Ending the epidemic of false analogies

The collectively brave editorial board of The New York Times has once again chosen to make a predictable attack on gun rights in America.  In an article, titled, “End the Gun Epidemic in America,” we are told that “it is a moral outrage and national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency.”

I presume the Times isn’t using the word, epidemic, ironically.  Properly speaking, an epidemic is an outbreak of an infectious disease.  A newspaper that takes pride in its usage of language ought to be more careful about choosing words correctly.  Their attempt at analogy would have been made better by referring to the “endemic” quality of gun violence, since the latter means a condition that is prevalent and lasting in a region.

But the comparison of gun violence to disease is a poor analogy.  While there are things people can do to lessen the incidence of infections, in essence, a virus or bacterium is simply doing what is in its nature to do.  Microbes have no choice and no moral character.  And the range of possible action of a disease-causing microbe is severely limited—infect a host for the purpose of reproducing, fail to do so when the organism is immune, or lie dormant.

By contrast, a firearm is a tool.  The moral character of the tool’s use is determined entirely by the user.  Guns can also lie dormant in our safes, but when used, they can be applied to many purposes, most of which cause no harm to innocents.  (The union of twenty-ounce soda bottles may feel free to object in the comments section.)  The Times apparently would have us believe that gun owners have no choice in how we behave.  If gun violence is an epidemic, we cannot be blamed for anything we do any more than we can raise moral outrage against a cold virus.

And perhaps that is what the editors mean when they say the following:

Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.

This does sound like a call for the application of chemical, biological, or mechanical force to cure what they believe is an epidemic.  Note the desire to leave so-called combat rifles and unspecified types of ammunition in the possession of the government.  In fact, using the word, civilian, means that even the police won’t be allowed access, since the police are the enforcement agency of the polis, the city, the Greek word that has the same meaning as the Latin civis, from which civilian is derived.  The implications here are two:  Either the editors of the Times are unaware that the Posse Comitatus Act prevents the U.S. military from enforcing domestic policy within the boarders of this nation, or they don’t care.

It’s the job of those of us who favor rights to stand up to editorials like this, to insist that their authors come out from behind their abuses of the language and state plainly what positions they are in fact promoting.  What do the editors of the Times believe is the meaning and extent of individual rights?  They tell us that no right is unlimited and immune (medical analogies again, perhaps) from reasonable regulation, reasonable being another word that gets tossed about by advocates of gun control as if we all agree on what that means.  As they are so often unwilling to do, I’ll define reasonable:  If you do not harm innocents, do whatever you want.

I’ve yet to see any advocate of control offer a good objection to this rule.  It is at the heart of ethical systems the world over.  I am told that such a definition of reasonable won’t prevent murders or negligent homicides.  Indeed.  Neither will any other law.  Strict gun control could reduce the number of law-abiding people who have accidents, but that is already a tiny part of injuries and deaths due to gunfire.  Such control would also leave good people at the mercy of the violent among us who have no respect for law.

When I say, “don’t harm innocents,” that implies punishment for those who do.  In addition, as I have proposed before, we can take steps to reduce the causes of violence without curtailing the choices that people have.  But curtailment is exactly what the Times is calling for.  To put things in terms they will understand, if we wish to limit the potential of people do to harmful things, we must also impose licensing and government review on the writing of editorials.  After all, they are calling for harms to be done to me.

Or we can respect freedom, accepting its risks along with its rewards, in the knowledge that the benefits are much greater than the harms.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.