The argument for easy access to firearms seems theoretically persuasive. After all, deterrence is a major element of foreign policy planning, and it is a simple, intuitive theory. By arming more people, there exists a higher chance that a noble citizen can stop or limit the destruction of violent criminals. If the criminals get to have guns, why don’t we?
The first major problem with this argument is that not everyone owns guns, so the deterrent effect is muted. After all, as hawks like Graham and McCain tell us over and over, threats have to be credible. When the U.S. fails to respond to violations of international norms, foreign leaders are less likely to take U.S. warnings seriously. If a number of people go on rampages and don’t get stopped by armed civilians, that only signals to other would-be murders that it is often perfectly safe to go kill people. Massacre after massacre has demonstrated that it is rare for armed civilians to be present in large, crowded spaces. While armed civilians certainly could be at the right place at the right time, the record of gun violence in the U.S. proves this to be unlikely. Thus, the threat to armed assailants is not very credible.
It’s also important to remember that the number of gun owners in the U.S. is exaggerated because many gun owners own multiple firearms. Indeed, some people own enormous arsenals. Thus, just because there are a lot of guns in the U.S. doesn’t necessarily mean that a lot of people own guns. Second, most of the people who do own firearms leave their guns at home. Guns are primarily used to defend one’s home and family, so they are rarely carried in public. It’s more convenient to simply leave a firearm at home; many places don’t allow them, and it’s a hassle to be armed if you are stopped by police. Because so few people are actually armed in public, there is a very low chance of an armed person being at the right place at the right time. There is, however, a large chance of children getting injured by poor gun safety at home. In other words, criminals aren’t at risk, innocent children and poorly-trained gun owners are.
Finally, many gun owners lack the requisite training to effectively defeat armed criminals. The reason our military and police are so good is that they are highly trained. They aren’t just a group of clowns who went to a store to “exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.” While our well-funded, highly trained armed forces are certainly effective at deterring and defeating enemies, some fool who has no formal training in operating firearms is not. He is honestly more of a threat to himself than to a would-be criminal.
Even if guns do deter, however, our police force is largely sufficient. After all, most of Europe relies on police to protect against armed criminals, as firearms are more strictly regulated there. Apparently this system works because the average gun-related homicide rate in Europe is far lower than in the U.S. What’s particularly ironic is that the people supporting completely unfettered access to weapons are usually the same people who are strongly supportive of police. If police are as noble and well-trained as so many right-leaning (and, indeed, many left-leaning people believe), why, exactly, are they not good enough to protect us? It truly boggles the mind.
While you may still be unpersuaded by my theoretical explanations, the data is firmly on the side of gun control. A recent crossnational study conclusively found that more stringent gun control measures strongly correlate with a decline in gun deaths. I know there are stories of brave gun owners saving people. Those stories are certainly important to remember. However, it’s also important to remember that those are isolated, anecdotal cases. One case a data set does not make. As voters who can influence policy, we must consider the aggregate data set because cherry-picking one or two stories biases the data and does not provide a comprehensive or accurate picture. The recent study referenced above, which amalgamated a number of other studies to check for author bias, not only found that gun control decreased gun deaths, but that NRA-sponsored legislation like concealed carry and “stand your ground” either had no statistical effect on or actually increased gun-related deaths.
I also want to address a few arguments used by detractors of gun control. The most common argument by far is that “criminals will just break the law.” Yes. Correct. You have just defined a criminal. By definition criminals break laws… that doesn’t mean we should not have laws. For example, would the GOP be OK with Obama just opening the border to Mexico? After all, some Mexicans will break the law and get past our border control even if we were to spend trillions to protect the border. Of course they wouldn’t! By this logic, we should just get rid of all laws. No more traffic controls. People speed and run red lights all the time. No more tax enforcement. Some people get away with shorting the government. Now, you might argue that I’m being unfair. After all, there is a difference between people speeding and people shooting. You can’t deter speeders by speeding yourself (at least I don’t think so), but you can in theory deter armed criminals by being armed yourself. Ignoring all the arguments above concerning why the deterrent effect is exaggerated, this argument is still insufficient. Why do we need assault weapons? Why do we even need pistols? Nonlethal weapons like tasers are perfectly effective at stunning an intruder long enough to run or take their gun, and the consequences of taser accidents are much less permanent than gun accidents. The 2nd Amendment says one can bear arms, not what arms one can bear. I think there is a good case to be made that nonlethal weapons are sufficient to deter and defeat criminals, at least until police can respond.
I also want to address the claim that gun ownership is vital to defending oneself from the government. No. This is complete nonsense. If someone honestly believe that owning an AR-15 is going to stop a tyrannical government employing the full might of the U.S. military, they are delusional. What makes this argument even more bizarre to me is that it’s often made by the same people who want to spend ungodly sums to make the U.S. military impossible to defeat. I’m all for a strong, well-funded military. But if you have a military capable of beating China and Russia, you can’t simultaneously have a military so weak that a few freedom fighters can take it down with shotguns and assault rifles. Moreover, I think this argument is gravely offensive to U.S. soldiers. People who believe the U.S. military would support a dictatorial ruler clearly don’t know the U.S. military very well. The military has its problems, but it is an honorable force that is bound by a code of loyalty and duty. It would not fight for an unlawful, oppressive government.
In sum, there is very little evidence supporting unregulated firearms. The American public knows this, which is why 92% percent support more stringent legislation on guns. The deterrent effect is exaggerated, the dangers of accidents and homicides increasing is very real, and the arguments about criminals breaking the law and the military launching a coup are weak, to say the least. I’m realistic. A complete weapons ban won’t happen in the U.S. The status quo, however, is insufficient. There needs to be major gun reform in the U.S. because the arguments against gun control are theoretically and empirically unpersuasive. First, there needs to be mandatory background checks on everyone buying a gun. Gun show loopholes are unacceptable. Second, everyone who purchases a lethal weapon must undergo mandatory training before purchasing any firearm. It’s ridiculous that people are required to undergo more training/testing to operate a car than a weapon. Third, there must be another assault weapons ban. I know a lot of people argue that assault weapons are no different from hunting rifles, but this is obvious nonsense. The military uses assault weapons for a reason, and it’s not just because they look cool. I agree that the Constitution permits people to bear arms. There should be easy access to non-lethal weapons like tasers and mace, and people should also be able to access lethal firearms as well, but only after training. I understand that people like guns, and I understand that they believe their reading of the Constitution is sacrosanct. However, I think people’s lives are more important than somebody’s well-stocked gun rack, and there is virtually zero data that demonstrates even a correlation between weaker gun control and fewer gun related deaths.