An American correspondent vented about the National Rifle Association’s mantra – “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”
In one sense, it’s true. A gun cannot kill people unless a human loads it and pulls the trigger. A gun that stays locked in its case is perfectly safe.
In fact, all slogans contain a snippet of truth – that’s what makes them attractive. All slogans also ignore the rest of the truth – that’s what makes them dangerous.
So it’s equally true, as my correspondent noted, “that vehicles don’t kill people; people kill people.”
You can see the parallel. A car cannot kill someone unless a human starts the engine and drives it. A vehicle immobile in its garage cannot run anyone down.
Then she went on, “We set in place lots of restrictions to make it harder for people to kill people with vehicles (no bayonets on bumpers; no TV screens on steering wheels, etc.)… Why do we substitute ideology for common sense when it comes to gun control?”
In fact, the NRA argument could be applied to almost anything constructed by humans.
• Bombs don’t kill people; people build bombs, aim them, drop them…
• Faulty buildings don’t kill people; architects planned them, contractors cheated on materials, construction…
• Land mines don’t maim people; people manufacture those mines, buy those mines, place them where others will walk…
• Toxic pollutants don’t poison people; people ignore environmental standards and regulations…
• Economic flimflam doesn’t hurt homeowners; people write the mortgage policies, sign the papers…
No doubt those rationalizations will provide great consolation to those who have lost lives or limbs, homes or health, respect or freedom.
You might notice that all those assertions have a common thread – the problem is people. I’m surprised no one has suggested the obvious solution – ban people! If we had no people, we’d have no guns, no bombs, no land mines, no collapsing roofs, no industrial chemicals…
Doesn’t that make sense?
Of course not. And by extension, neither do most self-serving slogans. Merely repeating a mantra doesn’t absolve guns – or cars, or land mines, or mortgage clauses – of having devastating effects when misused or abused.
Most people accept responsibility for what they do with human technology. But a few don’t. A few construct shoddy buildings, or drive while drunk. A few invent financial scams, cheat on environmental regulations, or use guns to settle disagreements.
That’s why we have regulations that require cars to meet safety standards. Why we have building codes. Why 156 countries (the U.S. being the most significant exception) have outlawed land mines. And that’s why we have – in Canada, at least – laws restricting hate speech.
I see no reason why guns should be exempt from that principle.
We need limits on guns, just as we need them on any human activity that can harm others. That’s why we have governments. To establish ground rules that protect most of us from the unscrupulous few who are unwilling to accept the principle that people shouldn’t harm other people.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; firstname.lastname@example.org.