Guns: Inconsistent Logic and False Dichotomies

I wrote this post last week, prior to yesterday’s shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.  Such violence tears my heart and my prayers are with the families of all the victims of this tragedy, and the other all-to-common tragedies in our world.

Before you read this post, check out Nicholas Kristof’s great article: Safe from Fire, but Not Guns.

I’ve seen a statement made dozens of times on Facebook and in the news in the weeks since the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  Whether respectful or sarcastic the argument is the same: more regulations on guns will not end gun violence, so fighting for more regulations (laws) is pointless.

But here’s my question: if it is pointless to create tougher regulations in the hopes of stemming gun violence, why seek tougher regulations or laws on anything?

In other words, when it comes to guns there is a false dichotomy.  The choices given are two extremes: either no new regulations or no gun violence.  Since clearly more regulations will not end violence, then any regulations are a bad idea.

But what strikes me as interesting is how it would look to carry this logic into other issues.

Well, we’re never going to stop people from using drugs altogether, so why have any laws against drugs?

We’ll never completely eliminate abortion, so why bother trying to make abortion illegal?

Whatever you think about guns, drugs and abortion is practically a side issue for the point I am trying to make here.  For the record, I am pro-life.  I think abortion is a tragedy that kills innocent unborn babies.  I think it would be good to make it illegal.  But I don’t think making it illegal will solve every problem related to it and I think until it is illegal those who are pro-life should work for compromises that limits the need for abortion.  No abortions would be fantastic, but less abortions are good too.

I am not just pro-life, I am also anti-violence.  Of course, I do not think increasing regulations on guns will end all gun violence.  I am all for people having guns to hunt or protect their family, if they so choose (though I am not sure how assault weapons or 6,000 rounds of ammo serve either of those purposes).  But having guns less available and more difficult to get would lead to less gun violence: no gun violence would be fantastic, but less gun violence is also good.

My point is: I am trying to be consistent.

And I think many who argue against regulations for gun are inconsistent.

You can’t scoff at laws on one account (more laws against guns won’t end gun violence) and then call for more laws on another account (abortion, drugs).  At best this is just being inconsistent.  At worst it is just pandering to one or the other side of a culture war.

That, I think, is the real problem.  Those on one side, conservative Republicans, don’t like abortion but they like guns.  Those on the other side, liberal Democrats, don’t like guns but like a woman’s right to choose.  Christians, rather than trying to promote a third way that is critical of both sides, that stands for life and against violence in all cases, end up becoming just one more voting bloc that blindly goes along with one side or the other.

Conservative Christians love to trump what the Bible says about life…but ignores all that stuff Jesus said about nonviolence.

Liberal Christians love the nonviolent stuff…but the pro-life angle is more discomforting.

I am not saying I have no blindspots or inconsistencies.  I do.  It is just that the recent gun debate (which we’ve already moved on from, thank you Chick-Fil-A, Rahm Emmanuel and Mike Huckabee) has really made this particular inconsistency clear to me.

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8 thoughts on “Guns: Inconsistent Logic and False Dichotomies

  1. My first reaction is that if you using a Mitt Romney soundbite on a second-tier talkshow, well, that speaks for itself. I don’t care what the subject is. For this particular subject the NRA has written a goodly amount on the subject and the Supreme Court of the United States. There’s gems among the the attendant lesser courts who decided on the Heller case. Not to mention the vivacious academic debate between historians and political ‘scientists’ over the use of firearms in American history. To pick a malformed bit of dribble from Romeny, whose credentials on the subject are at best ambigious, seems a bit tactless. Desperate, even.

    http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=07-290

    Here’s the Heller case, and I think it answers question #1 accurately enough.

    “If it is pointless… on anything?”

    Certainly, I don’t think anyone is arguing that if you made guns absolutely illegal everywhere in the United States then there would not be any reduction in gun crime. Simply, your question rests on two choices no one has actually raised. Romney, or anyone else for that matter, doesn’t assume that all laws cannot have good result. They definitely don’t assume more gun regulations will do absolutely nothing to gun violence. All Romney points out in the soundbite (*and which is pointed out time and time again*) is that gun violence will go away but not “violence” without a modifier. He’s not saying the law will be ineffective, but its desired result will be.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      Sorry if the source of the quote bothered you. Its a blog post, not an academic dissertation. Things in the news catch my eye and cause me to write. I did not have the idea to write and then go searching for a quote, I noticed things said by people in various news outlets as well as comments made by people on Facebook and then I wrote a post.

      You wrote, “Romney, or anyone else for that matter, doesn’t assume that all laws cannot have good result. They definitely don’t assume more gun regulations will do absolutely nothing to gun violence.”

      Actually, that is the impression I get from many people. I don’t see anyone, anyone with any sort of political power that is, calling for limiting access to assault weapons or questioning whether anyone needs thousands of rounds of ammunition. I see people saying, often sarcastically, that you’re an idiot if you think any sort of regulations will help at all.

      My main point is not primarily about gun laws, but about how we as Christians in America have a huge blindspot when it comes to guns and violence. I popped over to your blog and it looks like we share a commitment to Christian faith. So to delve more into that, I think some Christians (evangelical) have compromised by going along with the political right in America and other Christians (liberal mainline) have done the same on the political left. It saddens me Christians are reduced to voting blocs. I think the truth is much more complex, sometimes one side is right and sometimes the other is. To me, Christians who are pro-life but also very pro-gun are doing so more because they identify with a particular brand of politics then with any form of Christian faith.

