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Comments on Wednesday 13 October 2004:
I've just participated in another gun-control argument, which was the usual waste of time. The funny thing is, I don't care about gun-control. I have essentially no preference one way or the other about whether guns are legal, in current-day first-world English-speaking society. So why do I participate in the argument? Because the arguments people give really get on my tits. I try to tell them I'm not arguing against what they're saying, just with their argument, but no matter which side I'm arguing with they think I'm on the opposite side.

The problem is that both sides argue like they're right. Here's a tip - if you're arguing in that argument like you're right then you're not fucking right. The only exception is if you're not arguing whether guns should be legal, but whether they must be, and you're in America, and you're making the Constitution argument. In that one instance, you are right. And not if you use the Constitution argument as a 'should' rather than a 'must'. Other than that, neither side is right, stop arguing like you are, it makes you look like a big jerk, both of you. Here's why.

What's Wrong With Pro-gun Arguments

Nearly every "I am right" argument that's in favour of legal guns can be easily extrapolated to be a reason to legalise privately owned suitcase nukes. Freedom? Guns don't kill people, people kill people? Right to bear arms? Not dangerous if you're not a criminal? An armed society is a polite society?

The only arguments I've seen that stand the 'nuke' test are those of home defence and personal defence, for which a nuke is clearly not appropriate. There is nothing outstandingly wrong with those arguments, they aren't wrong like the others, but neither are they right, for reasons I'll come to later. The other way to withstand the nuke test is to state that you are in favour of privately owned suitcase nukes. That's a flawed argument in that you're a fucking nutjob.

What's Wrong With Anti-gun Arguments

Nearly every "I am right" argument that's in favour of criminalising guns can be easily extrapolated to be a reason for criminalising cars. They are used in crimes? They kill people on purpose? They kill people by accident? Cars kill more people than guns do, and almost certainly would continue to do so even if guns were available over-the-counter as easily as cigarettes or alcohol. "But cars are also useful," you then counter-argue. So are guns, for home-defence or hunting. "But cars are more useful," you insist. Not for me they're not, I never go anywhere in a privately owned car.

"Guns are designed to kill and maim people" is another argument. Then do we also illegalise bows and arrows, swords and martial arts? You can withstand this counter-argument if you answer "yes", but then that's a flawed argument in that you're a fucking nutjob.

What Do These Flaws Have In Common?

Both sides argue with arguments that will show that they are right. For an argument to be right, it must hold true for all possible values. So if something should be banned because it's dangerous, everything that dangerous and beyond should be banned. If something dangerous should be legal to own because of freedom, everything dangerous should be legal to own because of freedom. What both sides all too frequently fail to understand is that it's a fucking grey area.

Guns shouldn't be banned because they're dangerous, they should be banned if they're too dangerous. "But," you think, "cars are more dangerous than guns." Yes, they are, but the value of "too dangerous" for cars is higher than the value of "too dangerous" for guns, because cars are much more functional than guns are. Not only does "too dangerous" vary by person, it varies by object as well. As I see it, for each individual an item's ideal legality is determined by a combination of its utility, its fun-factor, and its danger. For people who don't like guns, gun ownership has zero utility or fun factor (since they won't own one) and is a bit dangerous. For people who do like guns, gun ownership has (zero plus a large number multiplied by the very small probability of encountering a criminal while access to the gun is readily available) utility, a high fun factor and is a bit dangerous. When it's broken down like this you can easily see why there is no agreement. Both people recognise that legal gun ownership is a bit dangerous - that value probably doesn't vary much by person. What varies, instead, is the boundary value "too dangerous". (This has also covered the earlier 'home defence' argument - that's additional utility for people who like guns, but it's still no utility for those who don't.)

The Practical

So, what determines the legality of these things? Approximately, it's the median value of public opinion. This is part of why both sides argue their cases so vehemently, if ineffectually. So let's say you, as a pro- or anti- gun person, want to try to convince some people away from the other side, to make what minimal difference this might eventually make to the position of that median-value "where the line is drawn" (or to prevent the other side from making their difference). How should you argue your case? Well, first things first, don't use any of those fucking 'absolute' arguments. You are not right. That's the most important thing in this argument, as in many others of politics. Grey areas are common, absolutes are not.

What you need to do, to convince people to change their minds, is alter their opinion of one of the motivators - change how fun they think guns are, change how much utility they think they have, or change how dangerous they think they are. Bad news for the anti-gun advocates - you'll have difficulty doing any of these. I can't think of one functional approach, short of getting a gun and shooting the pro-gun advocates' family members. For the pro-gun people there's the relatively easy approach of persuading people to go out target-shooting with you - if successful, you won't just be changing how fun they think guns are, you'll be changing how fun guns actually are, for them. Which then feeds back in to also potentially increase the utility rating. Another possible approach is to make mention of the utility that results even if you don't own a gun yourself - the populace being armed has the useful effect of making armed revolution against government oppression possible. I wouldn't put money on that argument getting you any ground though - the only people likely to be convinced by it are people who are already on the side of firearms.

