A bad man uses a gun to inflict harm on others, and, as sure as Pavlov’s dog salivating at the ringing of a bell, the usual scolds decry the insufficiency of the laws meant to prohibit bad men from getting guns. The lament is typically combined with contempt for those who argue against more prohibitions, of course, as if defending the rights of those who have done nothing wrong is a Bad Thing.

Such arguments are typically nirvana fallacies, in that they judge a bad event against a utopian world where no such things ever happen. In a gun-banner’s fantasy land, no one (with exceptions, of course. Law enforcement, the military, and private security for (wink wink) important people should be armed) would own any guns. Anyone who takes a moment to process this understands the gimmick.

There is a second gimmick at play, one less overt because it’s played out over time. Consider:

A Bad Thing happens. Good Government types and statists of other flavors demand that something be done. Regulations and restrictions are imposed. Another Bad Thing happens, similar to the first, that exposes the failure of the first round of regulations and restrictions. More infringements of liberty are imposed. Not infringements on or penalties for the commitment of the Bad Thing – those are already in place, they failed to deter a particular instance of the Bad Thing happening, and besides, why waste an opportunity to impose more control on the people? Infringements on people who’ve done nothing wrong and have no intent of ever doing anything wrong. Rinse and repeat.

Eventually, some who decry the continued occurrence of Bad Things take their penchant for regulation and restriction to the ultimate degree: full-on prohibition.

Here’s where the second gimmick comes into play. Once prohibition is enacted, its failure is excused and defended with a “if we lift the prohibition, Bad Things are going to happen.” They flip the nirvana fallacy on its head, and turn it into a straw man argument. They assert that those who argue for lifting prohibitions claim that legalization will produce a utopian outcome, which is simply not true. When challenged on the straw man, they jump to another one: that lifting prohibitions will result in unbridled mayhem.

Those who oppose the easing of restrictions on gun rights argue that it’ll turn our cities into the Wild West (or, at least, the fictional shoot-em-up version of the Wild West). Those who oppose the decriminalization of recreational drugs argue that it’ll turn us into a nation of junkies. Those who oppose the easing of government restrictions on businesses, industry, and employment argue that it’ll usher in the days of child labor, slave wages, and routine death and dismemberment on the factory floor. Those who oppose easing of regulatory burdens imposed by the EPA predict utter ravaging of the environment. Those who oppose the undoing of Obamacare predict that millions will die. And on and on.

Their rationale? “Its only common sense.” No matter that the regulations and prohibitions aren’t working as intended. No matter that empirical evidence and practical experience refute the doomsaying assertions – all these are waved off either as “things are different here” or “I don’t believe them.” No matter that laws against bad acts that harm others are fundamental even in a liberty-centric society, and that murder remains murder even if there are no restrictions on gun ownership. No matter that a call for rolling back regulation is not a declaration that none should exist or that government itself should be dismantled.

Why is this? Because doomsaying sells. Because emotion-based arguments tend to work better than cold logic. Because the desire for utopia is seen as noble, no matter that it’s impossible. Because anecdotes that humanize an issue tend to resonate, even when they are used to advance a counterproductive agenda. Because it’s easier to be a moral-high-grounder in a fantasy land than to advocate for a better but imperfect outcome. And because it’s more comfortable for people to buy or sell their preferred policy idea than to allow a challenge to infiltrate their brain pans, no matter how much stronger the latter is than the former.

What’s the outcome? Every intrusion on liberty, every expansion of government, every new regulation becomes part of the “new normal,” and every change proposed in the direction of liberty and less government becomes an uphill battle. In the argument about gun rights, every attempt to undo counterproductive restrictions is declared as the irresponsible arming of criminals and lunatics. In the argument about the War on Drugs, every mention of legalization is advocacy for letting people drive stoned and rob little old ladies of their Social Security checks. In the debate over regulation, any rollback is seen as liberating Evil Corp to run amok, dump raw sewage into our reservoirs, drill for oil and mine for coal in our front yards, and put four year olds to work digging for coal with their bare hands. And, looking to merely reduce the planned increases in Medicaid spending is tantamount to throwing the poor out onto the streets, where they can die ignominious deaths.

It’s grotesque hyperbole, it’s false, it’s wrong, and it’s morally bankrupt, and yet, it’s the normal form of debate about public policy and government.

To name a thing is to take away its power and mystery. When we call out doomsayers on their nonsense, we help others see through the fog the doomsayers deliberately raise. When we point out that doomsayers ignore history and the real world, we take away the moral high ground they spuriously claim. When we think and respond clearly, those who cloud the debate are left looking like the irrational fools they are.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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