Salon Uses False Dichotomy to Push Gun Control

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Logic is something that is sorely missing from this world.

Once upon a time, logic was considered an essential part of a person's education. It was necessary to learning how to think critically. 

In this day and age, education is doing good to have people graduate high school reading at grade level, so it's needless to say that logic is gone from most educational institutions. There are exceptions, of course, but not everyone gets that kind of training.

That's clear because of a gun control piece I came across over at Salon.

Now, I'm never going to assume Salon is anything but what it is, a left-leaning publication that is going to advance gun control at every opportunity. It's not the only position they take by any stretch, but they're not exactly somewhere you expect to see a pro-gun message.

In this piece, they are trying to make the case that gun control can prevent suicides, and in trying to make the case, they get kind of illogical.

The ongoing mental health crisis in America is coupled with an escalating suicide crisis that reached record highs in 2022, with nearly 50,000 deaths. Almost 55% of these deaths involved firearms. While gun control is usually discussed in terms of ending mass shootings, it will also stop a lot of self-inflicted violence. One of the best strategies for addressing this issue can saves lives, though it has an intimidating name: lethal means counseling.

Lethal means counseling is when — for the safety of a person in acute distress — firearms and dangerous medications are voluntarily and temporarily stored in secure areas. Many people undergoing mental health crises are at risk of hurting themselves, whether suicidally or unintentionally. Dr. Kurt Michael, the senior clinical director at The Jed Foundation, has seen many cases in which "a person’s access to lethal means is often a primary contributing factor as to whether death is the outcome of a suicide attempt," he said.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate lethal means counseling is through two morbid scenarios: In the first, a 20-year-old person in distress went to their father’s gun cabinet, removed a loaded firearm and shot himself in the head, dying within seconds. In the second scenario, he went to the gun cabinet and couldn't find any weapons. So he used a razor to open up his wrists and was found an hour later, rushed to the hospital and survived, agreeing to seek help.

While this trolley problem is indeed dark, it's a choice many people face every day. Lethal means counseling is a way to make the worst outcomes less likely.

While it is voluntary at first, lethal means counseling still requires a person to lose some of their immediate personal agency. Nevertheless, lethal means counseling seems justifiable because the temporary loss of freedom has the consequence of prolonging their lives. A similar argument can thus be made for mandatory waiting periods, which have been linked by the nonprofit think tank the Rand Corporation with lowered suicide rates as well as lowered violent crime rates. If a person wishes to shoot themselves but cannot easily obtain a gun, it is reasonable to assume they will have more time to reconsider that terrible decision.

OK, so let's talk about their "trolley problem" for a moment.

First, it's nothing like the actual trolley problem, which is about ethical choices. This is an anecdote that presents two possible outcomes, one in which a suicidal person has access to guns and takes their own life, and one in which they don't have that access and while they still attempt to kill themselves, they are unsuccessful.

This is what's known as a false dichotomy. It presents these options as only the two potential outcomes when, in fact, there are so many more.

For example, someone could have access to firearms and fail to take their own life--guns are not 100 percent lethal, even for suicides. They could die as a result of self-inflicted injuries with that razor blade. They could instead opt for another method that is nearly as lethal as firearms and either succeed or fail.

There are an untold number of possible outcomes, but all of that muddies the water. Then again, that's the intention.

See, most people don't recognize an informal logical fallacy when they see one. They're not taught about those anymore. As a result, you can present this false choice as if it really is that simple.

The writer then goes on to talk about waiting periods as the solution to the issue of suicide, but again, that only really applies if you ignore the other methods available for those who want to take their own lives.

"But studies show..."

First, gun studies are notoriously bad science. They're generally constructed in a way to advance an anti-gun narrative, as we've seen countless times, so all of them need to be taken with a grain of salt.

In the case of those involving waiting periods and suicides, what every such study I've found shows is that it ties to a reduction in gun suicides. Not suicides in general, just those that involve a firearm.

Why is that?

Could it be that the overall suicide rate didn't really drop when you control for other factors? Honestly, it's hard to tell since no one is remotely interested in looking, apparently. They're focused on guns and gun suicides.

And here's the thing, there's already a mechanism for removing someone who is a danger to themselves or others from their access to firearms. Every state has a law on the books that will allow authorities to involuntarily admit someone to a psychiatric facility if there is reason to believe they're a danger to themselves or others.

But if we're going to present choices, here's one: Two women are concerned about someone in their life. They have reason to believe they're in danger, so they go to buy a gun. One completes the purchase that day and takes their gun home. Two days later, this individual attacks, only to be shot and killed.

The other woman has to wait 72 hours, but 36 hours later, her body is discovered in a dumpster. She'd been raped and beaten to death.

Of course, there are plenty more potential outcomes. We tend not to pretend otherwise. We simply acknowledge that we can't control for everything, so access to firearms is an essential right in part because we don't know what will happen.

No false dichotomies there.