I think that people asking the wrong questions really saved us here. We benefit greatly when violent people are focused on spectacle rather than body count, because the body count is minimized — how many people are alive today because your average school shooter doesn’t realize that they could do way more damage by stealing a school bus, or renting a moving truck?

Obviously, there is no big-truck-control debate the way that a there’s a gun control debate. I don’t think there really can or should be: guns have pretty limited application, in a way that motor vehicles, pressure cookers, and fertilizer don’t. We also have restrictions on swords and long knives in some places. It’s sort of like drug scheduling: although many things are misfiled, the idea that we would determine how to regulate something based on a combination of desirable and undesirable uses makes sense.

Since guns exist only to fire slugs at high speeds, and the set of desirable applications for high speed slug propulsion is small (essentially, the recreational destruction of inanimate objects, and depending on who you’re talking about, a pretty small subset of animals and people) and the set of possible applications is large (a gun will fire a slug into anything or anyone), it makes sense to have regulations. The exaggerated cultural importance of firearms in the united states makes regulations both more important and more culturally powerful. (By analogy, consider that Japan had guns at the time of the sword ban, and yet we know that as a sword ban because the sword was the iconic weapon. Swords weren’t even the most important weapon during the warring states period!)

(We also, of course, don’t limit regulations to only the most important cases. For instance, there are strict regulations on alcohol used in lab work, even though surely this source could never account for a large percentage of alcohol-related deaths.)

I think we (as people who care more about not being shot than we care about shooting) benefit from fighting for gun control, but I don’t think most of those benefits actually come from lowered rates of firearm possession. (And, I think other techniques might actually be more effective at lowering the rates of firearm deaths than partial bans.)

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Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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