WesleyingSpeak: What I Said to a Relative Who Claims Guns Aren’t the Problem

A few days ago, I posted a link to a petition that urges the White House to start a debate about gun control on my Facebook because of the Sandy Hook shooting. Thankfully, it seems as though the White House is finally on the road to enacting gun control reforms, after years of infuriating inaction. To my surprise, however, the first comment under my post was a criticism of my logic, in which the author inserted a link to this Christian Post article and argued the following:

I think the problem is how mental illness is addressed in this nation, and NOT guns. The assault weapons ban expired years ago, and nothing changed; to put another ban in place without addressing other problems in our society will only make people feel good. It’s funny that bibles are allowed to be read in prisons, but not in our public schools. Too bad that a mentally sick person has to commit a serious crime before he gets off the street and into an institution where help is rendered…just saying.

The person who posted this is a member of my family, whom I get along with and love deeply. Additionally, I agree with him to a slight extent, in that I think mental illness is an important factor in mass shootings and gun regulation (but my agreements end there). Because of all this, I found it very difficult to react to his views in my typical fashion — that is, with rage and a righteous affirmation that “he’s an ignorant, Bible thumping conservative who just doesn’t get it.” While part of me still thinks this about people who claim “guns aren’t the problem,” having a close family member voice this opinion gave me pause, because I care for and respect him. Ultimately, I decided to respond to him, and I have copied my rebuttal to his comment here.

Before going straight to my rebuttal though, I should say the following: I wrote it after having come to the conclusion that I need to have a clear understanding of why gun control is necessary if I am to advocate such an opinion, as opposed to taking it for granted that the “educated” will understand my stance, while the “ignorant” are doomed to believing guns aren’t the problem. This is because I know this family member, and while we disagree on a lot of things I still believe he has the ability to listen to and consider my side of the issue. While this may be completely naive, I am hopeful that others who share his opinion can listen to “the other side” when a loved one explains it to them.

With those thoughts in mind, I did some research, laid out my arguments, and came up with the following rebuttal. I’ll admit that it was somewhat of a cathartic experience, and I wish hadn’t gotten as personal / emotional as I occasionally did. I also acknowledge that I didn’t delve into the many debates surrounding mass shootings (such as disability representation) as I would have liked, but I figured that my rebuke is long enough as it is. So, for those who firmly believe in gun control but aren’t always sure how to argue for it, I hope this piece helps give you a more grounded understanding of the importance of gun control, and some tools to support your opinion. And for those who don’t believe in gun control, I hope this piece helps convince you of the opposite view in some small way.

Uncle ___ ,

With all due respect, I believe you are looking at the issue of gun violence in an incorrect (and very dangerous) way. Before engaging in this debate though, I should just say that this is a very potent topic for me and many of my peers, given that we go to school a mere 30 minutes away from where all those children were slaughtered. So my apology for rambling on, but this is an important issue to us (and to the nation), and I think your comments deserve some scrutiny.

First of all, lets consider the statistics: the US has more gun-related killings than all other developed nations COMBINED – and we beat all of them by the thousands. Is that because Americans are naturally more murderous than citizens of other nations? Or could it possibly be because just about ever developed country imposes strict weapons bans, which drastically reduces the number of gun owners, which also greatly reduces the number of gun-related casualties? I think it’s mostly the latter, because if it’s the former, then we have a serious issue with our nation’s psyche. In my opinion, the US does have a serious problem with how we accept violence as given, but that’s a moral / philosophical issue that is far to large to address here. However, I will say this: all other developed nations don’t teach the Bible in their schools, but they do impose gun restriction laws, and the number of gun-related killings are exponentially lower there than in the US. That leads me to believe that the number of gun killings isn’t correlated with the amount of Bible readings in schools, but with the amount of restrictions placed on gun purchases. (Also, I’m not going to delve into our Constitutional responsibility to separate Church and State here, because I’m assuming you are aware of the illegality of forcing children to read the Bible in public schools…)

