Destroy Your Rifle Because, Heck, We Gotta Do Something! #OneLess

You’ve probably seen this on social media: some responsible owner of a rifle, probably an AR-15, does a little speech about Parkland and how We Need To Do Something and how Thoughts And Prayers aren’t getting shit done, all the while holding a rifle. They also talk about how much they enjoy shooting, whether for hunting or at the range, and how much they approve of the Second Amendment. Then, as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with gun control advocates, they destroy their rifle so that “there’s one less rifle out there.” There have been several stories about this, and even a hashtag, #OneLess.

For a gun control advocate, this sounds like a ringing endorsement. People are willing to part with their rifles, which they’ve gotten so much enjoyment from, ostensibly because their minds have been recently changed, and drastically so. They now believe that the capability of these weapons to kill large numbers of people quickly is something that is a net danger to society. Further, they feel strongly enough about this view that they’re willing to destroy one or more rather expensive items. Forget the sentimental value or even the safety and security aspect that responsible rifle ownership may bring, think about the monetary investment. An entry level AR goes for around $600 according to a quick search, but can quickly run into the thousands with mods. Have you ever straight up burned several hundred dollars for a cause you believed in?

As a side note, if you click the Shopping tab on Google and search AR-15, it shows no results.

But…

As nice as this seems, is there a downside? It feels a touch virtue-signal-y, doesn’t it. See the above stories, all major publications, perhaps making it sound like it’s much more widespread that it really is. I’m not one to cry #FakeNews, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that this is completely fabricated. I’m sure there are a number of sincere people that feel strongly, and whether you agree with them or not, you have to acknowledge their dedication. But I want to ask, what are the actual numbers? Further, what number of people doing this warrants a national or international (in the case of the Guardian and other overseas papers) story? The other thing that is making me think is the nature of the story. The story is that people are reacting to another news story in ways that have gone viral. These kinds of stories pre-date social media, but they seem much more prominent now that social media has permeated modern life. I haven’t looked into these questions, maybe I’ll take a closer look in a future post.

Is This Really Helping?

This is like the anti-gun version of those utterly stupid and pointless vids of ppl burning their NFL gear b/c they were taking a “principled stand” against peaceful protests they neither understood nor wanted to understand. Funny, literally all of the people I saw sharing or promoting this view on social media kind of forgot about it a couple months later. Seriously, I saw people disavowing their team using words like shameful and disrespectful to describe their team. I saw people burning their season tickets, and opportunistic people asking, “hey, if you’re not going to use those season tix, pass them this way.” By the time of the Superbowl, everyone had seemed to forgotten about it.

But in this case, destroying a rifle reduces the total number of rifles, so in theory it’s helpful. But aren’t there easier ways to achieve that? In theory, aren’t responsibly cared-for rifles not a significant danger to society? If you’re a responsible owner, you’re already doing the right thing. The idea that your weapon could make its way out of the secure safe that you keep it in and get into the hands of a deranged individual is rather hard to believe.

And Now For Some Whataboutery

In the wake of all these gun destroying vids, there’s this woman. In a three minute video, she spends like two minutes talking about guns and how important it is for people to be safe, and how guns are dangerous. Then, in a move of the most egregious whataboutism, she takes out a hammer and smashes a couple cell phones, saying that cell phones cause more deaths than semiautomatic rifles.

While she might not be wrong, she’s guilty of whataboutery. Changing the subject so as to avoid talking about the actual subject at hand. There’s a big problem with people using their cell phones while they drive. It results in a great number of accidents and fatalities. To point out such a fact is not controversial. However, it’s plainly dishonest to talk about guns for two minutes only to shift over to this talking point.

The conversation is about guns. The vids with regular people in their backyards with a rifle in frame are about guns. Pointing out that cell phones play a part in more fatalities than guns is not helpful to the conversation. Yes people need to pay attention when they’re driving, but to point out such a fact does nothing to help the problem of mass shootings. And we’re talking about mass shootings! Why are you bringing up this other, admittedly serious, but unrelated issue? Are you trying to steer the conversation away from guns? It certainly looks like it. I think this is far worse than any mass media attempt to promote the rifle destroyers. Because in the first case, they’re at least talking about the issue, whereas in the second case, the video maker seeks to shift the conversation away from guns, when it’s obvious to anyone who with a halfway decent understanding of the data that guns are a problem. And talking about cell phones, while true, is not helping that particular cause.

My Argument is Invalid, According to This Meme

I saw this on my FB feed, and I just can’t even. I’m super butthurt by this, and I’m a sensitive little snowflake that can’t handle facts. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s have a look at the facts and reason based argument that got me so poopypants:

 

Yes, one of those brilliantly constructed arguments in the form of a shareable image. Line by line, I am BTFO by the logic and facts. Let’s look at it line by line.

