You'll often hear it said that guns don't kill people; people kill people—and in the absence of access to firearms, criminals and killers will simply switch to other tools to get the job done.
Yes, people are ultimately responsible for the homicides they commit, but guns make it much easier for them to kill people to a degree that other weapons simply don't compare to. Even if we granted that the gun user was the problem, this would still be an argument in favor of restricting certain people from having guns. The absurdity of this "guns don't kill people" argument is made clear when you substitute guns for much more powerful weaponry.
It wouldn't make sense to ban every single object that could potentially be used as a weapon because these other things have beneficial primary functions and real-world utility separate from killing people, whereas that's precisely what guns are designed for.
True, mass killings and homicides could be committed by other means, but for a variety of reasons, it's much more difficult to kill somebody with explosives, building fires, knives, or hammers than it is to kill them with guns. People are much more likely to die from gunshot wounds than stab wounds, and pointing to killers making the switch to knives instead of guns undermines the argument that gun control would be ineffective.
Fox News shows us a clip of a person making the case that guns don't kill people; people kill people:
Fox News host 1: "A Facebook post now going viral of a Chicago arms instructor proving the point that guns don't kill people; people kill people. Watch."
Instructor Mike: "Here you have all three loaded firearms, all three. Here we go: *stares at firearms for several seconds*
What are you waiting on? You need to get up off your freaking butt right now and you need to start killing people.
Maybe, guns in and of themselves don't kill people!"
Fox News host 2: "Hahaha! There ya have it!"
My question is, who even needs a firearm when you can buy one of those tactical flashlights that are always being advertised on Fox News? Break in here and you're gettin' some light shined in you face!
Yes, if a gun is just sitting there on a table, it's not going to kill somebody on its own—unless, of course, somebody happens to bump into that table, knock it on the ground and trigger a misfire. Your gun might not spontaneously start shooting people, but leave it on the table like that and it's only a matter of time until your toddler walks into the room and shoots you in the face with it.
You could make this same argument about other types of weapons and you see just how silly it is:
"Fully automatic weapons don't kill people; people kill people!"
"These high-grade military explosives in my kitchen aren't just going to blow themselves up!"
"If I just leave my M1 Abrams tank sitting in the driveway, it's not going to kill anybody on its own!"
"My nuclear arsenal will hurt nobody unless I push the big red button myself!"
Yes, tools require a tool user—but different tools are much more deadly than others. It would be much more difficult to kill somebody with a coffee cup or a phone charger than with a shotgun or a pistol. To pretent like all weapons are just these inert objects with no material difference is to intentionally play stupid and intentionally overlook the ease with which certain tools allow you to kill people.
I came across a YouTube comment that I think perfectly sums it up:
"Guns don't kill people, people kill people.......................more effectively with guns."
You hear a similar version of this argument made in a YouTube video by Shamelessly Jess, which accrued a whopping 21 views at the time I watched it. 21 views, wow... the only place you'll find a smaller audience than this is a John Delaney campaign event!:
"But the problem is, is that people are really out here protesting saying that we need to give up our guns, and we should ban guns, because guns kill people. But what people are failing to realize is, is that a gun, it's not just going to walk into a store, into a public place, or into a school, and just start unloading on people by itself. People are not openly recognizing that these weapons cannot be used without an operator. So who's really doing the killing here? Because I could leave my guns up against the wall and leave 'em there, and they would not move until I wanted them to. But you people do not get that. You people are trying to say that guns are the problem when in reality, it is the people behind them."
Yeah, we get it, Jess: The gun isn't literally going to sprout legs, walk across the room, and shoot somebody completely on its own... unless we're talking about the Remington T6, that is.
Commercial-narrator voice: "Introducing the Remington T6, the firearm of the future. Equipped with the latest technology, the T6 is capable of scanning its surroundings to identify and neutralize threats.
T6: 'Intruder alert! You have 10 seconds to vacate the premises.'
