but hey), the most extreme of “gun control” measures was put into place: a total ban on firearms in his presence. Which is certainly a prudent and reasonable measure. But it’s also quite counter to the avowed values of the NRA, as espoused and championed by Cheney himself. If guns are so cool in society at large, shouldn’t they be double plus good in a controlled environment filled with responsible gun owners? It was a golden opportunity for him to put his gun barrel where his mouth was, but he blew it big time.

Yet it isn’t at all unheard of for NRA conventions to prohibit guns or at least firing pins at some of its venues. Of course, NRA spokeshooters will defend their beloved benevolent fraternity from charges of hypocrisy (and in the process take an obligatory potshot at “gun control” groups) by insisting that convention officials are merely following the local laws and regulations in whatever community or site the event is being held. And it was Cheney’s secret service, not the NRA, that insisted on the pat-down.

But the organization chooses the locations for its own conventions and the spokeshooters who speak at them. What kind of message is it supposed to convey to rant about the evils of “gun control” while making choices that require abiding by it? (And don’t even get me started on what it suggests about your character to be consorting with the likes of Dick Cheney in the first place.)

3. The past is not the future.

But what if the NRA is absolutely right? Suppose “gun control”, whatever that means, absolutely “doesn’t work”, whatever that means. What exactly would it mean? It would just mean that it has not been successful so far. That does not preclude the possibility that it will be more successful in the future. No, it isn’t just a matter of blindly repeating the same thing and expecting different results; it’s a matter of finding what does produce results. Thomas Edison reportedly experimented 1000 times before perfecting the light bulb. Should he have given up long before then? And medical researchers still haven’t found a cure for cancer. Should we conclude that cancer control is a lost cause?

4. The world is not a laboratory.

The thing is, there’s just no way to know for certain whether or to what extent “gun control works”. Because in the real world, unlike in a laboratory, you can’t totally isolate factors to determine cause and effect. What works in one community may not work in another. What works now may not work 10 years from now — or vice versa. All we can do is draw reasonable correlations.

5. There’s evidence that it does work.

The correlations that gunsters focus on are cherry-picked statistics indicating, of course, that “gun control” is a deadly mistake. We’ve already mentioned the cherry picking they often do with The Chicago Gambit and The D.C. Gambit. Both illustrate a widespread tendency among the gun culture to seize the thinnest slices of statistics to back up their pet cause.

But the more you look at the broader picture the more you get the impression that stricter gun laws have a positive impact — or at least that looser gun laws have a negative impact. In other words, more guns, more crime.

6. It’s the wrong  answer to the wrong question.

The human species has a long, persistent history of asking the wrong questions, giving the wrong answers to them, and becoming obsessed with both wrong question and wrong answer. We’ve already discussed, for instance, the issue of abortion: many people are obsessed with trying to argue that abortion is a terrible thing (which we all know) or that a fetus should be afforded all the privileges of personhood (which folks are unlikely ever to agree on), while the real question is how to prevent abortions (which everyone wants to do).

And so it is with guns.  We’ve already mentioned the widespread obsession with whether Hitler banned guns (he didn’t) and whether the matter has some profound relevance for contemporary America (it doesn’t.)  And as mentioned above, gunsters often attack “gun control” by arguing that they have a constitutional right to own guns (they don’t), while the more important issue is whether “gun control” would violate their rights (rarely if ever).

The very question of whether “gun control works” demands proof that stricter gun laws effect a quantifiable, verifiable, drastic and generally immediate reduction in crime. But as we’ve stated, such proof is impossible to produce. And the very question obscures more important questions.

Is the absence of “gun control” deleterious to a society? Does it constitute a kind of broken windows effect that attracts crime? Can societies with a tradition of loose gun laws (e.g., U.S.A.) reduce their crime by adopting policies comparable to those societies with a tradition of stricter gun laws (e.g., Japan)? How long would such a transition take? Are there other factors to be considered instead of, or in addition to, gun regulation? Can these factors be separated from, or are they inextricably linked to,  a society’s firearm mentality? Can we build a culture that values life more than it values the putative right to be armed — and has an appropriate type of respect for guns and the damage they inflict? Can we instill a more responsible mentality that does not automatically consider the gun the first/best solution to a problem? Why do people, particularly Americans, lust after firearms so much to begin with?

