The Case for Gun Control

The July 20th theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado and last Sunday’s shooting at a Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin has put the issue of gun control back in the news. The fact that the shooters in both cases used legally purchased guns strongly suggests it would be a good idea to change gun laws. But pro-gun activists argue that the problem is not guns but murderous people.

On the surface, it makes sense. Guns are only tools. If someone wants to kill someone, there are lots of other ways. If we could only mitigate the motivation to kill, we wouldn’t need to be concerned about guns. Some have even gone so far as cite the fact that Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, managed to murder 168 people and injure 800 more without using a single gun, suggesting that people bent on murder will conjure other means if guns are unavailable.

Others argue that there is no consistent correlation between the rate of gun ownership and rates of violent crime across societies. One of the more powerful arguments of this sort was made in Bowling for Columbine. Remember that movie? In it, Michael Moore suggests that violence is a cultural problem. He offered the example of Canada where gun ownership is far higher per capita than in the U.S. but that has much lower rates of violent crime to make his case.

If you buy that argument as I do then gun control isn’t a cure for violent crime.

Yet, in spite of these arguments, I remain a gun control advocate. I think hand guns should be banned. I’m not just talking about waiting periods and screening. I mean totally banned. Same for assault weapons.

Here’s why.

First of all, if, as many have argued, the problem is not guns but a culture in which too many people want to use them to do harm to others, the case for gun control is that much stronger. If we are violence prone, we should limit access to tools specifically designed to accomplish violence, especially those that allow violent people to act quickly, even repeatedly, and from a distance, making it more possible for a murderer to act with impunity.

Secondly, most murder is not of the sort recently committed by Timothy McVeigh, nor the shooters in Aurora and Oak Creek. While sensationalist media focuses mainly on murder cases involving famous people who fall prey to murderous plots, or bizarre murders committed by aberrant individuals or groups who plot and plan their crimes, most murder is, in fact, an impulsive act of passion.  And while our retributive criminal justice system likes to paint those murderers as heartless, soulless monsters, most who commit murder are pretty ordinary people.  So ordinary, in fact, that they’re usually remorseful. They wish they could take it back.

So where violence is concerned, the better-safe-than-sorry code of conduct should be founded on the principle that every confrontation will rise to the level of violence possible no matter who is involved. If there’s a gun present, it will be used. Take the gun out of the equation and the possibility of a shooting is eliminated. That piss you off? Punch me. Go ahead. Just don’t shoot me.

Finally, I’ll offer this. I used to train people to work on a suicide hotline. Part of my training rap involved talking about relative rates of suicide among men and women. Men, I informed volunteers, commit suicide more often than women. Why? Not because they try more often than women. It’s because they use guns more often.

Suicide, like murder, is usually an impulsive act. Guns make that impulse a whole lot deadlier. When it comes to killing, it’s exactly the right tool for the job. So just as I would offer trainees the advice that in homes where someone is often depressed or suicidal they should probably not have a gun around, my advice for managing violence in a violence prone society is to make rules so that fewer people have guns.

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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

2 replies on “The Case for Gun Control”

Here’s the problem with that. All logic should be consistent. So if you take your logic for enacting a complete ban on handguns and apply it to cars you would therefore ban those. How about baseball bats? Those are actually the most commonly used violent weapons. Should we ban those? I could go on and on… One more point…look at the hundreds of cases where a shooting COULD have become serious and resulted in casualities but someone there had a legally registered weapon and repelled the attackers. There were two cases in the news recently (both very elderly people, one a man and one a women) who singlehandedly repelled multiple armed attackers simply by having and being trained in the use of a weapon. Look at the cases of both of these shootings. We do not know they could have been stopped if someone there had a weapon but they certainly could have been. In Aurora for example though, they have extremely stringent gun control laws (so much that they are in court with the state of CO for them) and so no one in that theater could have had a gun…no one except the bad guy of course….

Well stated. I’ve taught in some of the most violent areas in my city(Richmond, VA) and can say first hand that it is easier for a 12 year old to get a gun than to get fresh produce. They lurk on every corner and back alley and the residents of these neighborhoods know it. I firmly believe violence begets violence. The accessibility of guns is a major problem. Thank-you for shedding light on a subject that hits close to home for me. I’ve lost friends and loved ones both to murder and suicide and the availability of guns was a primary reason.

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