Gun Control Debate: American Gun Lobby is Full of Contradictions (Guest Voice)

Gun Control Debate: American Gun Lobby is Full of Contradictions
by Michael Youhana

NRA president David Keene and Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt did their rounds on last Sunday’s talk shows as part of an ongoing, high-intensity effort by the broader American “gun lobby” to stifle recent moves towards passing gun control legislation in Washington.

It is to be expected that over the next few weeks Keene, Pratt, and their allies will continue to make sure the immense resources at their disposal are felt by congressmen and the American public alike.

Few interest groups in American politics manage to match the gun lobby in the manufacture of plainly spurious arguments. The lobby’s gift – its ability to mass-produce slogans – is also its curse.

It is true that bloated special interest groups have loud voices. Yet, as these massive networks of think tanks, lobbyists, and their admirers thoughtlessly churn out argument upon argument – paying more attention to the quantity of arguments presented than to the quality of those arguments – their game of psuedo-intellectual Jenga is, perhaps, bound to eventually come crashing down.

In other words, bloated special interest groups tend to begin arguing against themselves after they grow to a certain, difficult to micromanage, size.

The movement against gun regulation has arrived at this point – it is philosophically divided. Yet, many people on both sides of the gun control debate have yet to recognize this fact.

Two Narratives and Some of Their Problems

Opponents of gun control in the U.S. often defend their positions by calling upon one of two cynical narratives. These are by no means the only narratives against gun control, but they represent two of the dominant lines argument often offered.

The first of the two talking points is a critique of the effectiveness of gun control in halting gun violence. Generally: gun criminals are already willing to break laws, therefore gun criminals will continue to purchase firearms illegal or not – leaving law abiders out in the rain.

Of course, the argument is suspect for a number of reasons. For instance, journalists Joe Palazzalo and Carl Bialik of The Wall Street Journal cast doubt on the assertion when they cite Center for Disease Control and Prevention findings that there is “insufficient evidence to determine [the] effectiveness,” of gun control in reducing violent crime, suicide, and accidental injury.

Yet, the unconvincing nature of the assertion does not stop some opponents of gun control from making an even more dubious claim: that lax firearm laws actually reduce violence, because lax laws allow for the proliferation of firearms.

It’s not clear that this latter argument has gained traction outside circles of senile cold warriors and M.A.D. enthusiasts, in which the belief is held that commonplace firearms are analogous to nuclear warheads and that commonplace criminals are analogous to the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, it may be worth noting that the 1970’s arms race preceding Lebanon’s civil war did little to stem violence in that country (quite the opposite) and that United Nations “studies in Central America showed that people who used a gun to defend against an armed assault were far more likely to be injured or killed than if they had no weapon.”

Just a couple of vivid counterexamples…

The second, more fanatical, case made against gun control deals with the utility of firearms in the face of some sort of tyrannical force: after all, didn’t Stalin consolidate power by confiscating guns?

Yet, Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, along with Libyans under Muammar Gaddafi, were fairly well armed. On the other hand, Egyptians and Tunisians, both of whom overthrew dictatorships in 2011, were hardly well armed at all. The latter country had 0.1 guns per 100 people according to a 2007 small arms survey publication.

Furthermore, the creeping sense of fatalism that comes with wondering what good a handgun or semiautomatic weapon could really do for a hypothetical American rebel – faced with Tomahawk missiles, F-16s, drones, and the various other war-machines of modern militaries – is hardly groundless.

The Philosophical Divide

To review, two key narratives, articulated by many opposed to gun control, have now been summarized – with relevant criticism added. The first narrative can be labeled “more gun control equals more gun violence,” whereas the second can be named “more tyranny, less guns.”

Apart from the many defects of each individual abstract, there’s a broader problem with logical consistency here. This logical inconsistency is at the heart of the often-unrecognized philosophical divide within the gun lobby.

While the “more gun control equals more gun violence” assertion suggests that guns can’t be kept out of the hands of criminals, the “more tyranny, less guns” case seems to suggest that guns can be kept out of the hands of criminals.

Think about it:

In the context of a tyranny, dissenters become criminals under the laws of the tyrannical regime. According to “more gun control equals more gun violence,” these dissenters – in need of self-defense firearms – will not pay attention to the tyrannical regime’s draconian gun laws because they are already criminals.

However, according to “more tyranny, less guns” the dissenters will be defenseless because the tyrannical regime’s gun control is actually very effective.

