The fundamental problem with gun control is that it is not about saving lives. It is not about numbers. The Right understands this and made this an issue of freedom and self-defense. You cannot argue against values with facts. For example, “theft is good” cannot be merely refuted by the fact that the person being robbed is hurt or feels bad. Even if the victims were numerous. This is a mere fact. What occurs, instead, is that we impose a value judgment onto these facts when we say, “what happened to that person is wrong.” This value judgment would be along the lines of “It is wrong to hurt a person,” or “It is wrong to steal.” This happens simultaneously with the input of facts. This is why we feel like we are not making value judgments. All facts are theory-laden:
“The twentieth-century observer looks into the night sky and sees stars and planets; some earlier observers saw instead chinks in a sphere through which the light beyond could be observed. What each observer takes himself or herself to perceive is identified and has to be identified by theory-laden concepts.” — Alasdair MacIntyre
Too often, Liberals make this a problem of data and ignorance of the Social Sciences. This stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the Social Sciences. The Social Sciences deal with the most complicated subjects of analysis: society, economy, human beings, political institutions, etc. They cannot make predictions and generalizations that are nearly as strong as those made by Physics or Biology. Even the strongest arguments have counter-examples, as observed by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. For example, two of the most famous studies in Sociology do not follow the Popperian model of falsification. First, James C. Davies’s famous thesis in 1962 generalizes Tocqueville’s observation that the French Revolution occurred when a period of rising and to some degree gratified expectations was followed by a period of set-back when expectations continued to rise and were sharply disappointed. Second, Rosalind and Ivo Feierabend (1966) generalized that the most and least modernized societies are the most stable and least violent, whereas those at midpoint in the approach to modernity are most liable to instability and political violence. There exist many counter-examples to both: Russian and Chinese Revolutions to Davies, and Political Violence in Latin America to Feierabend’s. Nonetheless, such counter-examples do not refute their status as salient generalizations in Sociology. There exist no counter-factuals that ultimately refute a generalization.
This is not a fact that cheapens these disciplines. It merely reflects just how complicated human beings are. We are intentional beings that can choose one act over another. Choice creates unpredictability. All of this is then further complicated by the fact that we are social and linguistic beings. We have to figure out how complex beings interact with each other unpredictably in complex structures like the market, the state, and language. It would be impudent of Social Scientists to expect the law-like generalizations one encounters in Science.
Such confusion produces a breeding ground for never-ending feuds between disparate interpretations. Within our ordinary lives, facts are supposed to be privileged by whether or not they have counter-factuals. For instance, a conclusion with ample evidence safe from counter-factuals is privileged over one with scant evidence and plenty of counter-factuals. Yet, the Social Sciences can only produce facts with counter-factuals. This contradicts our ordinary intuition regarding facts. None of these generalizations about society and persons can assert itself as law-like. We need to make an extra leap in conceptual gymnastics to feel at ease in the epistemic landscape of the Social Sciences. Coupled with the great incentive for political machines to insert propaganda and tribal skepticism, there appears to be no hope for resolution and synthesis.
This is why we must escape the world of facts and counter-factuals: we must explore the terrains of normativity. The problem of gun control is already ripe with normativity: Why do we have such an intimate relationship with lethal weapons that are primarily used to kill other human beings? What does this say about our relationship with death? Or human lives? Is this the right environment to foster a child? Is this even conducive to freedom and democracy? As the Philosopher, DeBrabander aptly put it: “As ever more people are armed in public — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point. … An armed society is polite, by [the NRA’s] thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening.” Freedom of speech becomes obsolete in such a society, which is essential for democracy.
Not only does gun control harbor plenty of normative content, it is also more conducive to normative evaluation. Values are not treated like facts (Black and White thinking), despite the increasing push for such simplistic thought from various parties. We intuitively understand the multi-faceted nature of our values. This is why we do not merely treat Saul Goodman, Ozymandias, Lady Eboshi, and Milton’s Lucifer as villains. Furthermore, normativity binds with the believer. A statistic about the casualties of gun violence does not stick to one’s identity like the virtues of justice, freedom, and friendship. This is why the members of the NRA are so much more dedicated to their cause than critics of gun control. Their primary motivator is their belief in freedom, while Vox generates videos about the statistics of gun violence.
I am not suggesting that we should abandon all generalizations from the Social Sciences. Rather, my goal is to point out that we are only relying on the Social Sciences to do the work of a holistic activity that must involve philosophy, religion, science, political praxis, and so on. This is a disservice to the hard work of Social Scientists who devote their lives to their discipline with the virtues of truth and justice in mind. This is a disservice to our community and fellow citizens who must not suffer from our confusion and disarray.
After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre