Living in a World of Red Herrings

Every time we have another gun-related tragedy in the United States, like yesterday’s killing of a reporter and her cameraman live on air during a morning news broadcast, we are all fed a predictable diet of red herrings. It’s tiresome and, worse, prevents us from even starting to address the problem. For those of you not from these parts here’s how things currently work:

  1. On a daily basis some Americans die of gunshot wounds for a variety of reasons, but on a fairly regular basis multiple people are killed in such a way that it makes the news.
  2. Before the gun smoke has even dissipated people in favor of gun control cite the story as a prime example of why we need <fill in the blank gun control proposal>.
  3. At the same time gun rights advocates invoke the mental health argument, i.e. “The shooter was mentally ill, and if he didn’t have a gun he would have found another way to kill him”, or the “if the victims were armed they could have killed the attacker” argument, or the “gun control only takes the guns out of the hands of honest citizens since criminals would still find a way to get them” argument, or some combination of all three.
  4. Everybody argues about it for a couple of days.
  5. We move on.
  6. The next tragedy happens.

Quite frankly both groups are right and wrong. They’re also being manipulated by various constituencies – the most obvious being the NRA – in those groups’ attempts to avoid any kind of rational approach to dealing with what everyone agrees is a national problem yet might require them to make some kind of compromise from their entrenched positions.

Since people can’t seem to be rational about this issue, and since I’ve long since grown tired arguing about it, I’m starting to take the following approach when people bring it up to me:

If a gun rights advocate uses the “he was mentally ill and would have found a way to kill them” argument I simply ask: “Given the choice of being confronted with a nut-case armed with a gun or knife (or hammer, or crossbow, or bottle full of acid, etc.) which would you prefer?” If any of them answer “gun” then I stop talking to them because they either aren’t interested in having a rational discussion or they shouldn’t be allowed to walk without a helmet.

If a gun control advocate invokes an “it’s all about the guns” arguments then I ask, “If confronted by a mentally deranged man armed with a handgun would you rather have a gun or a knife (or hammer, or crossbow, or bottle full of acid, etc.) to defend yourself?” If they answer anything but a gun then I react the same way I do to the answer from the gun rights advocate.

My purpose in asking these kinds of questions is to try and move the discussion away from the red herrings thrown out there by the gun rights/control advocates and toward a discussion about how we might take a rational, comprehensive approach to solving a very serious societal problem. Of course that won’t work with those who firmly believe that ONLY gun control or ONLY absolute gun ownership rights are the solution, but those folks could never be part of the solution anyway. The people who can and should come up with a solution are those who believe the answer is somewhere in between.

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