A Liberal’s Primer For Gun Control

For the purposes of this essay I am going to assume, you the reader, are a liberal interested in a pro gun control agenda, but you don’t really know much about guns.  If that’s not you, feel free to disregard the advice I’m giving here, but it’s still a thought provoking read even if you do know a bit.  With my help, you will understand the issues in a way you’re never going to get from an organization with a commercial agenda.  There won’t be any bloody bodies, child sized caskets, or jackbooted thugs setting fire to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas.  That kind of thing keeps people tuned through the commercial break, but it doesn’t really inform anyone of anything, it only instills paranoia that out there somewhere someone is about to kill you and they are going to do it over guns. That’s what the media is selling.  Fox is on one side saying Obama wants to ban the guns, HLN is on the other side saying all gun owners live in creepy compounds and want to go to war with the US.  That’s just not the case.  There are a lot of gun owners across the nation and they own guns for a variety of reasons.  There are a lot of factors you must think of when you are considering proposing gun control.

First of all, realize that what you are arguing is for FEDERAL gun control.  This is very important.  Most gun control at this point is down at state level.  The federal laws are only against things like automatic weapons.  The case you must first make is that you have an improvement to existing laws.  Your proposal must fit as well in the Alaskan tundra as the streets of Boston.  That’s not going to be easy, and I’ll admit that it’s over my head.  State laws already enforce what makes sense in their state, so a federal law could simultaneously be overly restrictive in Alaska and below the standard of the existing state legislation in Massachusetts.  It’s a very difficult balancing act, and I’ll admit it’s beyond me.

Once when I was on a canoe trip with my father and his friends we were sitting around the fire and a friend of a friend had come up to the mountain with us because he wanted to go hiking.  I’m still not sure to this day why anyone hikes, but it isn’t hurting me so I tolerate it.  That notwithstanding, he said he had brought his .357 with him and was asking if we thought it would drop a bear.  One of the older bearded guys poked the fire with a stick for a moment and said, “Yeah. “ Then he poked the fire for a few more seconds and looked up and said, “But he’s going to be really mad at you when he gets back up”
That’s the reality of where some people live.  Most of the people who seem to be pro federal gun control have something in common, they all live somewhere they can expect a 10-15 minute 911 response.  When considering your law take into account that the law has to make equal sense everywhere in the US.  Office workers in D.C.  can be relatively sure they aren’t going to have to do battle with a Grizzly bear at work, but a logger in Oregon can’t be as sure.

There are plenty of shithole little towns in Idaho where they have 1 sheriff as their entire law enforcement compliment, but have 3 meth labs.  That person is going to have different needs as far as self defense than someone who lives in a concrete apartment with a steel front door and a 10 minute 911 police response.  Also as afraid and outraged as you are about gun violence, that person out in the country is that outraged and afraid the government would limit his selection of weapon.  Also there is a chance his livelihood might involve raising sheep, goats, fowl, or other animals that are killed by wild dogs.  Someone in Alabama might have his crops regularly threatened by wild pigs.  Farming has become such a low profit margin bearing profession with high cost of seed, market glut of agricultural crops, and chemical fertilizer that many farmers are just holding on.  A group of feral pigs can literally wipe a farm out in a night and send the farm to foreclosure.   Here’s what Smithsonian.com had to say about the threat of pigs in the southwest
Someone like that might have a legitimate need for a long range semi automatic rifle with a holographic night sight.  Some people might say that farmers should be granted a variance, but those people don’t get that there are so many states in the Midwest where everyone grew up on a farm.  If you are prepared to grant that many variances, you may as well leave their right to decide the appropriate level of gun control at state level.

Next you have to learn all the different kinds of firearms.  Most of where firearms discussions get derailed is because the people on the pro gun control side don’t really know about the different kinds of guns.  It’s impossible to have a meaningful discussion about gun control without knowing the language.




Assault rifles are military style rifles with a selector which goes from semi automatic to either full auto or a burst mode.  They are for all intents and purposes illegal in the US.  Special collectors or people with a need, such as SWAT trainers can apply for a special permit, but so few of these are issued that they aren’t a factor.  The rest of them are in the hands of the army, swat teams, and federal departments like the IRS and Fish and Wildlife.

Assault weapons are semi automatic weapons that look like assault rifles.  It’s important you try not to use this word at all in a discussion about gun control.  This is where many discussions go off the rails.  Assault weapon is a meaningless term made up for political reasons.  The definition is more or less arbitrary requiring things like flash suppressors and bayonet mounts.  There is absolutely no reason to make assault weapons a thing.  You should just leave the idea of assault weapons alone, because it’s the quickest way to create an uproar that eliminates all rational discourse.  The assault weapon ban was a work of the Clinton white house to do something that wouldn’t actually change anything, but would appear to people ignorant about what guns are, that he had done something quite historical.  The ban was later lifted, and the dialog has gone back to assault weapons.  To make an analogy that’s easier to understand, it’s like calling pickup trucks that have a factory mount for a brush guard, pedestrian assault vehicles.  It’s meaningless.

