The terrorist mass shooting in San Bernardino, California last weekend touched off another round of what has become the ritualized and ultimately futile back-and-forth over gun control. Advocates of restricting access point out that we keep doing nothing and these sorts of horrifying massacres keep happening with alarming frequency. Gun rights advocates counter that more laws won’t stop criminals and we can’t allow any curtailing of Second Amendment freedoms and the real way to stop shootings is have more people carry more guns.
The fact that this latest shooting happened in the midst of a Republican presidential primary means you have some eager candidates trying to prove to conservative voters just how much they hate gun control. Thus you had Florida senator and serious thinking man Marco Rubio going on Fox News last Friday to smack down the reactionary left with the most potent weapon of all: absurdly specious logic.
“When this first came out, without even knowing anything about the case, the first thing they started talking about was gun control and gun control,” Rubio said. “I don’t hear anybody talking about bomb control. They put bombs, they left bombs behind at the scene of attack, intending to kill even more people than they did with a gun.” Rubio’s campaign was so happy with this performance that they tweeted out a credulous write-up of it.
To a person who steadfastly refuses to apply the barest minimum of critical thinking, “How come no one is talking about bomb control?” probably sounds like a compelling counterargument to liberals who advocate gun control. But then those neurons start firing and you realize that, wait a minute … no one is talking about bomb control because we already have bomb control. Explosives are regulated and controlled. Anything that could be reasonably considered a “bomb” is obviously illegal, which is why anyone who wants to bomb something has to build their own and risk several years in prison merely for possessing it. It is much more difficult and dangerous to obtain a working bomb in this country than it is a working firearm.
“But,” you’re probably thinking, “if we already have bomb control, then how come there are still bombs? We can pass strict laws controlling bombs but criminals will still get them, so what’s the point of doing the same for guns?” Rubio made that very point when talking to Fox News. “Criminals will always have access to weapons,” he said, “that's why it's important that law-abiding citizens have the ability to protect themselves.”
Hey look at that! It’s more specious logic. The argument here is that it’s pointless to pass more gun laws since criminals don’t care about gun laws. That’s not a case against gun control; that’s a case against laws. More to the point: no one expects that gun control measures will completely eradicate gun violence or cut off criminals from access to firearms. But it is plenty reasonable to expect that more strict controls on firearms will reduce gun-related fatalities. As National Journal reported earlier this year, “states that impose the most restrictions on gun users also have the lowest rates of gun-related deaths, while states with fewer regulations typically have a much higher death rate from guns.” States with laxer gun laws — in particular those states that have “stand your ground” statutes — have higher rates of gun-related homicides than states with stricter firearm controls. This is obviously not completely determinative, but as Slate noted a couple of months ago, “other studies have shown that states with more guns have more suicide and homicide; that suicides (which account for about three-fifths of gun deaths) decrease when gun control is tightened; and that countries with more guns have more homicide.”
Those states with stricter gun control laws obviously still have gun violence and obviously still have gun-toting criminals, and the San Bernardino shooting is a tragic example of that unfortunate reality. But it’s nonsense to argue that gun control and “bomb control” is ineffective because guns and bombs will still exist. It’s a deliberate attempt to mislead and argue that the existence of violence is a reason to do nothing to prevent violence. The logic is completely backwards and carefully spun to make it seem like it makes sense.