There has been yet another mass shooting, something that now seems to occur on a monthly basis. Every time another tragedy like this occurs, gun advocates make the same arguments about why we can't possibly do anything to restrict the weaponization of our culture. Here's a guide to what they'll be saying in the coming days:
1. Now isn't the time to talk about guns.
We're going to hear this over and over, and not just from gun advocates; Jay Carney said it to White House reporters today. But if we're not going to talk about it now, when are we going to talk about it? After Sandy hit the East Coast, no one said, "Now isn't the time to talk about disaster preparedness; best leave that until it doesn't seem so urgent." When there's a terrorist attack, no one says, "Now isn't the time to talk about terrorism." Now is exactly the time.
2. Guns don't kill people, people kill people.
Maybe, but people with guns kill many, many more people than they would if they didn't have guns, and guns designed to kill as many people as possible. We don't know if the murderer in Newtown was suffering from a suicidal depression, but many mass shooters in the past were. And guess what? People suffer from suicidal depression everywhere in the world. People get angry and upset everywhere in the world. But there aren't mass shootings every few weeks in England or Costa Rica or Japan, and the reason is that people in those places who have these impulses don't have an easy way to access lethal weapons and unlimited ammunition. But if you want to kill large numbers of people and you happen to be an American, you'll find it easy to do.
3. If only everybody around was armed, an ordinary civilian could take out a mass killer before he got too far.
If that were true, then how come it never happens? The truth is that in a chaotic situation, even highly trained police officers often kill bystanders. The idea that some accountant who spent a few hours at the range would suddenly turn into Jason Bourne and take out the killer without doing more harm than good has no basis in reality.
4. We don't need more laws, we just need to enforce the laws we have.
The people who say this are the same ones who fight to make sure that existing laws are as weak and ineffectual as possible. Our current gun laws are riddled with loopholes and allow people to amass enormous arsenals of military-style weapons with virtually no restrictions.
5. Criminals will always find a way to get guns no matter what measures we take, so what's the point?
The question isn't whether we could snap our fingers and make every gun disappear. It's whether we can make it harder for criminals to get guns, and harder for an unbalanced person with murderous intent to kill so many people. The goal is to reduce violence as much as possible. There's no other problem for which we'd say if we can't solve it completely and forever we shouldn't even try.
6. The Constitution says I have a right to own guns.
Yes it does, but for some reason gun advocates think that the right to bear arms is the only constitutional right that is virtually without limit. You have the right to practice your religion, but not if your religion involves human sacrifice. You have the right to free speech, but you can still be prosecuted for incitement or conspiracy, and you can be sued for libel. Every right is subject to limitation when it begins to threaten others, and the Supreme Court has affirmed that even though there is an individual right to gun ownership, the government can put reasonable restrictions on that right.
And we all know that if this shooter turns out to have a Muslim name, plenty of Americans, including plenty of gun owners, will be more than happy to give up all kinds of rights in the name of fighting terrorism. Have the government read my email? Have my cell phone company turn over my call records? Check which books I'm taking out of the library? Make me take my shoes off before getting on a plane, just because some idiot tried to blow up his sneakers? Sure, do what you've got to do. But don't make it harder to buy thousands of rounds of ammunition, because if we couldn't do that we'd no longer be free.
7. Widespread gun ownership is a guarantee against tyranny.
If that had anything to do with contemporary life, then mature democracies would be constantly overthrown by despots. But they aren't. We shouldn't write laws based on the fantasies of conspiracy theorists.
8. Guns are a part of American culture.
Indeed they are, but so are a lot of things, and that tells us nothing about whether they're good or bad and how we want to treat them going forward. Slavery was a part of American culture for a couple of hundred years, but eventually we decided it had to go.
9. The American people don't want more gun control.
The truth is that when public opinion polls have asked Americans about specific measures, the public is in favor of a much more restrictive gun regime than we have now. Significant majorities would like to see the assault weapons ban reinstated, mandatory licensing and training for all gun owners, significant waiting periods for purchases, and host of other restrictions (there are more details here). In many cases, gun owners themselves support more restrictions than we currently have.
10. Having movie theaters and schools full of kids periodically shot up is just a price we should be willing to pay if it means I get to play with guns and pretend I'm Wyatt Earp.
OK, that's actually an argument gun advocates don't make. But it's the truth that lies beneath all their other arguments. All that we suffer because of the proliferation of guns—these horrifying tragedies, the 30,000 Americans who are killed every year with guns—for gun advocates, it's unfortunate, but it's a price they're willing to pay. If only they'd have the guts to say it.