Stalemate in the Gun Debate, 140 Characters at a Time


It all started with a tweet:

The link is to an article detailing that 90 percent of all guns used in crimes in New York City come from outside the city.  This is largely due to strict gun laws in the city that make it difficult for criminals to legally purchase guns there.  So, guns are brought in from states with looser laws, largely through straw purchasers, buyers able to pass a background check who then transport the guns to New York (or other areas with strict gun regulations) and sell them to people who would not pass a background check.  The results of the study seem pretty clear: strict gun laws are effective in making it difficult for criminals to purchase guns.  If similar laws were passed nationwide, even the straw purchases that bring guns into cities would be limited.

Now, as far as tweeters go, I’m a tiny fish in a great big ocean.  I have fewer than 70 followers (and most of those are probably fake), so most of what I tweet goes largely unnoticed.  But, somehow, this one drew a bit of attention.

I soon received a response from a tweeter named War Kitten Cracka, who somehow saw my tweet and felt compelled to educate me:

I thought that perhaps Mr. Cracka (or is it Mr. Kitten Cracka?) did not read the linked article, or somehow missed the point it made.  So, I responded:

He quickly replied:

Now I was beginning to see what I was dealing with.  This shows that he wasn’t getting the point that the article was making.  Yes, criminals can go get guns on the street corner.  The point of the article was that the guns that ended up on the street corner (and then in the hands of our hypothetical criminal) came from somewhere other than New York City.  And it is precisely because of the strict gun laws in the city that those guns have to come from elsewhere.  Making these regulations universal throughout the country would make it just as difficult for criminals to purchase a gun in Virginia (or any of the other states mentioned in the article) as it is in New York, and would therefore help limit the availability of guns available in the city to anyone who could not pass a background check.  And, though this would not eliminate all illegal guns in the city, it could drastically reduce their number.

Of course, all of that wouldn’t fit into a single tweet.  So, I shortened my argument a bit:

Mr. Cracka replied with a string of tweets that came faster than I could answer them.  But, they deserve individual attention, because each raises an interesting point that should be addressed and debunked.  First, there were these:

This line of argument is similar to the NRA talking point that “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  The implication here is that a criminal is intent on committing a crime with a gun, but because loose gun laws in Virginia mean that it is possible that people there could be armed, he instead goes back to New York, where tyrannical gun laws have left the people defenseless.

I replied:

I think Mr. Cracka (and the handful of other tweeters who had by now joined the debate) picture a guy in New York City so determined to commit a crime with a gun that he drives hundreds of miles to Virginia, finds a private seller (or illegal seller) to buy a gun from, and then drives six hours or more back to New York city to commit his crime.  That is not the problem the article is addressing.  What is happening is that someone is legally buying lots of guns in Virginia, then taking them to New York and selling them (likely at a profit) to people there that cannot pass a background check and would not otherwise be able to purchase a gun.

A response from another tweeter, this one named Azz Hoe Cracka (perhaps a relative of War Kitten Cracka?) shows that these gun advocates did not understand either the article or my defense of it:

To clarify, legal guns are not the issue.  No one, anywhere, said anything about legal gun purchases.  The article, and all of my tweets, were specifically about guns bought illegally or through straw purchases that should be illegal.  However, this has been a common cause for confusion.  I have often been told that because gun dealers require background checks or because guns cannot legally be sold across state lines that there is no more need for new legislation.  But, the entire point is that guns are too easily obtained illegally, and therefore legislation is needed to prevent this.  As it stands now, private sales in most states do not require background checks and nothing prevents straw purchases.  These are what must be addressed.  Legal gun sales are not the problem.

The response from the first Mr. Cracka showed both a lack of basic understanding of criminal causation and a healthy dose of condescension.

So, for gun advocates the only thing that causes crime is an unarmed populace.  If only everyone had a gun, no one would commit crimes.  Things like racial and economic oppression, underfunded schools, police profiling, a failed war on drugs, or any of dozens of other factors have nothing to do with it.  It’s all about guns.  Got it.

Moving on, my earlier tweet had provoked a second line of debate:

This was another revealing response, because it brings up two separate issues.  First, he suggests that regulations limiting criminal access to guns would somehow make them unavailable to law-abiding citizens.  He then implies that law-abiding citizens somehow need an incentive not to become criminals, as if the only thing between a person and a life of crime is his ability to get a gun easily.  Though this second issue is interesting (and by that, I mean “ridiculous”), I responded to his first point:

This thread was later abandoned by Mr. Cracka, who chose to follow a different argument (though not before perpetuating the meme that putting more people in jail is the solution), but it did eventually draw a response from a new debater named BFD, which his Twitter handle reveals stands for “Big Fat Dave.”  Mr. Fat Dave and I engaged in a debate that I will get to in just a moment, but his response here deserves mention:

Not to generalize, but this is a common line of attack from pro-gun folks.  First, call the opponent a child.  This implies that I am naive and uninformed, which are the only possibly explanations for why I might want to keep guns away from people who are using them to kill other people.  Second, call me “she.”  This furthers the stereotype of gun advocates as masculine tough guys and gun opponents as feminine and weak.  These are both flawed and highly offensive arguments, but unfortunately not uncommon.

