Anyone debating gun control has inevitably run into those broken-record fundamentalists who—pulling out that tired, logic-deficient “trump card”— declare: “Guns don’t kill people ― people kill people!”
I concede the obvious and irrelevant point: People do kill people. So do nukes, machetes, grenades, knives and fists. The fact that, like guns, all of those tools require some sort of human action to function isn’t an argument against restrictions on their use. This is especially so for guns, which—unlike fists and knives—enable one person to slaughter others with a brutal efficiency that the Founding Fathers couldn’t even begin to comprehend in 1791.
The “guns don’t kill people” argument is flawed because it sidesteps the debate. The issue is not whether guns can spontaneously kill people on their own. The issue involves how incredibly easy a modern weapon makes killing. If you can’t see this point, I hope the anecdotes and statistics below illustrate it.
Let’s leave Las Vegas aside for now. Instead, consider what happened in China just hours before the 2013 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting: A deranged man walked into a school and started indiscriminately stabbing everyone in his vicinity. Before his rampage ended, 22 children had been hit.
The child killer in Newtown, Connecticut killed 20 children and six adults before his rampage ended; by contrast, because the Chinese murderer used a knife, none of the 22 children he stabbed died. The distinguishing factor was gun control. Effective gun laws prevented the Chinese man from obtaining a gun—with which he would have inflicted much more damage.
As sociologist Ding Xueliang told CNN: “The huge difference between this case and the U.S. is not the suspect, nor the situation, but the simple fact he did not have an effective weapon.”
Unlike knives, guns allow relatively untrained individuals to inflict damage quickly and from a distance. Imagine the level of damage Stephen Paddock would have inflicted in Las Vegas if he’d only had access to a knife. The Las Vegas massacre simply wouldn’t have been possible. And Adam Lanza’s 2013 rampage would have ended with a rate of survival more akin to the Chinese incident.
People kill people, and guns make that killing easier. While knives often wound and sometimes kill, guns often kill. Efficiently. Stop the inane word games. Enough obfuscating.
Still don’t believe me? Profit-driven interest groups like the NRA try to stifle the statistics because they reveal how effective gun control is in lowering overall death rates, but the statistics exist nonetheless. Here are only a few:
The United States rate of about 3.12 deaths per 100,000 people is the highest among industrialized nations. At the same time, we have the highest rate of gun ownership, with 88.8 guns per 100 people. The next country, Serbia, only has a rate of 58.2, and from there it declines dramatically. In 2012, handguns killed 48 people in Japan, eight in Great Britain, 34 in Switzerland, 52 in Canada— and 10,728 in the United States.
The main difference is simply that the U.S. lacks effective gun control.
Guns are tools that make killing more efficient. Limiting that efficiency is a legitimate goal. Purveyors of the “guns don’t kill people” argument should remember that, by their inane logic, F16s don’t kill people and nuclear missiles don’t kill people. Only the person “behind” the F16 or nuclear missile kills. Despite this, we still limit access to F16s and nuclear missiles. Why? Because these weapons have the potential to kill multiple people in seconds. Now the example is obviously extreme, but it’s extreme to illustrate a point—like F16s and nukes, guns do kill people, and the same rationale for regulating F16s applies to guns.
Don’t misinterpret my point. We shouldn’t ban guns. That would be unconstitutional and excessive. But we should introduce rational gun control laws that limit the amount of bullets in a clip, constrict access to semi-automatic rifles, require effective but fair psychological screening, and so on.
If such laws could have stopped just one of the many massacres we’ve witnessed over the past few years, they would have been worth it. Even if they wouldn’t have stopped Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas and Adam Lanza in Newtown, they certainly would have lowered the overall rate of gun deaths in the United States. That’s a start.
Until we do something—until we stop listening to pithy, bumper-sticker-worthy straw men like “guns don’t kill people; people kill people”—more Americans will die. Simply because of how obvious the solution is, it’s an absolute shame.
Do something to prevent another massacre: Support gun control laws.
This piece was also published on The Good Men Project, and is republished here with permission.
Follow Michael Shammas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/michaelshammas9.