How Pro-Choice Activists Are Like Pro-Gun Activists, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Jim Elliott responds to the criticisms from readers in these updates:

First, while all analogies are inherently flawed—there’s no one-to-one equivalence, ever—I think in this case, the analogy is somewhat effective, because it illustrates the practical problem of talking pragmatic policy trying to bridge the divide between camps opposed on first principles. I understand—though don’t agree with—many gun rights advocates’ concerns regarding gun control, because ultimately the “middle ground” solutions your reader says “most” people are in favor of—background checks, cooling off periods, safety training, and no assault rifles—are just tinkering around the edges.

Look at the “gun show loophole.” In 1997, the Justice Department found that 0.7 percent of guns used in crimes were obtained at gun shows. Many states—including California, which leads the nation in the number, but not rate, of gun crimes—already require background checks at gun shows.

Cooling off periods are, again, useful for some types of gun violence—i.e. suicide—but not gun crime. Even their utility in reducing suicides was found to only be statistically valid for intended suicides by people 55 or older. Again … tinkering.

Safety training isn’t something I have any problem with—even California’s test for a permit to buy a handgun is so simple you basically can’t be trusted with the pencil you use to fill it out if you can’t pass. Many states do have more rigorous safety courses for people applying for carry permits, as well they should.

This brings us to the ever-ubiquitous “assault rifle” argument, which was essentially given to the United States by some divine and perverse creature to make sure no one agrees on anything, ever. Definitions of assault rifles are primarily cosmetic; a semi-automatic is a semi-automatic at its basest function whether it is America’s most popular rifle—the .22 caliber Ruger 10/22—or the wet dream of some mil-spec fetishist’s custom AR-15: Detachable magazine, self-loading and cocking, pull the trigger and it (theoretically) works. Rifles, as a whole, historically make up about 2.5 percent of the firearms used in homicides.

So, again ... tinkering.

Gun rights advocates know these figures. They know that if you want to make a substantial, serious impact on homicide and suicide in this country, you need to get rid of handguns. They’re the most-commonly purchased, most-commonly stolen, most-commonly used to harm oneself or another. Full stop.

A gun control advocate who doesn’t want to stop the sale and possession of handguns in their entirety is either fooling themselves or someone who doesn't really care beyond the conversation they’re in at that moment. Now, I don’t particularly care for slippery-slope arguments, and I think the NRA is so afraid of this one they prevent extraordinarily useful tinkering—because saving lives, even around the edges, is a worthy goal. But the logic is inescapable if you’ve bothered to study the issue.

Bringing me to your second reader. If, indeed, she has enough experience to “like and respect” me, then she has been here long enough to know I already know and agree with their point. Medical progress has gifted women with the ability to choose whether or not they will bear the life-long consequences that come to their body from bearing a child, and not acknowledging those consequences is so cavalier it should render one ineligible to discuss the topic.

Let me be clear: While health is a crucial concern in choosing abortion, this does not diminish the fact that this very liberty—to choose not to bear the consequences of pregnancy, to set the course of one's own life—is what is at stake. It’s not liberty “to own a gun” that is at stake, any more than it is just a woman’s choice to be a parent or not that is at stake: It is the liberty to defend the sanctity of one’s own body and its course.

A woman is choosing the course of her life over the potential life inside them. And that’s fine. If I’m going to pick my belief in the human right to the tools of self-defense over potentially-ended lives, I have precisely zero truck to be able to criticize a woman over that choice, and any gun rights advocate who claims otherwise is just engaging in the time-honored human tradition of refusing to apply their own logic to a situation they don't want to because they know it makes them wrong. And vice versa.

Any remaining thoughts on this thread? Drop me an email.