Yes, of course, there is the fact that mental illness care in the US is horrendous, and that plays into mass shootings in a very significant way. I am in total agreement with you on this point. However, the notion that mental illness is the only reason why such shootings happen and the only part of this tragedy that needs changing, is shortsighted. We are the country with the highest amount of gun ownership – you think that is completely unrelated to the amount of deaths-by-guns that happen here? Most people who shoot and kill others are not mentally unstable in the same way Adam Lanza seems to have been. In reality, most gun related deaths happen in non-mass-school-shootings, such as gang violence, robberies, etc. But the school shootings like those at Sandy Hook, which often involve a mentally unstable person, get the most press. This makes it easy for pro-gun advocates to say: “look! It’s the people, not the guns!” The fact of the matter is, assault weapons and most other guns that people carry on their person change everything when someone (either mentally stable or unstable) decides that they are going to use a weapon for self defense or for the sake of inflicting pain on another. As many pro-gun (yes, pro-gun) senators have already stated, there is absolutely no reason for someone to have a gun that is of the caliber that Adam Lanza (and his mother) had, either for hunting or self-defense. They are machines meant to kill, and to kill in the way that the children at Sandy Hook died – slaughtered with multiple gun wounds.

Now, lets put the mentally unstable argument back into the mix – compare the Newtown shooting to the mass-killing attempt in China (a country with very strict gun laws), where a madman went into a school with a knife and critically wounded 22 children. You’re right, the problem here is in large part the person himself – he was crazy, and he wanted to kill; there is little to be done to stop that, other than reforming mental illness care (which I STRONGLY advocate). But you know what? All 22 of those Chinese children are alive today, because a knife wound wasn’t enough to kill them. In Newtown, however, all 20 of the children who were in Adam Lanza’s path are dead. You really want to argue that the gun (and the ease with which Adam and his mother procured it) has nothing to do with the scale of murder that happened in Connecticut – or in Colorado, or in Wisconsin, or any other place that has witnessed mass shootings? Adam went to Sandy Hook with a gun that could shoot children multiple times within seconds – that made all the difference in how many children would go home to their families that night. While the person wielding a weapon obviously plays a huge role in violence, the weapon determines the outcome more than anything else when someone is set on committing violence…

Lastly: you hint that more Bible teachings would reduce the amount of gun violence. As I mentioned before, no other developed country teaches the Bible in their schools, and they do far better than us at preventing gun violence than we do. And I ask you to consider this: what kind of a God would allow for the massacre of children to happen in a school that supposedly doesn’t teach the Bible, but would protect those in a Christian school? If this is truly the God America believes in, than I fear we have lost track of what Christianity truly stands for…

One last (really, the last) point: ever since the assault weapons ban was lifted in 2004, the number of mass shootings and people shot per year has doubled in the US. We jumped from 16 mass shooting during the ban’s period (1995-2004) to 27 mass shootings since 2005; we jumped from about 21 people shot per year in mass shootings from 1995-2004 to about 55 since the ban was lifted in 2005. That is over a 100% increase in people shot per year in mass shootings since the ban was lifted. By any stretch of the imagination, that proves the ban was in some way effective in preventing such violence. Your linked article, on the other hand, implies that the ban was ineffective — that claim is blatantly wrong, based not on fact but on political motivations. This type of thinking – where you can negate facts in order to further a political ideology – is unbelievably dangerous.

Gun control reform and mental health care reform must go hand in hand, because one without the other won’t do us much good… I really hope this response has given you a more nuanced view of the debate, and a better understanding of why I (and many others) firmly believe in both types of reform. Indeed, many people (Congressmen, the President, regular citizens, and yes, even the NRA) have offered to open up the debate, and are prepared to give up some of our so-called liberties in order to ensure that future kindergarteners can return to their families for Christmas in years to come. I hope you can follow suit…

9 thoughts on “WesleyingSpeak: What I Said to a Relative Who Claims Guns Aren’t the Problem

  1. Student '14

    While I agree with the majority of your rebuttal (and bravo for taking the time to write such a piece), stating that “gun control reform and mental health care reform must go hand is hand” is misleading. We are in desperate need of both; however, the only link I see is that gun sales should require more background checks, and mental health issues can be part of a background check.

  2. anon

    “By any stretch of the imagination, that proves the ban was in some way effective in preventing such violence.”*

    *demonstrates complete misunderstanding of causality

    You spend this entire rant criticizing your Uncle for viewing the issue through the lens of his biases and yet you do the exact same thing. It’s astonishing how sure of yourself you are. You make wild assumptions based on general truths and then purport to be some kind of zen medium of the truth.

    What if I said this. “violent crime in America, including the murder rate, has been falling linearly since the 1970’s. Therefore the country is on the right track and no attempt at reform should be made”. Well, the first statement is factually true – you should look it up. The second statement, however, is not necessarily true (as I think we can all instinctively see).

    Your failure to understand this principle makes you come off as arrogant and self-righteous. If I was your Uncle, I would think you were a brat.

