For What Purpose?


After the slaughter in the Baptist church in Texas, I heard it again: the appeal to illogical comparisons, to parallels that are not parallel. On television, a politician defending “Second Amendment rights” asked his interviewer if he would ban trucks because a truck was used in the recent New York terrorist attack or ban airplanes because they were used as weapons of terrorism on September 11, 2001. To his credit, the interviewer tried to interject the idea of design by pointing out that AR-15s are designed to kill people, many people in rapid succession, but the politician talked over him, repeating his false comparisons.

In this post, I hope to discredit the illogic of these false comparisons between a semi-automatic weapon and vehicles or other implements that can be misused as means for killing people deliberately. Instead of using the concept of design, I choose the somewhat broader, I think, question of purpose because it raises two concerns: the purpose for which the gun is designed and manufactured and what purpose I might have in mind if I chose to buy one.

Transportation is the purpose of cars, trucks, and planes. Can they be misused to commit murder? Yes, indeed they can, as we have seen. So can a pencil, and decades ago I was told by a witness to the results of a boy who was held down by other boys while one shoved a pencil through his eardrum and into his brain. He died. So, the illogic goes, since many ordinary objects can be used to kill, no type of gun should be restricted or banned because the person is the one who commits the murder, as though the choice of weapon were merely incidental. The argument, however, does not stand up to the question of purpose.

The purpose of an AR-15 is to kill people. Can it be used for other purposes? Yes, I suppose it can, but it’s a large, expensive, and unwieldy paperweight. Target practice? Sure, but there are better choices for that purpose, and anything that propels a projectile or becomes a projectile when thrown can be used for target practice. The AR-15 is designed and made to kill people.

Illogic does not give up easily. “I have one for home defense.” Okay, and how would it function at need for home defense? Would you offer it to the home invader if he promised to leave? No, it’s purpose is to shoot the invader if necessary. It’s made to kill people. By the way, I’ve read more than once or twice from people purporting to know about such matters that a shotgun would be a much better choice for home defense.

What’s special about the AR-15 is that it kills people in rapid succession. In contrast with a shotgun or a hunting rifle, it’s made to kill many people quickly. That’s the weapon’s purpose: to kill many people in very short time. So, the purpose for buying and owning one is to possess the ability to kill many people in a short time or to outgun someone in a gunfight. Why? Why does a person want that ability?

It’s not about hunting. I have been assured by a staunch defender of “Second Amendment rights” that it’s not about hunting and, further, that the Supreme Court has confirmed that it’s not about hunting. What, then, is it about? For what purpose does a person want such a weapon? I suggest further conversation about these weapons needs to begin with that question.

Please, no more nonsense about cars, trucks, and commercial or private airplanes which are not made or sold for the purpose of killing people. Or pencils, either. Then, too, swords are sometimes mentioned. While knives have various designs and purposes, many of which lead to the kitchen and food preparation, swords came into human history for the purpose of killing people, but how would a person wielding a sword kill more than fifty people in a crowd and injure some 500 more without being stopped? Besides, there are restrictions on swords, and open carry is not a thing with them, at least not in places I’ve lived.

The purpose of the AR-15 and anything similar remains: to kill many people in rapid succession. Again, why would a person buy one?

Intimidation of groups not liked?
Guerilla warfare?
Fire power for illegal activities (to outgun police)?
Fear of a race war (“when they come”)?
A sense of empowerment (with, maybe, no intent ever to use the thing)?
Something else I haven’t even thought of?

We need to talk, and we need to listen as respectfully as we can. In doing both, it would be helpful to stay logical and honest. We need to stop deflecting. We need to stop labeling and then dismissing whoever offers something more than a deflection. People are being slaughtered with terrible efficiency, in large numbers, and I see no signs that the carnage will stop if all we do is keep repeating our slogans and deflections.