In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion reads the paper
It’s that time again. Another mass shooting has occurred in the only developed nation on earth where mass shootings regularly occur. Not moments later, people start looking for a solution, and, if you’re into data, it’s kind of clear the solution has something to do with guns. The thing is, in the United States guns are not objects but a culture. So when some of us say, “We need to change the way we handle guns in this country, others of us hear, “We want to screw with your way of life.”
Gun owners are significantly more likely to:
- live in rural areas;
- be old;
- think of themselves as conservatives;
- identify as an outdoors person, fisher, hunter, or sportsman;
- agree that honor and duty are their core values;
- think of themselves as true Americans;
- feel proud to be Americans.
When people start to feel like their very identify is under attack, they get angry. With regard to discussions about changing our relationship with guns, what this means in my day-to-day life is that my Facebook feed fills up with arguments after every shooting tragedy. And while I do think this is a complicated issue that deserves lots of reasonable discussion, I have noticed a staggering amount of silly arguments come from the “pro-gun” side of this debate.*
If I had the time, I would address all of those stupid arguments. But today I’m going to limit myself to one. It has many forms, but it usually goes something like this.
Cars also kill lots of people in this country, so should we take away all the cars too?
Before I picking at this, I should be clear. I am a conservative male. I think gun ownership is a Constitutional right (especially if you happen to be in a well-regulated militia). I’ve owned guns. I love shooting. I just don’t happen to think any those things are inconsistent with also wanting to live in a safer country.
Without further ado, here are the reasons why the cars=guns comparison irks me.
First and foremost, I WOULD LOVE NOTHING MORE THAN TO HAVE OUR GUNS TREATED LIKE OUR CARS. Imagine a world where this was the case. When you were old enough to own a gun, you’d have to get so many hours of practice in with another licensed owner or trainer, you’d have to pass a written test, a field test, be free of certain medical conditions, register your gun, record all ownership transfers with the state, have your weapon inspected for safety regularly, periodically renew your license, or possibly have your license revoked. A lot of that seems very reasonable to me.
No doubt some of us have been miffed because we have to register our car every year, or because we’ve had our license taken away, but there have been no widespread cries of, “OBAMA IS COMING FOR YOUR CHEVY!!!” In this case, we all seem to have some sanity. We realize cars serve a purpose, and we really, really like them. Yet we all seem to get that without proper training and regulation, cars can be wildly dangerous things, and this sort of administrative headache is actually beneficial because it keeps so many of us alive to keep using and enjoying our cars.
What’s more interesting is that even with this increased regulation, there are still more cars on the road and we are dramatically safer.
To continue the what-if-guns-did-really-equal-cars theme, consider the recent tragedy involving a duck boat crash and five fatalities. In the aftermath, there seems to be a fairly reasonably conversation about whether or not these amphibious vehicles should be on the road at all. (I personally hope they stay.) There weren’t even widespread cries about tyranny or exploiting the tragedy. As near as I can tell, no one was compared to Hitler. Most people just rolled up their sleeves and wondered if there wasn’t an opportunity to make us all safer, and if that opportunity was worth the cost.
Interestingly enough, there are almost as many cars in this country as there are guns, and the amount of deaths caused by the two are nearly equal. Yes, these are both dangerous things that we have a ton of in our country. But the first reason why “If you go after guns, then why not go after cars?” is a dumb argument for not doing more to regulate guns is that we regulated the hell out of cars, and it’s been a wild success.
This whole argument hinges on a weird disconnect: that the danger of guns and the danger of cars are equivalent, therefore the we shouldn’t regulate guns but we heavily regulate cars. How does that make sense?
Here I’d like to start with a quote from one of my nerd crushes.
People like to think of technologies and media as neutral and that only their use or content determines their impact. Guns don’t kill people, after all, people kill people. But guns are much more biased toward killing people than, say, pillows — even though many a pillow has been utilized to smother an aging relative or adulterous spouse.
Our widespread inability to recognize or even acknowledge the biases of the technologies we use renders us incapable of gaining any real agency through them.
“Guns are just a tool,” people cry, “just like a paper clip or an automobile!” Ok. That’s ridiculous. That’s like saying, “Anthrax is just a white powder, much like flour or sugar!” Could flour or sugar kill you? Certainly. But people don’t engineer or buy flour or sugar with the main intent of harm.
Yes, there is a half truth that guns, paper clips, and cars are all tools. But the full truth is that one of those tools was designed to kill living things, while one was designed to hold pieces of paper together, and the other was designed to deliver you safely to the donut shop while listening to Queen.
When people die in cars it’s a matter of a car failing to do what it’s supposed to do. When people die from guns, it’s a matter of a gun succeeding at what it’s supposed to do. The result of this implicit bias in guns and cars is that guns are much more deadly.
Consider that there are about 256 million cars in the U.S., each one driven for an average of 1:09:22.6 every day.** Meanwhile, there are about 310-270 million guns in the U.S. (The exact number of guns is much harder to find than the number of vehicles because, well, guns aren’t as widely registered.) I cannot find evidence of how often the average gun is interacted with per day, but does anyone really believe it’s more than an hour? Let’s say for the sake of argument that the average gun is interacted with for 15 minutes a day, which isn’t true for me or any of the many, many, many gun owners I know who aren’t police officers. (You might be thinking, I do interact with a gun for fifteen minutes a day, but do you interact with every gun you own for 15 minutes a day?***)
So a car is interacted with at a rate of at least (for the sake of argument) four times more than guns, and yet there are about as many deaths involving guns as vehicles.*** This is even more staggering, when you consider that when someone interacts with a car, they usually do it in a public place where lots of other people are nearby, whereas when people interact with their firearms, there usually aren’t too many pedestrians and thousands of other firearm wielding folks weaving all around them. This incredible discrepancy in the likelihood of fatality is partly the result of the bias inherent in these two technologies, and if you aren’t aware of that bias, this debate can’t begin to make sense to you, nor can you begin to make sense in this debate.
The final thing that bothers me about the “should we take away cars too?” argument is that it assume that any discussion about changing our relationship to guns is tantamount to federal agents pounding on your door to disarm you before throwing you into a FEMA concentration camps.
I’m sure there are people who want confiscate guns per se, but the vast majority of us just want fewer news stories about kids getting shot at school. We don’t want background checks and registration or waiting periods because we were born with an innate hatred of guns or liberty, but because we like most of the people around us to be alive. There are likely hundreds of things we could do to knock our country from its perch as the most violent developed nation in the world and still allow people to enjoy use of their firearms. But non of those hundreds of things are likely to happen if we can’t even begin to talk about improved regulation without someone saying, “Oh, and when you’re done with guns then are you going to take all of our cars away too, Hitler?”
You would hope that the people who think they are more bound by duty and honor and who purport to be the most proud of their citizenship in this country, would also be the most interested in making it the safest country–or at least not the least safe country in the developed world. You would hope that, but, if the reaction to mass shootings is any indication, you’re likely going to be disappointed.