Two False Arguments about Gun Control


One fallacious argument is that many things, including bare hands, can be and are sometimes used to kill people and, therefore, the murder weapon does not matter but only the actions of the person doing the killing. How is this argument false?

The issue is purpose – the purpose for which the implement is designed and made. The purpose of cars and trucks is transportation. Yes, motor vehicle accidents kill people, but killing is not the purpose for which motor vehicles are designed, manufactured, and sold. As one Facebook comment I read recently argued, a scalpel can be used to kill (therefore, supposedly, gun control is unnecessary). Yes, a scalpel can be used to cut murderously, but its purpose is to cut surgically in order to heal bodies and preserve life.

In contrast, “America’s gun,” the AR-15 is designed to kill many people quickly, and the weapon has no other purpose. It is for killing people. This purpose sets it and some other weapons apart from all the other things, including bare hands, that can be used to kill accidentally or intentionally. One man advocating on Facebook in favor of the AR-15 assured me that hunting had nothing to do with it. We had a brief but straightforward conversation with no name calling, but when I asked him if insurrection did have something to do with it, he made no further reply.

Another fallacious argument is that police do not prevent crimes but only show up after a crime has been committed. How is this argument false?

How can anyone have data on how many crimes were prevented? Is someone keeping count of things that did not happen?

I realize there might be ways, such as comparing crime statistics in under-policed areas with crimes in highly policed areas, but such comparison is rife with possibly unequal factors, and so I doubt it would provide evidence of anything useful. For one thing, police attention is likely to be focused on high crime areas which may still have more reportable crimes than other areas but still fewer than they would have had without police presence.

When I’m driving on a highway and spot a police cruiser, I check my speedometer and, even if I’m under the speed limit, might touch the brake pedal reflexively. When I see police presence at a high school sporting event, I suspect the likelihood of fights has been reduced. How many fights did the presence of police prevent? Maybe none. Maybe several. How do we count what did not happen?

Businesses install alarm systems that notify the police of a possible break-in, and they post the warning that such systems are in force. The knowledge that the police will respond quickly should be enough to deter an even minimally intelligent thief or vandal.

I consider it insulting to police officers to suggest they don’t prevent crimes but only show up too late to help anyone. I’m sure much of police work involves hours of boredom punctuated by bursts of sudden high intensity and danger. I also think it’s reasonable to assume there would be more crime and, yes, more killings if no police were available.

If we are going to discuss gun control and, yes, disagree about it (and, of course, we are), let’s at least see to it that our logic is logical and not deceptive. We need to act for the public good, and honesty with each other would help us get there.

4 Comments on “Two False Arguments about Gun Control

  1. Debby Malandra

    Amen. The mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado this week was, like any other, devastating and particular difficult for Anthony, a CO native and CU grad, and for me for the state I call my second home. Thanks Dick, as always, for your insightful reflection.

    Best always to you and Deb,

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