People pull the triggers, but guns are designed to kill. Let's keep that in mind as the inevitable, mind-numbing, brain-tangling arguments resurface to cloud the issues yet again. Guns are engineered, tested, and refined to kill--rapidly, efficiently and without malfunction.
That is what the technology is designed to do. Period.
As philosopher Evan Selinger put it in the Atlantic after the Colorado shooting, thinking of guns as value-neutral has consequences. Unlike other pieces of technology that sometimes become instruments to kill people--such as cars, say, or knives--guns are designed for no other purpose.
Guns are made to kill. And we've allowed them to be treated as mere consumer items, or as recreational gizmos. They're not. Automatic weapons in particular are designed to kill many people at once.
Given the damage they can do, they should require licensing as heavy as those for someone driving a backhoe or a train. They are a serious technology that now fill private arsenals all over the country, and we know very little about who has them--and why.
Gun manufacturers design guns to kill, rapidly and efficiently. They deny this, but their ads speak for them: they promise to outdo other weapons in speed, accuracy of shot, damage done, time between re-loading, etc. And we've let these big corporate gun firms funnel money through the NRA to politicians, who become weak-kneed and irresolute in the face of unthinkable violence.
Surely we can agree on sensible gun regulations?
Surely, this time, we're not going to be lulled into forgetfulness after a few weeks pass.
As Nicholas Kristof writes in today's op-ed article, "Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?," guns are subject to fewer regulations than many far less deadly household items.
American schoolchildren are protected by building codes that govern stairways and windows. School buses must meet safety standards, and the bus drivers have to pass tests. Cafeteria food is regulated for safety. The only things we seem lax about are the things most likely to kill.Buildings. Buses. Food. Ladders. Toys. These are all subject to strict regulations in the interest of public safety. Automobiles, which are designed for transportation, but sometimes kill people, are heavily regulated.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has five pages of regulations about ladders, while federal authorities shrug at serious curbs on firearms. Ladders kill around 300 Americans a year, and guns 30,000.
We even regulate toy guns, by requiring orange tips — but lawmakers don’t have the gumption to stand up to National Rifle Association extremists and regulate real guns as carefully as we do toys. What do we make of the contrast between heroic teachers who stand up to a gunman and craven, feckless politicians who won’t stand up to the N.R.A.?
Guns are designed solely to kill. Maybe people who buy them don't buy them to kill, but the gun itself is designed with only that purpose in mind. It's no more value-neutral than a nuclear bomb. Yet gun regulations are mild, and ineffective.
Meanwhile, the NRA argument has long been that "guns don't kill people; people do." But guns make it much easier for people to kill, on a larger scale.
From a philosophical perspective, as Selinger argues, this makes guns different from (sometimes deadly) technologies--cars, ladders--that were made primarily to serve other purposes.
[G]uns were designed for the sole purpose of accomplishing radical and life-altering action at a distance with minimal physical exertion on the part of the shooter. Since a gun's mechanisms were built for the purpose of releasing deadly projectiles outwards, it is difficult to imagine how one could realistically find utility in using a gun to pursue ends that do not require shooting bullets. For the most part, a gun's excellence simply lies in its capacity to quickly fire bullets that can reliably pierce targets. Using the butt of a gun to hammer the nail into a "Wanted" post--a common act in the old cowboy movies--is an exceptional use.The NRA's Facebook page may be down at present, but it will be back up with bells on before you can blink. Right now there are corporate conference tables full of people designing the next PR campaign and product launch. There is no time to wait, and no chance to relax our vigilance.
What the NRA position fails to convey, therefore, are the perceptual affordances offered by gun possession and the transformative consequences of yielding to these affordances. To someone with a gun, the world readily takes on a distinct shape. It not only offers people, animals, and things to interact with, but also potential targets. Furthermore, gun possession makes it easy to be bold, even hotheaded. Physically weak, emotionally passive, and psychologically introverted people will all be inclined to experience shifts in demeanor. Like many other technologies, Ihde argues, guns mediate the human relation to the world through a dialectic in which aspects of experience are both "amplified" and "reduced". In this case, there is a reduction in the amount and intensity of environmental features that are perceived as dangerous, and a concomitant amplification in the amount and intensity of environmental features that are perceived as calling for the subject to respond with violence.
Let's begin our discussion with the basic fact that guns were made to kill, and that a potential killer with a gun in hand will find it easier, faster and more efficient to kill than would otherwise be the case. Only then can we make rational decisions about how to proceed.