    1. 2014

      Your comment reminds me of a saying from TLP: “the standard maneuver when narcissism is confronted with a greater power– quietly seethe and fantasize about finding information that will out him as a hypocrite. So satisfying.”

    2. Adam Rashkoff

      Yeah, to express disagreement with elders totally makes one a brat! Clearly, the author is just some brat who passionately cares about the safety of America’s children.

    3. hermes

      Since when is it not arrogant, self-righteous, and bratty to write an anonymous hate comment to a person who posted an articulate, thoughtful piece?

    4. gabzalot Post author

      Anon,

      My apologies for not getting back to you until now, and I appreciate you’re thoughts. Here are some responses to your comments…

      The context for this rebuttal is very specific: it was a message to a family member I have known my whole life, not originally written for a news website (though I ultimately posted it on one). My uncle knows my politics, and I know his — there would be little point in masking my inclinations. Additionally, at the very beginning of my piece I make it clear that the topic is an emotional one for me and many peers, and that I may veer into more personal/emotional tones at times. Thus, I don’t think I was ever hiding my “biases” in the ways you suggest, and I think the self-righteousness you point to is actually me being passionate about the subject (but your point was taken, and it is on me to stay less impassioned in my remarks). This is a note to someone who knows me personally and with whom I feel at liberty to engage in a (hopefully constructive) debate, and my family debates often include some “liberal” vs. “conservative” rhetoric. While I do indeed make arguments that are in line with a liberal viewpoint, I am a little skeptical of your claim that my views are based off of “general truths” and incorrect “assumptions”. If you took the time to click on the links I provided in the rebuttal, I think you will find that the majority of my claims have reliable data to back them up.

      Following from this, I disagree with the argument that claims such as my uncle’s (i.e. “teaching the Bible in schools will make us safer”) are qualitatively similar to those I made. My uncle and me obviously have different opinions about gun control, so when you say that I am “biased,” you are right in that I have an opinion. But a bias is usually considered to be an unreasoned judgment, and I don’t see how my arguments are unreasoned in the same way I find my uncle’s to be. While most people can agree that there is no proven correlation between amounts of Bible-reading and school safety, there is a widely (and by that I mean internationally) accepted relationship between the number of gun-related homicides and the amount of gun control. On a more personal note: as someone who has lived in both a neighborhood that was a former drug / crime center of San Francisco, and then in a country with very stringent gun control laws (France), I have actually experienced the differences between living in places with and without strong gun control. Statistically speaking, I was 16 times less likely to be shot and killed in France than I was in the US; emotionally speaking, the amount of stress placed on myself and my family whenever we would be walking home was far greater in the Lower Haight than it was on French streets. So pardon my frankness, but I actually find it to be a sign of arrogance and blatant disregard of facts when people claim that guns aren’t the problem and that gun-control advocates are “hypocritical,” naive liberals. While I (and many gun control advocates) have provided data for that supports implementing more gun control if we want to reduce gun violence, my uncle (and those of similar inclinations) often don’t. Instead, pro-guns advocates often resort to notions of “restricted liberties” and policies that have already been proven ineffective / even more dangerous than the status quo (i.e. in order to reduce gun violence, you must place more guns in schools and on the streets). Sure, scientific data can be manipulated, but the evidence that gun control reduces violence is so widespread in every other developed nation that I just don’t see how my claims even compare to the type my uncle makes (from an empirical standpoint). Just because I have an opinion that is accepted by the majority of liberals doesn’t make it wrong, in the same way that believing in global warming and evolution doesn’t necessarily make me a liberal. In these three instances (gun control, global warming and evolution), the liberal viewpoint happens to line up with what science has proven. So for those who claim that my arguments are just “general truths” based on unproven “assumptions” because it is similar to that of most liberals, even after I have provided links to research studies that show statistical relationships which back up my claims, I think we are dealing with very different definitions of “truth” and “assumption”. While data is always imperfect, at least I have provided my readers with some that has held water time and time again; the other side hasn’t done the same. But you’re right, my points are ultimately only theories — similarly to how global warming, evolution, and gravity are “just theories.” One can choose to negate theories that are backed up by scientific research, but at some point your world becomes a very difficult place to understand without accepting them…

