The Pathos of Arguments against an Assault Weapons Ban

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, we’re recycling our interminable debate on gun control, and I just want to point out how pathetic some of the arguments are against an assault weapons ban. This is no longer an argument between left and right, between liberals and conservatives, or between Democrats and Republicans. No, this is now an argument between reasonable people and a completely unreasonable cohort.

First of all – and Second Amendment proponents seem to forget this all the time – they’ve ALREADY WON. That happened back in 2008, and was reinforced in 2010, when the Supreme Court decided the Heller and McDonald cases. In those two cases the Court decided that the Second Amendment created an individual right to bear arms that was unrelated to involvement in a well-regulated militia.[1] Since 2010, no state or city in the country can completely ban gun ownership to an individual citizen.[2] However, never ones to just accept a resounding victory and leave it alone, conservatives have been spinning conspiracy theories about how liberals are going to “get their guns” ever since.

Let’s also quickly mention what the Heller and McDonald cases did NOT decide: they did not decide that there could be no infringement at all on the right to carry guns or ammunition. Instead, the infringements have to be reasonable. For example, there is no right in the Second Amendment to own a rocket launcher, even though that could qualify as “arms” within the meaning of the amendment.[3]

So, let’s look at some of the arguments that we’ve heard in the news the last few weeks, and see how pathetic they really are:

– That assault weapons should not be banned because there are other ways to kill people

This argument revolves around the observation that terrorists both at home and abroad have also used cars and trucks (and in some cases knives) to kill people.

So, this is like arguing that because things other than electrical problems can bring down a jet-liner, we should do nothing to prevent jetliners from having electrical problems fixed.[4] The argument is ludicrous on its face, as assault weapons have been more effective than any other weapon in mowing down civilians, especially in school settings, where no one has yet managed to drive a truck through a school building.

– That assault weapons cannot meaningfully be distinguished from other kinds of weapons

This argument is like saying that SUVs cannot meaningfully be distinguished from passenger cars for purposes of insuring them or regulating their emissions. Once again, the argument is ludicrous on its face: if we can distinguish between SUVs and passenger cars, we can distinguish between assault weapons and other kinds of weapons. Aside from which, we already had an assault weapons ban which the Bush administration let expire, and somehow those legislators were able to define an “assault weapon” and have it mean something.

– That schools should have the same kind of security as airports or even prisons

Shame on the proponents of gun rights for even advancing this argument. You want to turn our schools into prisons? When I was going to high school in Massachusetts – and admittedly, that was a long time ago – we had an “open campus” policy. We could wander on and off the campus during our free time, and visitors could come into the school without having to undergo any checks. Remarkably enough, no one was ever shot inside our school. Now, admittedly that would not be right for every school, but the whole point is that a school is supposed to an environment that is conducive for education, not some kind of fortress where everyone operates in fear. It’s bad enough that we all have to take off our shoes at the airport every because one jerkoff tried to blow up an airliner with a compound stuffed inside his shoes, or that flying in general has become something we endure instead of something we enjoy. Turning schools into fortresses is not going to provide a nurturing education environment for our kids. And besides, there’s a much easier solution: how about we reimpose the ban on assault weapons!

– That we should be arming teachers

A variant on the school campus as prison argument, the NRA has been proposing for years that we should arm teachers. This is a terrible idea for many reasons. One problem with arming school employees to protect students is that gunfights are extremely chaotic, and even the best trained miss their target more than they hit. If the shooter is firing back, the record is worse. The danger of injury or death through “friendly fire” is extremely high.

The other argument for armed school employees is that shooters are less likely to attack a school where they know there are people armed. Columbine had an armed Sherriff’s Deputy on the grounds, and Parkland had two armed employees.[5] The shooters have the element of surprise, however, know where the guards are, and have not been deterred by them in any obvious way.

The theory that armed teachers and fortress schools will keep our kids safe can be easily disproven by the attacks in Fort Hood, where a U.S. Army major and psychiatrist fatally shot 13 people on an American military base in 2009. If that weren’t enough, there was another shooting there in 2014,  where another three people were killed by 34-year-old Army Specialist Ivan Lopez (who eventually committed suicide). This is a military base, people, and even this venue can’t keep their own people safe.