And so, it becomes clear that the gun lobby is not one cohesive bloc. It’s a group of people with often opposing beliefs, in conflict with one another. If people on either side of the gun control debate become more conscious of this conflict within the gun lobby, the terms of the debate could shift as demands for philosophical consistency come to the fore.

Cross-posted from Policymic

Michael Youhana is freelance journalist and a student studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at NYU. Formerly interned for PolicyMic, Haaretz, and the The Nation magazine. His work has been featured in various outlets including The Jerusalem Report magazine and The Nation.

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Author: Guest Voice

  • sheknows

    Funny how the NRA never said the govt. was going to “take everyone’s guns away” as an argument before.
    Funny how the NRA never peeped when machine guns were outlawed, but have a problem passing legislation to ban “modern” machine guns.
    What logic dictates that fewer guns on the streets would equal more gun violence? The logic formed in the brain of an NRA member.
    They have amped up the paranoid rhetoric and are grasping at everything from 2nd amendment rights, to stats that show more people die in car accidents than from guns. ( as relevant as saying more people drown than die in airplane crashes) Then there is the astute observation by the former leader of the
    NRA ( a truly dizzying intellect) that “there is discrimination against guns because of their color?!?!”

    They are running on stupid and yet…..our lawmakers are having trouble passing legislation.

  • dduck

    He, WL, andthe NRA, was for a ban before he/it was against a ban.
    In 1986, the NRA SUPPORTED a ban on automatic weapons: Former NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman, who has since parted ways with the organization, tells NPR that Wayne LaPierre, currently NRA’s executive vice president, was willing to let the machine gun ban go forward if it meant the larger bill it was attached to would pass.
    Machine guns were still legal but had heavy fees and registration requirements before the 1986 bill became law.
    http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2013/01/16/169526687/the-decades-old-gun-ban-thats-still-on-the-books

  • sheknows

    Thanks for the link dd. Interesting history I am sure we didn’t know. Certainly shows the influence the NRA had/has with our legislators.
    Never a good thing when a country has a pro-gun group dictating policy.
    Well, with the Dems gaining and the country in general going to a more progressive thinking, perhaps their influence will wane. We can only hope.

  • justcowboyway
  • sheknows

    VERY interesting justcbw. Always wondered why the word state was in that amendment instead of country. Thanks..a little more insight through history :)

  • sheknows

    The NRA now says the ATF ” should be doing their job”. What they don’t tell you is that the ATF is PREVENTED from doing anything by legislation written by the NRA and presented to congress by R-sen Tiahrt tucked into a spending cut bill.( Sen Tiarht was given an award by the NRA coincidentally) The ATF is a dummy organization now with virtually no power anymore to check records of gun sellers.

    They don’t even have a director because the APPOINTMENT has to be passed by congress now. The NRA effectively blocked the ability of the ATF to do it’s job about 8 years ago.

    Unbelievable snakes!!

  • thewson

    Contradictions are on both sides here brothers. Is it rational to place strict regulations on the lawful people of this nation? Let’s place BAC testers in all automobiles because so many people die by drunk drivers! Oh oh, and let’s give the feds more power over the people when there are obvious issues of accountability across the board on the federal level…especially on the topics of national security, foreign affairs, national spending, over-sized government, and defending the Constitution of the United States. I swore an oath when I enlisted in the US military, years ago, and the head politicians of today are sidestepping their responsibilities for reasons unknown to me. The reason we have the right to bear arms is to allow the people of this nation to defend themselves against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Did you know that during WWII Japanese Generals dismissed the possibility of a successful offensive attack on continental US because there would be to significant of a civilian armed opposition. During WWII, the most common infantry weapons for military were semi-automatic rifles, bolt action rifles, light-machine guns, and heavy machine guns. What did the civilians have, semi-automatic rifles, bolt action rifles, pistols, and even Tommy guns. If we don’t have the ability as citizens to be armed our national security and the chances of defending ourselves against foreign and domestic attacks on our liberty are significantly lessened. Some people have asked me why I need an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, it’s to protect your unarmed family from….. I am done. If you don’t get it, you don’t get, and you will probably allow the suppression of our liberties one by one, until this nation becomes the land of the chained and the home of the cowards that can do nothing about it.

  • cjjack

    And it wasn’t always this way.

    After the Aurora shootings, I wrote an article here where I recalled that the NRA of my youth was not the rabid guns-at-all-costs organization it is today. They used to be an organization that promoted hunting, responsible gun ownership, gun safety, and self defense in more or less that order. Now priority #1 is promotion of the “from my cold, dead hands” attitude.

    I couldn’t figure it out.

