I don't take the position that now, soon after the shooting that killed nine in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, is not the time to talk about gun rights and gun control.
I agree that the friends and family who knew the victims shouldn't be prodded on the issue. Debates about gun policy are contentious, and people in mourning don't need contention, they need support and sympathy.
In this handout photo provided by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office Detention Center, Dylann Storm Roof is seen in his booking photo after he was apprehended as the main suspect in the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that killed nine people on June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. The 21-year-old gunman is suspected of killing nine people during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Charleston County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images)
But I think the rest of us can have a discussion about what the best policy on guns is without involving those in mourning. Doing so isn't some sinister attempt to "never let a crisis go to waste" or politicize or exploit the tragedy; it's entirely appropriate to talk about what can be done to minimize derailments after a train goes off the tracks, or to talk about what can be done to improve airline safety after a plane crashes. We can do the same with guns, without descending into name-calling, and without trying to get those who have lost loved ones take a side in the debate.
That said, as a supporter of gun rights, I'd like to see us get rid of some of the bad arguments for owning and carrying guns that are once again getting attention:
1. "Gun control isn't a solution, because evil people will find a way to kill even without guns."
It's true that people with violent goals will find a way to be violent even without guns, but that misses the point. It's easier to kill with a gun than a kitchen knife. That's why we spend hundreds of billions of dollars outfitting our military with firearms and other violence-enhancing technology when it would be far cheaper to spend a few million bucks on cutlery.
So, while it's true that the absence of guns wouldn't end violence altogether, that doesn't prove there wouldn't be a reduction in violence.
President Barack Obama was wrong when he said that, "this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries."
It does – sometimes with guns, sometimes without – as many have pointed out. But mass killings are only one type of violence, and rarer than the murder of just one or two people. And this is where the United States stands out compared to other Western or wealthy, industrialized nations. Our rates of intentional homicide, of gun deaths, and of guns per capita are significantly higher.
This correlation doesn't necessarily prove causation; perhaps there are other factors at work, such as culture or economics. But, is the United States just a more violent society? Maybe it is. But maybe the greater number of guns in circulation makes it easier for violent people here to kill people.
2. "Gun control advocates are blaming an inanimate object – a gun – for violence rather than the person who uses it."
Again, all else being equal, it's easier to kill with a gun than without one, that's just a fact.
Right now, the United States and a host of other countries are trying to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Is that based on a misguided "blaming of inanimate objects" (i.e., nuclear weapons), or is it based on the idea that a violent regime can do more damage with a nuke than without one?
When it comes to gun policy and nuclear proliferation, there's nothing nonsensical about suggesting that dangerous inanimate objects be kept out of the hands of the unstable, whether in the form of Dylann Storm Roof or the Ayatollahs.
3. "If there'd been another person with a gun in the church, the shooter wouldn't have been able to kill as many people."
I think that's true (though it's also true that if one less person – namely, Dylann Storm Roof – had had a gun, fewer people would have been killed). If someone in the church had been armed, they could have shot Roof while he was reloading, or even sooner. That is, unless that person had been killed by Roof before they even realized he was a threat. Having a gun increases your ability to defend yourself, but it also increases the ability of an attacker to kill a victim before they can think to defend themselves. And, in cases where the attacker has the element of surprise, it looks like the gun provides them a greater advantage than it gives to the defender.
4. "The Second Amendment clearly says I have the right to own a handgun."
Actually, the Second Amendment is unclear on at least a couple of counts.
Leaving aside the "well-regulated militia" clause, the amendment says that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." First, what does "arms" refer to? Even in the time of the Founding Fathers, "arms" included everything from bayonets to cannons, mortars, and howitzers. Today, "arms" includes a far greater variety of weaponry, including tanks and missiles. How much of this is supposed to be covered by the Second Amendment?
That brings us to the second foggy point: When the Second Amendment says it won't infringe on the right to bear arms, does that mean there are no armaments that people will be prohibited from owning? If that's the reading, then it means we can own artillery, tanks, etc. and everything else that fits the description of "arms," which is just a tad scary.
On the other hand, if the Amendment is to be read as saying people can't be prevented from owning all types of armaments – that their right to bear arms means at least some type of armaments must be allowed – then government could ban handguns while allowing bayonets without infringing on your rights.
This vagueness and ambiguity cries out for clarification, and I'd rather that it come from Congress in the form of an amendment to the Amendment, instead of from the unpredictable Supreme Court.
Again, I support gun rights. But I don't think the kinds of consequentialist self-defense arguments offered are the way to go, because it's not at all clear that gun proliferation decreases the rate of homicides (gun-related or otherwise).
Rather, I think the right to bear arms is better rooted in its effectiveness at opposing government tyranny. No, I don't think there's an imminent threat of a totalitarian regime taking over the country. But I don't think the United States has a special immunity to them, either. We have the world's most powerful military, and if for some reason it's ever turned inward, I'd like Americans to stand a fighting chance.
TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.