Painful Truth: US gun control debate lacks sanity


Sure, they make lots of noise, they’re good for hunting pesky wabbits, and they look cool. But they also have a nasty habit of killing people.

There’s been yet another mass shooting in the States, and while the Americans are having pretty productive debates about racism and symbols of oppression like the Confederate flag, they’re not talking about gun control much. Every time there’s a mass shooting, people call for new laws, and nothing much happens. The gun lobby gets its back up, and gun owners freak out and call their congressmen, and any legislation is killed quickly.

Most people in the States have now given up on ever seeing gun control laws passed.

The main problem, as many people have pointed out over the years, isn’t American gun laws, it’s American gun culture.

For instance, there are four reasons for having guns in your house: Target shooting, hunting and/or pest control, personal defence, and the need to overthrow the government.

Canadians, with their quite different gun culture, are generally okay with the first two, have some disagreements over the third, and are baffled by the fourth.

I’ve already written about how the argument that you need guns for self defence are massively overstated. Crime is down across most of the western world, and it isn’t like the police don’t have big guns of their own to deal with bad guys.

But the argument that you can’t have gun control because you might need to overthrow the government has never made sense. Most of the people making the argument haven’t thought it through.

Here’s the thing – in the U.S., you can buy machine guns in many states. They’re expensive and hard to get and actually are fairly tightly controlled compared to pistols and rifles, but you can get them. You can also, in some places, get a truly astounding array of military weapons. Light anti-tank guns. Grenade launchers. You can buy second-hand armoured vehicles and drive your kids to school in them. 

How many people are actually doing this, though? There certainly are a few, but many of them are wealthy hobbyists, who just like going out to a big gravel pit a few times a year to blow stuff up. 

The other problem with this plan is that even if you did buy millions in gear, and you and your friends decided that the United States had become a dictatorship, and you had to overthrow it, having a few grenade launchers wouldn’t do you much good. 

Have you seen the U.S. military? They don’t just have hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, and pilots. They have stealth bombers, artillery, battleships, cruise missiles, and helicopters weighed down with very accurate missiles. They have nukes.

The fantasy of “security from tyranny” helps sell a lot of “tactical” weapons, and laser sights, and camouflage pants. But a bunch of guys who go target shooting in the woods every now and then wouldn’t stand up long if they really rebelled and tried to secede from the U.S. government. There’d just be footage of a smoking crater on CNN and that would be it.

Yet serious people – presidential candidates – advance this argument, every year. And very few people point out that it’s wildly impractical. Until views like that change, the Americans won’t even have a sane discussion about guns, much less make any changes in the way they actually use them.

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