– That assault weapons are no more dangerous than other kinds of weapons, like shotguns

This again, is ludicrous on its face. A “firearm’s power is determined by the caliber or gauge of its ammunition” (quoting an NRA website) and a shotgun may have as much or more power than an assault rifle in each individual shot, but it takes much, much longer to reload a shotgun than it does a semi-automatic assault weapon.  The power is in the ability to continue shooting much, much faster than in the caliber of the bullets. That is why almost every school shooter or mall attacker or church assassin has used an AR-15 style assault weapon. If a shotgun were as effective for mowing down lots of and lots people, don’t you think some maniac would have opted for that?

– That people need assault weapons for hunting

Once again, this is ludicrous on its face. If you need an assault weapon to go hunting, maybe the problem is with your skills as a hunter and not with the caliber of your weapon.

– That assault weapons are only semi-automatic as opposed to fully automatic

Well, granted that they are not fully automatic, but as the Las Vegas gunman proved, that can be easily remedied through the use of “bumpstocks.”[6] Let’s not forget that Stephen Paddock was able to kill 58 people and injure another 429 others using only his assault weapons.[7] Even at a semi-automatic pace, an assault weapon can be fired at an extraordinarily high rate. Again, that is why almost every school shooter or mall attacker or church assassin has used an AR-15 style assault weapon as their weapon of choice. Coincidence?

– That assault weapons have helped to reduce violent crime

This is an argument where the proponents have conflated proximity with causation. Just because two things happen at the same time does not prove that one caused the other. While both things are true, there is nothing to indicate that the rise in assault weapons had anything to do with reduction in violent crime. If it had, there would be thousands upon thousands of examples where some potential victim had used an assault weapon to deter a violent crime. The media would be filled with stories of grandmothers and store clerks and various others using their AR-15’s to foil some devious criminal.  You know that’s true. In practice, this almost never happens.[8]

– That criminals could easily get around a limit on newly-manufactured magazines

Criminals can also steal cars. That’s not a reason to not register cars. In addition to which, most “crimes” (such as armed robbery) where a weapon is used don’t involve assault weapons. An ordinary hand gun suffices for that. But it is true that we already have too many assault weapons in circulation, and part of the reason for that is because we’ve been unwilling to enact (or keep) restrictions on the purchase of assault weapons, or really, any other kind of weapons. However, at least banning assault weapons would be a start.

– That school shooters are a solvable mental health issue

While it’s true, by definition, that school shooters or people like Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock (whose motives in killing 58 people and wounding 851 others have never been discerned) have very serious mental health issues, what is not true is that forensic psychologists or other mental health professionals have ever been able to predict who is going to become a school shooter. The problem is that while school shooters do have many specific attributes in common, they share those attributes with literally thousands upon thousands of other young men (because these are almost all young men) who never become school shooters. Most of those angry young men are also substantially alienated and many also have serious mental health issues. And yet, they never become a shooter.[9]

– That banning assault weapons creates a ”slippery slope” to banning all guns

This argument is based on the notion that once you impose any kind of regulation on guns, it will inevitably lead to the banning of all kinds of guns. This argument is completely ludicrous. First of all, there are already regulations on guns, as citizens are not allowed, for example, to possess fully automatic machine guns. Yet that hasn’t even led to the banning of semi-automatic machine guns. More significantly, it completely ignores the Heller and McDonald decisions (see above) in which Second Amendment advocates already won (again, see above). None of the liberals are going to come and “get their guns.” Who the hell would that be implemented? Who would be tasked with doing that? The American military? Let’s remember that the American military generally leans politically conservative, and is also filled with Second Amendment advocates. Again, a completely unrealistic scenario.

No, gun-owners, your safe and secure with your guns. The worst we can do to you is make you register them, lock them in a gun closet, and require you to take a training course now and then. If we’re very lucky, we might come and get your bump stocks and make owning an assault weapon illegal.

– That we need assault weapons to protect ourselves against an overzealous government

This one is probably the most ludicrous of all of them. First of all, it conflates the difference between protecting against your own government as opposed to protecting against a foreign government.[10] But more importantly, no AR-15 toting modern day militiamen would stand a chance against the American military,  which could wipe out all the private militias in the United States in no time at all.