We start off with some basic facts about things that are illegal. There’s very little to dispute here, the little I will address below. This is a version of the salesperson’s “yes ladder” where you ask your mark a series of questions to which the answer is an obvious yes. You like keeping your family safe right? You want a car that has high safety ratings right? You like money, right?

Thing is, these aren’t all entirely true. That last item, about felons owning guns, is not exactly open and shut. Some states have a hard and fast rule about felons, particularly those whose convictions haven’t been expunged. But some don’t, and some have distinctions for nonviolent offenders. In many cases, the claim holds up, so I’d call it mostly true.

These are both noncontroversial, but look at the wording. “Shooting people indiscriminately”? Is that the way it’s worded on the books? I mean, yeah, assault with a deadly weapon, possible attempted murder as addressed above, but “indiscriminately”? It’s lazy writing. The word indiscriminately adds nothing. Look at that second one, “Using firearms in a criminal manner.” Could that be interpreted to include irresponsible gun ownership? It’s kind of a stretch, I think it’s written to mean people doing stickemups or drivebys or shooty-shoots or whatever it is that gun criminals do.

We continue on the Yes Ladder, but the focus changes from pointing out illegal actions to a broad, and rather speculative, statement about what criminals do to acquire guns. Notice also that the font got smaller from the eye-catching first line. I don’t know what criminals to to get their hands on guns, but I don’t imagine that it involves background checks.

So far, it looks like they’re setting up the following argument:

  1. Gun laws intend to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
  2. Criminals do not follow gun laws.
  3. Therefore, gun laws are ineffective.

If they stopped here, they might be doing a poor job of representing the relevant facts, but at least they would be sticking to facts. Even so, there are problems with this argument. Premise 1 is true, or likely true, but look at where they go in Premises 2 and 3. There’s no logical connection between P1 and the others, it’s a non sequitur. Further, P2 could be applied to any law, thus rendering it useless. But enough about the meme so far, let’s see where they go with it.

Now they take a drastic turn, imploring you to explain three things. Look at that first one, “how criminals will follow new laws.” Now go back to our discussion about P2 in the previous section. Criminals don’t follow laws, so why would they follow new gun laws? So far they’ve only implied that their position includes the premise that laws are only effective if they are followed by criminals, which is silly by definition. When you realize that that is the core of their position, it falls apart.

The second thing we are charged to explain is how new laws will make us safer. This actually can be done, but you wouldn’t think that by looking at the rest of this meme. By defining effective laws in the narrow way that they do, they make this sound like an impossible ask, but it’s not. New laws, along with more effective law enforcement strategies, better safety education, and probably a whole lot of other things can actually make us safer.

Finally, in much smaller type, it asks us to explain how restricting law-abiding citizens even more will make us safer. Even more? Like, when will it end? These persecuted, put-upon, law-abiding citizens are already doing enough! Now they want even more? The nerve. This is functionally equivalent to the previous one, but they amp up the sympathy for the law-abiding gun owners here.

All these questions would seem to be asking for a conversation to start, if a little strident and in your face about it. If it ended here, it could be seen as taking a firm stand in the gun conversation while omitting some important details and misstating the effects of legislation. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s one more line, and it’s a doozy.

Mic. Da-rop. The final line of this screed supposes that the reader hasn’t made an attempt to answer the three challenges above and thus declares a flawless victory. This is disgusting. I can understand a message being one sided, but this goes the further step to being an imagined one sided conversation, complete with a knockout punch at the end. I used to have imaginary one sided conversations with people as a child (now I do it in blog form), where I would convince my parents or my teachers that I was right all along about some thing, casting myself as a relentless attorney questioning them until they concede to my irresistible logic, at which point I declare, “I rest my case.” I can scarcely imagine a more fragile and intellectually dishonest take than what is presented here.

In case it wasn’t obvious, all the “I’m butthurt” stuff at the beginning was fake. I am disappointed that people are sharing things like this and passing it off as smart debate. It’s very telling about this age of information. First, that there are a lot of low-information people that have not bothered to learn what makes a compelling argument, or how to look at both sides of an issue. Second, that there are some slightly clever, but ultimately dishonest people willing to exploit the first group.

This problem makes it clear as day that we need to get better arguments. We need people to learn at least a basic foundation of epistemology. We need people to be able to identify fallacious arguments from their own side, and not just from their opponents. I’ve talked about this before in We Might Be in Trouble and The Principle of Charity.

The image we looked at here is not designed to win new supporters. It’s specifically written to prop up those who are already enthusiastically against any new gun legislation. Worst of all, it tells those people, “You’re right. You dont need to listen to those libs. Their argument is invalid.”

Look, if you’re a pro 2A person and you don’t want new gun laws, I’m not having a go at you specifically. My aim is to improve the quality of conversation. Don’t share the above image, it’s trash. Maybe next I’ll find a garbage meme that takes the other side of this just to show I’m not being partisan. I’m on the side of having good reasons for what you believe, and using the best information available to shape policy.