      In my previous post I linked to a blog post by Roger Olsen and he says what I am trying to say much better than I can. Where are the Christian voices that can so quickly speak out for the unborn (and for more laws to protect them) and can speak out against gay marriage (while scarfing down a Chick-Fil-A), speaking out to make it more difficult for psychos to get ahold of guns and for laws to protect people from gun violence?

      1. I thought about it and I think you’re right about the Romney quote so I took it down. I don’t think it really helps me make my point and I fear it sounds like I am bashing Romney and thus favoring Obama, which I don’t want to do.

  2. Your welcome, nothing like gun rights to get the chattering classes chattering.

    I think they don’t question it because, again, the effects of those laws… Not neccessarily whether they’re enforceable. After all, what’s the different of using a semi-automatic in a home shooting versus a fully automatic? Not a ton, assuming a criminal won’t be able to get their hands on them (which is a lot to assume, if the results of the last assault weapons ban here are anything to go by). After all, Lee Harvey Oswald got a lot done with a bolt action.

    As for how so many Christians see a difference between this and abortion? I really couldn’t say. I wouldn’t speak for them and I’m sure a smarter and more authoritative person out in the world has already taken the topic head on. From my perspective, the issues don’t seem related. But I could be wrong on that. My only contribution is that in one instance the law chiefly depends on getting criminals to, of all things, obey another law. In the latter it involves getting generally law abiding citizens to obey another law. In one the optimal effect is shifting violence from fully automatic guns to illegally and easily modified semiautomatic guns (or knives). In the other it is preserving tens of thousands of unborn children.

    Though as I’m not a big fan of men having much say on the abortion debate, that’s really all I’m going to say.

    Most of all, if there was a law that could eliminate gun violence I think most Christians would back it up… But most simply don’t see that in the cards when they’re discussing current gun regulations.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful and solid reply.

      It just seems odd to me that the frequency of this sort of violence is an American thing. We have it more often then most European countries where they also have much stricter regulations. Not that it never happens there, but from what I’ve read, we have looser laws and more violence.

      I don’t think there’s a 1:1 correlation between abortion and guns. The only relation I see is that Christians (that is, “evangelical” Christians, the style of Christianity I grew up with and still identify with) are very vocal on some issues (which maybe we ought to be vocal on) but are silent on others (which maybe we ought to be vocal on too).

  3. It is definitely an American thing. I’ve been thinking of writing a post about it, even if it becomes nothing more than a litany of gore and viscera. But I definitely agree with you there. Violence, in whatever mode, has been the defining expression of political convictions (and, I suppose, all convictions) since the Revolution. I’m just thankful it does seem to be a lot less than it could be, historically speaking.

    And Christians probably do need to get more vocal on a lot more issues though not too vocal. Silence isn’t right, but I think we can both agree (if I read you write) that neither is frantic yelling. What you said reminded me, rightly or not, of something that Jefferson said at his First Inaugural Address (showing, as well, how little things change): “…error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

  4. A few comments, I’ll keep them short.

    Being for abortion laws and against gun laws is not inconsistent. Saying that you’re for preventing abortions by limiting access to long sharp objects but against preventing violence through gun laws is closer to being inconsistent.

    Gun laws are not comparable to recreational drug or potential abortion laws. Drug laws are about the object and abortion laws are about the action. Gun regulations are not about the object or the action. They are about a small set of actions within a larger set of otherwise legal actions with a legal object.

    That laws are deterrents or put into place to be deterrents really shouldn’t be taken for granted. I personally wouldn’t be comfortable at all with that position or with supporting a law that had deterrence as its primary argument.

    You said toward the end, “…Having guns less available and more difficult to get would lead to less gun violence…” This begs the question doesn’t it? It’s a key point of debate with gun laws and very far from a statement.

    Gun laws are about a small set of actions that can be conducted with a gun. But, they aren’t intended to make those actions illegal. Those actions are already illegal, e.g., murder. They are about supply. They are extra laws that are supposed to do what the other laws couldn’t. Maybe we can’t prevent the murderer with a law but we can limit the supplier with a law. Come on. That’s not compelling.

    I often wonder if the real thought process is this: Violence is bad, guns are powerful tools for violence, it’s highly unlikely that gun regulations will increase gun violence so … why not.

    1. Thanks for the reply Steve.

      When I read comparisons of gun violence between the US and other countries of an equal socio-economic level, it is blatantly obvious that we in the US have looser restrictions on guns, more guns per person and more deaths as a result of guns. I don’t see all that as a coincidence.

      At any rate, the specifics of the gun debate are not really what I was trying to get at. When I see millions of Christians eating at Chick-Fil-A, when Christians can be very outspoken against abortion and gay marriage but yet say not a word about violence (guns is one symptom, the fact evangelicals support torture of terror suspects more than any other group is another) in our culture, that’s a problem. We’re letting the culture we find ourselves in set the tone for the debate, even for which issues we debate.

      Roger Olsen said better than I can what I am trying to get at: “My question is whether it is time for Christians to speak out openly from pulpits and pages (of Christian publications) about our obviously increasing gun culture and culture of violence. Is this a subject for sermons? I think it is.
      One need not be a pacifist to abhore violence. Perhaps some violence is necessary, but surely not the kind of random, extreme violence depicted in movies and comic books (which many young men in their twenties are still “reading”). Why do I see Christians picketing abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood sex education events but not violent movies and gun “shows?” – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/07/god-guns-and-guts/

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