Child entering kitchen: 'Uhh, I live here!'
T6: '5, 4, 3...'
Child, calling to father: 'Daaaddd?'
The T6 is the homeowner's best friend and the criminal's worst nightmare. You can run from the T6—but it'll chase after you! Order now and you'll also receive a pocket Constitution and a free box of heat-seeking bullets that specifically target undocumented immigrants.
The T6: The smart-gun of the future for the moron of today."
Guns aren't the problem, she says, it's the people behind them that we need to worry about. Even if we accept that she's correct about this, wouldn't this be an argument in favor of more gun control around who can and can't possess weapons?
If the competency and sanity of the gun-owner is the key variable, why not require rigorous safety training before gun purchases are allowed? Why not have mandatory psych evaluations every 6 months or so to make sure that people are mentally fit enough to be owning a gun? Who not pass red-flag laws that allow the state to take guns away from people deemed irresponsible owners and deemed a serious threat to the people around them? Even if you grant the point she's making, you still arrive at the same conclusion: More gun control, and not less, is the answer.
She goes on to make the point that other objects can be used as weapons, so why not ban them, as well?
". . . So we should get rid of cars, right? We should just not use cars because we can use cars as a weapon, just like we use guns, right? Guns can be used as a weapon to harm people, and to kill people. But you see, you people fail to realize that you can turn literally anything into a weapon. But your focus is on guns!"
If we're going to ban guns, we should ban cars too because they also can be used as a weapon... Yeah, the thing is, cars have real utility outside of killing people. Ending lives is not what they're designed or primarily used for, despite the way some people drive on the highway; we use them to quickly move us from Point A to Point B. Even though there is a real danger of car crashes or the striking of pedestrians, cars provide us with benefits and value that we as a society have determined outweighs the harms and dangers.
Compare this against guns. Not just the primary, but the sole purpose of guns is to shoot and kill either people or other living creatures. It's not like using a gun to kill somebody is a perversion of that tool; you're not misusing a gun when you shoot somebody with it; instead, you're simply using your gun in exactly the way that it was intended for.
Conservatives will make similar arguments about other potential weapons: "I can beat somebody over the head with a hammer, so does that mean we should ban hammers?" Maybe we should ban hammers because the next time I hear an argument like this I'm probably going to use one to smash my fucking computer in half!
Again, hammers aren't designed to be a killing tool; they're primarily used for construction, for banging nails into wood. Baseball bats are mostly used in recreational sporting games. If you pull out a knife you're probably using it to prepare food or open packages or look cool and manly in front of a woman. All of these items have real utility and real value outside of hurting and killing people. Guns, on the other hand, are designed and used for one thing and one thing only: Shooting and killing things.
"Uh, that's not true! I use my gun for target practice!"
Yeah, and what are you practicing doing? Shooting people. But fine, if all you're interested in is the thrill of target practice, you can do the exact same thing with an airsoft gun or a BB gun.
"Oh, well I'm just a gun collector and enthusiast who really enjoys firearms."
Collect stamps, you fucking douchebag. Like, of all things, you choose to collect deadly weapons that you can quickly kill large numbers of people with?
"Oh, well I use my gun for hunting and food acquisition!"
Fine, you know what? If you want to get your meat from hunting, or if you live in a rural area where grocery stores are few and far between, I would be open to allowing restricted types of firearms for hunting. But let's be realistic here: None of us are living like Lewis and Clark in the 1800s; we live in a developed country in the year 2019. People, by the thousands, are not going to start starving to death if they can't go out and use a gun to actively hunt their own game.
Jess concedes that "Guns can be used as a weapon to harm people, and to kill people."
No, it's not that they can be used for that purpose; that's what they're explicitly designed for. It's not like people mainly use their guns to hammer nails into walls or mix cream into their coffee—they use them to shoot and kill things. We can debate whether such tools should be legally allowed but let's at least have an honest conversation about the utility and purpose of firearms.