7. What is the alternative?

And this brings us to the most crucial question of all. Gunsters often denigrate “gun control” by insisting that if bad guys want to get their hands on guns, they will do so no matter what laws are in effect. One might as well say the same about the offenses of thieves, rapists and murderers. Why have any laws at all? Why not live in a “limited government” Shangri-La where you can do whatever you damn well please as long as you have sufficient firepower to stop anyone from stopping you?

In this case, they have a valid question, but they’re still giving the wrong answer. The purpose of proscriptive law is not to transform bad guys into good guys, but to help prevent good guys from becoming bad guys; and to define bad guy behavior and prescribe appropriate penalties. The alternative is dystopian chaos and vigilante justice.

A world without “gun control” is a world with no restrictions on guns at all. It’s a world in which a six-year-old with enough funds can purchase an Uzi as easily as a Hershey bar; why bother making it illegal for a child to buy a gun if indeed “gun control doesn’t work”. Is that really the kind of world you want to live in?

For that matter, how comfortable would you really feel strolling through Grand Central Station if you knew that every character passing through it was armed? Before you respond with a knee-jerk NRA soundbite or bogus “statistic” on gun defense, think about it long and hard. And think about it honestly, since nobody is going to be peeking at your answer. Or if they do, you can always just shoot them.









  1. POP

    You have an unusual ability to use both sarcasm and facts, in order to write clearly and analytically about the contradictions and deceptions that most of us don’t “get” right away. i.e. your example of gun advocates urging us to help the mentally ill and to eliminate the misuse of weapons by people like them, as, in essence, another example of gun control! And yes, “gunsters,” as you call them, produce paradoxical arguments intended to discredit the value of regulating weapons, and the ineptitude of gun regulations in general, while promoting regulations as a way to prevent gun crimes by focusing on the mentally ill, as well as other contradictions.

    One of the other important points you make is that we need not give up trying to find ways to reduce gun violence merely because we so far, have not found many definite answers. 2nd Amendment fundamentalists, are correct to point out that using regulations to effect meaningful reductions in gun crimes, is not a simple process, and will involve all kinds of complex changes and meaningful legal strategies, before we can truly expect to prevent a large proportion of gun crimes from happening—which unfortunately—are becoming more and more viscous and common. But we hear way too much nay saying from advocates who are stuck in a mantra, repeating over and over how hopeless and utterly impossible making meaningful changes is. These critics usually do have a superior knowledge of guns and the use of background checks, but sadly, their emphasis on the difficulty of successfully reducing gun crimes, involves way too many episodes of negative thinking, do not promote positive ways to reduce gun crimes and mass shootings.

    Again, my belief is that a constitutional right to bear arms, is basically a sound example of preserve our freedoms, and to assist citizens in protecting themselves and their loved ones from harm.But at the same time, the role of government is in part, to do what is necessary to spare the public from unneeded and unnecessary harm, whenever it is endangered by the influence of destructive actions. The 2nd amendment like every other one, is not carved in stone, immutable, or incapable of being subjected to some valid criticisms.

    And by the way, I am still waiting for a conservative gun advocate to give me just one feasible scenario under which the government can take over the possession of all guns and be able to rule every aspect of our lives? Surely there is a good amount of paranoia involved in this thinking, and our society is not yet devolved enough to permit arbitrary take overs of this kind, or to adhere to totalitarian efforts aimed at taking personal control, for the benefit of one, or for a few individuals. So, My request is simple—put up or shut up!—if you have knowledge of why such a bizarre takeover can really happen in America, then by all means let the rest of us in on the plan!

    The reason the negative and hopeless meme that gun advocates echo over and over, frequently upsets and anger many of us, is that it is basically a hysterical prophecy that has a zero chance of coming true unless we permit it too.

    In the meantime, thanks again POP for another well written and perceptive article. I have already used the email button at the end of your post to email it to some of my family members and friends,whom I know will also appreciate it.

  2. How do you have any idea what all is being read when the full length of your posts shows up from home? It should be simple and might be useful to shorten the exposed section of post on the home page to encourage a click on preferred articles and to facilitate quicker scrolling from one to another.

    In any case, I like what you’re doing here. Respect knuckles.

