The Challenge of Reasoned Debate: Addressing the Issue of Gun Violence in America

What happens in the mind when we "think it through"?

There are a lot of well-reasoned arguments out there in support of gun control. But are well-reasoned arguments enough? 

What We Now Know


New York Times Op-Ed writer Nick Kristoff in a recent piece called Lessons From Guns and a Goose made some great points about gun violence that I wish every gun owner—and potential gun owner—in America would consider:

One study, reported in Southern Medical Journal in 2010, found that a gun is 12 times more likely to result in the death of a household member or guest than in the death of an intruder. Another study in 1993 found that gun ownership creates nearly a threefold risk of a homicide in the owner’s household…. David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard, says that having a gun at home increases the risk of suicide in that household by two to four times.


Daniel A. Simon, in a Letter to the Editor of the same paper, made some great points countering an argument one often hears from gun rights advocates that restricting gun ownership is a slippery slope:

"First, reasonable regulations do not devolve into slippery slopes. Just because the government can set a speed limit of 65 miles per hour doesn’t mean that it will then set it at 50, then 30, and pretty soon we won’t have cars. We regulate all sorts of things without falling into abysses.

Second, there is no explanation as to why any such slope doesn’t run the other way. If I can have a semiautomatic gun with 30 rounds, why can’t I have a fully automatic gun with 100 rounds or more? A stockpile of grenades? Shoulder-launched missiles? A radioactive 'dirty bomb'?"


I thought President Obama—who has at times fared better and at times worse in debates—made some very good points recently about the need to balance our various constitutional rights when he noted that we have:

“The right to worship freely and safely; that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The right to assemble peaceably; that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. That most fundamental set of rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech and high school students at Columbine and elementary school students in Newtown; and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate.”

Two weeks ago I highlighted the new book “Reducing Gun Violence in America," a collection of very smart, well-researched essays from some of the world’s best and brightest writers on the subject on the benefits society would gain from gun control.

But are any of these arguments convincing? Are gun owners taking into account what we now know to be empirically true: that having a gun in the house is 12 times more likely to result in the death of a household member or guest than in the death of an intruder? Is this having any effect on the confidence gun owners have in owning a gun?

What We Know About How We Know

“Confidence is a feeling,” writes Daniel Kahneman, emeritus professor of psychology and of public affairs at Princeton University and a winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics, “one determined mostly by the coherence of the story and by the ease with which it comes to mind, even when the evidence for the story is sparse and unreliable…When a compelling impression of a particular event clashes with general knowledge, the impression commonly prevails... The confidence you will experience in your future judgments will not be diminished by what you just read, even if you believe every word.”

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow Kahneman writes about what he calls the “illusion of validity”—that our confidence in our judgments is overwhelmingly unrelated to the truth. Indeed, when confronted with evidence which contradicts our views rather than causing us to reevaluate our beliefs the result is that we actually harden our views.

The reason this moment—post Newtown massacre—holds the possibility of change is not because there’s new evidence to support the positives of gun control, but because folks are feeling differently about guns. Perhaps not enough folks to make enough of a difference nationwide—that remains to be seen. But something is shifting, and for the good.

Be Involved

Please contact the White House to express your support for new gun control measures. Here’s the link:  

Please sign the petitions at Demand A Plan, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, One Million Moms for Gun Control, We The People and Americans for Responsible Solutions.

Please read my previous posts on gun control: Repairing the World: The Truth About Ending Gun Violence Now (December 20);  There is No God: Continuing Thoughts on Gun Control (December 27); Sabbath to Stop Gun Violence (January 3);  Christina’s Letter: More Thoughts on Gun Violence (January 10); Bad News/Good News (January 24); and Interfaith Call-In Event to Prevent Gun Violence (February 1)  

Your comments are welcome.

Rabbi Mark Sameth is the spiritual leader of Joyful Judaism: Pleasantville Community Synagogue an inclusive, progressive synagogue – with members from twenty towns, villages and cities all across Westchester and “A Hebrew School Your Kids Can Love.” Read The New York Times article. Follow Rabbi Mark on Twitter . Weekly meditation at the synagogue every Saturday morning at 9 am is open to the public; everyone – without exception - is welcome and warmly invited. OUR MEMBERSHIP DRIVE IS ON. See “Top Ten Reasons to Join PCS” - as well as service times and events - at www.ShalomPCS.com.

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eatingdogfood February 09, 2013 at 10:54 PM
Roe vs Wade will go down before the second amendment does.
Ross Revira February 10, 2013 at 01:51 AM
Rosie O'Donnell that great liberal thinker is also an anti-gun advocate. Then why did she hire armed security to protect her family? Talk about hypocrites. I hope the day will never come when you will need the protection of a gun to protect your life or liberty.
Ross Revira February 10, 2013 at 01:52 AM
The monitor gets paid overtime.
eatingdogfood February 10, 2013 at 03:33 PM
The reason you live in a free society is a result of people with guns!
dave February 11, 2013 at 07:23 AM
these are acts of people that are beyond help. The Adam kid in Newtown, shot his mother 4 times before heading off to the school. When i think of my mom, i think of all the love and sacrificies she gave and did for me. Putting any bullets into her body just doesn't enter my thoughts. If someone whats to do harm to another person, it will happen.. Wouldn't it be nice that every time a woman was about to harmed, a policeman would be there to stop the crime. The problem is that police are trained but have not mastered the skill of ESP. To cancel gun shows does nothing, bad guys just don't want to follow the rules. To have a officer or armed person at a school will not stop someone. Most schools have over a dozen doors to enter/exit. There is nothin common about commen sense.


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