On Gun Control, History, and Alternatives

Today I was called a “fucking idiot” on Facebook by someone who goes by the name Steamboat Guy.

The reason?

I suggested that if we, as a society, are unwilling to regulate and restrict gun ownership because of the Second Amendment, then we need other solutions to the problem of gun violence in the United States. One idea? A 100,000% sales tax on bullets. Another idea? Liability insurance. The idea isn’t to inhibit anyone from owning a gun. Just to make using a gun financially prohibitive.

For this, I was judged, in Steamboat Guy’s eyes, a “fucking idiot.”

“He and other gun control idiots keep forgeting,” wrote Steamboat, “it is not the gun that kills it is the person that pulls the trigger that kills.”

Ah, yes. The “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” mantra.

In a very literal way, that’s correct. A person is an actor in a way that a gun is not. A person can choose to kill. A gun is just an inanimate object.

But it’s also incorrect, in a different sense.

Guns do kill people, in that guns make it easier for people to kill. Many people who have been killed with guns would not have been killed, had it not been for the gun because the killer would have been unwilling, unlikely, or perhaps even unable to beat and bludgeon the person to death.

Ten thousand years ago, people killed each other. Not with guns, because they hadn’t been invented yet. But with thrown rocks, blunt weapons, and bows and arrows. People killed other people with weapons that took a lot of skill to master, that gave the target a chance to flee or surrender, and that had to used at a distance that in many cases would have left the attacker open to a defensive or retaliatory attack. If you wanted to kill someone ten thousand years ago, you did it at close quarters and you stood a decent chance of getting your head bashed in.

Five hundred years ago, people killed each other. Swords remained swords, and required close combat. Bows and arrows had an effective distance, and even the development of crossbows didn’t really change that, though crossbows were somewhat more accurate and more powerful. Early firearms were lethal at slightly longer distances, but they were horrifically inaccurate.

Killing with blunt and bladed weapons required skill and strength, but it put the attacker into harm’s way. Killing with a ranged weapon, like a bow or a musket, required skill, but it also required an element of luck like hitting a vital organ — and it put the attacker at a further distance, a safer distance, far enough that a retaliatory attack is difficult and a defensive attack is impossible.

Artillery made similar advances. Technology made catapults more accurate — and more lethal. The development of cannon and mortars powered by gunpowder changed the distances from which shells could be fired. Once, a catapult had a limited range, perhaps only a few hundred yards. By the early 20th-century, an artillery piece could fire an explosive shell over the horizon. Add bombers and ballistic missiles, and we’ve made it possible today to destroy a city from the opposite side of the world.

Once, human beings had to look the other in the eye to kill them. Today, we’ve so increased our effective killing distances that we never have to see the person we’ve killed.

A gun makes it easier for someone to kill. It’s extremely lethal for its size. Depending on variables like user’s skill, type of gun, and type of ammunition, it can cause death from long-ish distances with near-absolute certainty. A bullet can do a great deal of damage to the human body even if the gun shot wasn’t accurate. Because of the quickness of a gun attack and the certainty of physical damage to the attacked if not death, a retaliatory attack is extremely unlikely and a defensive attack is impossible.

Guns do kill people, because that is what a gun was designed to do. Anyone, like Steamboat Guy, who says that guns don’t kill people has clearly never thought about why a gun exists. Human beings needed a tool that would be lethal at long distances. That’s what human beings designed — a tool to mete out death at minimal physical cost to the user. Guns were designed to kill.

Taxing ammunition would take away what makes a gun lethal. (Oh, it would still be lethal, but in the same way a sword is lethal; you would have to hit someone with it.) Having gun owners carry liability insurance if they wanted to use a gun would promote responsible gun ownership — and serve as a financial deterrent against gun ownership for others.

If we’re unwilling as a society to consider reasonable gun control measures, we need to consider alternatives that have the same ultimate effect.

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