She also says:
". . . you can turn literally anything into a weapon. But your focus is on guns."
Yeah, and why do you think that is? Why do you think we do focus so much on guns? Is it just a coincidence? Pure happenstance? Or does it have something to do with the unique lethality of guns?
"You can turn literally anything into a weapon," she says. Technically this is true, and if a person was determined enough, I'm sure they could find a way to kill somebody with a pencil or a shoelace or a bottle of shampoo. But arguments of this sort overlook the painfully obvious fact that certain weapons are more effective and dangerous than others. That is why we don't see an equal distribution of mass killings or general homicides committed with every conceivable tool ranging from guns, knives, hammers, cars, and bombs—all the way over to plastic bags and 12-inch dildos.
Where are all the mass killings where a person beats 15 people to death with a coffee mug? Where are the news stories of a crazed high school student who used a piece of rope to kill 12 people in a mass strangling? If you turned on the news tomorrow and learned that 20 students died in a mass killing that morning, what would you assume the weapon of choice was? Could've been anything? Maybe he used a crowbar or a broadsword? Nonsense. We all know what conclusion you would jump to—and there's a very good chance you'd be right about it.
There is a reason that killers in the United States so predictably turn to guns as their tool for the job—and that's because they're extremely effective at quickly killing people using as little effort as possible in a manner that no other tool compares to.
Our focus is on guns and not these other weapons because 2/3s of murders in America are committed using firearms. Statista.com, using FBI data, shows that in 2017, almost 11,000 Americans were murdered by firearms of any type—out of about 17,000 homicides that year. By comparison, only about 1600 were murdered by knives or other cutting instruments, 467 by blunt objects such as clubs or hammers, 103 by fire, and 0 with explosives.
There's over 20,000 gun suicides each year in this country—and there's basically no more effective way to kill yourself than to use a firearm. As Everytown Research writes in a 2019 report of theirs,
"Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, less than 5 percent will result in death. But for gun suicides, those statistics are flipped: approximately 85 percent of gun suicide attempts end in death."
I also worry a lot about accidental discharges—and I'm not just talking about my sex life here! Each year in this country, there's about 500 accidental gun deaths. Very rarely does a person slip on a banana peel and accidentally stab themselves to death with their pocket knife!
There's a unique focus on guns because they are a uniquely deadly tool designed precisely to be that way.
And couldn't we also flip this argument of theirs around on them and say, who needs guns to defend themselves when a person can use literally anything as a defensive weapon? Couldn't the conservative just use a hammer or a knife or a baseball bat to defend themselves if they were truly determined enough? The very fact that they swear by guns—and guns alone—as their go-to defensive tool is proof that they're also a uniquely effective offensive tool.
Yes, it is true that if you tried hard enough, you could probably commit a mass killing or standalone homicide using any kind of weapon or object—but even the examples of this that gun advocates point to prove the rarity of such events!
John Malcolm and Amy Swearer, for example, write the following for The Heritage Foundation:
"Some of the worst mass killings in the United States have occurred without firearms:
Before the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, the deadliest attack on the LGBT community in America occurred in 1973 when an arsonist killed 32 and injured 15 at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans."
Cool, dude, interesting example from 46 years ago when Richard Nixon was president. Meanwhile, just in the past month we've had three mass shootings in this country big enough to make nationwide and even worldwide news. There is no comparison here between guns and the occasional act of mass killing by arson. Again, 11,000 gun homicides each year vs only 100 homicides by fire each year.
But fine, you wanna go this route? Let's talk about building fires! Whether intentionally or accidentally started, throughout American history, there have been many terrible building fires that left large numbers of people dead. In the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, for example, 146 people died agonizing deaths—but the thing is, after large and deadly fires like this, we actually fucking did something about it. All kinds of new regulations and building codes were put into place—so at least these people didn't die for nothing. At least we used these terrible experiences to implement changes that ultimately made our country a safer place and prevented who knows how many additional people from dying in similar circumstances.