      You do criticize one of my arguments – that related to the effectiveness of the assault weapons ban. This is the piece of my rebuttal that I knew would cause the most controversy because the data surrounding this is much murkier than the data surrounding my other claims, so let me try to explain it further. Firstly, I suggest you read the article I link to in that section of my rebuttal — it shows that there is a clear difference between pre- and post-ban mass-shooting rates. And let me clarify: mass shootings that require assault-type weapons is the type of violence I was talking about, not the run-of-the-mill drive-by shooting or gang murders that can be done with a mere handgun. However, if one claims that the ban was ineffective (as I think you are arguing), I will agree that the ban wasn’t effective enough when you look at all gun-related homicide rates. This is because the ban didn’t pertain to the sort of guns that are seen in the majority of gun-related-homicides (i.e. handguns used in robberies / gang violence). Thus, the question isn’t whether or not the ban had any effect (again, just read the linked article: the ban did have an effect on mass shooting numbers, which often require assault weapons) — the question is whether or not the ban was effective in preventing the majority of gun-related homicides, which are caused by regular hand guns. No, it didn’t, but that’s not because bans are ineffective by their nature. It’s because that particular ban didn’t address the core issue of gun-related homicides and left many loopholes. Thus, the ban was effective for a particular type of gun violence, but unfortunately not all. To me, this points to the need for a wider-ranging ban, not an elimination of all gun control laws.

      In conclusion: I think you who misunderstood what type of gun violence I was addressing in that last claim, along with misunderstanding the difference between a bias based on unreasoned judgments and having an opinion based on scientific research / empirical data. Of course, there is always room for debate when it comes to effects (like gun violence) that have multiple causes (drugs, laws, mental illness, etc.), and causality can almost always be put into question here, because we can almost never prove something with 100% certainty. But there comes a point when choosing to negate statistical correlations becomes foolish, and I think that is what a lot of pro-gun advocates have been doing for decades: denying that more guns has failed to solve the problem of gun violence. This is very, very different from the data gathered from all the other developed nations, which have shown that less guns actually reduces gun violence. And the one thing that all of those nations pointed to when they sent their condolences to the US after the Newtown shooting was the difference between their gun control laws and the US’. (Obviously, there is also mental illness care, but the main point they all made was about gun control.)

      As for me coming off as a brat, I will let me uncle decide on that.

      Thank you for your comments and the debate they brought, and I will do my best to come across as less arrogant in future rebuttals.

      Happy Holidays,
      Gabriela De Golia ’13

    5. gabzalot

      Anon,

      My apologies for not getting back to you until now, and I appreciate you’re thoughts. Here are some responses to your comments…

      The context for this rebuttal is very specific: it was a message to a
      family member I have known my whole life, not originally written for a
      news website (though I ultimately posted it on one). My uncle knows my
      politics, and I know his — there would be little point in masking my
      inclinations. Additionally, at the very beginning of my piece I make it
      clear that the topic is an emotional one for me and many peers, and that
      I may veer into more personal/emotional tones at times. Thus, I don’t
      think I was ever hiding my “biases” in the ways you suggest, and I think
      the self-righteousness you point to is actually me being passionate
      about the subject (but your point was taken, and it is on me to stay
      less impassioned in my remarks). This is a note to someone who knows me
      personally and with whom I feel at liberty to engage in a (hopefully
      constructive) debate, and my family debates often include some “liberal”
      vs. “conservative” rhetoric. While I do indeed make arguments that are
      in line with a liberal viewpoint, I am a little skeptical of your claim
      that my views are based off of “general truths” and incorrect
      “assumptions”. If you took the time to click on the links I provided in
      the rebuttal, I think you will find that the majority of my claims have
      reliable data to back them up.