    This past Monday, I read a fascinating article which explains how that happened.

    http://www.salon.com/2013/01/14/the_nra_once_supported_gun_control/

  • thewson

    I think the “from my cold dead hands” attitude is a result of the increased efforts to work around our constitution. Plus a whole load of other domestic tensions that are lurking around.

  • thewson

    Wow, that article is interesting. Thanks for pointing that out cjjack.

  • cjjack

    I’d counter that the “from my cold dead hands” attitude is due to the promotion of the wrong-headed idea that any sort of regulation of firearms is a prelude to tyranny.

    We’ve had tight restrictions on automatic weapons going back almost 80 years now, and tyranny hasn’t reared it’s head. In fact for a rather large segment of the population, rights have been guaranteed that did not exist for them back when those restrictions were passed.

    On Monday, our newest national holiday celebrates the life of a man who proved that non-violence…even in the face of violent repression…is a much more powerful idea than “from my cold dead hands.”

    The Civil Rights Act was achieved not through the actions of an armed citizenry, but through demonstrations, protests, speeches, and ultimately, legislation. There was armed resistance, and some people did lose their lives, but the armed resistance was decidedly not in the service of freedom or the Constitution, and withered in the face of a”well-regulated militia” (the National Guard) that was used to defend desegregated schools against violence.

  • bookworm914

    @OP
    I don’t actually think these arguments contradict; they are answers to either side of a conditional statement. In broad terms, there are 3 possible strands: a) no gun control at all, b) guns are still allowed but many barriers are placed in the way of sales/purchases, c) massive gun buy-backs and scrapping, and guns no longer available.
    Whether or not the arguments are true in each case, the logical structure for the arguments is like this: In state a), “law-abiding freedom fighters” and anyone else has guns for whatever purpose. In state b), guns are still available, so criminals can get them easily, but the legal barriers in place stymie many law-abiding citizens who want guns for self-defense. In state c), guns are totally unavailable, so the gov’t can enforce martial law without encountering resistance. No contradiction needed.

    @thewson
    Thank you for your service. Is it okay for me to ask when/where you served?
    In general I favor some restriction on gun purchases, but I think your satirical comparison to BAC-locks on cars actually undersells your main position. A BAC lock wouldn’t have to report to any centralized authority, so it would be an inconvenience but generally not a violation of any individual’s privacy or rights (assuming we agree that DWI/DWAI ought to be criminal; BAC-lock law would be sort of like a seatbelt law, a slight and non-violating personal inconvenience to keep the road safer for everyone else). By contrast, the restrictions I/many groups are advocating on gun laws is clearly privacy invasive and rife with potential for abuse of authority either by preventing particular people from getting guns/ammo or by carefully tracking and targeting people who do buy guns/ammo.

  • SteveK

    bookworm said: c) massive gun buy-backs and scrapping, and guns no longer available.

    Nobody… I repeat Nobody is proposing this.

    SOME guns no longer available? Yes… certainly, but your NRA talking point has been proved intentionally wrong so many times that the continued attempt to use it simply flags your position as a bogus attempt to mislead.

  • dduck

    Cj, absolutely fascinating article, thanks.
    I liked those old NRA guys; “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

  • thewson

    I don’t oppose new gun-control regulations, so long as it doesn’t impose on the rights of lawful citizens. I think it would be great to 1) require all gun purchasers to attend a certified firearms safety course in order to receive a license to purchase a weapon 2) have better enforcement requirements for background checks and possibly a mental evaluation requirement. And attach such requirements only to the purchase of high capacity weapons, assault weapons, and pistols, so long as there are not privacy conflicts to the individuals and the government is restricted from advanced tracking of those qualified weapons holders. But I fear extreme flat out bans on weapons, as that threatens our national security.

  • dduck

    But I fear extreme flat out bans on weapons, as that threatens our national security.
    How so?

  • thewson

    I explained above how the armed US citizens deterred a Japanese invasion during WWII. The Second Amendment is a right of the people to defend our constitutional rights from both foreign and domestic enemies, and currently, the most damage is being done to our country thru organized agendas carried out by our leaders and government officials that are side-stepping their oaths to defend the constitution.

  • SteveK

    If the M1 Garand kept out the Imperial Japanese Army…

    It should be good enough for family protection in 2013.

    Unless of course the citizens who deterred a Japanese invasion in your fantasy were all using M16′s. :)

    Edit to add: US Troops won WWII with 8 round clips…

  • dduck

    thewson. Thanks for the explanation.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    thewson
    @Thewson:

    I explained above how the armed US citizens deterred a Japanese invasion during WWII.

