Considerations for Advocates of Gun Control When Making Arguments

If you’re a supporter of gun control then we are ideological opponents but I hold no ill will against you. I enjoy the fact that there are vastly different opinions from my own in this world. However, if you’re going to write articles in favor of gun control I urge you to first learn about your subject matter. It is also helpful to avoid certain debate tactics that do more harm to you cause than good. Advocates of gun control who are ignorant of current laws, treat speculation as fact, rely on argumentum ad hominem, and make hypocrites of themselves help my cause greatly. But I take no pleasure in winning battles of wits against incompetent opponents. In the spirit of ensuring better and more informed debates I’m going to critique this article that argues in favor of universal background checks:

And while we know how many times a red flag in someone’s history has blocked a sale, it’s impossible to know how many lives the critical law enforcement tool has saved. In short, the background check system is quick, effective, and it protects the rights of law-abiding citizens to own firearms.

First things first, speculation does not an argument make. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to speculate on matters but speculation should not be mistaken for factual information. The author states that it’s impossible to know how many lives background checks have saved. At the same time I can also point out that it’s impossible to know how many lives have been lost because of the background check system prevented somebody from obtaining an effective self-defense tool. Not everybody on the prohibited persons list deserves to be there. People who are mistakenly added or added for perpetrating a nonviolent crime shouldn’t be barred the ability to effectively exercise self-defense.

If you look at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, an Explosives’ (ATF) list of prohibited persons you’ll notice some interesting gotchas. For example, a person “who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” is prohibited from owning firearms. I know many people who regularly use cannabis, which is illegal in Minnesota. Those people aren’t in any way violent. In fact they’re some of the most peaceful people I know (probably because cannabis relaxes people). Illegal aliens are also prohibited from owning firearms. Just because an individual decided to cross the imaginary line that separates this country from another doesn’t mean they should be prohibited from defending themselves. How many cannabis users and illegal aliens have been murdered because the background check system barred them from owning firearms?

We can speculate on this for the rest of eternity but it’s impossible to know. Therefore I would urge advocates of gun control to not speculate in articles advocating for specific laws. Stick to the facts.

The problem is that we leave the saturated markets for guns online and at gun shows completely unregulated. That means these same dangerous people that failed a background check at Cabela’s can go on Craigslist or to a gun show and purchase weapons from private sellers without any questions asked. The evidence shows they quite often do.

This is where we get into the article’s ignorance. First, Craigslist prohibits posting weapons:

Partial list of items for sale and services the advertisement of which is not permitted on craigslist:


Weapons and related items, including firearms, ammunition, silencers, pellet/BB guns, tear gas or stun guns.

So you’re not going to hit up Craigslist to buy firearms. Second, many states have last against private transfers between individuals. In fact looking at fellow gun control advocacy websites would have made the author aware of the states that prohibit private transfers, including ones occurring at gun shows. If you’re an advocate of gun control please take note of that site. While I disagree with what is being advocated I give credit to the authors for covering current gun laws in detail and citing them when mentioned.

In fact, in a 2011 study 62 percent of private sellers agreed to sell a gun to a buyer who said he probably could not pass a background check. The fact is, criminals know they can buy guns from unlicensed dealers, and Congress is endangering public safety by keeping these transactions completely legal. That is why our lawmakers in Washington, D.C., need to pass a universal background check bill this year.

If you’re going to cite a study then cite it. Don’t refer to it as “a 2011 study”. There were a lot of studies performed in 2011. Give the name of the study, the authors, and the publication you found it in. I believe this guide will help.

I also want to return to the first point I made in this post. Many nonviolent people who have no history of mental illness are prohibited from owning firearms. Claiming that “62 percent of private sellers agreed to sell a gun to a buy who said he probably could not pass a background check” is pretty meaningless. I know many prohibited people who I would be perfectly comfortable selling a firearm to (please note, saying I’m perfectly comfortable selling a firearm to them and actually selling a firearm to them are two entirely different things).

Now it’s time to cite some actual legalese. According to the ATF’s website it is illegal to sell a firearm to a person when you should reasonably know that person is a prohibited person:

Q: To whom may an unlicensed person transfer firearms under the GCA?

A person may sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of his State, if he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law. A person may loan or rent a firearm to a resident of any State for temporary use for lawful sporting purposes, if he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law. A person may sell or transfer a firearm to a licensee in any State. However, a firearm other than a curio or relic may not be transferred interstate to a licensed collector.

[18 U.S.C. 922(a)(3) and (5), 922(d), 27 CFR 478.29 and 478.30]

If a person claims he or she is probably unable to pass a background check that would qualify as “reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law.” It’s already illegal to sell a firearm to an individual who you believe to be unable to pass a background check, which means such transfers aren’t completely legal as the article claims.

