Connecticut Law Review Volume 45 - Issue 5

Firearms Policy and the Black Community: Rejecting the “Wouldn’t You Want a Gun if Attacked?” Argument

The gun lobby has succeeded in focusing the gun debate on a narrow, oversimplified question: “If a criminal attacked you, wouldn’t you prefer to have a gun to protect yourself?” This Article asserts that the question—which correlates with a “more guns” argument—is a red herring, a diversion that leads us off track and blinds us to the need for comprehensive strategies to address the complex, polycentric issues of gun violence in America. In his article, Firearms Policy and the Black Community: An Assessment of the Modern Orthodoxy, Professor Nicholas Johnson pursues a version of the “Wouldn’t you want a gun if attacked?” argument particularized to black communities. Johnson uses the article as a platform for opposing black leaders who support gun regulation while essentially advocating for a “more guns” approach to violence in black communities. This reply Article highlights structural and rhetorical issues in Johnson’s arguments, but focuses on the reasoning fallacy inherent in concentrating the gun debate on a single, exaggerated utility of guns (i.e., the “Wouldn’t you want a gun if attacked?” argument) without fairly considering the offsetting risks or costs. It also asserts we should act quickly as a nation to invest in more research and data collection pertaining to the causes and prevention of firearms deaths and injuries, including the efficacy of guns for self-defense. Only with current, accurate information—which does not exist due in large part to efforts by the gun lobby to stifle gun research—can governments and individuals make rational firearms choices. The Article concludes with a detour from the academic, theoretical world of gun debating to Memphis, Tennessee, one of America’s most violent cities.

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