The Insane False Dichotomies of the Gun Debates

America has a gun problem, and a lot of other problems.

After yet another mass shooting in the U.S., which once again involved a bunch of children getting murdered in their school, the familiar gun debates are playing out all over the regular media and social media. These are the scripts:

“We have a gun problem in America.” “We don’t have a gun problem, we have a mental health problem.”

“We have a gun problem in America.” “We don’t have a gun problem, we have a bullying problem.”

“We have a gun problem in America.” “We don’t have a gun problem, we have a culture problem.”

If the most recent shooter were not a white male the list would also include “We have a gun problem in America.” “We don’t have a gun problem, we have a terrorist problem.”

The next phase of the debates goes, like this:

“We should solve the gun problem by limiting people’s access to guns.” “We can’t do that because it’s not a gun problem it’s …(see above).”

“We should solve the gun problem by limiting people’s access to guns.” “We can’t do that because the Second Amendment.”

As the debate goes on it progresses into debates about what an assault riffle is or isn’t, the good guy with a gun trope, the actual meaning of the Second Amendment, etc. Many of these are actually important conversations that we as a country should be continuously engaging in, but the starting points for these debates are ridiculous on their face.

We have a gun problem in America. We also have a mental health problem, and a drug problem. We have a bullying problem in schools. We have a racism problem. We have problems with male entitlement and toxic masculinity and violence. And we have problems with religious fanatics and terrorists. None of these problems precludes any of the others.

What makes the gun problem stand out is that it enables the other problems to become deadly very efficiently, and when the shooting is a mass shooting it stands out even more. However, none of these problems are limited to mass shootings. By far the most common form of gun death in the U.S. is suicide; most years there are almost twice as many gun suicides as there are gun homicides in America. Another type of gun violence that’s sadly common place in the U.S. now is women being shot to death by their current or former romantic partner, this accounts for roughly half of the homicides of women in the U.S. Both suicides and murders are more likely to involve handguns, which kill exponentially more Americans each year than all kinds of rifles and shotguns combined.

Preventing these and other types of gun deaths will mean letting go of stupid debates based on the false premise that the U.S. can only have one type of problem. It will mean making real investments in things like health care that includes mental health care and suicide prevention. It will also mean dealing with the reality of contemporary sexism and racism in America, while simultaneously confronting religious fundamentalist terrorism and bullying and whatever else contributes to the continued prevalence of gun violence in the U.S. Solutions won’t come from endlessly rehashing the same back and forth, they will come from searching for real actionable information on what compels people to act violently, and mitigating those causes. Preventing gun deaths will also necessarily involve limiting access to guns by people who intend to use them to cause harm. Specifically that entails enacting laws to require background checks, blocking people who have committed violent crimes from owning guns, and enforcing responsible chain of ownership for firearms. There are no easy solutions to stopping mass shootings or other forms of gun deaths in the U.S., but there are possible solutions.

No. 1-4

Why has it never been easy because probably politicians have been influenced by something else they can't resist. We'll leave you thinking what that may be and unless it's removed, none of these easy solution laws will go. Unless the Republicans are voted out

Philip Carino
Philip Carino

The way you listed actual counters mostly conservatives make to the all encompassing "we have a gun problem" from liberals proves there's no dichotomy at all because there are possible arguments against the gun problem and there's not just two of them out there. The problem is that we only argue, we never really act on them or at least the legislators. Why isn't it so easy to for example citing from your solutions "enforcing responsible chain of ownership for firearms". This seems super super easy to do but they can't do something about it. And yet they keep electing these politicians who are huge failures


We actually SHOULD limit people's access to guns; especially the people who shouldn't have those guns. That IS possible without even involving the 2nd Amendment. Just off the top of my head and without googling, the shootings at both Santa Fe, TX and Newtown, CT are examples of people who shouldn't have had access to guns. Not because of mental health issues or any other kind of categorization, but because they didn't pass any kind of background check and were able to obtain the weapons from within their homes because they were unsecured. A federal law which makes it a CRIMINAL offense to have an unsecured weapon would make the irresponsible gun owner liable for the consequences of that irresponsibility. Frankly, if a member of my family were killed because somebody decided they could afford the guns, but not the gun safe, I would hire the most evil, blood-suckingly vile, bottom feeding, shyster lawyers I could find. I'd sign them to a 90% for favorable/nothing for unfavorable contract and wait as long as I needed to see them ruined, financially at the least. And, no this doesn't infringe upon any liberties I can think of, aside from the liberty to not be responsible for your own idiocy.

Jon Saltzman
Jon Saltzman


Alexis, this is great analysis and you speak to the heart of the matter. You're right, this is a very complex issue and we all keep dancing around it and trying to simplify a difficult thing. This is exactly what needs to be said. I wish I'd written this!