Analysis of a bad analogy
by Justin Hinckley, LPNC Second Amendment Issues Coordinator
Cars kill more people every year than guns! You need a license to drive a car! We register cars! A car is also a weapon!
Whether you are pro-gun, anti-gun, or some other prefix related to guns, you have probably heard and used analogies related to cars. I'm not sure why or how this comparison gained popularity, and I admit to using car-related analogies in the past, but we need to put an end to it. In almost every debate or discussion I have, it comes up.
Cars and guns share very little in common insofar as their typical usage and the nature of these tools. Even semantically, cars and guns share very little in common. Pick most of the varied metrics people choose for comparison of differing items and cars differ vastly from guns in average price, fuel used, size, commonality of use, demographic distributions, market annual revenue, and number of parts.
Perhaps most importantly, cars and guns are actively employed for totally different reasons. What do I mean when I say "actively employed?" I mean the tool is being operated mechanically in a way that its parts were designed to function. With that definition we immediately see the disjunction in analogies. In order to have performed their duty, cars must be actively used. We get in our car and drive from point A to point B. Without this transportation, your car has not helped you and has not performed its duty. Cars are active tools that require active employment to receive value from them.
Now take guns. How often does your typical concealed carrier say a gun has done its job? Everyday they carry it. Now, how often does your typical concealed carrier employ their handgun actively by firing it at a threat? What about pointing it a threat? Most data indicate firing or pointing a concealed firearm at a threat is a once-in-a-lifetime, or less, occurrence, far less if we look only at actually firing the gun. Most concealed carriers will never fire their gun at an aggressor. Yet those who carry still think of their gun as having done its duty at the end of every day.
This tells us that a concealed firearm (or home-defense gun for that matter) is a tool which can be passively employed. "Passively employed" means a tool which can perform its duties without being mechanically operated. Firearms are not carried everyday because we know that in order to successfully complete a task we need this specific tool, akin to a screwdriver or a laptop. No, firearms are carried in case of the need to complete one very specific task; self-defense.
Most of us do not find ourselves with the need to defend our life with any sort of regularity. In other words, we carry not because of the odds we need to use it, but because of the stakes if we need it. Should we need our gun, we know our life (and possibly the lives of loved ones) is on the line. Therefore, the defensive gun is a passive tool. It is on duty just in case. It is a fire extinguisher, an AED, a seatbelt, or an airbag. All devices designed specifically for a narrow set of circumstances and to accomplish one primary mission. Extinguish the fire, fix an irregular heart rhythm, prevent ejection, reduce the trauma of impact, and stop a violent attack. Mostly, they sit where they are supposed to sit and do nothing.
Except only to the uninitiated are those tools doing nothing. Those of us who envision and prepare for the worst know there is value to preparedness, even if the tools are never actively employed. Better to need it and not have it, the saying goes. I do not want to leave it up to the fire in my kitchen to decide how much of my house is destroyed. I want a vote, and my extinguisher gives me a vote. All safety equipment is of this nature. It exists for a worst-case scenario and provides you a tool to employ to influence the final outcome of the given circumstances.
In the same way, firearms provide us the tool for survival or victory. Guns are safety equipment, let us start comparing them to other pieces of safety equipment. All these tools are great in the moment, but require thinking ahead. So too, do guns. The first step in accomplishing their respective missions is to be present prior to the emergency. Without that prior preparation, no amount of wishing or running will provide us the reprieve a properly staged emergency tool would have.
Contrast this requirement to that of a car. For the true purpose of a car (easy and fast daily transportation), no such prior planning is required. We can predict and plan for work, school, errands, vacation, and socializing in a much different and less catastrophic way. Work does not jump out from a dark alley at a moment’s notice, contrary to the feeling of dread many people have on Sunday evenings. Errands do not kill me or my family if I am not prepared for them at a moment's notice. If I am unable to socialize because I do not own a car, I can decide to purchase a car and go socialize at some point in the future. The immediacy does not exist in the car ownership paradigm in the same way as guns.
Going forward it is time to put the cars versus guns analogy in the rearview mirror (groan away...). Let us leave such comparisons to rust in the field, ironically one of the few topics where cars and guns have similar traits. There are narrow areas where comparison may be useful between cars and guns, but the broad level with which we often analogize is inappropriate. When it comes to deaths, implementation, training, and general purpose we should find better comparisons. Cars are vital tools to vastly increase the efficiency of our lives. Guns are safety equipment which save lives in specific circumstances.
Do not let yourself be limited to the suggestions offered above for analogy. Find your own piece of emergency or safety equipment you stage in your daily life to save or protect you and use that as the comparison going forward. In this way, we can reclassify guns via our discussion. They are not neat tools that improve our life like a car, but the life-saving means we use to protect ourselves. Let’s talk about them as such.