Every time such massacres happen, leftists try to push the gun control debate using emotional appeal and libertarians try to defend the right to bear arms based on reason (ex: tyrannical governments, right to self-defense, ...). However, these libertarian arguments do not seem to convince the average citizen.

Are there other arguments (or tactics) that libertarians could use in order to convince the average citizen to support the right to bear arms?

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    Setting up your question with the assumption that libetarians are "right" suggests that this question is more about pushing your point of view rather than seeking an answer.
    – James K
    Feb 17, 2018 at 1:25
  • @JamesK > "[...] pushing your point of view rather than seeking an answer." You've missed the point. The question is not whether the right to bear arms is right or wrong. Instead, is how libertarians could convince more people in the society.
    – Mark Messa
    Feb 17, 2018 at 1:30
  • Then I suggest you edit your question, or others may miss the point too.
    – James K
    Feb 17, 2018 at 1:32
  • I've voted to close this question as primarily opinion based because how it has scoped the approach to finding other arguments for libertarians. As worded, there isn't an objective measure available. Feb 17, 2018 at 10:22
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    @DrunkCynic - psychology and sociology provides pretty objective answers (or at least, "good subjective")
    – user4012
    Feb 17, 2018 at 15:17

3 Answers 3


Political support for reforming gun laws

It is unclear to me that the average citizen is unconvinced to leave gun laws largely alone. Note that the average citizen is not voting for candidates who favor more restrictive gun laws. Republicans currently control all three elected portions of the government (and the unelected Supreme Court). Yes, Hillary Clinton won a plurality of the popular vote, but Donald Trump plus Gary Johnson won more votes than Clinton plus Jill Stein.


Another argument is that polling shows that citizens support various reform proposals when asked. But this support tends to be soft. Very few people vote based on that.

All gun sales should go through a background check.

Most people support this. The Manchin-Toomey compromise was based on this. It was rejected by the National Rifle Association. The public reason was that it had insufficient protections against a national gun registry. Most NRA-friendly politicians voted against it, so it did not pass.

The average citizen is for this in principle, but I haven't seen a big hew and cry over it. It has not passed and would not affect most of the newsworthy events. If it were to pass, it would have minimal effect on gun rights. It is very seldom that someone legally obtains a gun without being able to pass a background check.

Ban assault weapons.

This is a bit tricky. One simple argument is to simply point out that anything that actually is an "assault weapon" is already under severe restrictions. Note that actual assault rifles are almost never used in crimes. Instead, people tend to buy lookalike guns like the AR-15.

Another argument is that we tried that. It didn't work. There are other guns that perform the same that are still available, as the differences between an "assault weapon" and any other rifle are mostly cosmetic:

The latest version of Feinstein's bill covers any semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine if it also has a pistol grip or forward grip, a grenade launcher or rocket launcher, a barrel shroud, a threaded barrel, or a folding, telescoping, or detachable stock.

No mass shooting has used a grenade launcher or a rocket launcher, as the ammunition is not generally available. Banning those is a solution in search of a problem.

Semiautomatic is the most common type of gun in civilian use. (Individuals in the military use fully automatic weapons. Plus there are larger weapons that don't fit well in the categories used by weapons that can be operated by a single individual.)

For the rest of it, all those things are within the capability of a 3D printer these days. Yes, actual 3D-printed guns don't work that well. But those aren't 3D-printed guns. They're parts frequently made of plastic or wood. They are exactly the kind of things that can be 3D-printed. The hard part to 3D-print is the receiver. The receiver is not restricted by the ban, so people can just buy any workable receiver and build an "assault weapon" around it.


As I said earlier, very few people obtain weapons legally that cannot pass a background check. So an expanded background check system would have minimal effect. The real problem is that crazy people are not getting put into the background check system as too crazy to have a gun.

We used to have an assault weapons ban. There is no evidence that it stopped gun violence. Most gun violence is with handguns, not any type of rifle. More than 60% of all firearm homicides and 90% of homicides where the type of firearm was identified are committed with handguns.

Misleading arguments

One thing to watch for in anti-gun arguments is misleading switches. They will talk about gun deaths, gun homicides, and total suicides all together, switching as necessary to grab the right statistic. Consider:

  1. Gun deaths are highest in states with the most guns.

    This is true, but only because gun suicides are higher in states with the most guns. Two out of three gun deaths are by suicide. Only one out of three are homicide. Only about 4% are something else.

    They will often state this in such a way that someone might think that gun homicides are highest in states with the most guns. However, that's not true.

  2. Reducing the number of guns reduces gun suicides.

    This is certainly true. However, who cares? If we're talking about reducing suicides, we should be talking about all suicides. And there's no reason to think that reducing the number of guns will have a long term effect on suicides.

    In Australia, they confiscated all the semiautomatic guns. This reduced the number of gun suicides the next year by more than would have been expected (Australia was in the middle of a ten year drop in gun suicides). Two problems though. First, the number of suicides by hanging was unexpectedly high that year. Two, the number of gun suicides jumped the year after that, once people had time to replace their semiautomatics with revolvers and shotguns. Overall, in the five years after the ban, gun suicides dropped by about as much as they had in the five years prior to the ban.

