I, and many others, have been sickened by the calls to ban Muslims from coming to the United States, and I’ve written plenty (here, here, and here) about these fears and how sad the blatant bigotry makes me. In response to calls for civility, and calls to stop being bigoted about Muslims, some gun owners have responded (acting like hated victims, another theme I covered earlier here and here) by trying to draw a similar comparison with gun control advocates.
Although I see their point, and understand where they’re coming from, there are some pretty big flaws in the comparison, with a dash of straw man in the mix.
First of all, I think the discussion is more fruitful if we put aside extremes. One might say that the calls to ban all Muslims from traveling to the United States is an extreme, but given that almost two-thirds of likely 2016 GOP primary voters support the ban (37% of all likely general election voters), I think it’s fair to say that this seemingly extreme view is not held only by the fringe. A view that’s held by 10%, even 15% of voters could be fairly called fringe, but 37%, and 65% of GOP likely voters hardly feels “fringe” to me.
Compare that with what I think is the fringe extreme of gun control: take away the guns. A CNN/ORC poll asked the following:
“Which of the following statements comes closest to your view? There should be no restrictions on owning guns. There should be some restrictions on owning guns. All guns should be illegal for everyone except police and authorized personnel.”
Only 12% said that guns should be illegal (except police and authorized personnel), whereas 17% said there should be no restrictions, and 70% said there should be some restrictions. So let’s put aside the straw man part of the gun rights argument that portends people are coming for your guns. The non-fringe gun control argument is that there should be more restrictions on gun ownership.
In that sense, the comparison falls apart because on the fringe is talking about banning guns, whereas more than the fringe is talking about banning Muslims.
That’s not the only way the argument falls apart though. The sense that responsible gun owners are being punished for the acts of a few is one way of spinning the call for more restrictions, but another way of looking at it is this: the restrictions that non-fringe movements are calling for would most likely have no effect at all on responsible gun owners. Responsible gun owners already do all of the things that many of us are asking to be required for all gun owners. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I consider myself a proponent of gun control. I think that guns should be legal, and I appreciate the sense of safety that having a gun provides (in some cases the safety is just a sense, not real, but I think feeling safe is incredibly important, and that feeling safe can help avoid bad things that happen when we feel unsafe). I support the use of guns for hunting and even recreation. Some people like to shoot guns and if they can do this in a way that presents little or no risk to others, I’m all for people having fun. But not all gun owners are responsible, and a gun in the hands of an irresponsible person is very dangerous. So my kind of gun control, the proposals that I can get behind, are those that require some kind of training. Require lessons before somebody gets the gun. Require some documentation that you have things like a gun safe, know the dangers of children and guns. Probably more than anything, I want to reinstate the important research that government organizations like the CDC used to do about gun violence and gun safety. More information helps us make more informed decisions, and efforts to cut off that information are really bad in my book.
I saw a FaceBook post the other day that read:
I stand behind you in line at the store with a smile on my face…and a gun under my shirt and you are none the wiser, yet you are safer for having me next to you. I won’t shoot you. My gun won’t pull it’s [sic] own trigger. It is securely holstered with the trigger covered. It can’t just go off. However, rest assured that if a lunatic walks into the grocery store and pulls out a rifle, I will draw my pistol and protect myself and my family and therefore protect you and your family. I may freeze up. I may piss my pants. I may get shot before I can pull the trigger…but, I won’t die in a helpless blubbering heap on the floor begging for my life or my child’s life. I won’t be that victim. I choose not to be. As for you, I don’t ask you to carry a gun. If you are not comfortable, then please don’t. But I would like to keep my right to choose to not be a helpless victim. There is evil in the world and if evil has a gun, I want one too.
Very compelling in some ways, but let’s think this through. This assumes that you are a responsible gun owner, which our current laws don’t guarantee at all. It assumes that you will securely holster your weapon with the trigger covered, but we don’t laws that require that. “I won’t shoot you. My gun won’t pull it’s [sic] own trigger.” But don’t accidents happen? What measures do we have in place to minimize those accidents? To train gun owners how to be responsible? “I may freeze up. I may piss my pants.” So how about some mandated training to help reduce the possibility that you’ll freeze up or piss your pants? Frankly, if you pull a gun a freeze (and piss your pants), you might end up aggravating the situation and making it worse.
I think what the ban on Muslims comparison with gun owners gets wrong is that I and other gun control advocates want to punish responsible gun owners. That’s simply not the case. I want to use responsible gun owners as models for how all gun owners should act, and use every avenue possible (shame, embarrassment, laws, financial incentives) to make all gun owners act like the responsible ones. You might even be able to convince me to pay for it. I recognize that having these educational requirements would put a financial burden on responsible gun owners (on all gun owners if they’re mandated), but what if we raised taxes on all Americans to cover the cost? I might be able to live with that compromise. Responsible gun owners are likely doing these things already, and paying for them out of pocket. So any subsidies would reward them for what they’re already doing. I do believe that guns in the hands of well-trained people can help prevent crimes and can help stop crimes already in progress. I believe that having more well-trained, qualified gun owners does have a benefit to society, as does reducing the number of poorly-trained, unqualified gun owners, and I think tax dollars should be used for things that benefit society. I’m not willing to pay for your gun, that’s a bit too far, but you could probably convince me to pay for, or help pay for, the training required to convert people from a irresponsible gun owners into responsible gun owners. So, yes, I guess I want to punish irresponsible gun owners, but I bet if polled, most of us would want that too.