Three Debate Tips for Those Calling for More Gun Restrictions

If you think politicians should pass (and law enforcement agents and bureaucrats should enforce) more laws restricting the sale and/or possession of guns among the general population, then you and I are on opposite sides of that debate. However, my goal here is to help you to more effectively argue your position.

Why would I do that? I’m tired of the irrationality and ignorance surrounding the issue. I believe that, given a reasoned debate, my side will prevail. I grant to you the courtesy of presuming that you believe the same thing about your side. So, if we both want a reasoned debate, what can you do to present reasonable arguments in support of your position?

1. Stop demonizing America’s millions of gun owners.

Not only is the tactic of demonizing (and scapegoating) gun owners unjust and intellectually dishonest, it is strategically stupid on your part. Gun owners tend to be wealthier and more politically active. If you really want to mobilize millions of people against your position, the best thing you can do is subject them to vicious name-calling and unjust character attacks.

To offer a personal example of how this works, after I read some idiot on Twitter call the National Rifle Association a “terrorist” organization, I purchased a five-year membership to the NRA. (I was a member many years ago but let my membership lapse mostly due to disagreements over political strategy.) I regard the NRA as the nation’s oldest civil-rights organization, and if its critics persist on maligning it, I’ll seriously consider upgrading to the $1,000 lifetime membership.

2. Don’t confuse faux self-righteousness with an argument.

Many advocates of restrictive gun laws have thought very carefully about the relevant issues. Unfortunately, many have not.

I understand that people get emotional over guns. But don’t expect your rage to persuade me that your policy proposals are a good idea.

Consider the following argument: “If the perpetrator of a mass shooting had not had a gun, he would not have been able to commit the mass murder (with a gun); therefore, the government should restrict everyone’s access to a gun.” If, without further reasoning or evidence, you find that argument compelling, I suggest that you are not thinking at all seriously about the issues at stake. You are instead grasping at pretexts to rationalize your emotionalist commitment.

At a minimum, to seriously grapple with the issues at hand, you need to seriously consider the following questions:

  • What will proposed gun restrictions mean for the many thousands of Americans who use a gun in self defense each year?
  • If criminals have no fear (or less fear) that their potential victims might be armed, won’t criminals be more likely to commit more crimes?
  • Is it a good idea to expend police resources enforcing laws impacting every existing or potential gun owner, rather than use those resources to target actual or likely criminals?
  • How will you prevent criminals from buying guns on the black market or switching to other weapons?
  • Even if you can prevent (some) criminals from obtaining guns, if you also prevent their intended victims (who tend to be physically smaller) from obtaining guns, are you not giving the advantage to the criminals in many contexts?
  • Is it a good idea to create what William Burroughs warned against, “a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military?” If that’s not your goal, what is?

Please understand that what I am asking for here is not an unresponsive or fact-free sound-bite. I’ve heard plenty of those. I’m asking that you seriously grapple with questions such as these and formulate your arguments (and your policy proposals) accordingly.

3. Learn something about guns.

I understand that many advocates of restrictive gun laws know a great deal about guns. Unfortunately, many know nothing or close to nothing about guns.

If you have little or no idea what are the answers to such questions as the following, then why should I believe that you are remotely competent to help craft the nation’s gun laws?

  • What’s the difference between an automatic and a semi-automatic gun?
  • Are automatic guns currently legal in the United States?
  • What’s the difference between a rifle and a shotgun?
  • What is a revolver?
  • What is a magazine as used in a semi-automatic gun?
  • With respect to guns, to what does “9 mm” and “.223 caliber” refer?

If you have never fired a gun, I suggest that you find a competent instructor and actually go shoot a gun. You might learn something useful about guns—and about gun owners. And you might even learn something useful about yourself.

If you take my three tips to heart, you will more effectively argue for your position in favor of more restrictive gun laws (for the general population). As someone who opposes that agenda, I’m okay with that. Because I believe that, the more reasonable your position becomes, the more it will shift to look like my position. At least we’ll each be able to see more clearly where the other side is coming from. And may the best case win.

Image: Wikimedia Commons