There is one other factor which I haven't mentioned - the slippage of freedom in general. If people who don't like guns get them banned, maybe the people who don't like dogs will get those banned, and the people who don't like cars will get those banned, or archery equipment, or fencing swords. There's a live-and-let-live element there which might factor in to make people raise the bar on "too dangerous" if they're otherwise borderline. It's that which puts me very slightly more in the pro-gun camp than the anti-gun. That and Switzerland.

This has been a public service announcement. In summary, stop fucking arguing grey areas like they're black and white. Gun ownership is not universally good or bad. Taxes are not universally good or bad. Really stupid arguments packed full of catch-phrases everyone's already heard, however, are pretty bad. [20:42]

Anet
Good to see how little you care about it... If you cared about it, you would have to replace your keyboard on a weekly basis... ;)

nitr0z
a very good argument. although i'm sure this could be applied to every argument with grey areas, which is in effect most arguments.

RavenBlack
Yes, it can, and should. It certainly applies to tax arguments which is why I mentioned that in the last paragraph - someone was arguing that all taxes are bad and that any allowance of such things is absolutely not acceptable, and then later in the same argument decided that taxes are okay if they're for national defence or law enforcement. They refused to admit that this was a breach of their earlier rule because the earlier rule is *absolute*. And they refused to countenance the possibility that social security would perhaps prevent crimes of desperation sufficiently that it's more cost effective than having enough police (and jails) to prevent the same amount of crime. They wouldn't say "no it's not", though, just should "I shouldn't have to pay for other people!" Even social security isn't really for other people, it's to keep those other people from overthrowing the government and installing a new "all you rich people give us all your stuff or we'll kill you" government. Thus the rich benefit too.

Anet
Hmmm, I made a similar statement on another board recently, I am guessing the person you were discussing it with is one of the self proclaimed Libertarians who has never actually read the party platform... ?

RavenBlack
No, they denied being a libertarian, and just used most of the same stupid arguments.

Anet
Amusing... I have found that many of the self-proclaimed Libertarians (at least around in this area) read the tax part and never dig deeper... I am sure I have changed some of them simply by giving them the web site of the party, they didn't want to pay, but they thought somehow magically the sevices they received could remain the same ;p

Eman
Absoluteness is in the eye of the beholder. If I am an anti-gun person my own opinion that guns should be controlled is right. You can still realize that there are grey areas, and that the other person has valid points, but if you didn't believe in the absoluteness of that opinion how would you have formed it?

RavenBlack
Your opinion can be absolute - that's fine. Your arguments for your opinion generally can't be absolute because of the reductio ad absurdum that results.

carl
As an aside Australia had a moment in which the governmental forces were trying to put in place licensing for swords, bows, martial arts and knives. It failed slightly by opposition and some one finally clued in the lawmakers that -all- knives were dangerous and -all- households had knives (over 4 or 6 inches).

I do like the separation of emotional and intellectual aspects of the argument. The usual arguing technique of the "I am right" mentality is to provide emotive arguments for intellectual difficulties (Guns are fun so they aren't really dangerous!) or vice versa (We can license them so criminals can't have them!!)
The gun vs car argument stumbles because it suits the arguing parties, who like their version of the argument, to resist their analysis to the prime [advertised] function of the dangerous item. Are grenades or explosives legal? They are also "fun" but destructive, as are booby traps (although less fun but more protective) but fireworks are more fun but less protective (but still limited legal access)

Tarot
Hahaha!! I like this, I really do. It's so true! I had an arguement about this yesteerday, and I said that if you want to ban one dangerous thing, what's to stop people from banning anything the think dangerous? The person I was talking with didn't like that much. I ended up getting the, "well...that's different!" thing. So it was really amusing that I'd read THIS one, after I'd just talked about that yesterday! You really had some good points, you know.

Chtae
Cigerrettes should be illigal

mendon
This reminds me of the amusement I derive from how the group of people who think that cigarettes should be illegal and the group that thinks that marijuana should be legal overlaps.

After a moment of though, I conclude that tobacco brownies would be considerably less successful than marijuana brownies.

Tex Stankely
Well, that was most amusing. Especially in the context of the anti/pro gun argument. Most fun.

The largest hurdle in having a satisfying and complete debate in regard to guns is the vast amount of emotion that always come into play.
Not to mention that in America today debate has devolved into naught but glorified personal insult fests.

It comes down to beleif systems, in my opinion, and the scant amount of room to manuvere within them. Regardless of your position on the subject it is akin to debating religion with a Fundementalist. Quite aggravating.

Personally I am a pro self defense kind of goober. By way of debate I would rather entice my anti self defense friends into coming out and producing large volumes of smoke and noise behind the barn. On the whole it seems to work much better than vocal debate.

I do not appreciate both parties propensity to regulate the heck out of everything for my "safety". Freedom, it seems to me, is not a very safe endeavor and we are dangerously close to becoming so safe that our plutocracy is traded for tolalitarianism.

At any rate I enjoyed your rant in the extreme.
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