How to Debate Gun Control with a Persuasion Genius

You gave me such a good response to last month’s newsletter that I’m staying political this month. Readers may know I’m a big fan of Dilbert creator Scott Adams for his uncannily predictive observations on Trump and persuasion matters.  He happens to be a pot-smoking California liberal, but I truly admire his open mind and fresh way of looking at things.  I highly recommend both his autobiographical How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big and the recent explanation of Trump’s success Win Bigly. He’s the reason I stopped wasting time on Facebook to get greater benefits from Twitter – in a future issue I’ll tell you why you should do the same.

I’m cutting and slightly paraphrasing Scott’s words for space, and urge you to visit his original article “Things I have Learned About Gun Control” to read every word.  Scott’s words are in italics:

Scott Adams: I consider myself under-informed on gun control and confess ignorance on the topic. I will list the things I believe to be true, while asking readers to fact-check me. Here’s what I think I know.

Gun control works. If it didn’t work, the Vegas shooter and the Florida school shooter would have used fully-automatic weapons and killed far more people.

The fact that a de facto ban on one type of gun reduces its numbers doesn’t mean much when there are ample substitutes available.  The fact that a ban on saccharine might reduce its use as other sweeteners are substituted does not suggest that a ban on sweetened beverages makes sense.  Semi-auto rifles are virtually as effective as full-auto, and clumsy bump stocks probably saved lives as they tied up the shooter with malfunctions.  There is a reason military rifle training does not advise full-auto for many circumstances and even designed it out of many rifles issued to troops (substituting limited bursts).

Professional criminals can always get weapons. But they are not the topic of most gun control conversations for that very reason.

True.  And headline-grabbing “mass shootings”, “school shootings” and murders using AR15 rifles are minuscule compared to the ordinary gun murders these criminals commit, mostly with pistols, one at a time, away from schools.

States with tight gun control have lower gun violence. Chicago has strict gun control and yet it has high gun violence. Comparing gun ownership in the United States to other countries is more misleading than illuminating because no two situations are alike. The United States isn’t Switzerland and it isn’t Japan.

All true.  The better analysis is to look at a given jurisdiction before and after gun laws changed.  The “Assault Weapon Ban” was analyzed by Department of Justice researchers who admitted they failed to find any beneficial effect.  And during the past generation concealed carry rights have swept the nation as crime has notably declined.

Gun ownership is a safeguard against the government turning on citizens. While the professional military will always have overwhelming firepower compared to citizens, private guns would instantly be turned on the unprotected assets and family members of anyone involved in a coup attempt. That’s a safeguard.

Amen.  Even Democrat standard-bearers like Hubert Humphry openly held this view without a peep of criticism: “[T]he right of citizens to bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible.”

The NRA opposes universal background checks for gun purchases because it creates a list of gun owners that would be useful for a government that might want to later confiscate guns.

True.  And easily resolved by limiting all background checks and records to a system that anyone can use by entering someone’s driver’s license information.  The system won’t know which searches are for babysitters, blind dates, contractors, or gun buyers.  Keep the transaction number to prove you checked out a buyer and avoid liability.

Yet the NRA itself is a list of gun owners, in effect. And any gun owner who buys a weapon, ammo, gun accessories, or uses a gun range is discoverable by their credit card or check purchases. If you subscribe to Guns & Ammo magazine, or visit gun websites, or say pro-gun things on social media, that’s discoverable too. So 98% (just a guess) of gun owners are already discoverable by the government.

Error #1: The NRA list is private and not available to potential tyrants.
Error #2: Purchase records are private and require a court order to access.
Error #3: We know they know who most gun owners are. We don’t want them to know who the owners of AR15 rifles are, because they would use that list in phase one of the confiscation scenario – they wouldn’t dare demand to inspect the homes of every gun owner as step one  – recall the boiled frog.
Error #4: Don’t underestimate the number of gun owners who aren’t active purchasers, members, subscribers or commenters.  I’d guess that more like 1/3 of gun owners are undetectable – and that might be 50,000,000 people.  No way is it less than 10,000,000, or any number so far above zero that Scott’s “we’re all on a list” point is effectively wrong.

We could pass a law putting some liability (say a $10,000 fine for example) on the private seller in case the gun is used by the buyer for a crime within, let’s say, one year.

Bingo.  The confirmation code from your check is proof.  If you want to skip that insurance when selling your brother-in-law a third gun then you can take the risk.

Gun owners worry about a slippery slope from background checks to gun confiscation. But with hundreds of millions of guns already in circulation, and a gun culture in our DNA, we already have Mutually Assured Destruction if the government were to attempt confiscation. The government itself would fall within a week, in my opinion. I judge the slippery-slope-to-confiscation argument to be a real risk, but a smaller risk than just about any other risk the country routinely discusses.

A house fire or cancer diagnosis is a small risk, but financially devastating to most families, justifying insurance.   This isn’t a speculative risk but devastation that has been repeated throughout history, costing over 100,000,000 lives in the 20th century due to tyrannical governments.  And recalling the boiling frog, they would never start with confiscation.  Consider the undisciplined admissions of one of the Children of Parkland: “When they give us that inch, that bump stock ban, we will take a mile.”

