Fallacy: Something Else is Worse, so Don’t Worry

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Which is worse, being in the basement of a low-lying Nuclear Power Plant during a Tsunami, pulling the trigger on a gun you thought was empty and accidentally killing your 4 year old little sister, being hit by a German Satellite, or being eaten by a shark?

Before answering that question, I’d like to remind you that you need to go here and donate ten or twenty bucks to the Donors Choose program. Then, when you come back, you can read the rest of this post.

The answer: They’re all the same. In each case, you’re dead (or somebody’s dead). All of these are also very newsworthy, but had I included on this list driving your car into a ditch and rolling it, having a heart attack, or just fading away from respiratory failure (all three fatal in my thought experiment) they would be less newsworthy but you would still be just as dead.

Lately, I’ve been discussing the idea that there should be laws that require that gun owners keep their guns properly secured, and that these laws hold firearms owners responsible when the guns are acquired and used in a way that causes injury or fatality. For instance, when a teenager gets dad’s gun and accidentally shoots little sister (or self). There are several arguments against such laws. One is that such laws already exist, even if in a different form. That is a bad argument because they don’t or are not enforced, so any existing laws are ineffective. Laws can be written and implemented in different ways that more or less require their enforcement. Another argument is that it can’t be done. That is, of course, wrong. It can be done. Another argument is the particularistic scenario of innocence argument; Some contrived sequence of events by which a person really really locks up the gun really really good but somehow the gun ends up in the wrong person’s hand and … bam. That is no a valid counter argument because the same argument can be made against ALL laws. We have the system we have in part to account for real life. If such an unlikely scenario occurred, the courts would handle it properly, as long as the defendant was middle class and white. Like all laws.

One of the arguments that is often made is that something worse can happen. The fact is that very few teenagers are actually killed becuase of an accidental discharge of a gun that should have been locked up. But a LOT of teenagers are killed because of a purposeful discharge to cause a self inflicted wound, often using a gun that should have been locked up. So, if we include suicide, there are actually quite a few cases of guns that should have been locked up but were not. But still, more people die in car accidents and more teenagers are shot by each other in a criminal setting (gang fighting, etc.). Therefore, the argument goes, these guns-not-locked-up scenarios are not important.

And that argument, of course, is wrong. Because in the end, you’re still dead and somebody is still (at least partly) responsible.

The argument is a fallacy, because if it was true, we would be able to identify one problem and declare that that is the only problem and all other problems are not really problems (at least, until we solve the One Problem). Medical research on all forms of cancer should stop because heart disease kills more people. Airline safety is not important because relatively few people die in plane crashes. In fact, homicide should not really be illegal until we’ve solved this whole natural death problem.

The argument is a fallacy and we almost always hear it from people who have run out of other ways to argue their case.

Now, getting back for a moment to Donors Chooose. There are schools in the United States that need your help, because they are underfunded. A few dollars here and there can make a big difference, as exemplified by the projects I chose for you to consider for the Donors Choose campaign. But, the same amount of money donated to a school in the Southern Sudan could hire a teacher for a month or pay for life saving vaccines for 50 children or fund the construction of new and clean bathroom facilities. Or whatever. Therefore, you should not donate to Donors Choose, but rather, to the Sudan.


Maybe. But I don’t actually see you donating any money to schools in the Sudan at the moment, do I? Click here, dog. Just do it.

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3 thoughts on “Fallacy: Something Else is Worse, so Don’t Worry

  1. Actually, I agree with this.

    Unfortunately, reality sets in and we see some other things happening.

    One, it will probably never happen. As you say there are similar laws on the books. Why launch the massive fight (and there will be one) for laws that aren’t going to be any different.

    Two, you say that current laws aren’t enforced. That’s true. So why will new laws be enforced when existing ones aren’t? Hell, one town is not enforcing domestic violence laws. There are probably millions of laws that aren’t being enforced. In Texas it’s still illegal to spit on the sidewalk and sex in any position other than missionary is illegal too.

    What we don’t need is more laws. We need enforceable laws and laws that actually make sense. We need laws without lawyer loopholes and we need laws that generate the maximum good for the buck.

    Now, if you want kids to NOT play with real guns, take them out to a big empty field, get a watermelon and shoot it with a .357. I promise the kid will not play with guns anymore.

    Gun safety is like drug safety and every other form of safety. It requires effort to teach children what is right, what is wrong, what is OK and not OK. Most modern parents aren’t willing to do this.

    My son is 4. He knows where my guns are kept (in a safe in my bedroom closet). He knows that he is not to go into my closet for any reason… ever. He knows that my guns are not toys and that, even when I have them out and am standing there he may not so much as touch them. Of course, I hardly ever do anything with them any more.

    You just can’t make people better parents though. It won’t happen. Personally, I’m all for limiting reproductive rights, but that’s totally unacceptable to everyone so that’s not an issue either.

    I won’t go through the scenarios that actually occur or the deaths that have occurred because someone couldn’t get to their gun quickly (because it was locked up). I’m sure you have read all that and dismissed it.

    You do have to understand that guns, like drugs, are a part of our society. There is nothing that you can do to get rid of them. Collect every registered gun from every person in the US… criminals will still have them. Kick down every door and raid every house and find every gun… there will be more on the streets in days, if not hours.

    Until you can prevent crime before it happens, guns will be a part of our world-wide society.

  2. You know, Ogre, that only works if you can extrapolate the American attitude toward firearms to the rest of the world.

    I’m Canadian. I also grew up with guns. I learned gun safety, we kept them secured. I still have the small-guage shotgun my father bought me when I was 12, and it is secured properly. So I can relate to some of what you say.

    Where your logic veers off into the incomprehensible for me is where you introduce the idea that having guns in your home is for the purpose of protection or to combat crime. We had guns because my father and I hunted and did some skeet shooting for fun. Never in a million years would we have (nor do I now) justified owning a gun to be used in any circumstance on another human being. There is a deep cultural difference in thinking about guns here, just about two hours’ drive from the US border.

    Of course, part of that is that we have a long-standing restrictive policy on handguns. It seems to be working for us.

    I totally agree that people should be held accountable for their firearms, how they are handled and how they are stored.

  3. ….and how many peole get killed by a home invader when they try to get to their “well secured” gun in the middle of the night but failed to do so in time? How does that factor into your equations? If we were to follow “your laws”, will you hold yourself accountable for that injury or death?

    just because you used guns for “skeet shooting” and turkey hunting or other form of entertainment does not mean every gun owner shuold follow “your” example. There are MANY uses for a gun and no one person should dictate what others use it for. I use my motorcycles for recreational purposes, that does not mean someone cant use thiers for a main source of transportation.

    Simple truth is…guns are a right…..might not be “god given” but it is a patriot blood shed right given to you by their life. Gun owner ship is a right you can choose nooottt to exercise. It is a right to own a gun if you WANT to…it is not mandatory. You choose not to exercise yoru right, or exercise it a certain way, then good for you….but do NOT try to dictate to others how they choose to exercise theirs.

    On an “aside” note i am willing to bet you have never served a day in the military services have you? im not judging, i can just always point out who has never served becasue they are the first to be willing to give away or take away the rights given to people by the lves of them who have served.

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