By Aaron Moyer
As a politically-involved civilian firearms owner, I’ve been in many debates about the role of guns in American society. Every time this happens, I find myself looking for a comprehensive, objective article I can give to my ideological opponents that addresses all of their concerns in one fell swoop — a one-stop, go-to document that makes the simple and effective case for firearms ownership in 20 minutes or less. To date, I haven’t found it. This time around, rather than getting into a bunch of debates and wishing such an article existed, I decided to make it myself: a single-source, tit-for-tat, pro-gun primer on anti-gun debate complete with citations, statistics, and links.
I’ll keep the numbers simple, as they speak for themselves and don’t need to be distorted or manipulated to fit a narrative. Some sources may be linked multiple times, but I’ll corroborate almost everything from multiple outlets. I’m going to target 15 of the most popular anti-gun arguments, because the goal is to give you concise and effective responses if you’re pro-gun, or better explain our perspective to you if you’re anti-gun. As this is a 20-minute primer, it’s not going to be the most in-depth article, but it will provide a solid body of evidence to make each argument and response whole. Finally, I’ll be breaking this up into 3 parts so that if you or your audience are of the time-constrained (or ADHD!) variety, you can read it at your own pace. We’ll be starting with Part 1, which will focus on the misnomers of “gun violence” and “assault weapons.”
Here we go (and please share with your friends)!
Argument 1: Framing the debate around “gun violence.”
Many debates revolve around a discussion of “gun violence,” but that’s problematic because gun violence doesn’t actually tell us about how truly violent our society is as a whole. For example, if the United States sees 100 total murders this year, all committed with guns, and then guns get banned and we see 1,000 total murders next year, all committed with knives, we would have 0 gun violence, but 10 times as many murders. If we only considered “gun violence,” this hypothetical society would look like a peaceful utopia, but it really wouldn’t be because a lot more people are being murdered. Thus, we need to look at the overall murder and violent crime rates to get a good frame of reference on our, well…murder and violent crime rates, which should be the basis of of the debate.
Even if we ignore that, though, and confine our arguments to “gun violence” itself, it’s important to note that it has been decreasing for years even as the number of guns being made has doubled, the estimated number of guns in the US has gone up by roughly 40% since 2000, and gun laws have largely loosened since the sunset of the federal assault weapons ban in 2004. In fact, the only correlation between guns in the United States and crime is that as we get more guns, crime goes down (for the record, I do not believe this is causal, only correlative). Internationally, there isn’t much correlation either, if any at all (if we did look for one, it would actually correlate the same way as the United States, but that is statistically problematic).
Regardless, violence is best measured by violence itself, not “gun violence” or “knife violence” or otherwise compartmentalizing it based on method. Framing the debate around real, overall statistics about violence is a much better method of seeing if guns actually make us more or less violent as a society.
Argument 2: “We need an assault weapons ban to prevent violence.”
Not true on a very objective basis. We had one for 10 years. It didn’t work at reducing violence, even by the government’s own admission. In fact, since the AWB fell by the wayside in 2004, overall murders, murders committed with firearms, and overall violent crime have all decreased significantly while guns like the AR-15 exploded in popularity. Also worth noting is that even if all rifles used in murders were semi-automatics like the AR-15 (they aren’t), it would still be the least-used identified murder weapon in the United States (248 people in 2014); more people are killed on a yearly basis with knives (1,567), or fists and feet (660), or blunt objects like hammers (435). On top of that, when a government survey was conducted of federal prisoners, less than 2% of those who used guns to commit their crimes had used weapons that would qualify as “assault weapons.” Even if another AWB were enacted, and even if it could somehow guarantee all AR-15s would disappear and no more semi-automatic rifles would be used in crime (it couldn’t), it would do almost nothing to affect or prevent violence, just like our first experiment from 1994 to 2004. An AWB is an extremely ineffective tool for the stated goal of reducing violence.
That said, even if we (perversely, I think) place a higher value on stopping mass shootings than addressing the society-wide violence affecting thousands of poor people and persons of color killed in urban centers every year, an AWB wouldn’t be effective anyway. Take note that the shooter in Orlando, for example, was in the club for hours. I hate to be so objective about it, but a motivated attacker could injure or kill 100 people in that time with any weapon, whether a machete, a Joe Biden Special, or AR-15. When given such an element of surprise in such a defenseless place for any period of time longer than a few minutes, literally any weapon would result in mass casualties, AR-15 or not. The Aurora shooting, for example, was mostly conducted with a pistol as the AR-15 malfunctioned early on due to using an unreliable magazine. Virginia Tech was also conducted with pistols, not “assault weapons.” Columbine took place during the 1994-2004 AWB and wasn’t stopped by it.
Really, what makes these events so deadly is what I said before: the element of surprise on defenseless people clustered in large quantities. There’s nothing special about the AR-15 in being able to hurt people in those circumstances and everything special in the event itself. If AR-15s and every other gun targeted in an AWB disappeared tomorrow, these occurrences would still happen and still be extremely deadly. As evidence, take a look at the mass knifings in China and Japan, like this one and this one, or the attack in Nice, France, which was deadlier than any shooting in the United States and was conducted with nothing more than a truck; surprise and defenseless, clustered targets are the common denominator, not the specific weapon types. Evil people will kill en masse regardless of gun control, and these incidents won’t be lessened in frequency nor lethality by it.
(Also see: France, France again, Belgium, France and Belgium again, Germany, Germany again, Germany and France again, Norway, and Germany yet again, among other western and developed countries, that have bans or strict gun control that didn’t stop evil people from killing en masse or acquiring firearms. Gun bans simply don’t stop these things.)
Argument 3: Calling semi-automatic rifles “assault weapons.”
Gun owners are super leery of the term “assault weapon,” and for good reason. It’s a nebulous political term with no technical definition, and was created in 1989 to conflate “assault rifles” (a real thing with a technical definition: a rifle that can fire fully automatically, which we civilians haven’t been able to own since 1986 without specific licensing) with guns politicians didn’t like, all with the aim of scaring people with no knowledge of firearms into hating something they don’t understand. It worked, unfortunately, but it’s a loaded and dishonest term. In fact, it’s so contrived that there’s no agreed-upon definition of what exactly constitutes an assault weapon, though the federal assault weapons ban defined it in terms of cosmetic features commonly found on the taboo guns politicians wanted to target, not a gun’s lethality. Semi-automatic rifle is a more accurate term, and while I know that’s nitpicky, it’s tough for us gun owners to have an honest, open discussion on guns when the very terms people are using in those discussions are manipulative and contrived. They are semi-automatic rifles, not assault weapons, assault rifles, or machine guns, and they cannot fire full-auto.
P.S.: While we’re discussing definitions, it’s also worth noting that the “AR” in AR-15 does not mean “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle.” It means “ArmaLite Rifle,” after the company that invented it.
Alright guys, that’s it for Part 1! Hopefully you enjoyed it and learned a thing or two. Stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll move the discussion towards gun and magazine bans, analyze their successes and failures, and continue countering common anti-gun arguments.
Aaron Moyer is a civil engineer from Pennsylvania who enjoys firearms and is not a professional researcher, journalist, or LEO/Mil. He has enjoyed a small stint in local public office, has won past awards for his political activism, and currently works as a government consultant. He also owns a kick-ass, award-winning tattoo. While he isn’t a badass door kicker, he hopes to contribute to the wide body of firearms knowledge in the best ways he can: policy and politics.