I'm torn on the issue of gun control, but there are some unequivocally bad arguments on each side. We need to filter these arguments out from the get-go if we're ever going to make any progress in figuring this out.
One bad argument, which I'll call the Better Off Unarmed argument, is used in several different ways by those advocating gun control (e.g. it's used as an objection to the argument that law-abiding citizens with concealed firearms can help stop mass murders like the Colorado Batman shooting). The BOU argument goes roughly like this:
Consider a hypothetical mass shooting/mass murder. Suppose one or more of the potential victims was/were armed. Now, without training, and in the heat of the moment, these people, and their firearms, are likely to be ineffective against the murderer, likely to have their guns taken away from them, likely to shoot innocent people, perhaps even each other. So armed response to mass shooters won't work. So...etc.*
This is a bad argument. An armed citizen responding in such a case will simply not
, on average, accidentally injure or kill nearly as many people as an armed murderer who is intentionally trying to kill people. [See EDIT below!!!] But the BOU argument only works if you think that such a citizen will
injure or kill more people. Sadly, in such debates we must grant that harm will occur, and we can only ask which option is likely to minimize it. Consequently, advocates of BOU are committed to the following position: suppose you are in a position to make a decision for a roomful of people who are about to be attacked by a maniacal mass murderer. You can choose for one of the potential victims to have a concealed weapon, or you can choose for everyone in the room to be unarmed. Advocates of BOU are committed to the claim that you should opt to leave the victims entirely unarmed. Arming them decreases their chance of survival. That, of course, is madness.
Note also that, if it were that easy to take guns away from shooters, we'd expect that more such shooters would have their guns taken away by their victims. Advocates of the BOU argument are committed, inconsistently, to a view according to which guns, in the hands of criminals, are terribly effective; when in the hands of those resisting such criminals, however, they are utterly ineffective and, in fact, counterproductive.
Needless to say, this doesn't settle the issue. But banishing the BOU argument from rational discussions would be a step in the right direction.
As Spencer notes, I didn't say what I meant/should have said. We need to compare:
(Attempted) mass murders in which there is no armed response by citizens
(Attempted) mass murders in which there is an armed response by citizens
What I meant to say above is that, on average, there will be fewer innocent deaths and injuries in the latter kind of case than in the former kind. What I actually wrote was egregiously imprecise and totally different.
I am hanging my head in shame.]
* One place this argument shows up is in an unutterably terrible and intellectually dishonest episode of 20/20, in which Diane Sawyer sets up an experiment to prove the relevant claim above. A few college kids are put in an absolute worst-case scenario, with paint guns shoved into their waistbands. They aren't informed that a police firearms instructor is about to barge into the room, knowing exactly where the "armed" student is sitting. Needless to say, the firearms instructor is able to best the student almost every time. The one time a student does shoot him, it's dismissed because she "only" hit him near his femoral artery... Another time, a result they don't like is dismissed because one of the students almost shot another student, who had been specifically instructed to run across his field of fire... It was a shameful bit of pseudo-science...
(An earlier post on that program