Rep. John Kline, R-Burnsville, has an opportunity to close these dangerous loopholes by co-sponsoring a bill in the U.S. House that already has the support of more than 180 representatives from both parties.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Peter King, R-New York, and Mike Thompson, D-California, is the House’s counterpart to the Manchin-Toomey amendment that was blocked from reaching a vote by a minority of senators in April. (Both Minnesota senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, had the courage to vote for the life-saving legislation).

Once again, claiming that such a bill is life-saving is pure speculation. I could easily argue that such legislation would costs lives. When writing an opinion piece arguing in favor of passing a law one should stick to the facts.

What would these bills do to protect the rights of gun owners and make communities safer?

It’s simple: they would simply extend the background check system that already works at licensed dealers to cover commercial sales from private sellers. No gun registries, no confiscations, just an extension of a program that works.

What criteria is the author using to determine whether or not the current program works? So far he has offered nothing more than speculation. Again, I could argue that the current background check program has failed miserably.

As with many issues facing Washington, there are cynics standing in the way of some common-sense solutions. They say criminals will still find ways of buying guns. Or that background checks may not have been able to prevent all of our violent tragedies. But to allow that line of thinking to impede our progress on essential gun safety reforms would be a serious mistake. We cannot solve the whole epidemic of gun violence in America with one piece of legislation, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t take meaningful steps to save lives. When nine out of 10 Americans agree on something I think that overwhelming consensus should result in some action.

Again, how would such legislation save lives? The author spends a great deal of time claiming universal background checks will save lives but never provides any evidence. How many would-be murderers who couldn’t obtain a firearm simply murdered their victim(s) with a knife or an explosive device? Is there any evidence that shows background checks actually prevent violent crime?

As a hunter and gun owner myself, I am joining with the along with the 91 percent percent of Americans and 74 percent of NRA members – according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz – that support universal background checks. That’s not a typo. Hunting is a cherished tradition in Minnesota and all across this country, so it should tell you something that gun owners so overwhelmingly believe in these critical safety guards.

I find myself again pointing out the need to cite any mentioned studies. Since I’m nothing if not helpful I will also point out some rather notable issues with that poll (the article, I might add, links to the actual poll):

Nationwide, a Gallup poll taken a week after the Senate vote indicated that only 65 percent of Americans thought the Senate should have passed a bill to “expand background checks for gun purchases,” with 29 percent saying the Senate should not have passed it.

That’s much lower than 90 percent support, obviously.

Also interesting: The new poll showed that general support for an expanded background check law fell from 91 percent in mid-January to 83 percent.


Gallup says that a minor wording change in the question may have played a role in reducing the perceived general support from 91 percent to 83 percent.

In January, Gallup asked the public if they supported a law that would “require criminal background checks for all gun sales.” This month, the wording was “require background checks for all gun purchases.”

Polls are tricky beasts. A simple difference such as wording changes may lead to drastically different results. This is why you need to stay on top of polls. The results may be different if the poll is performed again. If that happens you should either use the lasted results or mention all available results. Keeping yourself ignorant of any changes to polling numbers doesn’t help your credibility. Selecting the results that best make your argument destroy your credibility. By using old results the author has put his credibility into question by making it appear as though he’s not keeping up with the topic of cherry picking results.

Despite such broad support for background checks, the gun lobby is spending millions of dollars to protect the ability for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns without a background check. Let’s not let them distort the debate once again.

Two points need to be made about this paragraph. First, when you’re making an argument you shouldn’t attempt to demonize your opponents. Most of us are guilty of this at one point or another, especially when arguing about emotional topics. But you should really try to understand your ideological opponent and argue against their ideas, not attack their person(s). What the author did in this paragraph is known as argumentum ad hominem. He is attempting to manipulate the emotions of his audience by claiming the gun lobby is spending money to protect the ability of criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns. I have never heard any member of what can be considered the gun lobby claim it wants criminals and the mentally ill to have access to firearms. They have argued that the background check system is ineffective at preventing criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining firearms, which makes the system an unneeded inconvenience to lawful gun owners.

Second, when making an argument try to avoid coming off as a hypocrite. Attempting to distort the debate by demonizing political opponents then claiming we should not allow your political opponents to distort the debate is rank hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is one of the most effective methods of destroying your credibility.

As I said at the beginning of this post, please take this post in the spirit it was meant. I’m trying to be helpful and raise the overall quality of the gun control debate. Ignorance, speculation, demonizing, and hypocrisy are poor tools for a debate forum and should be avoided if one wants to be taken seriously. Regardless of the side of the gun control debate you’re on I urge you to maintain some professionalism when debating in a public forum. I’m not saying everybody should stop making fun of one another but such antics should be reserved for outside of public debate forums.