As a response to last night’s horrific events in Las Vegas, I suspect that the narrative for this week will be dominated by the debate over gun control in the US. We’ve had this argument far too many times in recent years, but I have started to notice that when I get resistance to the idea of stricter gun controls, some typical responses get trotted out by people who don’t want stricter gun laws.

In the few hours I’ve been working on this, I’ve found counters for all of those responses that offer either a solid anecdotal account or extensive research and reporting. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and I could easily spend a LOT more time compiling counters, but I need to salve my mental health and do something else.

So let’s get started:

“If you make guns illegal, only criminals will have them.”

The United Kingdom has stricter gun control laws than the US. People often point to the UK as an example and counter-example of the pros/cons of gun control in the US. So there’s this:

There’s more discussion to be had about black market availability of guns and how that factors into gun violence, of course, but the notion that “I have a perfectly valid civilian use for my gun” isn’t a reason for gun laws to be as lax as they currently are.

“If you take away my gun, I am defenseless.”

Crime is down, but gun ownership is up in the US because of the argument of self-defense. The two-fold cause is that a) the NRA wants to sell a product and b) our media industry has perpetuated a Pavlovian response when it comes to reporting violence, because they live off ratings and ratings go up when violent crime occurs somewhere, so they report it more.

“Guns are our protection against the potential tyranny of the government or military.”

This gets brought up a lot, and all of the arguments about the role of the Second Amendment and how it can/should be interpreted have been going around in circles for a long time. So it’s important to remember what the Founding Fathers considered a gun at the time they wrote it:

“We should be addressing mental health, not trying to take guns from law-abiding citizens.”

Funny you should mention that. (But it was a shitty rule.)

“We should arm more people, not fewer.”

How about them good guys with guns?

“‘Assault-style weapons’ is a misnomer used to flag perfectly reasonable weapons as more dangerous than they are.”

Let’s get our definitions straight. So yeah, I’ll buy that folks might be confused about what weapon does what and politicians latch onto talking points. That doesn’t change the fact that high-volume mags and semi-automatic fire is still pretty problematic from the “self-defense” position if you’re just walking into Wal-mart for milk and ammo.

“We need to do more research about gun violence before we fly off the handle making up new laws.” 

Oh but wait, the CDC can’t do that with federal funding, wow… So aside from the part where the NRA lobbies lawmakers to dissuade them from enacting gun control, they also lobby to prevent lawmakers from even asking a third party to run the math. It’s what they call a racket.

“We should be enforcing the existing laws on the books instead of making up new laws.”

Spoiler warning: the alleged gunman in Vegas appears to have adhered to local laws, had no notable prior criminal history, and while he was known to local law enforcement he wasn’t on any kind of watch list. It’s not clear yet if he had any history of mental illness.

And here’s a nice wall of data to look at, which assaults all of the above points in the context of the rest of the world.







  1. Short of a full gun ban, no regulation I’ve seen suggested would have stopped this particular incident. The guy was 64 years old with a clean record, who modified a legally obtainable firearm.

    The thing about mass killings and terrorism in (mostly) peaceful countries not plagued by conflict is that they’re all black swan events. Whether it’s Sandy Hook, Vegas, the Oklahoma city bombing, the Manchester bombing, the first or second World Trade Center bombing, or the 2015 Paris attacks, there’s always some combination of factors that make these events unpredictable. The weapons are different, the targets are different, the motivations are different, the psychological profiles are different, the timings are random, and that makes it really hard to find a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t sacrifice the freedoms of the innocent law abiding masses.

    It think it’s important to be wary of the natural response to the black swan event. Namely, protecting against the event that just happened. At times, that’s appropriate, because a successful attack can become a blueprint for future killings. But often that can just lead to extreme overreaches in power and regulation that don’t afford any real safety in return. Just look at the expensive and degrading system of the TSA which regularly fails even its own tests to detect weapons and explosives. Securing cockpits in planes probably did more than all of that nonsense, at a fraction of the cost both in money and freedom.

    So the question I always have when I see people talk about banning guns after any of these shootings is if the ban would change only the specifics of the problem. Would we see shootings turn into bombings or people plowing through crowds with cars? Not to sound like a total psycho, but there’s no shortage of ways to kill or maim a bunch of people. And is there any way to understand these black swan events better to make things less unpredictable?

    • I’m less concerned with trying to prevent this particular incident than I am with preventing the frequency of these incidents in general. There’s a deep well of philosophical and psychological argument to get into about trying to counter these black swan incidents, but when it comes to combating mass shootings IN GENERAL, restricting the kinds of arms civilians can have and having a well-maintained gun registry did wonders for Australia in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre. If you can find evidence to support the notion that mass shootings morphed into a different format in Australia, I’ll be more willing to buy the notion that “mass murderers will 100% find a way to mass murder regardless of the roadblocks put in front of them.”

  2. “Did wonders” is arguable. The problem with statistics is that you can interpret things in lots of different ways, and it can easily become reading the tea leaves. Australia’s murder rate was certainly lower after the change, but there was a strong downward trend even before 1996, and that trend continued with no noticeable “break” after the regulations went into effect.

    But I don’t want to argue with statistics. While it seems like it should be the most concrete way to find the truth, studies bear out that regardless of what any statistics show, they only reinforce our preexisting beliefs. It’s too easy for statistics to be manipulated or interpreted in different ways.

    Anyway, I’m not saying there aren’t advantages to a gun ban. Guns are tools designed specifically to kill people, and they are brutally efficient at that. Access to guns make suicide attempts more lethal, accidents more lethal, escalation of minor crimes more lethal, gang violence more lethal, and more. When violence happens, guns only make it more violent. The main place I’m skeptical is when the intent is already to kill.

    • Again, I’m not concerned with trying to find a solution to murderous intent. I’m concerned with making guns less available to people, because increased gun availability translates to more gun violence, and the inverse is demonstrably true, even aside from the Australia case.

      • Why “gun violence” specifically? Is it because it seems like something we have control over?

      • Well, to the later question, it’s something that governments demonstrably have control over, as evidenced by every other developed nation in the world.

        As to “why gun violence specifically” I feel like that’s something of a trap. If I say that I want to combat gun violence because of the number of people killed, I’m usually asked why I’m not more concerned with heart disease, or drunk driving, because comparatively the number of deaths are higher. If I say I want to combat gun accessibility because of high suicide rates or incidents of accidental gun discharges killing kids, I’m asked why mental health reform and improved gun training aren’t my objective.

        Gun violence, on its own, represents a whole suite of issues where either through malicious intent (murders, shooting sprees), mental health issues (suicides), or neglect (accidental injuries), people are getting injured or killed, and reducing the number of guns in play correlates with a reduction in those incidents. Maybe restricting access to guns isn’t the solution that leads to that reduction (gun ownership in Australia is back to the levels it was at prior to Port Arthur, but they still don’t have any incidents of mass shootings on the scale of that event) but if that discussion alone helps to move the needle in some way, that discussion needs to be had.

        I don’t think there’s value in trying to plumb deeper into my personal motives for why gun violence has to be combated, and that’s where this question of “why this kind of death specifically” usually leads. All that line of discussion does is divorce us from the problem at hand, which is a societal construct in this country that seems to prioritize gun ownership over life and liberty for people.

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