Hold Your Fire

Originally appeared in the February 1999 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Hold Your Fire


Gun control is becoming an issue of increasing prominence in educational circles. In higher education, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is surveys show college students are more affluent than persons who don’t go to college. The bad news is this enables them to purchase top-of-the-line firepower that can pierce the body armor worn by most professors.

I’m kidding, of course. Professors don’t wear body armor. They don’t make tweed body armor with bullet-proof patches on the sleeves. That was just to lighten the tension. As someone who actually teaches a law school course on gun violence, I know first-hand that emotions run high in the gun control debate.

Just the other day I observed a group of students engaged in a lively debate with their Constitutional Law professor over the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment. Their arguments were quite persuasive, as was their pistol-whipping. The professor not only agreed with their position, but handed over his wallet.

To participate authoritatively in the gun control discourse, you need to know lots of statistics. The gun control debate always comes down to statistics. Fortunately, there are plenty of statistics to support any opinion. The fact that these statistics are often exaggerated or irrelevant seems only to fuel their use, as each side tries to statistically one-up the other. Here’s a typical gun control debate:

Gun Control Proponent: Last year in Japan, only one person was killed by a gun, while in the U.S. more than seventeen million people were killed just from getting hit in the head with ejecting shell cartridges.

Gun Control Opponent: Japan is a very regimented society. Only one Japanese citizen out of a hundred thousand gets to experience the excitement of dodging gunfire. Besides, every day in America, twenty million people use guns in self-defense and millions more use them to safeguard the country from British invasion.

Proponent: Nonsense. Studies show a gun in the home is one-hundred and forty-six million times more likely to be used to kill a snail darter than for self-defense.

Opponent: Pro-gun control statistics are one billion times stupider than anti-gun control statistics.

Proponent: If you laid all the preposterous claims of gun control opponents end to end, they would circle the universe for infinity.

Opponent: Statistically speaking, non-gun owners are six-and-a-half trillion times more likely to be ugly than gun owners.

Proponent: There’s a 99.99 percent chance that the rude remark I’m about to make concerning your mother will cause the veins in your neck to explode.

Opponent: My machine gun can pump bullets into your abdomen at gajillion-bazillion rounds per second.

Unfortunately, at this point, the quality of the debate usually begins to deteriorate.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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