In gun control debate, let’s agree to facts, then draw lines

From: Tom Lane


We find ourselves in another gun debate that sounds just like the all the rest. How do we change the conversation? I came up with a different approach, so here goes. Let’s start with some common ground and facts. I hope we all can agree that too many people are being killed. And I think most would recognize that we have a Constitution that guarantees private ownership of “arms”.

That said, we do have a line drawn of what kind of “arms” we can own privately. The line is between the AR-15 and full machine guns, hand grenades, rockets, etc. The AR-15 and less destructive are legal, and machine guns and more destructive are not legal. This is a simple fact. How did we decide to draw the line there? Why not at a single shot .22 or at the level of nuclear weapons? The line is arbitrary and subjective. Hope we all can see this the same so far.

Look at the larger world picture around the same issue of destructive weapons. After World War II, we, the US, and others developed nuclear weapons and then put them on the top of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICMB). These were very dangerous weapons, and I think some people back then said, “How do we prevent a bad country from using these weapons?” And the collective geniuses at the time said, “we need to give good countries ICBMs to hold the bad countries in check.” That is how we made the world a very unsafe place by creating “nuclear proliferation”. Now we have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over. And Vladimir Putin of Russia has threatened to do that if attacked, and who knows where the North Korean leader is going.

Some people have been trying to ratchet down all this killing power from individuals to nations. We don’t seem very good at that. But rather than broad rhetoric and endless self-righteous finger-pointing, we need to just ask, “where do we draw the line, and why”? How much power of destruction do we give to anyone or any country? What are acceptable losses to us? Then we need to defend our answer.

I don’t think anyone started down this path as the “good guys” or the “bad guys”. Now, it seems that is all we see, when it is only a question of where do we draw the line of acceptable loss.