Guns and Driving: A Case of the Weak Analogy

I promised myself that I wouldn’t write another post about gun control.  But then, I saw (yet again) another argument for gun laws that is based on fallacious reasoning.  Liberals are making an analogy between laws that currently restrict driving to those they propose to restrict gun ownership.  The problem is that the analogy they are making, which seems like “common sense” on the surface, fails to hold up to scrutiny when analyzed logically.  First, let’s consider the argument.

Let’s use Marc Ambinder’s version as an example:

“But getting a gun should be at least as hard as getting a driver’s license.”

Or, perhaps, Ashley Miller’s version (see #2 on her list):

“Take some lessons from how we treat driving and apply this in ALL states to ALL sales.”

I could quote more, but I think you get the idea.  Essentially, most of these arguments have the same logical structure.  For our purposes, I’d like to more explicitly illustrate the premises and the conclusion of the above argument.

  1. Premise 1: Driving can be dangerous and is regulated to ensure the safety of others.
  2. Premise 2: Gun ownership is at least as dangerous (if not more) as driving.
  3. Conclusion: Therefore, we should regulate the ownership of guns in a manner that is similar to the way we regulate driving.

Upon examination, I discovered that this argument makes a weak analogy.  In weak analogies, the differences between the two objects or characteristics compared by the arguer are ignored.  In the above example, the arguers claim that society should treat gun ownership in the same manner that society treats driving.  This ignores the fact that driving is an action performed with a car, whereas purchasing a gun is not an act performed with a gun (unless, of course, you’re robbing a gun store).  There is a qualitative difference between the act of driving and the act of purchasing a gun.  Stated differently, one utilizes a car to drive, one does not (normally) utilize a gun to take ownership of it.  Another, perhaps simpler, way to think of it: buying a gun is not a violent act in itself, whereas driving can be.

A more accurate analogy would argue for the prohibition of actions taken with a gun (such as shooting someone without provocation), which is pointless since those actions are already illegal.  Conversely, a more accurate analogy could argue that we restrict the ownership of cars in the same manner that many liberals argue for the regulation of gun ownership.  This, of course, would be an extreme measure.

This may seem like an unimportant difference, on the surface, but the difference actually matters.  Although we know that such things as drunken driving frequently kills innocent people every year, there is no movement to ban or limit the sale of vehicles.  Instead, society justly punishes those who drive while intoxicated (or drive recklessly, etc).  Why then, when the issue is one where a gun is used to take a life do liberals so earnestly propose that we restrict or ban gun ownership?  If some guy in Connecticut drives drunk and kills someone, should lawmakers ban a car dealership from selling a car to me here in Ohio?  I suspect many of my liberal friends would think that idea is ludicrous; banning vehicle ownership would create an undue hardship on those who wish to travel long distances.  Is it that difficult to see that regulating firearms punishes not those who commit atrocities, but those who have done no harm?

I suspect that many of those making arguments like the gun-driving analogy discussed above are arguing not on the basis of reasoned consideration, but on the basis of an emotional aversion to guns as a representation of violence.  Like Sam Harris, it seems to me like many people are not willing to have an honest conversation about violence.  Consider Harris’ view in his essay on self-defense:

“In my experience, most people do not want to think about the reality of human violence. I have friends who sleep with their front doors unlocked and who would never consider receiving instruction in self-defense. For them, gun ownership seems like an ugly and uncivilized flirtation with paranoia. Happily, most of these people will never encounter violence in any form. And good luck will make their unconcern seem perfectly justified.”

His experience is my experience too.  In conversations I’ve had on the subject of guns, I’ve been asked if I own a gun (I do) in a manner where a “yes” answer seemed like a salacious secret I should be ashamed to admit.  In fact, it has become apparent that gun ownership carries with it a stigma that is exploited during tragedies like those resembling Sandy Hook.  There are even cultural corrolaries of this stigma (e.x. Robin Scherbatsky as a “gun nut” in the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother).  It’s a stigma that I wish was being discussed more in public discourse.  Examining such biases is traditionally a strength of many liberals and conservatives are not likely to make that case for themselves.

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Filed under guns, logic, philosophy, politics

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