Gun Control: Deconstructing the “People Kill People” Argument



Perhaps one of the first defenses many gun advocates like to put out there when some form of gun control is proposed is the old seven-word saw, “Guns don’t kill people.  People do.”  The intent here is to develop a straw man argument that tries to assert that removing guns from the equation will not prevent people killing people with some other means.  And if that were the preposterous argument that gun control advocates were making, gun advocates would have some credibility.  But that isn’t the case.

Here’s the case for anyone who simply can’t grasp the concept of removing deadly assault weapons from the public domain.

Guns kill more people quicker and easier.

That’s it.  An equal seven-word retort the zealots of the 2nd amendment have no credible comeback for.  They may want to circumvent this response by asking if we should remove cars, prescription medicine, chains, bats, knives and any other object that has been used to kill people with, but that’s not the point being made here.  It’s not a matter of trying to totally eliminate killings.  That notion in and of itself is absurd and only a fanatic would use it in their argument from either side of the gun ownership/gun control divide.  It’s simply a matter of removing a tool that is more deadly and capable of multiple deaths instantly.  A tool that is solely designed to kill humans unlike other items that have a primary purpose not related to killing.

Knives can be deadly weapons and some are actually designed as a means to kill, such as bayonets and switch blades   But unlike guns, knives are regulated to restrict its use from killing people.  Federal laws have made it a criminal offense to possess and conceal any knife with a blade longer than two and a half inches and many local jurisdictions can arrest you with a knife whose blade is longer than 3 inches.

Federal regulations and the Switchblade Knife Act of 1958prohibits the manufacture, importation, distribution, transportation, and sale of switchblade knives in commercial transactions substantially affecting interstate commerce between any state, territory, possession of the United States, or the District of Columbia, and any place outside that state, territory, U.S. possession, or the District of Columbia.”   Forty-four of the fifty states also make possession of such knives limited, very limited or illegal.   Yet guns of most classes do not get such scrutiny thanks to the gun manufacturers lobby in this country, the NRA

Bear in mind too what most knives today are designed for.  Some are used to surgically open someone in a medical operation in order to save their lives.  Knives, referred to as cutlery, are also used to chop, slice and pare food to nourish our bodies.  Obviously this can’t be said about guns.  Nor can guns be used to hit a two-run grounder to center field, tow our cars, or control our asthma like baseball bats, chains and prescription drugs can.    Unlike guns, knives can benefit mankind.

paring knife

If James Holmes, the mass murderer in Aurora, Colorado, intended to kill more than one person at the Century 16 movie complex before being stopped, he would not use any other item than the ones he chose.  The ability to kill so many people rapidly is the advantage a shooter has over someone who wields a knife, club, chain, etc.   In using these less lethal tools he would have likely been overcome by others in the theater before he could do any serious harm to more than one or two people.

Sane gun control is not about preventing murder.  It’s about giving potential victims an opportunity to evade their attacker.  It’s about reducing the numbers killed when killing is the aim of an individual.   Sane, sensible gun control is not about removing existing guns or even about eliminating their possession from law-abiding citizens.  And lastly sane gun control is not simply about removing lethal weapons.

Any proposal that legislators, law enforcement officials and ordinary citizens put forth to reduce the incidences of mass murder this nation has seen an increase in over the last 30 years needs to be a three-pronged endeavor.

 1. Remove most assault style weapons and extended magazines from the public domain

Advocates of the second amendment have won their right to possess a firearm as a means of feeling secure in their home.  This is now codified in our law following the Supreme Court ruling in 2008, District of Columbia v. HellerBut owning an arsenal of assault style weapons isn’t inherent in this right.  This is implied in conservative justice Anton Scalia’s remarks when he gave the majority comment in this case.  “The Second Amendment right is not a right to keep and carry any weapon in any manner and for any purpose.”

 2. Adequately fund mental health services

People who have mental health issues are not mass murderers but those shooters who engage in mass killings do have serious mental health issues.  Without stigmatizing the mental health community in this country we need to have an intense effort to assess those who suffer from depression, schizophrenia, paranoia and other related issues that can lead someone over the edge and kill innocent people.  Rather than cutting funding for mental health we need to make resources available that can address this serious issue.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) “one in 17 people in America lives with a serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder and about one in 10 children live with a serious mental disorder.”

