The Conversation About Guns: Can We?

More of This

There are many kinds of guns, and many ways to categorize them. There are many accessories. There are many ways to license, train, and certify owners. There are many enforcement strategies for laws. There are many ways to restrict the gun buying population, each with pros and cons. There are several laws currently being discussed in Congress, four in the top viewed on Congress.gov. Talk about any of these compared to current laws. Bring up pros and cons using relevant facts. Use meaningful comparisons when talking about policies in other places. Do your best to observe the Principle of Charity. Congratulations, you’re actually having the Conversation About Guns.

There are also ways to protect schools that could be implemented. There are many ways to fix mental health, and by extension health care in general, that could be implemented. There are cultural problems which may or may not involve technology that could be partially responsible for mental health problems. Any of these could be thought of as Solutions that should accompany, but definitely not replace, the Conversation About Guns.
Less of This
Bring up the ages of student protesters. Bring up the fact that some, but definitely not all, protests were sanctioned by the schools. Accuse someone of being a “crisis actor.” Accuse students of being coached by parents or CNN when they appear on TV. Assert that some of those calling for gun legislation have inadequate knowledge of guns. Bring up obesity. Bring up texting and driving. Tell students to, instead of protesting, “just be nice to the weird kid” as though you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a teen in the volatile but ultimately meaningless High School social hierarchy. Tell students that their opinion doesn’t count because Tide Pods were a viral meme that many joked about but very few actually went through with eating. Talk about how you’re really going to withstand the US Armed Forces with your little home arsenal in the event of some martial law situation. Talk about how other countries have gun deaths. Talk about how other countries have violence. Talk about how other countries have guns. Talk about violent countries having strict gun laws without acknowledging other factors. Talk about how Australia’s ban didn’t completely stop shooting deaths, therefore it wasn’t effective, even though mass shootings (the relevant category of crime) are greatly reduced. Talk about a mass stabbing that took place in 2014, but don’t mention that it was carried out by ten people or that it happened in China. Talk about truck attacks. Talk about a terrorist stabbing attack in FL that resulted in one death and how hypocritical that the media isn’t reporting on it, while sharing a link to a national media source. Cite the 2nd Amendment, capitalizing SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED to let people know you mean business before expressing that you do not wish to discuss the matter further. Talk about how God isn’t allowed in school, as though that were true or relevant. Talk about how violent media are to blame for school shootings. Talk about how the MSM love mass shootings. Talk about how companies refusing to give breaks to NRA members is unfair. Compare that to bakers refusing to bake same sex wedding cakes. Talk about poor parenting as though it were a one size fits all solution. Talk about beating children as a practice that would have prevented the most recent or all school shootings. Talk about how violent Chicago or some other major city is, and mention that they have “strict gun control,” while ignoring all other factors that make the crime rates much higher. Incorrectly point out that protesters are asking for fewer rights rather than more. Bring up abortion as though those statistics count the same as other death stats. Talk about the misuse of “assault,” and how it’s a scare word used by the gun-ignorant.
Talk about any of the above, and you are preventing progress in the Conversation About Guns. You are not helping. At best, you’re misguidedly trying to raise awareness of another issue. That issue may be a real problem that we should consider , and it may even be something you feel strongly about. Maybe you did just wake up this morning and decide that you wanted to crusade against texting and driving. OK, benefit of the doubt. However, if, on your crusade, you use the pretense of the Conversation About Guns to draw people in, now you’re doing something dishonest. You’re giving pro-gun people, the people that will do anything to avoid actually having the Conversation About Guns, an out. At worst, you’re doing it on purpose because you know you don’t want to have the Conversation About Guns.
Conclusion
This article is less of a call for specific policies, and more of a sincere request for people to try to approach the subject reasonably. I’ve been seeing almost nothing but items from the second section here on social media, and I’m really dismayed at the state of discourse. Wherever you’re at on this or any issue, try to operate in good faith. There are sincere people out there who want to hear different opinions on the issue. The whole reason for this post is that the opinions that people are sharing about guns is overwhelmingly off topic, or fallacious in some other way.
If you believe a certain thing, you are probably pretty good at pointing out where opponents to your position are putting forth bad arguments. People often have trouble doing this to their own position. They see something supporting their position or narrative and they’ll insta-like and probably share it if they’re so inclined, without looking for inconsistencies in the argument presented. Likewise, they’ll be quick to scrutinize something that doesn’t fit with their beliefs. If they feel strongly enough about it, they might endeavor to correct poor misguided OP.
Since I discovered /r/magicskyfairy, I’ve learned quite a bit about how to look at my own positions with a more critical eye. For those not aware, /r/magicskyfairy is a subreddit dedicated to taking the piss out of neckbeard atheism, that hardcore brand of atheism and anti-theism that regards all believers as ignorant morons, glorifies science communicators such as Sagan, and celebrates a lifestyle full of STEM, marijuana, and socially progressive politics. When I first stumbled upon it, I was kind of horrified, I kept saying, “hey, that’s not fair,” before I realized what the point of it all was. It allowed me to, just for a second, imagine what some of these memes look like to sincere believers who don’t fit the paradigm they seem to describe. It’s really unfair and shitty to have your own position misrepresented, so why should I do that to others? Since then, I’ve tried to have a more charitable view, or at least, not to take cheap, “lmao fundies r dumb!” shots. I’m still working on it, apparently.
Anyway, to sum up, try to stay on topic if you’re going to weigh in on things. Be aware of your own ability to engage in faulty thinking, and be kind to those you disagree with.
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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.