Semi auto weapons are rifles or pistols that are the kind people are used to seeing in movies and cop shows.  The expansion of gas when a round is fired cycles the mechanisms inside the gun and ejects the spent shell and loads a new cartridge.  The effect is that every time the operator pulls the trigger, a bullet comes out until the magazine is empty.  They have essentially been the standard since the early 20th century.  The Colt 1911 pistol was an early example of this type of weapon and it is still used by the military today with the same type of action it had when it was issued in 1911.  The rifles are sometimes magazine fed, and the pistols always are.  Any pistol that isn’t a revolver is this type of weapon.

Lever actions are the “cowboy guns”.  They load in various methods and the cartridge is cycled into the chamber by pushing down the hand shaped lever to eject the expended brass then pulled back up into the rifle to load another round.  They are very simple to operate; they tend to be very accurate guns.

Pump action is a method similar to lever action, except there is a sliding piece on the front that moves forward and backward.  In a small caliber rifle they are effectively as fast as a semi auto.  This action is most common for shotguns.  They are rarely magazine fed.

Bolt action rifles are like the WWI rifles seen in movies.  Someone has to manually move the bolt out of the locked position, pull it back, then cycle the new round forward into the chamber.  These are most popular with people who fire extremely high accuracy scoped rifles.

Now that you know the types of most modern guns, you’re a little closer to making an argument.  Now you can properly frame what kind of gun control you want.  Next is why you want it.

The weakest, and most common, gun control argument on the internet is “Why do you need that?” This argument is weak because it’s a burden of proof fallacy that could and will be applied to other things as soon as the question is asked.  Why do you need cars that go fast, why do you need cars at all, why can’t you ride a bike or the bus, why do you need slow grown organic produce when the same amount of time, carbon, water etc could grow enough corn to feed all the starving children in the Appalachians and the Ozarks?  It just begs for a line of nonsense, because when arguing against the status quo one must argue against the status quo instead of merely asking what is good about the status quo.  That’s debate 101.  It’s your job as the person framing the argument to say why someone in Alaska can’t have it, not their job to defend to you why they need it.  Remember again also, that state laws already exist to control guns.  You need to make the argument why everyone has to give up their guns all across the nation.

The second most common, is just citing the number of gun deaths in the US and comparing them to other countries.  It seems like common sense that more guns = more gun deaths, and therefore less guns would = less gun deaths.  That isn’t actually logical.  Gun deaths do not equal murders.  If you look at the intentional homicide rate, the US isn’t really higher than most of Europe’s.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

It’s obvious that the US, which has more guns and more people than say Denmark is going to have more gun deaths.  The thing is most of those deaths are suicides, and the suicide rate in the US is within 1 person per 100,000 to most European countries.


Most intentional homicides are committed by someone known to the victim.  In fact only 12% of murders are by strangers.  This is important because when making your case about what weapon you want to ban, you have to assume that someone who knew someone could get the drop on them easily.  Say for example the weapons you want to ban are semi automatic rifles.  It’s a lot harder to surprise someone you know with a rifle than an old fashioned double action revolver, which no one is really considering banning.  The FBI website is an excellent resource for murder data.  They have murders by relationship, weapon caliber and other information.  This is where you need to go to get the stats for support of what you are trying to prove.

This is the most important part in framing your argument.  This is where you get to come up with a speculative number of how many lives a year that would be saved by your proposed legislation.  It’s very important not to get pigeonholed here.  If you’re just worried about say semi automatic rifles, with more than 10 rounds in the magazine, used in spree shootings, you’re quickly going to put yourself into statistical insignificance.  You’re going to find that such deaths amount to such a small number it can’t be expressed as a percentage of total murders, let alone total gun deaths.  Also someone will without fail point out that Norway has the toughest gun laws around, and they still have about as many deaths by mass shootings with semi automatic weapons as the US.  I would highly recommend against making that sort of argument.  There is no specific type of gun that is “bad” when the numbers come in.  In fact according to the numbers, the more primitive and cheap a weapon is, the more likely it is to be used in a homicide, but so called “Saturday night special” isn’t an actual weapon type.

To review, the US has a lot of gun deaths compared to other countries, yes.  The thing is, the gun deaths are mostly deaths that are still happening in Europe by other means, especially suicide.  The intentional murder rate in US isn’t significantly higher, despite the fact that we are knee deep in the war on drugs.  If you were to remove the murders of gang members involved in illegal narcotics trafficking, it would actually be lower.

Gun control proposals need to actually get at an end.  A type specific ban is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory.  Any time there is proposed legislation that is type specific, speculators buy all the weapons available and manufacturers ramp up production to meet expected demand.  This serves to increase the number of existing weapons of the type.  You need to prove statistically that lives will be saved by your proposal, and you need to be prepared to give a ballpark estimate.  This whole “if it saves even one” is a platitude.  Nothing else is legislated that way, and it’s a good thing too.  We’d still be riding horses and serving sushi would be considered a capital offense.

