Firearms Policy and the Black Community: Rejecting the 'Wouldn’t You Want a Gun if Attacked?' Argument
37 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2013 Last revised: 17 Sep 2013
Date Written: March 8, 2013
The gun lobby has succeeded in focusing the gun debate on a narrow, oversimplified question: “If a criminal attacked you, wouldn’t you prefer to have a gun to protect yourself?” The easy answer for most people would be an emphatic “Yes!” A prominent example of what is called in this article the “Wouldn’t you want a gun if attacked?” argument was the gun lobby’s response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. The National Rifle Association (NRA) held a press conference shortly after the attack in which it called on the federal government to put armed guards in every school, with Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre stating, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The argument is a red herring, a diversion that leads us off track and blinds us to the need for comprehensive strategies to address the complex, polycentric issues of gun violence in America. Even setting aside the crucial distinction between “having a gun” and being able to access and use it effectively in response to an imminent attack, whether one would prefer to have a gun if attacked by a criminal is not the real question, any more than would be, “If a criminal shot you with a gun stolen from your neighbor’s car, would you prefer your neighbor didn’t store an unsecured gun in his car?” Put differently, these are but two of many questions relevant to rationally weighing the risks and utilities of guns and formulating gun policy in America.
In his article, Firearms Policy and the Black Community: An Assessment of the Modern Orthodoxy, Professor Nicholas Johnson pursues a version of the “Wouldn’t you want a gun if attacked?” argument particularized to black communities. Johnson uses the article as a platform for opposing black leaders who support gun regulation while essentially advocating for a “more guns” approach to violence in black communities. The “more guns” argument has two distinct strands: the deterrence argument that more guns result in less crime because criminals wish to avoid confronting armed citizens and the immediate self-defense argument. Johnson discusses and endorses the deterrence strand, but focuses on the argument that residents of black communities would benefit from owning and carrying guns to protect themselves against imminent threats.
This reply article highlight structural and rhetorical issues in Johnson’s arguments, but focuses on the reasoning fallacy inherent in concentrating the gun debate on a single, exaggerated utility of guns (i.e., the “Wouldn’t you want a gun if attacked?” argument) without fairly considering the offsetting risks or costs. It also asserts we should act quickly as a nation to invest in more research and data-collection pertaining to the causes and prevention of firearms deaths and injuries, including the efficacy of guns for self-defense. Only with current, accurate information — which does not exist due in large part to efforts by the gun lobby to stifle gun research — can governments and individuals make rational firearms choices. The article concludes with a detour from the academic, theoretical world of gun debating to Memphis, Tennessee, one of America’s most violent cities.
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