    Often cited as a great success for gun control, it as actually something of a fizzle. Negligible effect on gun homicides, although neither Australia nor New Zealand have experience a mass shooting since then. It's unclear why confiscating guns in Australia would have affected New Zealand. Presumably they have something else in common. Or random chance.

    In Japan, there are no gun suicides. However, total suicides are higher per capita than in the United States.


If there is one country that has been really effective in preventing gun violence, it is Japan. They have a complete ban on the sale of guns and ammunition. Even organized crime doesn't try to use guns in Japan.

Consider how they did it though. Obviously they don't have a second amendment. But that's not the real advantage that Japan has. They don't have an exclusionary rule (which derives from the fourth amendment). So if a police officer sees a person with a gun run into a group of people, the officer can require the entire group to submit to searches.

In the United States, a police officer could only search the single person who had been carrying the gun. If a police officer searched everyone, the possession charge would be thrown out as the search would be excluded as having insufficient basis. The officer could only search with probable cause, and "one of them must have it" is not considered probably cause.

In Japan, if the search finds its target, then it was clearly justified. The result takes precedence.

Even with the second amendment and widespread gun ownership, elimination of the exclusionary rule in the United States would allow police a much greater ability to control crime. Some libertarians may find this too risky (libertarians generally favor the exclusionary rule and the fourth amendment), but this argument puts the onus on leftists to explain their support for a rule that contributes to gun violence.

Second amendment

Another argument is that the second amendment prevents many types of effective regulation. In particular, regulations can't significantly reduce the number of guns in circulation. All they can do is slow the rate at which guns are added to circulation. This is because when a gun is banned currently, they can't take it away from existing owners. So everyone that currently has the gun keeps it. People just can't buy new ones in stores.

The argument here is that they should really focus on effective changes. However, effective changes require repealing the second amendment. So they should focus on that.

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    Brythan, a lot of important information in your answer (+1). However, I still don't think this is gonna convince the average citizen. Most people will not rationalize that deep in order to make a decision to which side to support. Therefore, any other idea of how to convince the average citizen?
    – Mark Messa
    Feb 17, 2018 at 5:14

The general answer is "no" on "arguments". Facts don't convince people, or rather convince people far less effectively than emotions and stories do.

As such, the best approach is to forget (a) facts and (b) abstract concepts; and instead counter with what works. In case of someone wishing to argue for gun rights, possible approaches would be:

  • Stories about people who were saved from becoming victims of violent crime because they were armed

  • Stories about people who were threatened, filed a complaint with the justice system, and were murdered because police were late/not present/didn't take complaint seriously. This is an especially effective counter against the abstract "let the police protect you" counter argument against gun rights. For extra weight, explain how police are legally not obligated to prevent anyone from being a victim of a crime (for all those 10 people in the whole country who pay attention to facts :)

  • Stories about whole people/groups who were disarmed and suffered massively being unable to resist armed groups or government violence (there's plenty of those throughout human history).

Additionally, according to Moral Foundations theory; conservatives and liberals are swayed not necessarily by different facts; but by different framing of the facts. Since the opponents of gun rights tend to be "lefter" side, the arguments - to be effective - need to be framed in terms of "Fairness" and "Care" angles:

  • Disarming people is unfair to the poor. The rich can afford to live in gated communities, hire bodyguards, and pay more taxes for good policing. The poor have to deal with violent crime without those benefits (extra bonus if you use the term "privilege" considering specific sides arguing this specific debate).

    This isn't some theoretical mind bender from a fringe libertarian's mind. Black Panthers were far more pro-2nd-amendment than most convinced NRA members today.

  • Disarming people is unfair to ANYONE who is physically smaller are thus less able to win a physical conflict (but disproportionately affects women, who are physically smaller/weaker on average). There's a reason Colt was called "The Great Equalizer"

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    " forget (a) facts and (b) abstract concepts; and instead counter with what works. " Perfect, you've got the point. I hope libertarians read your answer and try to employ new ways to persuade the average citizen. Unfortunately, only a small group of people is persuaded by reasoning. For the far majority of people, reason is too much complicated.
    – Mark Messa
    Feb 17, 2018 at 2:37
  • I would just point out that the shooter brought a gun into a “gun free zone”. The debate should be why the security guards did not block the entrance of the shooter instead of pushing gun prohibition for the entire country.
    – Mark Messa
    Feb 17, 2018 at 2:42
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    Related to the framing thing... it's worth pointing out that the civil rights leaders relied heavily on the 2nd amendment, largely because that was the only protection they had against segregationist law enforcement officials in the south who otherwise might well have murdered them all. Not a stretch to suggest that the civil rights movement owes a good portion of its success to the 2nd amendment, and ponder the implications of that going forward... Feb 17, 2018 at 4:54
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    @MarkMessa ...but it is an argument, or a point that appeals to the typical liberal, and proves as a good counter point to the "guns are only people-killing machines" sentiment that's common on the left. And, not to put too fine a point on it, is an example of guns helping liberals when and where the government wanted them dead. Feb 17, 2018 at 5:27
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    @MarkMessa Depends who you're discussing it with, I'd imagine. The African Americans in my social circle that I've shared that narrative with have mostly found it to be an extremely compelling argument, even (or maybe particularly) those who are registered Democrats and used to strongly favor strict gun-control measures. On a related tangent, pointing out the harm the federal government does to black communities by limiting education options for black children has changed many of their minds on the "school choice" debate. Generic arguments don't work; tailored arguments might change minds. Feb 17, 2018 at 5:42

