An article by Joseph Farah on WorldNetDaily calls President Obama’s gun-control plans, specifically, the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, the way “that every mass-murdering tyranny in the history of the world started.”
The piece makes liberal use of the old (and fallacious) slippery slope argument—that banning some types of guns will lead to banning all guns, which will then lead to a tyrannical government and an oppressed people.
The slippery slope argument that the right-wing gun-rights people like to use is intended as a broad appeal to the fear of the people, or, put another way, intended to make us scared of our government, intended to make us “dead certain” that they are coming to take our guns and make us defenseless. Farah writes in his piece,
“In fact, that was what precipitated the War of Independence. When British occupying forces set out to seize New Englanders’ arms depots at Lexington and Concord, the colonists drew a line in the sand. They understood that without firearms, they would lose any leverage they might have with their masters. They understood that without firearms, they would be hapless subjects of tyrannical government forever. A new generation of Americans find themselves in just that predicament again, as Barack Obama puts on a full-court press to ban entire classifications of firearms leading inevitably to a government monopoly on force.”
Given that the first assault weapons ban didn’t lead to a government monopoly on force, why is it a given that this one will? This is where the fallacy of the slippery slope lies, in the assertion that one action will inevitably lead to another specified action, when, in fact, there are other possibilities, including that the original action will be the end of it.
The fact of the matter is that there has been a 200% jump in the number of mass killings in the U.S. since 2005, going from an average of 1.13 per year from 1900 all the way to 2005 to an average of 3.5 per year since then, according to the Daily Kos. There have been 28 mass killings in the U.S. since the assault weapons ban expired, and 7 occurred in 2012 (the FBI defines “mass killing” as an incident in which at least 4 people die).
While the slippery slope is often used as an appeal to fear, Farah is also making blatant appeal to fear that’s separate from the slippery slope. Towards the end of his piece, he states,
“Yes, children were slaughtered at Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. But not one of those children would have been saved by Obama’s gun grab. To many Americans, that doesn’t matter. They just feel that something must be done. What they don’t understand is that they are helping to set up more carnage, more Sandy Hooks, more bloodshed and, ultimately, the end of government accountability to its citizenry.”
The appeal to fear generally uses propaganda and deception to steer people towards a certain action or conclusion. This part of Farah’s argument likens gun control to a complete ban on guns, and people who agree with this argument like to cite Nazi Germany, where Jews and other classes of people that the Nazis oppressed were prohibited from owning guns, the USSR, Guatemala, and more, and completely ignores the fact that there are plenty of peaceful countries with democratic governments that still have far stricter gun control laws in place than the U.S.
For instance, in Japan, people must hold a shotgun license for ten years before being allowed to apply for a license to own a hunting rifle. Licensing procedures include written and practical exams, and attendance at periodic gun-safety lectures. Handguns are banned from private ownership. In 2008, Japan’s overall intentional homicide rate was less than 1 per 100,000 people.
The U.K. has made it extremely difficult to get a license for a firearm. People who want to own a firearm must fill out a lot of paperwork and essentially prove that that owning a gun is necessary, and that they are not dangerous to society. Self-defense is not accepted as a reason for being granted a license. Automatic weapons, semi-automatic weapons and handguns are banned. Shootings have not been eliminated, but over time, they have been greatly reduced.
Finland, with 45 guns per 100 people, requires heavy background checks and licensing. Automatic weapons are banned from private ownership, though semi-automatic weapons can be purchased with a specific license. The same applies to handguns. Their licensing requirements include passing written and practical tests. Finland also has a very low gun-homicide rate.
Switzerland, which also has the private ownership of firearms deeply ingrained in its culture and guaranteed by law, has a ban on fully automatic weapons, requires a specific license for semi-automatic weapons and handguns. Applicants for licenses are required to prove a genuine need, and self-defense is an acceptable need. Concealed carry licenses require special safety training, and gun owners must re-qualify for their licenses once every five years.
The U.S., however, tends to be resistant to licensing and stronger background checks, and is extremely resistant to the idea of banning certain types of firearms, such as military-grade assault weapons. The argument goes in circles, with many in the gun-rights lobby pointing out different slippery slopes with each type of control measure that can be instituted, along with statements about why none of it will work and why such measures are unconstitutional, and stymieing efforts here to institute responsible measures while trying to appeal to the fear of the people.
Obama may be pushing for an assault weapons ban, but that has to be written up and passed by Congress. The executive orders that he signed are more common-sense, such as making relevant data available to the national background check system and creating a better informational sharing system across agencies, a nationwide campaign to promote safety and responsibility, lifting the restrictions currently on the CDC regarding gun violence research, developing emergency resource plans for schools and religious places, and more. Some of these measures are in line with the control measures elsewhere in the developed world.