    Interesting. Do you have any reliable sources?

  • thewson

    There are many documented quotations from Japanese military officers that suggest exactly what I have said. One very popular one from Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – “You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.” Google it. This isn’t that complicated. Furthermore, the weapons available to the military at that time were comparable to the weapons available to the civilians. And an M1 Grand would not stand a chance against modern weapons. Which is why it is necessary for lawful citizens to be able to AT LEAST be able to have semi-automatic assault rifles, so we can stand a chance against fully automatic sub-machine-guns, light-machine-guns, or even high capacity semi-automatics. In a time when congress should be focused on fixing our economy, strengthening our national security and protecting the REPUBLIC, they are instead anxious to do the opposite. And if that is not cause for alarm, I don’t know what to say to you, other than you may want to check yourself because it may be YOU that is living in a fantasy world where there are no secrete agendas and America doesn’t have enemies, and so on. We are under attack from within our boarders.

  • thewson

    And our boys won WWII with Bradley Automatic Rifles that had 20 round “magazines”, Thompson sub-machine guns that had 20-30 round magazines, Browning 1919 light machine guns with belts of ammunition…. I can go on all day. All I am saying is if you all don’t want to pick-up a weapon when it’s necessary, at least let me do it for you.

  • SteveK

    I don’t know what to say to you, other than you may want to check yourself because it may be YOU that is living in a fantasy world where there are no secrete agendas and America doesn’t have enemies, and so on. We are under attack from within our boarders.

    I rest my case.

    Let the well armed paranoid take over for a while (there’s a commie behind every bush you know) and then tell me how you like it.

  • thewson

    Agree to disagree, I guess. But I am not paranoid, I am realistic and prepared. Some people prepare in different ways. In the case that we are physically invaded, ever, you will be prepared to run for protection, and I will be prepared to protect you and yours. And that is my obligation. My ability to protect our liberties is greatly reduced if I have limited access to weapons. Just because I own guns doesn’t make me paranoid, I am a professional patriotic family-man. Where is the common ground on this issue, and why is it so difficult to find it? Where does the frustration come from? Can’t we just stand together on the constitution and the principals for which it was written?

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    In the case that we are physically invaded, ever, you will be prepared to run for protection, and I will be prepared to protect you and yours. And that is my obligation. My ability to protect our liberties is greatly reduced if I have limited access to weapons.

    Thank you for your generous offer to protect me and mine. But, pray, What in the heck do you think our superb armed forces of the United States are for?

    I don’t know what to say to you, other than you may want to check yourself because it may be YOU that is living in a fantasy world where there are no secrete(sic) agendas and America doesn’t have enemies, and so on. We are under attack from within our boarders.(sic)

    I guess you don’t have much faith in our Constitution, our Republic, our form of government, our democracy, our own military, Americans. I find that sad.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    All I am saying is if you all don’t want to pick-up a weapon when it’s necessary, at least let me do it for you.

    No thanks, I believe our trained and well-equipped military are up to the task.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Thewson says:

    There are many documented quotations from Japanese military officers that suggest exactly what I have said. One very popular one from Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – “You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.” Google it. This isn’t that complicated.

    Have you heard of Factcheck.org?

    This is what they say:

    Advocates of gun rights often argue that in World War II Japan was deterred from invading the U.S. mainland by a fear of American citizens with guns in their closets. They frequently quote Japan’s Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto as saying: “You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.”

    But this quote is unsubstantiated and almost certainly bogus, even though it has been repeated thousands of times in various Internet postings. There is no record of the commander in chief of Japan’s wartime fleet ever saying it.

    How do we know? We contacted Donald M. Goldstein, sometimes called “the dean of Pearl Harbor historians.” Among his many books are “The Pearl Harbor Papers: Inside the Japanese Plans” (1993) and the best-selling “At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor” (1981). He is a professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. He told us the supposed Yamamoto quote is “bogus.”

    In an exchange of e-mails he said:

    Prof. Goldstein: I have never seen it in writing. It has been attributed to the Prange files [the files of the late Gordon W. Prange, chief historian on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur] but no one had ever seen it or cited it from where they got it. Some people say that it came from our work but I never said it. … As of today it is bogus until someone can cite when and where.

    We included this in an update to an Ask FactCheck item we posted May 10, debunking an error-filled “gun history lesson” circulating by e-mail.

    We make no argument either for or against gun ownership. But we do object to fabricating quotes and passing them off as historical fact.