Gun Control Arguments & Research (draft)

By devin, 24 July, 2018

Now that I live in the USA, I've had a lot more arguments about gun control. They rarely go anywhere, since there's a gulf in values between left and right wing thinkers on this issue. I want to use this post as a staging ground to collect the common arguments on gun control from both sides, and point out research which validates or contradicts the various arguments.

To summarize my current position:

  • I believe that good gun control leads to less guns on the streets, which leads to less deaths. I view this as an unalloyed good.
  • I believe that citizens should be free to own and use guns, properly licensed. That could be a Canadian-style system where guns are largely for hunting and security personnel, and are otherwise heavily restricted in use/transportation. That could be a more American-style system where anyone can own a handgun. But there should be a way to legally use a gun, guarded by licensing.
  • Further, "taking away guns" doesn't go down well with gun enthusiasts, and so is counterproductive to the goal of passing reasonable gun control legislation that can save lives.
  • Finally, I think Canada's gun control system is simple and effective. I don't think it would perfectly transfer to the USA, but I think with modifications it could be a good model.

The strongest right wing argument: Unrestricted access to guns prevents tyrannical governments from oppressing citizens.

Put another way, I hear this argument as "many massacres of civilians by governments were preceded by those governments taking away the guns".

Some common examples I hear are Nazi Germany, the Cultural Revolution in China, and Russia. TODO fill out this section.

One counterexample to this is the British colonization of India. TODO fill out this section

Common counter-argument: The right to bear arms doesn't actually protect us against tyrannical governments, because the US military is vastly more powerful than individuals with even automatic weapons.

I disagree with this argument. For one, the nature of modern warfare is asymmetric. That is, guerilla fighters have taken on the US military (in Vietnam and the Middle East) and while they haven't won, they have resisted. A big part of this in my opinion is the optics of the situation; we have global norms about not massacring civilians. 

You can see a concrete example of this in the Bundy Standoff. The government tried to enforce a law. related to cattle grazing. Cliven Bundy disagreed, and put out a call to forcibly resist using guns. A number of protestors joined him, resulting in an armed standoff between US citizens and Bureau of Land Management rangers. While I don't agree with the actions of the protestors, this serves as an example of the federal government being thwarted by armed citizens with guns. Presumably these citizens would not have been nearly as successful in their protest without their guns.

All that said, it's true that if the US military were to start flouting all international norms and laws, then yes, a few citizens holding guns wouldn't help. I suppose the various goals of different hypothetical US governments would inform whether citizens with guns would help in each hypothetical  future.

The strongest left wing argument: Unrestricted access to guns causes people to die who wouldn't have died if more controls were in place.

First, I've heard a statistic that 2/3 of gun-related deaths are suicides, which makes a lot of these types of arguments much more thorny. TODO validate/document this statistic.

Second, note this 1993 study that supports this argument:

Third, here's a meta-study that demonstrates a link between gun legislation and decreases in gun related deaths They note that so far, there aren't many studies with good methodology, which makes this type of analysis hard.

TODO find more studies here. However, I think that the evidence available so far indicates that this is correct. This is ultimately what informs my thoughts on gun control - less guns leads to less deaths, and so I support gun control.

A possible conclusion to this argument: ban all guns entirely

I agree with the argument above: decreasing access to guns decreases gun-related deaths. But taking that to its extreme, guns should be entirely outlawed. This is a bad idea for a few reasons:

  • gun enthusiasts will go to extreme lengths to oppose this type of legislation
  • criminals will still be able to access guns, so we'll have to have some subset of police/security guards/the military still owning guns. So we still need some level of access to guns & gun laws. 
  • I believe citizens should have some level of liberty to learn about guns in safe ways (see below on gun licenses as compared to driver's licenses)

This view does exist (example) so it's worth thinking through. I see the merit to the argument, but from a pragmatic point of view as well as a society-design point of view, I can't agree. My goal is life, liberty, and happiness for all people, and I don't think taking away all guns gives any meaningful marginal benefits beyond the benefits of a straightforward gun control regime like Canada's.

Another strong argument: gun licenses are analogous to driver's licenses

This is a simple and useful argument: we license the use of cars, which are dangerous machines. Guns are also dangerous machines. So it's reasonable to license their use. I haven't met anyone who disagrees with this argument yet!

Another common counter argument: Good guys with guns prevent deaths because criminals will be more afraid of attacking civilians on the street since those civilians may be armed (e.g. concealed carry).

This is hard to prove. I see lots of articles for/against at TODO find good ones and unpack these here.

More recently, I've heard a right wing friend argue this actually isn't the argument, but rather that criminals will think twice before attacking if they know a concealed carry law is in place (see below).

A corollary to this is that public buildings should always allow guns inside, because criminals see these signs as confirmation that if they enter the building with a gun, they will be unopposed.


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