Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fallacies about firearms

The aftermath of the violence at Virginia Tech has elicited a variety of reactions from individuals on both sides of the debate about the right to carry firearms. Most of the debate has been pretty lame. Both sides of the debate are people who are using a tragedy to justify their particular position on the issue of gun control, which is pretty sick and opportunistic when you think about it.

On one side, you have those in favor of gun control saying that the tragedy could have been prevented, if only for better gun control laws, which is completely ridiculous. Just as illogical are those who say that if the students at Virginia Tech had been armed with weapons, the whole mess could have been avoided like our friends over at Plains Feeder.

The idea that gun control laws are effective is emperically denied by the number of illegal guns that are estimated to exist in the US. You can ban all the guns you want, and that will just create a larger black market for guns. Since most attempts at gun control focus only on the currently legal methods of obtaining guns, like waiting periods and making certain models illegal, more laws will not make us safer. This was emperically shown to be the case in England. After passing one of the most restrictive handgun laws in the world, violent crimes committed with firearms doubled.

Similarly, the idea that more people with weapons is actually safer is also emperically denied by statistics. The Centers for Disease control reports that despite the fact that we have largest number of legal weapons, we also have the largest number of children who are killed by guns each year (5,285) in the world by an order of magnitude over the next highest country (Canada had 150).

If the students at Virginia Tech had been armed, they may have been able to stop the attacker before he killed as many people. But, they might not have. Police carry guns and this does not mean that they are never shot and killed or that they always get the bad guy. And police are extensively trained in how to use firearms. A bunch of 19 year-old college students with guns is a whole different situation. Having a gun is not a guarantee that you can stop a crazy person from storming your classroom and killing a bunch of people. It's not a cloak of invincibility, which you have to believe if you think that having a gun would have saved those people.

The potential benefit of stopping this guy from killing in a very rare and unlikely incident is far outweighed by the increase that would be seen in accidental gun deaths in people's homes. It would take 160 incidents like Virignia Tech each year to offset the number of children who are killed by guns each year in the US, assuming the number of weapons didn't increase when we told people they would be safer with a concealed weapon.

Both sides of this debate can accuse the other of cashing in on the fear and confusion that resulted from Virginia Tech. This does make both sides very hypocritical. I'm am not an advocate for gun control because banning things has been emperically shown to be shitty policy, but saying that something like Virginia Tech could have been prevented with a firearm is manipulative, and probably not very accurate when you look at the overall impact firearms can have on people's lives.

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