You can't say the same about gun violence in this country. Mass shooting after mass shooting takes place and we don't do a god-damn thing about it. People offer their thoughts and prayers on social media, Republican lawmakers block any and all efforts to pass gun control, and after doing absolutely nothing of substance, we just go back to living our lives hoping that we won't be the next unlucky victims.
When you walk into a building, the legacy of death-by-fire will be all around you: it's gonna have mandatory sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, and multiple exits—all of which will save lives in the event of a fire. People can try to kill others in an act of arson, but at least we've taken steps to minimize the loss of life in such events by passing regulations in this area. It's far past time that we do the same for guns in this country.
They also cite the Timothy McVeigh Oklahoma City bombing as another example of how mass killings can still be committed without firearms:
"In 1995, 168 people were killed and more than 600 were injured by a truck bomb parked outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma."
Yes, this was undoubtedly one of the worst mass killings and one of the worst acts of terrorism to ever strike our nation. But just to put things in perspective, 168 people die by guns in this country like every 2 days. 35,000 deaths per year / 365 days = 96 deaths per day from gun violence. 168 deaths by firearm would be a slow weekend in the United States. By comparison, in 2017, there were literally 0 homicides committed using explosives.
And the thing is, I'm all for passing restrictions and regulations that would make it more difficult to purchase large quantities of the compounds and components used in bombs—and I sure as hell don't think that people should be able to go to a bomb store to just purchase them willy nilly! I'm sure if someone's clever enough, they could figure out a way to circumvent these restrictions and put together a bomb while staying off the radar, but successfully building and detonating a large bomb is orders of magnitude more difficult than the simple act of buying a gun and shooting people with it.
It's not even a figurative use of language to say that a toddler could figure out how to use a gun; hardly a week goes by in this country where a child doesn't pick up a firearm and shoot somebody with it. Good luck having somebody that young stumble into the living room and accidentally build a fertilizer bomb like the one Timothy McVeigh used.
It takes a very large amount of research, study, trial and error and technical knowhow to build and detonate a bomb that could do real damage. By contrast, virtually any one of us right now could go to the store, purchase a gun, and shoot somebody with it. The more difficult something is to do, the fewer that will actually go through all of those steps and do it—so to act like we'd have an equal or even remotely comparable number of deaths by bombing if we banned or strictly regulated guns is pure silliness.
And there's not just the difficulty barrier that applies to explosives; there's also the absurdity barrier. Keep in mind that the steady trickle of individual gun deaths taking place in the background each year produce a far higher body count than mass killings do in this country. In the absence of easy gun access, it's very unlikely that we'd see many of those scenarios replicated with explosives.
"So, what do we have here detective?", "Typical drug deal gone wrong. This guy tried to make off with the cash, so this other guy did what gangsters do best: pulled out a stick of dynamite and blew the entire fucking house up."
"...I knew that my wife was cheating on me with her boss! I'm gonna drive over there right now, kick his door down and kill them both... with an IED that I spent the last three weeks building in my basement."
"Hey, did you guys hear about Frank, my neighbor who's been beating his girlfriend? He came home after a night of drinking and impulsively killed her with a pressure-cooker bomb!"
No, the idea that explosives would take the place of guns in even just 5% of circumstances is sheer tomfoolery straight out of a Sunday cartoon show. Same goes for other potential methods of killing like lighting a building on fire or running somebody over with your car.
I also don't understand why conservatives are even castigating the usage of bombs like this. Everybody knows that the only thing that'll stop a bad guy with a bomb is a good guy with a bomb! Easy access to explosives is not the problem; it's the people using these explosives that are at issue here. Who are you to infringe upon my right to defend myself using C4 charges because of a few bad apples? Who are you to tell me that I don't need high-grade explosives to defend my family against a burglar? How dare you put my life in jeopardy with such tyranny!
