Everyone has heard it, most people believe it, and it has even become “the argument” to settle the gun control debate. It is simple, it is catchy and you can make a bumper sticker out of it.
However, even though the logic of the argument makes overall sense, the line of thought is actually terrible. Let me explain. First of all, by saying that is people who kill people, not guns, we are left to construct our conclusion. Does it mean that gun regulations are not needed? That they are bad? Negative? Maybe. It can also mean that they are irrelevant. If it is people who kill people, then what does it matter if we have gun regulations or not. Who knows?
“... People kill people” is absolutely right. If someone is murdered with a gun, is generally because someone made a decision to kill him or her. The gun plays the role of an instrument. Should that be reason enough to make them legal? Maybe. But maybe not, we can use a more drastic example to make this argument. What if we say “Bombs do not kill people, people kill people.” Are we saying that bombs should be legal? Would their regulation be irrelevant because it is people who choose to detonate bombs or not? In the end, they are just instruments to carry out people’s decisions.
We can also use a less drastic example. “Cars do not kill people, people kill people.” It is true that many people die from car accidents and that they can be dangerous. So, are we saying that cars should not be regulated? Or that their regulation is irrelevant because it is actually people’s driving that causes accidents and deaths, not the car itself.
The fact that guns or cars or bombs are just instruments is not really relevant whether we are trying to decide if they should be legal, illegal, regulated, or irrelevant to law. Of course these three examples can kill people -- so can chairs, and knives, and stairs. What it is relevant is their intended function, their objective. Cars should not be illegal, because their objective is to transport people. Bombs should be illegal because their objective is kill people. So, what happens in the case of guns? Should all be legal or illegal? Should they be regulated? Perhaps, the most logical answer is yes, they should be somewhat regulated, because their intended function is to kill. Or perhaps, they should be strictly regulated. It is a complicated issue actually; it involves politics, laws, people’s rights, freedom and even culture.
What I am saying is that, “Guns do not kill people, people kill people,” does not mean anything in terms of gun regulation. There is no clear conclusion for the line of thought that oversimplifies guns by reducing them to instruments of our will. Thus, despite its catchiness, the line makes it a terrible argument either to fight gun regulation or to support it. There are myriad factors that must be addressed in order to build a meaningful discussion over gun control, and the fact that guns are just instruments is not one of them.