  3. Although comment on you original article about the myth of Hitler’s gun ban were closed. I absolutely felt the need to post some of my follow-up comment here:

    Despite what some commenters may think, Senator Feinstein’s proposed ban on assault weapons in 1994 did not call for a mandatory surrender of ALL guns. This link to Wikipedia and the paste below it discuss details of the actual legislation and Senator Feinsteins explanation of why it was not written with a mandatory confiscation provision.
    Checking out this subject with Google, the first few hits (a usual) were filled with hyped conservative reports about Feinstein’s alleged intentions to require a mandatory by-back program, but in fact this type of provision was only one of many that was up for consideration. Even conservative sites like Breibart’s, were careful to state that a mandatory confiscation, or by back program, were only (suggested), not insisted upon!

    A quote from that link:

    “Discussing why the 1994 act only prohibited the manufacture or import of assault weapons, instead of the possession and sale of them, Feinstein said on CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes, February 5, 1995, “If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them … Mr. and Mrs. America, turn ’em all in, I would have done it. I could not do that. The votes weren’t here.”[29]

    And here is a link to a Wikipedia article which specifically talks about the Assault weapons ban legislation, which included a ban on further use of several types of semi-automatic weapons, including rifles pistols or shotguns. But there was no compulsory by-back or confiscation provision”:

    About the many confusing definitions in the legislation:

    A paste:

    The ban restricted the manufacture, transfer, and possession of semi-automatic assault weapons except for: those already in lawful possession at the time of the law’s enactment; 660 rifles and shotguns listed by type and name; permanently inoperable, manually operated, or antique firearms; rifles unable to accept a detachable magazine of more than five rounds; shotguns unable to hold more than five rounds in a fixed or detachable magazine; and those made for, transferred to, or owned by the U.S. government or a U.S. law enforcement agency.
    The ban had outlined specific cosmetic features that would classify a firearm as an assault weapon. For example, rifles and shot guns could not have folding stocks, pistol grips, bayonet mounts, flash suppressors or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor. The bill also went as far banning an attachable grenade launcher.

    Note that the ban did not affect those weapons legally defined under the ban which were “already in lawful possession at the time of the law’s enactment.” in other words no mandatory confiscations or mandatory buy-backs requirements. The term “assault weapons,” in this case is a misnomer, since weapons capable of continuous fire or multiple round capability actually fit that definition. “Assault weapons” became the popular term since semi-automatic weapons have been used in “assaults,” even though they truly should not be classified this way.

    Unfortunately their multitude of specific “cosmetic features,” allowed manufacturers to make minor alterations in design that could circumvent their prohibition. If anything the legislation posed by Feinstein was fruitless because its requirements were extremely difficult to enforce!

    Another commenter uses the example of the Assault Weapon’s ban falsely, since it did not include mandatory confiscation or buy back provisions! At the most such options were merely under consideration, just as various provisions in any new legislation are, (at some point), most likely described as being under consideration.

    However, even if the original bill passed, that does not prove it could could have been written in order to grant the government unlimited authority to violate individual rights? Such a scenario does not explain how a large Republican, or Democratic opposition in Congress could be overcome by a dictatorial President who desired domination of all American citizens. Neither does it explain how the large military and/or polices forces necessary to confiscate all weapons would possibly coalesce, due the fact that a large number of these forces would not agree with the President, might not agree to defy the authority of the 2nd Amendment, or to ignore the many illegal activities set in motion by a power hungry, rouge President, to accomplish this takeover? And even if most Americans were in favor of regulating fire arms—they would very likely oppose any “mandatory,” provisions, and would certainly oppose breaking down doors, confiscating weapons by force, and/or imprisoning those who resisted.

    Something like this may happen in a banana Republic or if our government were completely overrun by some superior force, but with steps in place for the removal of an abusive president, and with the largest military force on Earth, as well as a populace dedicated to individual freedom, it is a complete fantasy to be in fear of such a scenario just because a Democratic senator proposed initially successful legislation that had to first be approved by a majority in Congress. Therefore, the scenario suggested by another commenter is very very improbable, and the stuff paranoid fantasies are made of, not real world politics, in the real world!

    Only the links provided and the paragraphs pasted after them are not my comments. The rest of the comments are entirely my own words.

    • I decided to close comments on that article because they exceeded 1000, and few of them were really of any interest. Yes, of course Feinstein’s remarks were twisted by the gun culture. But that’s what they do. And they’re going to keep doing it.