      Following from this, I disagree with the argument that claims such as
      my uncle’s (i.e. “teaching the Bible in schools will make us safer”)
      are qualitatively similar to those I made. My uncle and me obviously
      have different opinions about gun control, so when you say that I am
      “biased,” you are right in that I have an opinion. But a bias is usually
      considered to be an unreasoned judgment, and I don’t see how my
      arguments are unreasoned in the same way I find my uncle’s to be. While
      most people can agree that there is no proven correlation between
      amounts of Bible-reading and school safety, there is a widely (and by
      that I mean internationally) accepted relationship between the number of
      gun-related homicides and the amount of gun control. On a more personal
      note: as someone who has lived in both a neighborhood that was a former
      drug / crime center of San Francisco, and then in a country with very
      stringent gun control laws (France), I have actually experienced the
      differences between living in places with and without strong gun
      control. Statistically speaking, I was 16 times less likely to be shot
      and killed in France than I was in the US; emotionally speaking, the
      amount of stress placed on myself and my family whenever we would be
      walking home was far greater in the Lower Haight than it was on French
      streets. So pardon my frankness, but I actually find it to be a sign of
      arrogance and blatant disregard of facts when people claim that guns
      aren’t the problem and that gun-control advocates are “hypocritical,”
      naive liberals. While I (and many gun control advocates) have provided
      data for that supports implementing more gun control if we want to
      reduce gun violence, my uncle (and those of similar inclinations) often
      don’t. Instead, pro-guns advocates often resort to notions of
      “restricted liberties” and policies that have already been proven
      ineffective / even more dangerous than the status quo (i.e. in order to
      reduce gun violence, you must place more guns in schools and on the
      streets). Sure, scientific data can be manipulated, but the evidence
      that gun control reduces violence is so widespread in every other
      developed nation that I just don’t see how my claims even compare to the
      type my uncle makes (from an empirical standpoint). Just because I have
      an opinion that is accepted by the majority of liberals doesn’t make it
      wrong, in the same way that believing in global warming and evolution
      doesn’t necessarily make me a liberal. In these three instances (gun
      control, global warming and evolution), the liberal viewpoint happens to
      line up with what science has proven. So for those who claim that my
      arguments are just “general truths” based on unproven “assumptions”
      because it is similar to that of most liberals, even after I have
      provided links to research studies that show statistical relationships
      which back up my claims, I think we are dealing with very different
      definitions of “truth” and “assumption”. While data is always imperfect,
      at least I have provided my readers with some that has held water time
      and time again; the other side hasn’t done the same. But you’re right,
      my points are ultimately only theories — similarly to how global
      warming, evolution, and gravity are “just theories.” One can choose to
      negate theories that are backed up by scientific research, but at some
      point your world becomes a very difficult place to understand without
      accepting them…

      You do criticize one of my arguments – that related to the
      effectiveness of the assault weapons ban. This is the piece of my
      rebuttal that I knew would cause the most controversy because the data
      surrounding this is much murkier than the data surrounding my other
      claims, so let me try to explain it further. Firstly, I suggest you read
      the article I link to in that section of my rebuttal — it shows that
      there is a clear difference between pre- and post-ban mass-shooting
      rates. And let me clarify: mass shootings that require assault-type
      weapons is the type of violence I was talking about, not the
      run-of-the-mill drive-by shooting or gang murders that can be done with a
      mere handgun. However, if one claims that the ban was ineffective (as I
      think you are arguing), I will agree that the ban wasn’t effective
      enough when you look at all gun-related homicide rates. This is because
      the ban didn’t pertain to the sort of guns that are seen in the majority
      of gun-related-homicides (i.e. handguns used in robberies / gang
      violence). Thus, the question isn’t whether or not the ban had any
      effect (again, just read the linked article: the ban did have an effect
      on mass shooting numbers, which often require assault weapons) — the
      question is whether or not the ban was effective in preventing the
      majority of gun-related homicides, which are caused by regular hand
      guns. No, it didn’t, but that’s not because bans are ineffective by
      their nature. It’s because that particular ban didn’t address the core
      issue of gun-related homicides and left many loopholes. Thus, the ban
      was effective for a particular type of gun violence, but unfortunately
      not all. To me, this points to the need for a wider-ranging ban, not an
      elimination of all gun control laws.

      In conclusion: I think you who misunderstood what type of gun
      violence I was addressing in that last claim, along with
      misunderstanding the difference between a bias based on unreasoned
      judgments and having an opinion based on scientific research / empirical
      data. Of course, there is always room for debate when it comes to
      effects (like gun violence) that have multiple causes (drugs, laws,
      mental illness, etc.), and causality can almost always be put into
      question here, because we can almost never prove something with 100%
      certainty. But there comes a point when choosing to negate statistical
      correlations becomes foolish, and I think that is what a lot of pro-gun
      advocates have been doing for decades: denying that more guns has failed
      to solve the problem of gun violence. This is very, very different from
      the data gathered from all the other developed nations, which have
      shown that less guns actually reduces gun violence. And the one thing
      that all of those nations pointed to when they sent their condolences to
      the US after the Newtown shooting was the difference between their gun
      control laws and the US’. (Obviously, there is also mental illness care,
      but the main point they all made was about gun control.)

      As for me coming off as a brat, I will let me uncle decide on that.

      Thank you for your comments and the debate they brought, and I will
      do my best to come across as less arrogant in future rebuttals.

      Happy Holidays,

      Gabriela De Golia ’13

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