Before we get to the rest of my interaction with Mr. Fat Dave, let’s look at one last back-and-forth with Mr. Cracka:

This again perpetuates the myth that the only thing that can stop criminals is an army of well-armed private citizens.  Passing gun regulations (which would do absolutely nothing to limit gun ownership by law-abiding people) would somehow leave criminals free to commit their crimes unimpeded.  This is consistently the most often repeated argument against gun control, but it is among the most flawed.  Background checks, laws against straw purchases and trafficking, and even registration (which we’ll get to in a moment) would in no way keep gun owners from legally purchasing their guns.

Along with the illusion of a citizenry stripped of its weapons is the dual fantasy that no one is safe from imminent attack and that these gunslingers can somehow successfully thwart any attack through the miracle of gun ownership.  This fantasy persists despite evidence that the crime rate has been falling consistently for two decades, guns are rarely used in self-defense (fewer than 50,000 times a year, rather than the NRA-endorsed number of more than two million times annually), and that guns are far more often used for intimidation than self-defense.

Gun advocates do generally accept that the crime rate has fallen, but they argue that it is because so many people have guns that fewer crimes are being committed:


And, if I’ve learned anything in my time researching this issue, it’s that you can always trust a graph that doesn’t bother to spell “Germany” correctly.  But, it’s also important to note that “crime” is not defined in any way specifying a violent crime where a gun would be an effective means of self-defense.

However, this graph is actually a good demonstration of one of the biggest problems in the gun debate.  Anti-gun folks like me can point to various causes for a 20-year decrease in the American crime rate that mean guns are less and less necessary for self-defense.  But, gun advocates can point to the same crime rate drop and attribute it directly to the increased number of guns owned by our citizens.  Both sides can be completely convinced that their reasoning is correct, and both can be completely impervious to any argument.

Now, let’s get back to Mr. Fat Dave.  After my last dialogue with Mr. Cracka, Big Fat Dave jumped back into the debate with this:

In retrospect, I’m surprised that it took this long for someone to invoke the hallowed Second Amendment.  But, the question raised is valid, to a point.  Yes, the Supreme Court has determined that the “right to bear arms” does extend to private gun ownership.  However, they have also determined that regulations on ownership are constitutional and do not amount to “infringement.”  This second point is largely lost on gun advocates who like to interpret the Second Amendment to mean that no gun regulations of any kind should be allowed.

My argument was that these kind of laws already exist, but should be expanded to cover the entire country:

…which drew this response from another Tweeter, known simply as Doug:

This is another fallacy.  Many gun advocates argue that gun laws are universally strict, which is not the case.  Recent laws in Maryland, Connecticut, Colorado and New York, along with older laws in California, are far more strict than federal gun laws.  Additionally, individual cities often make their own regulations that far exceed those of the nation as a whole.

I brought this to Doug’s attention:

And, he replied:

Doug is committing the same error as Azz Hoe Cracka.  Again, the issue is not legally purchased guns, but those purchased illegally or without a background check.  But, changing the terms of the debate allows pro-gun folks to imagine that enough laws are already in place.  I responded:

But, Big Fat Dave was quick to jump back in the debate, bringing us closer to the heart of the issue:

The “not my problem, not my punishment” part is noteworthy, because it exemplifies another big argument.  Why should a gun owner who is not shooting people have to be responsible for those that are?  My answer is simply, “Because that’s the way it has to be.”  People are getting shot, and in order to help stop it, gun owners may have to jump through a few hoops.  These hoops won’t keep them from their guns, but they will keep people from getting killed.  But, Mr. Fat Dave was also questioning my earlier tweet:

NICS is the National Instant Background Check System, the method used by licensed gun dealers to determine whether a potential buyer is legally allowed to purchase a firearm.  This process, by law, can take no longer than three days, but because many of these background checks are now done online, it can take as little as a few minutes.  So, to be clear, having to wait a few minutes (or even a few days) is a huge infringement on Mr. Fat Dave’s constitutional right to be armed to the teeth.