By the way, those C4 charges I just showed in the picture have a warning label that says: "WARNING: POISONOUS IF EATEN."
What kind of fucking moron would try to eat a C4 charge? One of the soldiers is like: "Dude, I'm starving right now. Let's just eat some of your explosives!"
Conservatives will also claim that in the absence of guns, mass knife attacks or mass bludgeonings will take place. Here's what Clayton Cramer writes for the National Review:
"Nations with strict gun-control laws still have mass murders. One man stabbed to death five people with a kitchen knife at a Calgary party. After the 1996 Port Arthur mass murder, Australia banned most semiautomatic rifles, but they still have mass murders: eight siblings killed in a mass stabbing in Queensland; five bludgeoned to death in Sydney in 2009."
Look, I've never heard anybody argue that mass killings are impossible without guns. Yes, a determined enough attacker could stab or bludgeon several people to death in a row. The point we're making is that it's much more difficult to kill large numbers of people this way then to simply squeeze a trigger and shoot them.
If you're going to stab somebody to death, you need to be up close and personal. You need to physically thrust the knife into their body at least several times if you want to have a good chance of killing them. This presents the opportunity for them to get tangled up with you, perhaps wrestle the knife away from you—it's a lot more physically demanding and there's a much greater chance that they can defend against a knife attack than if you were just unloading bullets at them from a safe distance.
Size also comes into play here. Imagine some scrawny dork like Dylann Roof trying to stab to death some huge, muscular guy who looks like The Mountain from Game of Thrones. Even if he had the balls to approach somebody that size, the guy would just eat a fuckin' stab wound, pick him up by his bowl cut and laugh at him. Replay that same scenario with a gun in his hand and the size or physical fitness of the attacker becomes almost completely irrelevant.
By the way, we should totally pass a law that says if a person looks anything like this, you can't sell him a gun. It's like someone said: "Central casting, send me a guy who looks like the Spawn of Satan himself." This guy doesn't even need a gun; he can just glare at you from across the room and he'll give you a fucking heart attack!
Consider the proximity that's needed for a knife attack to be successful: Unless your attacker brought a bunch of throwing knives and ninja stars with him, he's gonna need to be within point-blank range to stab another person. By contrast, if you have a gun, you can shoot a person anywhere from several feet away, across a room, even across a fucking football field if your aim is good enough or if there's a large enough crowd. Good luck replicating the Las Vegas concert mass shooting by tossing a bunch of throwing knives out of your hotel window!
To avoid being stabbed, all a person needs to do is create a few feet of distance. If everyone scatters he can't chase down and stab all of them. If they can run faster than their attacker they'll successfully avoid being stabbed. Try outrunning a clip of bullets and lemme know how that goes for you.
If someone pulls a knife you can pick up a chair or backpack or another such object and use it to create distance and block at least the first few stab attempts. If someone walks into the room with their gun drawn and somebody picks up their backpack, unless it's one of those bulletproof backpacks that they're actually selling in this insane country, they're just gonna shoot right through that thing like it's made of tissue paper. All of these same principles would apply for other cutting tools as well as bludgeoning weapons like hammers or baseball bats.
Let's be clear: You can find examples of mass stabbings where large numbers of people were killed.
In a 2016 article, for example, CNN writes that:
"At least 19 people were killed and 26 injured in a stabbing spree at a facility for disabled people west of Tokyo."
It's much more common, however, for there to be a large number of injuries in mass stabbings, yet a small number of fatalities.
Kawasaki, Japan, May 2019: 2 killed, 18 injured.
Taipei, 2014: 4 killed, 21 wounded.
Japan, 2008: 1 killed, 7 wounded.
China, 2012: 23 injured, zero killed. (This guy really couldn't kill a single person? What was he stabbing them with, a crayon or something?
