I usually stay middle-of-the-road when it comes to politics, but when I see a breakdown in logic and reason, I always feel compelled to point it out. So here we go….
In light of this latest shooting in South Carolina, you’re probably seeing this argument again:
Guns are for self-defense. Sure, these tragic shootings get major media coverage, but we never hear about all the times an innocent citizen pulls a gun and subdues an impending criminal. Thus, the frequent times a gun is used to prevent violence overshadows the rare occasions that violence actually occurs.
The person espousing this argument may even share a video that shows just such an incident of an innocent person pulling a gun in self-defense.
On the surface, this argument sounds logical. We need to defend ourselves against all the bad people in the world, right?
Sure. But without even getting into a discussion on the actual data out there (here’s an article with citations if you want some numbers), here’s where the guns-as-self-defense logic falls apart:
You see, the argument only works if we have a better weapon than our enemy. What we’re neglecting is that if we win our argument, then everyone else gets guns, too.
First, let’s set aside the fact that, sure, we think we’re always the hero, but we might end up being someone else’s villain at some point. That’s a whole ‘nother complication that we don’t need to get into today.
No, the reality is that if we allow ourselves to own a gun, then we allow everyone to own a gun, and what we end up with is an arms race, known in logic as the Prisoner’s Dilemma.
If you didn’t grow up in the Cold War and have no idea what an arms race is, here’s a Bugs Bunny clip that explains it perfectly (well, except for the bouquet at the end):
Now, here’s the curious thing about an arms race: At alternating points within the race, it’s easy to take a snapshot of the situation and proclaim that we are indeed the victor, and that we’ve done the right thing by arming ourselves. That’s what we see in these stories getting passed around. People are cherry-picking a single point within an arms race and saying, “See? We need guns to protect ourselves! Look what would have happened otherwise.”
But the problem is that an arms race is not a fixed point in time. It’s a neverending situation. And when we engage in an arms race, all parties involved ultimately end up losing. The story doesn’t end with the unarmed villain backing off and us living happily ever after. No, it continues when the villain buys a gun himself, because everyone else around him has a gun.
So what are we going to do then? Start openly carrying grenade launchers?
Here’s the bottom line: If we engage in an arms race for self-defense, at some point, we will face a better-armed villain. And that’s when we’re shit out of luck.
No. If our goal is self-preservation, then we should actually be talking about more — or better — gun control. Let’s talk about how we can keep a check on everyone’s ability to buy and own a firearm, hero or villain. Let’s talk about how we can determine who can own a gun safely, and who can’t, and actually enforce such requirements. Let’s talk about how we else can defend ourselves, without resorting to the threat of deadly force. To me, these are the discussions we should be having, because these are the discussions that will actually protect us as a society in the long run.
Saying that guns should be allowed because we need to defend ourselves? Sorry. That just doesn’t work on any rational level.
Oh, and for the record, I’m not here to argue against guns. Go ahead and tout your right to bear arms. I have no problem with that.
Just don’t go around claiming that your guns are for self-defense. Because that argument is short-sighted and ultimately doomed to fail. And faulty logic, I do have a problem with.
A bunch of people responding to this post on Facebook referenced a literal arms race ( (i.e., like the US/Soviet one during the Cold War), and I guess the Bugs Bunny cartoon didn’t help. My bad for that. Here’s my clarification on the whole arms race thing:
The gist of an arms race scenario (or prisoner’s dilemma, if you’re into game theory) is that you’re afraid of what someone else might be capable of doing to you, so you prepare to defend yourself accordingly. The only problem is that when everyone does this, then the situation escalates, and no one gains an advantage in the long run.
Buying a gun for self-defense comes down to this exact scenario — you need to protect yourself from the bad guys out there. No, you may not need a bigger gun (this is where the Bugs Bunny cartoon is inappropriate). But just the fact that you feel you need a gun at all is because of what you fear someone else might have. That is precisely the prisoner’s dilemma.
And in this type of situation, the ultimate solution is fewer guns — not more guns — for everyone. Yes, you can point to isolated incidents and say that self-defense worked in these cases. But again, it’s a scenario that is shortsighted and doomed to fail in the long term.
So, I stand by my point: If your sole goal is self-defense, then opposing gun control (and I’m speaking on a general level — I’m not getting in to the specifics of what that control actually entails) is the wrong solution in the long run.