In recent years, the worst recession in the U.S. since the Great Depression has dramatically impacted an already inadequate public mental health system. From 2009 to 2011, massive cuts to non-Medicaid state mental health spending totaled nearly $1.6 billion dollars. And, deeper cuts are projected in 2011 and 2012. States have cut vital services for tens of thousands of youth and adults living with the most serious mental illness. These services include community and hospital based psychiatric care, housing and access to medications.    SOURCE 

3. Reduce the culture of violence in this country

Why is it that the “United States has far higher rates of firearm deaths firearm homicides, firearm suicides, and unintentional firearm deaths compared with other high-income countries?”  Might it have something to do with how we as a culture perceive dealing with our demons and misfortunes.  In a society that profits tremendously from violent movies and video games along with vigilante attitudes that have a low tolerance for allowing the legal system to correct injustices, are not our children more prone to grow up feeling that swift action at the end of a gun is an easy option to choose from?  Other factors that play in here are childhood bullying and religious fanatics who are ill-suited to accommodate the legal system where they feel their religious dictates are challenged.

hollywood herosConsider too the imagery of the video and Hollywood hero standing with legs separated and braced as he holds a powerful automatic weapon and blows off rounds at his imaginary evil enemy, all done in slow motion with empty shells flying out of his weapon and piling up at his feet.  Is this how mass killers envision their slaughter of innocent school children and mall shoppers?  video gun violence

There is no single factor that leads to the horror of a mass killing.  And each aspect needs serious study to find solutions.  When knives, chains, bats and bricks become the destructive force that firearms are today in such heinous crimes, then maybe the conversation will only address mental health issues and our culture of violence.  But for now it also requires taking on the gun industry and the 2nd amendment zealots at the NRA and elsewhere.  We can honor that perception of the 2nd amendment regarding personal ownership of a weapon without buying into the fear that unless we are armed to the teeth we risk being suppressed by a savage dictator.

We are not a country that has a history of instability and ruled by iron fisted autocrats like Germany and Russia following WWI or Cambodia in 1960’s who experienced the brutality of Pol Pot. Unlike the U.S. that has had a stable democracy for over 200 years – with only the 4 year period of the Civil war breaking from this pattern – these countries were never fully cognizant of or had any real experience of personal freedom as we have had since our inception in the late 18th century.   We are grounded in a long tradition of laws that govern human freedom along with having real-life experiences, making us much less susceptible to interlopers who would take it away.

We are however susceptible to the fear and suspicion that accompanies protestations from extremist who fail to see sane gun control measures as anything other than a paranoid attempt to “take our guns away”.  We need to step back from the hysteria generated by the zealots and take in the reality that makes it easy for a single person to kill innocent and defenseless children in a matter of seconds.

Each of us must ask ourselves following the tragic mass killings at Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut, “what if it were our child, brother, sister, mom or dad that died from the last bullet in a magazine that held 30 rounds instead of 10, from an assault weapon bought at a gun show that didn’t require a background check?”  Whose rights are really being violated here?



Guns and Knives: A Tale of Two Tragedies

15 responses to “Gun Control: Deconstructing the “People Kill People” Argument

  1. Nicely said. And if those who would resist a ban on high capacity magazines claim that small capacity magazines can be changed quickly, I would ban all magazines. Guns can have built in magazines that must be loaded on cartridge at a time (tubular or in place magazines) they do not have to be removable.

    • That’s not a bad idea Stephen. I’ve heard other suggestions too like let them buy any gun they want but have those purchasers buy liability insurance and increase taxes on bullets.

  2. well done indeed, but you will never convince the rabid 2nd amendment folks because they have a very different agenda. They intent to have a revolution and they can’t wait.

    • Thanks Ron. My goal following the election was to focus on climate change issues but after the massacre at Newtown, Conn I felt compelled to stay with this concern.

  3. I have been following your blog and wish to engage you in intelligent debate.

    Guns kill more people quicker and easier

    You site knife regulations as an argument for regulation of firearms. Are you able to provide any data that suggests these regulations prevented injury or death?

    James Holmes

    James Holmes legally obtained all of his weapons yet you state that “sane gun control” would have allowed the victims more opportunity to evade the attacker. If Mr. Holmes obeyed the law while acquiring the weapons that he used, how will additional laws prevent a recurrence?

    1. Remove most assault style weapons and extended magazines from the public domain
    a. What constitutes an “assault style” weapon? How are weapons that fit into this category more lethal than those that do not?
    b. What constitutes an extended magazine?
    2. I have no disagreement here.
    3. Reduce the culture of violence in this country
    You asked “Why is it that the ‘United States has far higher rates of firearm deaths firearm homicides, firearm suicides, and unintentional firearm deaths compared with other high-income countries?’” Well, why do most shark attacks happen in the ocean? That’s where the sharks are. The United States ranks first in the world for civilian gun ownership. (
    Guns are used because they are available. The page you linked states that the US overall suicide rate is 30% lower than the other countries included. So whichever countries they may happen to be, inhabitants there are committing suicide at a rate 30% higher than the U.S., they just don’t have guns handy.

    As for homicide by firearm, the page states “the United Sates is an outlier in terms of our overall homicide rate.” Not knowing the countries or their overall homicide rates limits the conclusions that can be made.