Here is an example of a gun control proposal which would be defendable.  The numbers are made up, but the premise was a real thing that happened:

“In DC it was decided that the biggest danger on the street was highly affordable guns.  People could get an illegal firearm for as little as 25 dollars, and they were nicknamed Saturday Night Specials, meaning they were so cheap, that someone could buy one as a “throw away” and shoot someone indiscriminately and dispose of the evidence without being out of pocket.  The city made a no questions asked policy where they had events where guns were bought up at $40 dollars apiece.  [citation] This effectively raised the street price of guns to at least 50 dollars.  The program was so successful at limiting the availability of cheap illegal weapons was incrementally raised to $100 dollars.  [citation]  Considering after all the benefits and payroll taxes are paid, a policeman in DC makes 50,000 per anum, even at the higher price that’s still a gun per day for the entire year with a second one every third day.  A policeman who got that many illegal guns would be a super cop.  This operation should be taken federal, so that the easiest and cheapest way for people to get a gun would be to go to a gun store and purchase it legally subject to background checks”

That would be a compelling argument and very difficult for NRA types to counter with bumper sticker rhetoric.

To open dialog, you must go outside of one line statements that are countered by other one line statements.  The conversation has been rock beats scissors, scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock and so forth ad infinitum.  Doing that makes the status quo win by default.

Trope arguments to avoid:

Scary gun republicans from somewhere else

Obama was taken to task by Hillary Clinton for saying something to the effect of all those people care about is their bibles and their guns, they cling to their religion or the second amendment.  It doesn’t matter what the actual quote was, what the intent was, or the context, things like that off the bat alienate 85% of the population.  You can’t make up these awful people who don’t, in fact, exist when trying to a make a point.  If you frame your argument as an US vs. THEM argument, lots of care must be taken.  The NRA is very good at this.  THEM are criminals.  THEM are people who live in Hollywood behind a guarded gate and don’t think we deserve to defend ourselves.  When they make US vs THEM arguments, they make sure to make it a group that isn’t relatable.  It’s still a bullshit tactic, but at least it doesn’t turn everyone against them in the first sentence.

For example a popular target is cowboys out yonder in Texas with concealed carry permits who worship guns who go crazy and kill everyone.  First of all only about 2% of Texans have a CCP.  Second, despite they tend to be males of ages that commit the majority of violent crimes, CCP holders only account for about .2% of all crimes.  That’s a 10/1 ratio and it’s the people who are in demographics most likely to commit crimes.  http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/RSD/CHL/Reports/ConvictionRatesReport2011.pdf

The thing is most gun owners who are responsible enough to legally carry, tend to be responsible people.   I mean if you look at the two crimes there that CCP holders are likely to commit are carrying a different pistol than their CCP states, and carrying a concealed carry into a place where state law bans them, like any restaurant that sells alcohol.  If you factor those two out, the rate of “crime” goes down by a third.  All other crimes by people with a CCP is statistically insignificant.  Take a specific look at “murder under influence of sudden passion”  0.  Literally no one in the state of Texas who had a CCP killed anyone in the heat of the moment that this survey was done.  Take out people who smack their wives or husbands upside the head, which sucks, but doesn’t have anything to do with guns, and the rate goes down by another 1/6.  There are also some weird outliers like child molesters, but that doesn’t have anything to do with guns either.  That was about 1/10 of crimes committed, but just think about it.  No other group would be judged like this.  The point is that CCP holders are almost 1/6 as likely to commit a violent crime as the non CCP group.

Basically the whole “gun people somewhere else stockpiling guns to scare us all” is like arguing against any minority culture as dangerous.  You wouldn’t classify all Muslims by honor killings for the same reason.  Most Muslim Americans aren’t involved in honor killings.  Most American gun owners aren’t involved in violence.

If it saves only one

This is the argument Obama has been making.  In the 2013 state of the union address the President tried to humanize his if it saves only one argument.  This is the entire quote unedited, “One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton.  She was 15 years old.  She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss.  She was a majorette.  She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend.  Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration.  And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.”

This certainly is a tragedy, but no one in any way makes an argument as to what could have been done with guns to keep her shooter from getting one.  As I have already pointed out, for most criminals, getting an illegal gun is faster, cheaper, and easier than a legal one.

What isn’t mentioned is that her shooter was on probation for a gun related charge.  He wasn’t legally allowed to have a gun.  This all keeps going back to the same place over and over and you can’t make this kind of argument without looking at where it’s going to go.  It’s going to go back to the fact criminals aren’t obeying the law already.   What would have prevented her death is tougher sentencing for gun crimes, like what the NRA already advocates.  Don’t beg a question which has an answer that undermines your argument.

As for the “if it even saves one” argument, that’s not logical.  40,000 people die on the highways every year according to the DOT.  Why do you NEED to go 65?  Why do you NEED to go 55?  Hell why do you NEED to go 45?  What if it only saves one?  We’re back to the “Why do you need that” argument I warned against in the beginning.  Things have to be treated equally, even the things you don’t like, such as guns.


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