People forget that when the government laid its siege on the Branch Davidians, the only reason the siege lasted so long is that the government desperately wanted to avoid the loss of life, especially to the women and children inside the compound. The United States army could have overrun that compound in about 30 seconds. Thinking that your assault rifle would protect you against the United States military is the height of hubris and foolishness.

This is an argument between the reasonable and the completely unreasonable

The argument over the Second Amendment long ago turned from an argument between reasonable people with a set of different opinions to an argument between reasonable people and completely unreasonable people.

Again, the pro-gun proponents have ALREADY WON through the Heller and McDonald cases. And yet, they continue to behave as if they’d somehow lost those cases. How unreasonable Second Amendment zealots are can also be seen through just a couple of quick examples:

  1. For 20 years, the Republicans have barred the Center for Disease Control from doing research into the causes of gun violence. Why? Because they’re obviously afraid of the answers.
  2. For years, Second Amendment zealots have been spinning out conspiracy theories, like that the Sandy Hook massacre didn’t really happen. Dana Loesch, one of the NRA’s chief spokespeople (and it’s current designated pitbull) recently suggested that the Stoneman Douglas High School kids who are now speaking out loud and clear about their opposition to assault rifles are trained “crisis actors” and not actually kids from the school.
  3. Another recent example was the “Jade Helm” conspiracy theory relative to a 2015 military exercise, where conspiracy nuts were claiming that the US military was going to round people up, hold them in Walmarts, and forcibly take away their guns. When that didn’t happen, the conspiracy nuts moved on to their next theory.[11]

Again, this is not an argument between reasonable people on different sides of an issue. If the left were as unreasonable as the right, we would be advocating that no one should be allowed to own guns for any reasons, including self-defense, hunting, or sportsmanship. Maybe there are a couple of whackos out there advocating for that, but I’m not one of them, nor is anyone I know. It’s a moot question in any case, because the Heller and McDonald cases have already decided that question.

No, for the right this is all tied in with their “freedom loving” lifestyle and that nobody can tell them what to do (except when it comes to women, their bodies and abortion) and they want to have the most powerful weapons and the biggest dicks and they certainly don’t want any bloody snowflakes to tell them what they can and cannot have. This is all about emotion and how much they despise our side and how we’re not going to tell them what to do.  And if a few dozen school children have to be sacrificed for that every year, well, that’s a price that they’re willing to pay.

[1] In doing so, the Supreme Court simply read the opening phrase – “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” – out of existence. It took the Supreme Court only 217 years to “discover” this right, which our “anti-activist” conservative majority read into the Constitution more than two centuries after the 2nd amendment’s 1791 ratification.

[2] Despite being a progressive Democrat, I’m not personally opposed to people having firearms for their own defense, for hunting, for target practice and for other activities of their choosing. I don’t think that the Heller and McDonald cases were correctly decided, but I’m not personally opposed to the actual outcome.

[3] And indeed, the majority in the Heller and McDonald cases struggled mightily to define what kind of “arms” are covered in the Second Amendment, given that the technology for armaments has been completely revolutionized in the last two centuries.

[4] Airliners have frequently been brought down when electrical problems caused a fire inside the fuselage, such as Swissair flight #111 back in 1998.

[5] It turns out that in Parkland even the presence of an armed deputy did not help, as the armed deputy apparently did not have the courage to enter the school and face off with a student armed with an AR-15.

[6] To date, only the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has banned bumpstocks, even though the Trump administration initially claimed that they might considering doing this administratively. That, of course, came to naught.

[7] Another 422 people were injured during the slaughter, but not through gun shot wounds. That brings the total injured up to 851.

[8] There’s also a clear racial component to this argument because when “criminals” are depicted in relationship to gun ownership, these are almost always black or brown-skinned young men, the cohort that we’ve been taught to fear.

[9] I don’t think we’re ready for a “Minority Report” kind of world where people are arrested on the basis of their potential to become a shooter.

[10] Let’s remember that by the time the American Revolution began, the colonists clearly viewed the British as a foreign occupying power, and the colonial governments as their own government. They were not using the arms to fight their own government, but were in collaboration with their colonial governments (or essentially providing the military for their colonial governments) in revolt of an occupying power (since at the time the United States did not have a standing army).

[11] People began to believe in this theory so much that Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Texas State Guard to “monitor” the operation.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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