12/17/2012 02:58 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2013

The Top Twelve Gun Tropes on Twitter (Or: What 'Ludes & Oxy Teach Us About Guns)

I had begun writing this after two people got shot up in the mall just six miles south of me. I had gone through the entire media cycle of yet another random spraying of bullets in public places, this time with familiar local news anchors. I took to the social media to discuss the issue of guns in America, wondering:

Why is it that we have one guy try to light a shoe bomb on a plane and I have to take off my shoes, another guy tries a printer bomb, so I have to take out my laptop, others try liquid bombs, so I have to not carry any liquids over 3oz when I fly, one dude's got an underwear bomb and I have to go through the Rape-I-Scanner... but 31 school shootings since Columbine and we make guns easier to get.

However, every time you try to engage the discussion of some stricter gun regulations, gun fans will accuse you of wanting to ban all guns. As a pundit on marijuana issues, my audience spans the political spectrum from Ron Paul righties to Noam Chomsky lefties. Pot smokers are typically younger and male, but otherwise we span nearly every demographic.

So my Twitter timeline is quite an interesting place to have a discussion on America's culture of gun death. Having been through this cycle twice in one week and multiple times in the past year or two, I've just taken to cataloging the gun tropes that inevitably start popping up:
  1. "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns!" - Well, no, only outlaws, cops, and the military would have guns.  And then, anyone with a gun could be arrested immediately.  Not that I'm suggesting this, but saying "only outlaws will have guns" doesn't convince many people, because it's the outlaws with guns we already fear. We don't want the outlaws to have guns, and they're not outlawed now, so we're looking for other options.
  2. "Criminals won't follow gun laws!" - Of course, they're criminals. So, what, we don't bother to make it tougher in any way?  Criminals won't obey traffic laws, either, but by licensing drivers, requiring operator testing and regular renewals and testing, creating "street-legal" design laws, requiring safety belts and airbags, and creating traffic laws that the vast majority follow, we have reduced traffic deaths and made it easier to catch the people breaking traffic laws.
  3. "Crazy people will just find another way to kill people -- it's the crazy, not the gun!" - Sure, they could, for instance, drive a truck full of fertilizer bomb up next to a federal building and blow it up.  How many times has that happened while 31+ school / mall / theater shootings happened?  Or they could go on a mass knifing spree, like in China.  Or maybe strap on an IED.  But given there are crazies and given that we're less likely to address public health care than gun regulation, shouldn't we start reducing crazies' killing options?
  4. "If others were armed, they could have taken out the shooter" - Well, we already have a country where people are allowed to be armed, so why aren't these Dirty Harrys stepping up?  (Because they're obeying the "no gun zones"?  Why should they, if they really believe this?) And how many of the five-to-eight-year-olds need to be packing in class to stop the next shooter?  Oh, just the teachers and staff should be packing?  How well trained are they with firearms?  Wouldn't it be easier to just have armed guards at every public entrance to every public building?
  5. "Maybe these shooters go off because they know there's no one to shoot back in a 'gun-free zone'" - This is the "deterrent" trope -- criminals wouldn't shoot up malls, theaters, and schools if they know there are citizens with guns there.  Except that almost all these shooters end it with a self-inflicted gunshot, so I fail to see how "possibly getting shot" deters them any, especially the ones wearing body armor.  (Many of the people for this trope are also fans of concealed carry.  So how is that a deterrent if we don't know anyone has a gun?  You want deterrent, wear 'em openly, six-gun style!)
  6. "Second Amendment!!!" - Yes, we have an individual right to "keep and bear arms" and it "shall not be infringed."  You know what else we have?  A First Amendment right to speech, religion, assembly, and the press.  But if I want to use my speech, there are some words and acts I can't say and do in some situations (e.g. "Fuck you, you fucking fucks" as the closer for the evening news is right out. Remember Janet Jackson's Super Bowl Nipple? Outrage!).  If I want to build a church, there are a whole bunch of building permits and zoning and code I have to abide by.  I can't just gather a million people on the Capitol Mall without a permit.  I can't start broadcasting my pirate radio signal without dealing with the FCC.  But much of those protected First Amendment rights are harder to implement than it is for a crazy person to get his hands on a gun.  "Shall not be infringed" in the Second is a lot like "Congress shall make no law" in the 1st; it does not mean "shall not be regulated," especially considering the first half of the Second mentions a "well-regulated Militia."  (Plus, I'd love to know the stats on public mass shootings circa 1776-1789, so we can know exactly what understanding of that context the Founders had.)
