Replies to Anti-Gun Critics
by Ari Armstrong, June 11, 2003
I'm a "pathetic redneck," according to one disarmament advocate who substitutes personal attacks for reasoned arguments. Below I reply to him and discuss a couple other recent remarks from the mainstream media.
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In his June 5 attempt [in Westword] to demonstrate that my reply to Elizabeth Ward was "just plain moronic," it would have been useful for Gaylan Taylor III to actually address even a single argument I raised in my May 29 letter. Instead, Taylor attacked a straw-man.
Taylor claims I said "owning an AK-47 is the same 'inalienable right' as the right to read a newspaper." In fact, that wasn't my claim at all.
Let's get a minor issue out of the way first. The issue was not the "AK-47," but rather Ward's reference to so-called "assault weapons." Apparently, some people such as Taylor, Justin Green, and Justin Cremer refer to the "AK-47" because it's the only "scary"-looking gun they can name off-hand. I've never fired one myself, but the model gets terrible reviews in, say, Boston's Gun Bible. But the right of self-defense is not about a specific model of gun any more than the right of free speech is about a specific model of typewriter, word processor, or printing press.
As I suggested in my letter, the term "assault weapon" is basically meaningless. Historically, the term "assault rifle" referred to a fully-automatic rifle with less- powerful cartridges than more traditional rifles. Today's Congressional definition of an "assault weapon" is nothing but an arbitrary listing of superficial features of some semi-automatic guns (for details, see David Kopel's article at http://davekopel.com/2A/LawRev/rational.htm.) Apparently, the goal of the anti-gun lobby is to eventually list all semi-autos (rifles along with handguns) as "assault weapons," even though, in fact, semi-autos are the most effective guns for defensive use.
Obviously the right to bear arms is not the same right as that of free speech, and Taylor's interpretation of my letter is, as he puts it, "dumber than dumb." However, my point was that the right of self-defense and the right of free speech are similar in the respect that neither should be dependent on what politicians (or the anti-gun lobby) deem that we "need." Thus, when Taylor claims I "never did answer [Ward's] question regarding who needs an assault weapon in this country," my answer was that Ward asked the wrong question. Again, it's the Bill of Rights, not the Bill of Needs.
Taylor ignorantly claims people "don't use an assault rifle to hunt game for food, because an AK-47 would shred the meat to pieces and render it not consumable." In fact, what Taylor calls "assault rifles" are generally disfavored for hunting big-game animals because they use a cartridge with too little power. But perhaps Taylor simply doesn't know what the term "semi-automatic" means, and he doesn't know that many "hunting" rifles are functionally identical to so-called "assault weapons."
Taylor correctly says rifles are not as useful for home defense as handguns are. But he then commits a logical fallacy known as the false alternative. Taylor writes, "You don't use an assault rifle to hunt game [and] [y]ou don't use an assault rifle for protection in your home... Therefore, by process of elimination, the only valid purpose for an AK-47 is to compensate for one's weak character or to kill as many people as possible in the shortest period of time."
Semi-automatic rifles are useful for at least four legitimate purposes: target practice and recreational shooting, personal defense against a larger number of attackers or people attacking from a distance, regional or national defense, and the deterrence of domestic totalitarianism.
Taylor also commits a logical fallacy of ad hominem attack. He asserts that those who own particular semi-automatic rifles are of "weak character." Obviously that was true of Green, but it is not true of the overwhelming majority of gun owners, who are responsible, upstanding citizens who deter crime for everybody. Taylor also refers to gun owners as "pathetic" "rednecks." Apparently, Taylor believes bigoted stereotypes may substitute for reasoned critique. They cannot.
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Arnie Grossman, a co-founder of the anti-gun lobby group Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, the name of which likened gun ownership to a disease, wrote a letter published June 11 by the Denver Post:
Garry Scott McLaughlin was on his way to college on a scholarship. But his life, filled with promise, was snuffed out by someone with a gun. A group of important people should have made every effort to attend memorial services for Scott: Gov. Owens and his fellow legislative Republicans, who paid their debt to the gun lobby and gave Colorado two new laws that will result in more guns on the streets, in cars and, very possibly, in wrong, deadly hands. They ought to have looked in the eyes of Scott's family - and tried to explain why more guns are good.
Grossman intentionally obfuscates the issue. The recent laws passed by the Colorado legislature make it easier for peaceable, law-abiding citizens to use a firearm for self-defense. This is "good" because fewer innocent people will be killed or maimed by violent criminals. Grossman purposely conflates peaceable, responsible, law-abiding gun owners with vicious murderers, thus unjustly maligning the first group. There are several possible explanations for Grossman's position: a) he is ignorant of the usefulness of guns in self-defense, b) he irrationally thinks of guns as taboo objects with mystical endowments, or c) he believes the lives saved by the defensive use of a gun are unimportant.
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The Denver Post published an excellent article June 8 by State Senator Mark Hillman, a strong advocate of Coloradans' fundamental human right of self-defense.
Hillman rightly points out, "By casting their opponents as corrupt and callous, the gun-control crowd avoids the unpleasant admission that its hysterical fear of guns isn't shared by mainstream Coloradans, that severe regulations don't bother criminals and that emotional tirades wither when held to intellectual scrutiny."
Hillman also noted the legislature acted to "prohibit lawsuits that make gun manufacturers liable for the acts of criminals," because "[g]un manufacturers are no more responsible for crime than automakers are responsible for drunk driving."
My only problem with Hillman's essay is that he does not criticize ill-conceived restrictions that remain on the defensive use of firearms.