I’ve gotten pretty burned out on following the current gun debate. I think at this point all sides are pretty much argued out and there’s probably little new to say. After reading all the posts pro- and anti- firearm, I think some generalizations can be made about what the debate is over; and I wanted to see whether we can at least agree on what we disagree about. What I’ve drawn from the gun debate is this:
We make choices in life over whether the usefulness (the “utility”) of something outweighs its potential risks. This applies to things like automobiles, alcohol (and the combination of those two), tobacco, airplane travel, nuclear energy, coal mines, swimming pools, carrying knives, etc. And then there is the issue of firearms, which are almost unique in that beyond their use in hunting or target sport, their purpose is to inflict potentially deadly incapacitating injury, or to threaten to. Given the well known and documented risks and drawbacks of guns- their use in murder, robbery and suicide, and the potential for accidents- whether guns are an overall boon or bane for society must depend on their positive traits- their utility.
It seems to me that the entire gun debate ultimately comes down to a disagreement on what the utility of guns is, with people mostly divided into two camps with very different assessments of the issue. The pro-gun camp of those who currently own guns or might at another time, and the anti-gun camp of those who do not want to ever own a gun…
The reasoning of the anti-gun people appears to go something like this: they’ve lived their entire lives just fine without owning a gun, and the rare instances that guns are needed should be handled by the police. They feel that the risks of guns are so high that only specialists trained to the highest possible standard to maximize guns’ utility should be entrusted with them, and to only employ them once circumstances desperate enough to warrant summoning these specialists. The non-gun people are extremely dubious of the ability of anyone other than trained experts to possess and use guns properly; they consider the utility of guns in private hands as virtually zero. In light of the known drawbacks of guns, private gun possession is a negative for public safety.
The reasoning of the pro-gun people appears to go something like this: the utility of guns is underrated because a large part of their value is in deterrence, and by definition one cannot know how many crimes never happened because of guns. That gun control laws actually reduce the utility of guns, by denying them to law-abiding citizens while being little deterrent to criminals and psychotics. That the training of police officers is not as stringent as many people suppose and that ordinary citizens can be equally well-trained in the defensive use of guns.
Both sides criticize the other in more or less mirror-image ways. Each side claims the other is uninformed, ignorant, irrational, delusional or pursuing an ideological agenda that is either unsound or actually evil.