I’ve made the mistake of getting involved in more than one “debate” on Gun Control in the “Comments” sections of various news articles on the topic.
It’s interesting in that these sections, even at the most liberal of websites, one finds a great number of people advocating the conservative point of view. One sees the same names over and over again, to the point that you really have to wonder if these people are sitting at the computer all day, doing nothing but posting comments.
One also sees the same rhetorical fallacies coming up again and again. To help you spot them, counter them, and avoid them yourself, here’s a modest guide to some of the more common.
NOTE: I’m no professional rhetorician or logician; I may be incorrect in these. Feel free to advise me of any errors.
Ad Hoc Rescue
Also known as the “MakingStuff Up” fallacy, it’s where a party, faced with real evidence disproving their claim, tosses in an irrelevant assumption solely to save their argument.
“These shooters pick gun-free zones because they know they won’t get shot in return.”
“Actually, most shooters choose places based on a personal connection, and not because they offer no resistance….”*
“Er…..we need to give more people guns, so that they can fight back….”
Giving few options – usually only two – without considering that there might be other options.
“We have to ban these weapons!”
“What about having a special class of permit for them? One where you have to demonstrate a clear need for one? And have proven that you can handle them safely?”
A variation of the False Dilemma, it states that no solution is acceptable other than a perfect one. Since perfection is impossible, no solution should even be attempted.
“Criminals will always be able to get guns”
“Shouldn’t we at least make it harder for them to do so?”
Adding in irrelevant information in an effort to distract from the real argument. Sometimes, they can be subtle.
“More people die from stabbing. Should we ban knives?”
“If we ban guns, mass killers will just use bombs or poison gas.”
“The proposed law would not have prevented the last mass shooting.”
“You can’t take away the rights of people on the ‘No-Fly’ list! That list is riddled with errors, and you’ve got no easy way to appeal if you’re on it!”
“We’re not talking about knives or bombs, we’re trying to prevent the *next* shooting, and so fix the list!”
The belief that one small event will inevitably lead to a far greater event, with highly undesirable consequences. The fallacy lies where no mechanism is provided which makes the event sequence inevitable.
“The proposed rules are the first step on the road to confiscation!”
“How so? Please explain the chain of events that would bring that confiscation about.”
Also known as “begging the question”. Here, the conclusion of the argument is assumed in the premise.
“We need guns to defend against government tyranny”
“What sort of tyranny?”
“That the government will take our guns”
(Personally, I love challenging people to give an example of the sort of tyranny that will cause them to take up arms….)
Burden of Proof
This comes up a LOT in the arguments over the existence of a deity. Basically, the person using this fallacy demands that the other party in the discussion do all the heavy lifting and come up will all the evidence for their side, without offering any evidence on their own. In gun control arguments, it’s almost always the Second Amendment Absolutists who take their position as a matter akin to religious faith.
Here, allow me to quote (edited for spelling) one of the best posts I’ve yet to read in any of these discussion threads (I forget the author, unfortunately):
“No right is unlimited. We accept limitations of other rights. For example, the First Amendment guarantees, in far more clear wording than the Second, that the people have freedom to say whatever they want, freedom to gather into groups, and freedom of religious expression. And yet, we have sensible limitations on speech (Fire in a theater, incitement to riot or other crimes, threats against the President, libel, slander, protection of national secrets). We have limitations on assembly in that you have to get permits to organize into large groups in public places and there are often laws about what you have to provide to do so not to mention where you are allowed to congregate…
“Why is sensible regulation of the right to bear arms something that is anathema? Why is any regulation of that right something that is so unthinkable? There’s a clear response from the GOP that would be far more useful, which is to present the other side, and offer some compromises. Maybe making private sales illegal. Maybe a firearms registry (perhaps even an electronic one that can be cross referenced to criminal records and mental health records). Maybe discussion about banning private sales, or requiring private sales to be registered. Maybe even amending the Dem’s bill to add due process into the No Fly list with a notification you’re on it, and an appeals process that would require the government to show their evidence. Even funding the ATF better so that they could process background checks more quickly. Instead, their answer is a moment of silence, their prayers, and to wait for the next time this happens.