    I do think it is relevant to note that while the U.S. ranks 1st in the world for civilian gun ownership (88.8 firearms per 100 people) it is 28th in the world for homicide by firearm (2.97 per 100,000)* and 104th for overall homicide (4.80 per 100,000)#.


    • ”You site knife regulations as an argument for regulation of firearms. Are you able to provide any data that suggests these regulations prevented injury or death?

      Why would I bother to do that? You seem to have missed the point. My knife comments simply showed that at the time that dangerous knives appeared to be a threat to the public – in the 50’s when there were gangs using them – the public asked for and got some measure of regulation on things like switch blades and other long knives. When’s the last time you heard about a death with a switch blade or any other knife compared to a gun death? Little to none I suspect.

      The other point which seems to have gone over your head is not that other things can be used to kill people but that they simply were not designed primarily designed to kill people, as guns are. Mine isn’t an argument about preventing society from killing each other and I said as much in my post. It’s the ability for some people to kill more people easier than they can with knives, bats, chains, etc. and to make serious efforts to prevent that.

      Would you disagree with that?

      ”James Holmes legally obtained all of his weapons yet you state that “sane gun control” would have allowed the victims more opportunity to evade the attacker.”

      Again you’ve totally misconstrued my argument. It isn’t that Holmes’ victims were unable to easily escape him while he had the guns he did. But had he been prevented from obtaining any guns or fewer of them with smaller reload magazine capacities he would have had a harder time killing as many as he did. And had he come in with a butcher knife in both hands and started slashing away at everyone do you honestly think the carnage would have been as bad?

      Are you aware that there was a similar attack on school children in China just one day before the incident at Newtown? But in that attack the assailant was wielding a knife not a gun.
      “Just as brutal and as nonsensical as the murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the incident in Henan Province, China had an outcome that victim’s families now mourning in Connecticut are only wishing they could share.

      The sliver but potent aspect of good news? As of Saturday morning, none of those 22 children attacked in China had died from their injuries.” SOURCE

      ”If Mr. Holmes obeyed the law while acquiring the weapons that he used, how will additional laws prevent a recurrence?”

      Your comment here raises two points. 1st, the belief that everyone who legally purchases a gun is a law abiding citizens. I suppose Holmes was by some standard at the time. But what was hidden from the gun seller, which speaks to our weak system of dealing with mental illness, was the fact that Holmes was arming himself NOT to defend himself against people who would take his freedom away or invade his home, but that he was going to play out some sick fantasy on innocent people in a place where they had a right to feel safe.

      Secondly, It appears that Holmes was under the care of a psychiatrist where he allegedly threatened to kill people Had our system been set up better where authorities had this information it might have been caught on a back ground check and Holmes may never have entered that Aurora theater that night with weapons of mass destruction.

      As for the rest of your questions Eric, do us both a favor and type in “gun control” in my search engine box on this page. I have written numerous articles on this topic and I think you will likely find that I have addressed most of your concerns. If not then please feel free to come back and we can have a conversation on them. All I ask is that you read them closely and carefully to make sure you understand the full premise of what my posts are based on.

      It’s clear you don’t think taking some deadly weapons out of the hands of anyone will result in lowering violent gun deaths. And I would agree that that by itself won’t sufficiently do the job alone. But it must be part of a bigger effort along with addressing mental health issues in this country and addressing our culture of violence problem which entails ameliorating the need to portray bad asses with massive firepower as some kind of “awesome dude” along with teaching a lot of our male children that women are not inferior to them and are not objects they can abuse.

      Until later

  4. You unwittingly just made the argument for the other side. This is what a lack of critical thinking does. Yours is, in fact, the straw man argument. A mentally unstable person could easily drive a car through a crowd of children on the street at 50 to 70 mph and kill more children more quickly, and cause more devastation, than someone could ever do with a gun. Guns are far from being a one shot, one kill weapon. Sorry, but you just lost the debate.

    • Sorry Jimmy. You’re not even in the debate.

      The argument isn’t that murders and violent crimes will end with sensible gun control measures. The argument is eliminating the tool designed solely for killing people quickly and easily to reduce the numbers of killings in one sitting.

      Your scenario of driving a car through a crowd of children on the street at 50 to 70 mph would kill more children more quickly may or may not be a reality that could occur but the automobile wasn’t designed solely for killing. In fact, in the event that such a horrible scenario like yours did occur, the lives of many of those children would rely on some form of automobile to get them to medical emergency services facility quickly.

      You’re looking at this from one side of the argument and appear to want to defend any and all gun ownership despite the rational need to eliminate some weapons made too easily available to those who shouldn’t own them.

      Try again if you like. I can argue this with you all day long. But before you do write in “gun control” and “NRA” in my search engine and see what I have already written on the subject matter so I won’t have to repeat myself.

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