The Fallacy of Prevention

Gun Control Advocate: “We need more/better gun laws to eliminate gun violence.”

Gun Rights Advocate: “Gun laws do not decrease gun violence because criminals do not follow the law.”

Gun Control Advocate: “So we should just get rid of all laws because they fail to stop all crime?”

And that’s where this little exchange usually ends. The gun right’s advocate typically stutters through some non-sequitur argument that doesn’t at all address the apparent “gotcha” from the now smug gun control advocate. Sadly courses on logic are no longer taught in our schools, because if they were, we would easily spot logical fallacies such as this one. This is an example of a false analogy or comparison, that is, assuming two things are equivalent and inferring they must share the same properties. Not all laws are the same.

Laws against violations of person or property (murder, rape, theft, etc.) are primary laws. Their sole function is punitive. They prescribe the consequences for violation of the law. If the consequences are severe enough there may be a small preventive tendency but overall people breaking these laws really aren’t concerned with the fact that somewhere there are words on a piece of paper saying they shouldn’t do such and such. In short, these laws can only affect criminals (i.e. those who broke the law).

Laws like gun control (i.e. interventionary laws) are secondary laws. They attempt to prevent the violation of a primary law through interventionist procedural means. Whereas primary laws affect only their violators, secondary laws affect only non-violators of the related primary law. Prospective violators of a primary law simply ignore the demands of the related secondary law. Because there is no way to know who these potential violators might be, secondary laws must by necessity cast a wide net and attempt to inconvenience everyone. Sadly they fail in their attempt, they catch all the fish you don’t want and allow all others to escape. In short, these laws can only affect non-criminals.

And so the fallacy is exposed. Abstractly it is implied that gun laws (“B”) are beneficial because: eliminating primary laws (“Not-A”) is “bad”, therefore “A” is “good”, and because “A” is assumed to equal “B”, it follows that “Not-B” is likewise “bad”, and so “B” must be “good”. As I’ve shown above A does not equal B, and without that the argument fails.

Laws against murder ARE anti-gun laws. They are also anti-knife, anti-bomb, anti-poison, anti-anything that could be used to kill someone. Laws against specific types of weapons are a fear driven whack-a-mole style attempt to prevent future violence. The futility of this preventive approach is clearly seen in our nation’s prisons. In the most highly controlled, rights restricted environment one can imagine there are still drugs, there is still violence, and there is still murder. If preventive efforts fail in prison, how could they possible be expected to work in a free society? Some often cite Australia’s stringent gun controls laws of 1996 as proof that tight restrictions can “work” by pointing to the drop in gun violence since enactment. While such violence has dropped, what they conveniently leave out is that the statistics clearly show the rate of gun violence was already on a decades long decline prior to and after the 1996 laws. In fact armed robberies had a dramatic increase shortly following the new gun restrictions. I don’t suppose that had anything to do with the fact that criminals opted not to follow the law and instead kept their guns?