“Guns Don’t Kill People.” “Guns Save Lives.” What?

I once saw a guy wearing a shirt that said,
guns don’t kill people.”

On that shirt was a sticker:
Guns save lives.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

From the same person, on the same day, came the argument that guns, while unable to kill people, do save people from death.

Folks, I’m not here to make an argument for or against gun ownership or gun control. I just want you to consider the irony in the rhetoric.

See, I could understand if you said that guns don’t kill people. We all know that, after all. It’s bullets that kill people. The gun just acts as a mechanism to propel the bullet at sonic speeds, at which point it becomes capable of tearing through organic flesh, rupturing all tissue in its path. And we all know it takes a person pulling a trigger for that to happen—even if it’s by accident, because a child found the loaded gun you so cleverly hid under your bed to protect your child from a violent intruder. Even then, it’s not the gun that did it. Sure, I’ll go with that.

I could also understand you if you said that guns, because they can kill people, save lives. After all, despite the 30,000 or so gun-related deaths that occur every year in the US, sometimes those deaths are the deaths of people who were going to kill more people. Suppose we even concede to admitting that a 1993 phone interview questionnaire of only 4,000 gun-owning Americans produces an accurate number of 2.5 million prevented deaths a year due to guns, I would say that is a lot of lives saved by guns being fired off. I mean, George Zimmerman could have possibly, in some remotest speculation, saved his own life and countless other people’s lives, by firing his gun. Sorry—I mean, his gun saved his life, and all those people’s lives, by being fired off by him.

But you can’t say both and be correct.

You cannot ascribe moral agency to a gun when it “saves” a life, but then refuse to ascribe moral agency to it when it kills a life. You cannot remove the agency of guns from the equation of culpability when they kill, and then give them full credit when they “prevent death”. You cannot have it both ways.

Guns are inanimate objects. If you say that they do not kill people because it is the hand holding them, then you must also admit that they do not save anybody because it is only the hand holding them that saves people.

As mere tools, guns neither actively kill people or save people. They just enable people to injure and kill more easily. They are designed to perform such tasks. If there were no intent in the design of guns to function in the aid of killing, they would not be sought after as tools for killing, or for saving lives. By default, they are primarily life-taking tools, not life-saving tools.

People kill people. People save lives. People who live by guns die by guns. Draw the focus away from guns. The more you focus on  guns as a source of strength, the more you empower people to use guns to solve problems. That “pro-gun” T-shirt you’re wearing? It may be one of many messages sent to a disturbed young man that strength comes from what one does with a gun. Want to save lives? Think again about the messages you send about guns. Be realistic about their potential for destruction.

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