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Violence Policy Gambit
A Lesson in Giving Cover to Irrational Opinions

by Sean Oberle
(Distribution permitted and encouraged. Please mention that you read it first on

One of the more effective ploys of propaganda is that of preceding a flawed argument with a reasonable argument. The speaker hopes that credibility established with the first argument will provide cover for the second – that his audience will be lulled into giving him a pass.

Of course, when we stop to think about it, we realize that the reasonableness of one argument has nothing to do with the reasonableness of another, despite the same person having made them. Unfortunately, few if any of us are constantly on the watch for such ploys, and thus, to paraphrase Mr. Barnum, some of us get fooled all of the time and all of us get fooled some of the time.

This ploy is precisely what is going on with Violence Policy Center’s “new study,” Handgun Licensing and Registration: What it Can and Cannot Do ( I place the quotation marks around “new study” because it is neither new nor a study.

Rather, VPC has laid its reasonable observation (issued months ago) about the shocking expense and futility of licensing and registration atop numerous unreasonable opinions (all also issued months ago) and called this soup of opinions a study. (Labeling opinions with the words of empirical science – "study,” “research,” “analysis,” etc. – is another propaganda ploy).

Months ago, I wrote about VPC backing off registration based on its observation that the costs, in its words, “would be staggering,” but that the public benefit would be negligible. VPC looked at two factors:

  1. The Canadian experience with registration and licensing has seen costs soar to 10 times the original estimates, and extrapolating that to the nearly 200 million guns in the U.S. creates the probable “staggering” costs.

  2. Registration and licensing of cars exist for tax collection, and their creation did not correlate with declines in death and injury.

It is from these two reasonable observations that VPC leaps to other unreasonable opinions.

A) VPC asserts that declines in car deaths occurred after federal safety regulations prompted car makers to design for safety. Leaving aside the fact that attributing the declines to the regulations is still hotly contested and debated (more drunk driving awareness, increased driver safety training and better engineered roads among other factors also accompanied the fatality declines), VPC makes two errors in applying the car example to guns.

  1. The cause of nearly all gun deaths has nothing to do with design flaws, and

  2. Gun related deaths are plummeting. We’ve cut them nearly in half in less than a decade without safety regulations, drawing their need into question.

B) VPC recycles two of its contrived bugbears about the emergence of “pocket rockets” (very small handguns that shoot medium to high caliber ammo) and of “50-caliber sniper rifles” supposedly capable of shooting down jetliners (who’s paranoid?). VPC then implies that existence of these “unsafe” guns are evidence of a need for safety standards. However, the nose-diving gun death rates that have accompanied the emergence of these two guns undermines any claims that they pose any unreasonable danger to the public, and, in the end, all VPC has done is warm over the illogical scare tactics of “Saturday night specials” and “assault weapons.” VPC has not identified true safety problems; it has merely stated a comfort-level problem. It provides no analysis – zero – of how often, if at all, these supposedly “unreasonably unsafe” guns are involved in violence.

But it is the opinion that VPC fails to mention that is most telling. Violence Policy Center is a rare, if not unique, major-player gun control group in that it still openly calls for an absolute ban of handguns. It is that stated goal through which we must view the likely intent of its initiatives.

We may have our suspicions that HCI or the Million Moms are telling lies when they claim, “We don’t want a ban.” But with VPC, it’s out in the open. No one can call us paranoid when we wonder whether VPC’s policy proposals are intended to lay the groundwork for a ban. It is perfectly reasonable to wonder if a scheme is intended to further a stated goal.

VPC says we need safety regulations of guns and uses terms like “reasonable safety.” On the other hand, it calls for a handgun ban and uses terms like “unreasonably unsafe.” You do the math.

KABA NOTE: The MMM came out in August in support of a gun ban in an Illinois town, proving their "we don't want a ban" to be exactly what it is: a lie. HCI supported the gun ban initiative, as well.