I responded:

This is a question that I have long pondered.  Why do gun-owners, who would presumably pass a background check, object so strenuously to their use?  Luckily, Mr. Fat Dave had an answer:

Though I’m not entirely sure who “great white father” is, apparently Big Fat Dave believes he is keeping him from exercising a “fundamental human right.”  Here we have yet another logical stretch.  Yes, the “right to bear arms” found in the Bill of Rights has been interpreted by the courts to extend to private citizens owning guns.  But a legal right and a “fundamental human right” are far from the same thing.  Fundamental human rights generally refer to things like equality, freedom from slavery, torture or oppression, freedom of speech and religion, or even the right to due process.  Even if it were argued that guns were necessary to protect these rights (which is debatable), that does not mean that unregulated ownership of firearms is itself a “fundamental human right.”

But, Big Fat Dave wasn’t done:

I would contend that adding “an errand” is certainly not “obviously/non-arguably infringement.”  And, I did:

This brought my single favorite response of the entire debate.  A new Tweeter, TL671, a self-described Super Genius, said this:

First, claims of Super Geniuses aside, there is no proof that Martin Luther King Jr. ever said these words.  They have been largely attributed to him, but there is no record of them in any of his writings or speeches.  He did say, “justice too long delayed is justice denied” in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail (though he himself was quoting Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren), but that does not have the same meaning as the quote used by TL671.

But, let’s assume for a moment that he did say, “A right delayed is a right denied.”  Is it at all reasonable to believe that the most famous and vocal advocate of non-violence in American history would have been in favor of eliminating all restrictions on gun ownership?  Of course not.

Still, it’s a catchy quote.  It’s just too bad for the gun folks that it’s a fabrication.

Coming down the homestretch, Doug and Big Fat Dave teamed up to grill me on the effectiveness of background checks and we found ourselves back on the issue of gun registration (I told you we’d get to it eventually):

Since Mr. Fat Dave was apparently getting impatient, I replied:

This quickly brought the debate to a close:

After all the back and forth, the issue of gun registration is somehow a “non-starter.”  This is another part of the pro-gun argument that has long puzzled me.  We register our cars, our software, our gadgets and appliances, we give our personal information to our employers and to social networks, yet under no circumstances should anyone know who owns any of the estimated 300 million guns in this country.  Why would any legal gun owners have any objections to registration?  There is only one answer: the fear of confiscation.  Though no gun proposal has even hinted at such a thing, it is a common belief that the government is “coming for their guns.”  So, even though registration would help track guns used in crimes, limit illegal sales and purchases, and punish lawbreakers, an imagined fear has made even the thought of it enough to send gun folks running for the hills.

But, Doug wanted to let me know that he’s not paranoid, so he sent this final message:

The linked article describes an incident in Canada where flooding caused people to evacuate their homes.  Police then searched the evacuated area for victims or survivors of the flooding.  As they entered people’s homes, they confiscated any firearms that were left unsecured or out in the open to prevent them from “falling into the wrong hands.”  The police announced plans to return all seized guns to their owners.

Got that?  In a country with an entirely different legal system, unsecured weapons were taken by the police for safekeeping when homes were evacuated, with plans to return them to their owners as soon as possible.  Don’t you see how that means that the government wants to use registration to confiscate all the guns in America?  Don’t you see?  I called it “confiscation paranoia,” but I probably should have used a stronger word.

So, after all these tweets (and many, many more that I didn’t include) where are we?  Has any progress been made in the gun debate by either side?  Have I convinced them to lay down their guns (or at least to register them)?  Have they convinced me to take up arms to protect myself from a tyrannical government?  The answer to all these questions is no.  Not one mind has been changed.  No progress has been made.  We are no closer to solving the problem of American gun violence.  If anything, my opponents and I are each more firmly entrenched on our side of the debate.  Just as I spent thousands of words debunking their arguments, they could surely do the same to mine, handpicking data to back their arguments.

I’m no expert.  I’m just a guy who wants people to stop getting shot and killed.  And War Kitten Cracka, Big Fat Dave, Azz Hoe Cracka, Doug, and TL671 are just people who want to own as many guns as they can without any possible interference or inconvenience from the government.  It’s just a matter of priorities and ours are clearly in different places.  And the more we debate, the further apart we get.

So, it’s a stalemate.  We’re no closer to a solution, so thousands of Americans will continue to die each year.  Families will mourn, protesters will march, politicians will give speeches, and the debate will continue, going nowhere.  As long as guns and a dubious “right to bear arms” matter more than actual human lives, those lives will continue to end.  And, that is a tragedy.


Since writing this post, it appears that War Kitten Cracka’s Twitter account has been suspended, and Azz Hoe Cracka has changed his name to MustachioedPistachio.

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