Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Hypocrisy of Gun Control

Stefan Molyneux
Host, Freedomain Radio

As we saw with the Virginia Tech shootings, whenever guns are pointed at the wrong people, by the wrong people, the knee-jerk reaction is to want to ban guns. There are two important aspects to the question of gun control, however, which have not been discussed in the recent anti-gun hysteria.

Most gun control arguments are based on the “argument from effect,” or the belief that the question can be settled by appealing to evidence. In general, the question runs thus:
  • Do guns promote crime or diminish it?

Unfortunately, the “argument from effect” can never decisively answer any question – just as, in the absence of a theory of gravitation, measuring the falling rate of individual items does little good. Rocks fall down, helium balloons fall up, and no progress is made.

The question of gun control can only be settled in relation to a logical theory of morals, and to an appeal to incontrovertible evidence. Let's step through two examples of this in action.

Incontrovertible Evidence
If you ask someone whether it is moral to sell handguns for profit to known criminals, the answer is almost invariably “no” (and if it isn't, RUN!). If handguns are ideally used for self-defense, selling them to active criminals can be considered a fairly negative act.

How would we feel about a man who made his fortune selling guns to a mass murderer? Would we put him in charge of disarming a country? What if he also sold RPGs and tanks and chemical weapons to known mass murderers?

Yet this is exactly what governments do, by selling billions of dollars of weapons to despotic tyrants the world over – and the US government leads the pack in this blood-profiteering.

If it is wrong to make profits selling arms to criminals, then we must abolish the government, not give it additional powers to disarm us. If it is not immoral to sell arms to anyone – even criminals – then gun control is a non-issue.


In general, the argument for gun control comes down to this.
  • Guns are used to commit crimes.
  • A crime is defined as the initiation of violence against a peaceful citizen.
  • Thus guns must be restricted or banned, in order to reduce crime.

It is easy to see the illogic of this argument. How does the government go about banning guns? Why, by initiating violence against those who possess them “illegally.” Thus there is no way to ban guns without initiating the use of force – in other words, a certain crime must be committed for the sake of possibly preventing an unknown crime at some point in the future. We might as well jump off a cliff when we are 20 to prevent the possibility of falling off a cliff when we are 70.

It is important to understand that those who love state power will use any argument to increase it. When arguing about gun control – or any other moral issue – steer clear of the “argument from effect,” and spend the effort to define your terms from the ground up. It is only by digging that we shall uproot this tree.


C-4 said...


Alex said...


You say "argument from effect", with its reliance on evidence, cannot decisively settle the gun control issue; I take issue with that statement. To be concrete, I'll use your gravitation example, where it is plain to see how measuring the falling rate of objects helps. Given an object that you plan to release, I can help us predict whether it will fall or rise by asking the question, "Is it a rock or a balloon?" While of course more limited than using an all-encompassing explanation from Physics, my simple test is nevertheless useful. Similarly, I think that a similarly simple and limited evidence based approach to this political issue could be useful.

The argument from effect is often further undermined by using specific examples. Here is one relevant to this context: "The Swiss/Canadians/etc have as many/more guns per capita than the Americans do, yet they have low rates of gun crime. Therefore having many guns does not cause gun crime." The above argument is vacuous. It is like saying "Some smokers don't get lung cancer, therefore smoking does not cause lung cancer." I believe the relevant questions we should be asking here are all quantitative rather than qualitative. Smoking does cause lung cancer, but this would be irrelevant if only a very small number of smokers got it. Similarly, the fact that having lots of guns increases gun crime (you can't commit a gun crime without a gun) is irrelevant if most countries with lots of guns didn't have lots of gun crime. I must confess that I don't know any figures about this issue, but I hope I've outlined a few reasons why figures might be useful.

Just as you would not try to hide your philosophical nature, I won't conceal the fact that I approach this problem as a scientist. Don't worry, I still enjoy both approaches to many problems. I believe our dilemma in this case is one of minimising murder, and surely any approach capable of examining policies that would do that has merit and is worth pursueing.