      • POP,

        Thanks for posting my previous comment here. I understand that more than 1000 comments took up an incredible amount of scrolling space, and that most of your commenters, including myself, would often be complicit in producing a devolving discussion, usually by responding to others with anger or disrespect, But such a great number of responses, indicates that you picked a subject close to home, that many of us felt a need to address.

        However, to add a comment pertinent to this particular thread, and this particular article, I’d like to affirm of one of your points:

        “A world without “gun control” is a world with no restrictions on guns at all. It’s a world in which a six-year-old with enough funds can purchase an Uzi as easily as a Hershey bar; why bother making it illegal for a child to buy a gun if indeed “gun control doesn’t work”. Is that really the kind of world you want to live in?”

        Here again you have provided valid criticism of the incomplete reasoning behind many statements made by hard-line by gun advocates. Setting an age limit beyond which those who are too young to use a particular freedom responsibly, and thus not allowing them to purchase guns, is indeed a regulation applied towards the use of guns. So in a logical sense, if these hardliners approve of setting limited regulations that require gun owners to be of a certain age, than why are they so adamantly against virtually all other regulations and requirements asked of gun owners? If they are willing to overlook this particular type of requirement, why then can’t they indicate a willingness to protect the public and our children from the dangerous usage of weapons, by simply allowing some additional regulations?

        Hard-line gun advocates would probably point out that common sense restrictions are required to prevent those unqualified to buy guns from getting them, like stipulating that they are old enough to use guns responsibly—but then they insist that all other attempt to regulate weapons present a very clear violation of the Constitution–but if the 2nd amendment were to be taken literally–how could they justify any gun regulations at all?

        My point has always been that no amendment is written in stone so that it can never be augmented or adjusted to reality, and that fact, definitely should open the door to reasonable applications of other kinds of regulations. I always recall cliches like, “Having freedom, requires accepting responsibilities,” or even Spider-man’s uncle saying, “With great power comes great responsibility.” (perhaps not a direct quote).

        To me it just makes sense that products or activities that have the potential to harm others, are fair game for government regulations. Let’s feel free to discuss which are most needed and which are least restrictive on those who are affected, but let’s not rely on a literal and arbitrary interpretation which is hypocritically used to restrict many other personal rights and liberties. Why the Hell don”t we outlaw 100 round barrel magazines etc! Obviously some restrictions do Merritt debate, while many others restrictions do not merit being ignored, exploited, or universally rejected—even if those using literal-isms, rationalize away many stipulations on gun use,which could possibly limit their abuses?

        After reading this comment I expect many who disagree to be offended when asked to consider something so obvious and basic. But, when Congress will not even agree to restrict those on terrorist watch lists from buying or carrying weapons. Of course some innocent people who do not truly need to be on that list will be inconvenienced, but the same goes for millions who might be required to pass a Christianity test, Or anyone who boards a plane without first having a suspicious piece of baggage inspected. If it were me, I would rather not die in a plane crash, than have to be temporarily delayed and questioned by Homeland Security. So how can gun advocates be so two faced as to approve regulations applied to one particular public threat, but not towards allowing even minor restrictions on guns?

  4. Something I posted elsewhere: “Shall Issue” means that as long as there is no disqualfier in the system–the person must receive a permit. “May issue” allows the issuing authority latitude in whether or not to issue the permit.

    The question is do you believe that Gaige Grosskreutz should have been able to carry a concealed firearm?

    Now, he must be given a permit under “Shall Issue” since his felony arrest was expunged (technically, we shouldn’t even be discussing that arrest since we can be sued). Unless his misdemeanours disqualify him, which quite a few do not in many jurisdictions.

    Under “may issue” his arrests can be factored into the decision, even if they didn’t ultimately end up as convictions.

    Let’s toss in how would you feel had Grosskreutz managed to have killed Rittenhouse?

    Enforcing the laws on the books is harder than you understand since the laws on the books are intended to be unenforceable.

    BTW, the case which brought the “Florida loophole” to the attention of the Pennsylvania AG happened to be someone who was under indictment for several felonies in Pennsylvania. Not to mention, he managed to get a Montgomery County Permit to Carry during that period that he turned in. Alas, his record was expunged, so I can’t say anymore in public.

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