You may not like my answer, but the answer to your question is that libertarianism in its pure form, is a lie. That doesn't mean that people can't vote libertarian or support libertarian ideas, but in the pure sense, there is no such thing as 100% libertarian.

One person's right to throw a party infringes against another person's right to peace and quiet. One person's right to set up a manure business and make money infringes on his neighbors right to breath clean air. One person's right to dig a mine and prospect for gold on his land, infringes on the right of everyone downstream of him to have clean stream water to use for cooking or fishing. There is no such thing as no government, because people need laws and laws are written by government.

A person has a reasonable expectation that his son or daughter be safe in school and when a mentally challenged, angry 19 year old can walk into a store and buy an 3-4 round a second assault rifle with the intention of shooting as many high school kids as he can - that's a violation of the rights of everybody who wants to be safe.

The big gun control case that went to the supreme court, Columbia vs Heller in 2008 actually came down on the side of the right with a (not unusual for the supreme court), 5/4 decision along party lines.

In the interest of brevity, I'll let someone else do the summarizing.

There is no question that District of Columbia v. Heller was precisely the sort of judicial activism the conservative justices of the Supreme Court promised not to do. In a 5 to 4 decision those justices ruled that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to own guns for personal self-defense, despite the amendment’s opening language - “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, ” - which pretty clearly says that gun ownership was specifically preserved by the founding fathers in the interest of the common defense against a tyrannical government (remember, this was the issue on their minds back then). Gun rights advocates cheered. Gun control advocates cried foul.

But even though the 5-4 majority ruling makes an intellectual end run around the language of the Second Amendment to get to their ruling, they very clearly state that society (government, convened to collectively protect us from what we can’t protect ourselves from as individuals) has the right to, and legitimate interest in controlling gun ownership, in several specific ways.

On pp. 54 and 55, the majority opinion, written by conservative bastion Justice Antonin Scalia, states: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…”. It is “…not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

“We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller (an earlier case) said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time”. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’ ”

The court even recognizes a long-standing judicial precedent “to consider prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons.”

So, long story short - local governments can restrict gun ownership and carry laws in the interest of national safety. Citizens can and do vote for or against politicians based on their position on guns. This is called democracy. It's electing representatives to write laws, that can be challenged in the courts. It's precisely how the constitution was meant to work.

You wrote:

leftists try to push the gun control debate using emotional appeal and libertarians try to defend the right to bear arms based on reason (ex: tyrannical governments . . .

OK, "Tyranical governments" is an emotional argument, not a reasonable one, so lets get that out of the way. But here's the thing. There's no law against making an emotional argument. Emotional arguments are legal and can even be valid. You don't have to like them, but you should respect people's right to make them. It's free speech. It's self expression.

Two - you'll lever get everyone to agree with you. You can ask people to agree, but the so called average citizen, will either agree with you or they won't. All you can do is make your pitch and let the other side make theirs.

Three - a majority of Americans don't think Assault Weapons should be legal to buy and while different wording of that poll will get different answers (I know you can find the opposite argument) - never let it be said that I'm not fair. One thing that's clear is against bump stocks, which the NRA still defends. And the rights of Gun owners is very very very well represented in congress. The rights of gun objectors (and it is a right to object to the sale of guns for safety reasons), they are not well represented.

Question Are there other arguments (or tactics) that libertarians could use in order to convince the average citizen to support the right to bear arms

This is entirely opinion.

But my answer to you in general is to recognize that not everyone will agree with you, and democracy has to do its best when a citizenship is divided. Your belief doesn't make you right in the eyes of others.

  • People who vote down should say why. This is a recurring problem on this board.
    – userLTK
    Feb 17, 2018 at 12:18
  • @MarkMessa I answered your commentary. I felt it was open for addressing.
    – userLTK
    Feb 17, 2018 at 20:34
  • "I answered your commentary." Where is such answer? I'm not seeing anything new in this page ...
    – Mark Messa
    Feb 17, 2018 at 21:45
  • @MarkMessa did you read it?
    – userLTK
    Feb 17, 2018 at 21:52
  • You so casually sweep aside the possibility of "tyranical governments" and then arrogantly conclude that the rationale behind your insane statement is self explanatory. Please explain it.
    – acpilot
    Aug 7, 2018 at 4:31

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