  7. "We have a Second Amendment to beat back a tyrannical gov't!" - Great! So, how well did all those guns stop the Patriot Act, workplace drug testing, warrantless wiretapping, the NDAA, and other examples of gov't tyranny?  Ask a busted pot farmer or Bradley Manning how well those guns beat back a tyrannical government.  And then after you've finished cleaning your AR-15, watch this and this and this and explain how your AR-15 beats those back.  Unless you think "bear arms" in the 2nd includes tactical nukes, predator drones, and anti-aircraft batteries, we're fucked if the "tyrannical government" wants us.
  8. "Kennesaw, Georgia, has mandatory gun ownership and their crime plummeted!"  Other than the fact that it hasn't, explain to me how the low crime rates of a bedroom suburb of Atlanta with a population of 30,000 and a median family income of $75,000 inform us in any way about inner city Chicago gun deaths or how this would stop a suicidal school shooter?
  9. "In China, dudes have been going crazy and knifing people! Should we ban knives?" One thing you'll find in any extended discussion of guns in America are its supporters playing reductio ad absurdum with everything else but guns and everywhere else but America.  We should ban knives and cars and crowbars and anything else people can kill people with, they'll argue.  Problem is, knives, cars, and crowbars have legitimate "not killing people" purposes.  Guns do not.
  10. "Switzerland has mandatory firearms ownership and low gun deaths!" - Yes, and every man is conscripted into the military and trained extensively with that weapon.  Plus, Switzerland has been moving away from having people keep them in the homes and placing them in depots.
  11. "It's just our culture saturated with glorifying violence like (insert video game or movie here)." - So we're the warrior race?  We're just doomed to the occasional bullet spraying because that's just how we roll?  Given that we are a people who love first-person shooters and torture porn fantasies, maybe we ought not have guns and ammo available at the Wal-Mart?  There is a kernel of truth to this, but like Trope #3, what do you think is more achievable, tighter gun regulation or remaking a 400-year-old culture of gun fetishists?  (Like Trope #3, it's a rhetorical question; we won't do shit about either.)
  12. "Gun bans won't work any better than drug prohibition!" - I suppose if guns and ammo grew naturally out of the ground this trope would make sense.  But guns are something that must be manufactured.  Sure, home gunsmiths might pull it off, but your average school-shooting crazy isn't likely to also be a gunsmith or know one.
As a drug reform blog, the comparisons of "gun control" to drug prohibition piss me off the most.  The apt drug comparison would be quaaludes (remember ludes?)  Quaaludes are a chemical pharmaceutical that is difficult to manufacture.  They used to be a very popular recreational drug, until the government cracked down on the suppliers of quaaludes' precursor chemicals and strictly monitored the manufacturers.  Now, you might get a prescription for ludes if you really need it, but finding them on the street is exceptionally rare.

Another apt drug comparison to the opposite extreme would be Oxycontin.  Another drug that is a chemical pharmaceutical and very difficult for civilians to manufacture.  Since it is a Schedule II drug, the DEA controls exactly how much is allowed to be manufactured in the United States.  Since 1996, the DEA has green-lit an increase of 1,200 percent in oxycodone manufacturing, the excuse being "you have to be cautious not to restrict the quota to the point that when the legitimate parties go to the pool, all the fish haven't been taken out by the illegitimate parties."  That's right, the DEA allows over-manufacture of oxy so after all the black market users get theirs, there will still be enough for the law-abiding users.  Thus, we have an exploding epidemic of Oxycontin abuse.

Hmm, we cut down on manufacture of 'ludes and now we can't find them on the street.  We increased manufacture of Oxy, and now it is ubiquitous on the street.  Is there a lesson there for gun policy?