Overstating the Case and the Sandy Hook Massacre

A graphic that shows one way to overstate an argument -- go ahead, try to buy a machine gun and see how far you get.

I’ve had a strong impulse these past few days to add my two cents on the Sandy Hook massacre and the subject of our gun culture that allows easy access to the mentally unstable, criminals, drunks, angry spouses, terrorists and more. Most that have written seem to focus on whether this horror could have been avoided.

Since I’m not a “me too” kind of blogger, I hesitated.

But in reading some of the arguments, one thing jumped out at me that I see through the eyes of someone trained to persuade: Many of those making arguments vastly overstated their case. And when you overstate your case, as any lawyer that’s argued in the well of the courtroom knows, you destroy your credibility with respect to other arguments.

So let’s take two sample arguments related to Sandy Hook and gun control. First, there is the magnificent stupidity of Megen McArdle writing at the Daily Beast. She argues, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, that there’s little we can do to present a future massacre. Given that no other industrialized nation in the world has as many guns and as many gun deaths, this is clearly false.

In 2008, for example, we had over 12,000 gun deaths while Japan had 11. We obviously can do something; the question is whether we choose to do so. The more regulation we have over firearms and their owners, the more difficult it is for homicides of passion, mental instability, or money to take place.  Fewer guns = fewer gun deaths.

McArdle makes the vapid argument — made by others I might add — that laws won’t stop all gun deaths.  She writes, “it’s unlikely that 100% of potential spree killers would be identified before they picked up a gun.” No kidding.

But that ignores the societal benefits of reducing the number by 25%, by 50%, by 75%. Laws will never stop all crimes, but they can reduce them, and thereby reduce the number of innocent deaths each year.

Here’s a clue to listening to an argument: When someone makes claims for all or nothing positions, they are usually building strawmen to easily knock down. Even if she had a legitimate point to make somewhere, her credibility is shot.

But after going through various excuses on why this massacre couldn’t have been stopped — and ignoring the 10,000+ others each year — she let’s loose with this imbecility, that will likely haunt her for years to come:

I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

I find my self continually amazed at those that think the answer to the gun problem is figuring out how to take down the guy after it’s already started, instead of making it difficult for him to get started in the first place.

Now on to the other side. See that graphic on this page, showing the stupidity of laws that make machine guns legal while certain French cheeses are illegal? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Machine guns aren’t the problem because access to them is so highly restricted.

Whoever created it effectively changed the subject away from the point sought to be made. Some machine guns apparently can be possessed, as you can see from this place in Utah,  that advertises you can shoot them on their range:

Many guns are available to rent at Doug’s. If you want to try out a handgun, a 22 rifle or a machine gun we can make it happen. Regular firearms are
$10 for the first gun and $6 per gun thereafter. Machine guns are $20 and include assistance in the range from one of our staff.

But it is pretty clear that they are not widely available because they are severely restricted if not outright outlawed in the state. Good regulations, you see, prevent widespread abuse.  (This is actually a fair argument for the pro-control crowd.)

With 20 small caskets going into the ground along with teachers, gun control advocates don’t need to overstate the case. They only need to set forth the facts — including the vast numbers of annual gun deaths in the U.S. — because the facts are horrible.

If you want to persuade, don’t overstate. Don’t sacrifice your credibility, for if you do, the rest of your arguments won’t be persuasive. They won’t be persuasive because you’ve lost the audience.

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