Politicians and citizens often refer to AR-15 rifles as assault weapons, or assault rifles. But a more accurate description, by far, would be “defensive weapon.” I would imagine that for every 10,000 AR-15 sales, perhaps one nut is buying for actual assault purposes. The rest are for sport shooting and defense. Words matter in political conversations.

Well said.  Although I suspect it’s more like one in a million, as millions are sold, and only a couple are used in crime.

According to at least one ER doctor who has seen many gunshot wounds, the high-velocity rounds of an AR-15 will explode organs and make wounds unsurvivable, whereas the typical lower-velocity handgun wounds often leave cleaner holes that can be less lethal. This generality assumes most handguns don’t have special rounds that could also explode organs. And distance from target makes a difference, I hear.

This reveals the risk of trusting a simple “expert.”  We don’t trust auto body repairmen for expertise on how to design safer cars.  My understanding is that the AR-15’s 22-caliber round has been used for generations by the military and was originally intended to be effective at creating not instant death, but wounds that would take a second soldier out of the fight to aid his wounded comrade.  Well-informed gun nuts chuckle at the ridiculous “explode organs” language as a “tell” revealing a political advocate, not an expert.

Also for typical distances, both rifles and pistol bullets retain essentially all their lethality.  The difference is in ease of aiming, and only a carefully aimed rifle is accurate at distance, unlike rapid fired pistols and rifles.

Gun owners say handguns are just as effective as AR-15s for mass shootings.

Remember, “mass shootings” are only about 1% of all gun homicides, and minuscule among the benefits of an armed citizenry (crime protection, tyranny insurance).  Focusing on “mass shootings” is part of the anti-gun “framing” of the issue, like pro-abortion advocates bringing up “what about rape?” when the debate turns against them on other questions.  Incidentally, Scott says that he thinks abortion policy should be set only by women – maybe he thinks gun policy should be set only by people with some experience with guns?

The question of which might be more effective is a distraction.  Read on:

And I would expect human psychology to favor AR-15s for any “make me famous” killings such as the recent school tragedy.

Yet 75% of mass shootings are by handguns, not rifles.

It would also be an advantage over police on the scene if the first responders had only handguns and shooting distance is a factor.

Police now have rifles in their vehicles since the famous North Hollywood bank robbery shootout 21 years ago.  Plus, mass shootings rarely involve engagement at long distance.  Nor is there evidence that this has even happened in the last generation.

Gun owners say gun control doesn’t work because any law can be skirted. You can’t plug all of the holes in the system. But gun control doesn’t attempt to plug every hole. It attempts to add some useful friction in places that might improve things by 2%, for example. When it comes to life and death, small improvements count.

I’ve never heard a gun rights advocate say this.  We say: “We already have gun control” and ask why virtually none of the criminals who fail background checks aren’t prosecuted.   We ask whether states that ban teachers with carry licenses from being voluntarily armed are making schools less safe, and invite analysis of how different state laws are working before adopting federal laws.  It may be that we already have too much gun control, and some of the “friction” is actually making our society more vulnerable to crime.

Some people tell me there are already universal background checks in the law (and therefore existing lists of gun buyers) but I assume that system is incomplete or we wouldn’t be discussing it. I could use some fact checking there.

Some states do make private sales illegal.  The fact that gun controllers aren’t pointing to the promised crime reductions tells you all you need to know.

If universal gun background checks are objectionable to the NRA, would a no-buy list also be objectionable? A no-buy list also carries the risk of identifying legal gun buyers simply because you have to do a search with the buyer’s name to know if he or she is on the no-buy list. But maybe we could mitigate that risk by designing a system that automatically sends a thousand random names of real people with every query so the government can’t tell who the search was for. The gun store owner would get back only the no-buy names from the thousand, in alphabetical order, so it would be easy to check if the customer in front of you is one of them. Or perhaps the gun store owner can see a list of no-buy people in the buyer’s zip code so no query with the buyer’s name is ever used. Just brainstorming here. Might be other solutions that are better.

This is an excellent idea, Scott.  It actually has some potential to solve the problem without triggering the biggest fear of the usual opponents.  Much like my system in which anyone can get a $10 background check for any reason, with no information other than a driver’s license number transmitted to the government or any record made of who bought what.  But the anti-gun faction hates this because it means that gun owners would enjoy privacy and not be vulnerable to confiscation sweeps after gun bans.

Still, even if our fear of restrictions, bans, confiscation, tyranny and genocide were misplaced, we’re the paranoid nuts you have to cut a deal with.  And we might think the gun control advocates are delusional if they think federal universal background checks will stop any criminals from getting guns any more than state laws have.  But both fears can be addressed nicely with Scott’s “no-buy” list or my “open source” background checks.

See you at NRA

It’s on my home turf in Dallas this year, so watch for news about a special event I hope you can attend.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!
About the Author: Ben Langlotz

Ben Langlotz is the nation’s leading firearms patent and trademark attorney, and the author of Bulletproof Firearms Business: The Legal Guide to Success Under Fire. He is trusted by more firearms industry companies than any other lawyer or law firm in the nation, and is consistently ranked at the top of all attorneys in securing gun patents and gun trademarks.