A Fallacy About Guns

March 2, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Posted in Dysfunctional Politics | Leave a comment
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In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, Marc A. Thiessen recounted an incident in which a private citizen, Stephen Willeford, used his own AR-15 to interrupt Devin Patrick Kelley from continuing a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas, on November 15, 2017.

The AR-15 is the same type of assault rifle that Nikolas Cruz used to massacre students and teachers at the at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018.

Thiessen uses the incident in Sutherland to argue that it would be perverse to conclude from the incident in Parkland – and from the many other incidents – that access to assault weapons should be restricted.

Thiessen’s argument rests upon a fallacy of omission. He does not mention that Willeford’s gun-assisted intervention would not have been necessary if Kelley had not had access to an assault weapon.

In fact, that would have been a better solution, because it would not have relied on the rare circumstance that a neighbor had an assault weapon, and was at home at the time, and was willing to engage the shooter.

Looking for the best solution to a problem is mathematically equivalent to trying to identify the tallest peak in a region that hosts many hills and mountains.

A mathematician, a scientist, or an engineer would say that Thiessen identified what was merely a local maximum, but didn’t notice the global maximum nearby.

Thiessen spotted the crest of one of several foothills, but failed to notice the mountain that towered in their midst.

To see more clearly why Thiessen’s argument is incorrect, imagine his argument being applied to cars. Someone in a car can pursue a criminal who used a car to commit a crime. Applied to cars, Thiessen’s logic would imply that driving a car should be unrestricted, and shouldn’t require a license.

In fact, the issues in gun control are closely analogous to those in automotive and aeronautical control:

As was noted in a previous blog, and as has recently been noted by others, the argument for restricting acess to assault weapons is the same as the argument for requiring a license for driving an automobile, and for requiring a more restrictive licence for driving 18-wheelers, and for requiring a still more restrictive license for piloting an aircraft.

Freedom to travel within the United States does not mean unrestricted freedom to travel by driving a car, nor by driving a truck, nor by piloting an aircraft. It also does not mean that access to particular locations cannot be restricted to only particular people.

Analogous statements should apply to guns.

A recent very enlightening article by Mike Spies in the New Yorker magazine describes how we started from a reasonable, rational approach to gun laws, that had lasted for at least a century, and how the discussion was perverted into the present frenzied, dysfunctional tug-of-war.

Gun laws today

Gun laws today

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