9 people were injured, yet, once again, zero were killed in 2017 Dusseldorf, Germany axe attack. Right, I'm sure if we banned guns there'd be an epidemic of disgruntled lumberjack attacks. They might even chop down a tree and use it as a weapon! He's like: "Once this Northern Red Oak falls on your head, you're a fuckin' dead man!"
And it's not like these were cherrypicked examples that best make my case; feel free to look through as many examples as you can find and you'll discover that a low death-to-injury ratio is a very common outcome of mass knife attacks. And it's not just anecdotal evidence supporting the much greater lethality of firearms; there's also an abundant supply of very clear medical data on this question.
In a 2014 study by Roger Band et al, the researchers examined:
". . . 4,122 patients taken to eight . . . adult trauma centers in Philadelphia between . . . 2003 and . . . 2007. . . . A third of patients with gunshot wounds (33.0 percent) died compared with 7.7 percent of patients with stab wounds."
Muckart et al write the following in a 1995 paper in the South African Medical Journal:
"The number of patients who sustained penetrating torso trauma and were admitted to King Edward VIII Hospital and the surgical intensive care unit were reviewed over 10- and 5-year periods respectively. . . . The hospital mortality rate for gunshot wounds was 8 times that for stab wounds."
Velmahos et al, in a 1994 study, write that
"The purpose of this study was to examine the mortality rate of penetrating cardiac trauma in a large urban hospital. . . . There were 310 patients with a stab wound and 63 with a gunshot wound. . . . The mortality rates for the stab and the gunshot groups were 13% and 50.7%, respectively."
And, finally, Saltzman et al, in a 1992 JAMA publication, write the following:
"Firearm-associated [family and intimate assaults] were 3.0 times . . . more likely to result in death than FIAs involving knives or other cutting instruments and 23.4 times . . . more likely to result in death than FIAs involving other weapons or bodily force. Overall, firearm-associated FIAs were 12.0 times . . . more likely to result in death than non-firearm-associated FIAs."
So let's assume that conservatives were correct and say that in the absence of easily-accessible guns, criminals and violent attackers would simply switch to knives, yet the exact same number of attacks would take place. Even if this was the case, lives ultimately would be saved because knife attacks are simply less lethal than gun attacks. Even if the number of attacks committed doubled, the higher survival rate from knife wounds means that overall, lives would still be saved.
Also notice the clear contradiction here between two conservative arguments on gun reform: On the one hand, they'll tell us that if you implemented very strict gun control or even outright banned guns, all you'd be doing is punishing law-abiding citizens and leaving them defenseless, and that's because criminals and killers would have no trouble getting ahold of guns through the black market.
Then they'll turn around and say: "Aha! This country banned or heavily restricted gun sales, and in the absence of easily available guns, the criminal element has simply turned to using knives! Look at the epidemic of knife crime that's now taking place here!"
Which one is it? Is the gun control completely ineffective at keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals, or is the gun control so successful that these criminals and killers instead have to turn to using other weapons like knives? They want to have it both ways and they'll jump back between these contradictory arguments whenever it's convenient for them—blissfully unaware of the fact that they're not making any sense.
So as we've seen, the "guns don't kill people" argument is problematic for many different reasons. Yes, unless they accidentally discharge, guns won't take it upon themselves to go out and kill people—but they are a very deadly tool that makes it much easier to kill people than other comparable weapons.
Guns deserve a unique focus because they're uniquely deadly, and they're explicitly designed to kill whereas other potential weapons have beneficial primary purposes. While mass killings and homicides could be committed by other means, for many reasons, it's much more difficult to use these other weapons to achieve the same level of violence. On top of that, the substitution argument isn't the gotcha point conservatives think it is because gun-control advocates would also be supportive of regulations that target explosives, building fires, and so forth.
Mass stabbing attacks have a much higher survival rate than mass shootings do, so for all of these reasons, it does make sense to sharply regulate the sale and possession of firearms.