Monday, March 05, 2018

Logical fallacies in the gun debate

These logical fallacies occur everywhere all the time, but they've been especially plentiful in the debate over guns.

1. Non Sequitur
Non sequitur translates as “it does not follow.” They are more common in casual conversation than formal debate.

Example: I can’t believe you didn’t like The Last Jedi. You loved The Empire Strikes Back and Mark Hamill is in The Last Jedi.

It does not follow that all fans of the original Star Wars trilogy will like The Last Jedi just because Luke is in the movie.

In the gun debate, argument sometimes devolves into non sequiturs. Example: I don’t support the murder of innocents; therefore I don’t vote Republican, since Republicans often support the Second Amendment.
2. False Dilemma/False Dichotomy
News media are notorious for presenting public options as a binary choice: do nothing or pass federal gun control legislation.

“Donald Trump does nothing; Paul Ryan does nothing; Mitch McConnell does nothing,” Joe Scarborough recently said. (He threw in an ad hominem for good measure: “Donald Trump has proven to be a coward. He’s proven to be a small man.”) Scarborough was echoed by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) who told the president to "get off his ass" and work with federal lawmakers to pass gun control legislation.

In reality, there are many actions individuals, communities, parents, and local governments can take to help prevent school shootings. But media reports and pundits on television usually don’t present these alternatives.
4. Straw Man
The straw man is arguably the most common fallacy in modern debate. The fallacy involves taking someone’s point or argument and reducing it to a caricature that is easy to knock over.

A case in point can be found in a recent column by Jerry Adler of Yahoo. In it, Adler mocked an article written by National Review’s David French which stated that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to defend liberty from potential state tyranny.

Adler depicts French as defending assault-style rifles “on the grounds that we might need them to fight a reprise of the American Revolution.” He invokes the image of “middle-aged guys running around the woods in camo pants” trying to go “up against the Marine Corps.”

But French never mentioned the American Revolution, Marines, or middle-aged guys in camo pants. In fact, French explicitly states that an armed citizenry would not be much use if it came to open conflict between the people and the state.  
Instead of directly engaging French's argument that semi-automatic rifles are a more meaningful check on state power than sidearms and shotguns, Adler created a straw man. What’s interesting is that Adler did this while admitting that French “acknowledges that ordinary citizens wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the 101st Airborne” and that there is little evidence that the 1994 "Federal Assault Weapons Ban" reduced gun violence.

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