In response to the latest mass shooting, Democrats have proposed gun control legislation. Republican Senator John Kennedy replied with the witticism that “We do not need more gun control. We need more idiot control.” He then endeavored to make an argument by analogy to counter arguments for gun control. In this argument, Kennedy asserted that “…And I’m not trying to equate these two, but we have a lot of drunk drivers in America that kill a lot of people. We ought to try to combat that too. But I think what many folks on my side of the aisle are saying is that the answer is not to get rid of all sober drivers.”
Given what he says, he seems to be comparing mass shooters with drunk drivers. While that seems clear, sorting out the rest of the argument requires a bit more work. Looked at in the most charitable way, his inference seems to be that because getting rid of sober drivers would not solve the problem of drunk drivers, it follows (by analogy) that getting rid of non-mass shooter gun owners would not solve the problem of mass shootings. On this interpretation, he is right—but right in a vacuous way: getting rid of people who do not do X would not solve the problem of people who do X.
But since his reply is to proposals for gun regulation, what he seems to be inferring is that since getting rid of sober drivers would not stop drunk driving, gun control should be rejected. This reasoning requires that the proposed gun control be on par with eliminating sober drivers. I think he might mean taking away everyone’s cars (including those of sober drivers) as a means of addressing drunk driving. As such, the analogy would only hold in the case of proposals to take away all guns. While there are those who propose this, this is not what the congressional Democrats and Biden have proposed. So, while the analogy does apply to proposals to eliminate all guns, it does not apply to proposals to increase gun control, such as universal background checks and even assault weapon bans. An assault weapon ban would be analogous to addressing drunk driving by getting rid of vehicles that are favored by drunk drivers and are unusually good at causing death and injury. As an aside, one problem with how some Republicans often debate gun control is that they make straw person arguments: asserting that the plan is always to take away all guns. This is a bad faith argument since there are many proposals that do not aim at taking guns away. The usual response to pointing this out is the Slippery Slope fallacy: asserting that even moderate proposals must lead to taking away all guns. This is also a bad faith argument.
As others have noted, Kennedy made something of an error by making his analogy. While it was intended to refute gun control proposals, his comparison invites people to compare guns and cars. Just as some people support eliminating all privately owned guns, there are people who seriously propose eliminating privately owned cars for similar reasons: private ownership and operation of dangerous machines results in many preventable deaths. As such, one could accept the analogy and turn it around: we should handle both problems by eliminating private ownership and operation of deadly machines. But most people do not want to eliminate private ownership of cars or guns. However, Kennedy’s car analogy can still be used in favor of gun control.
As others have noted, cars are tightly regulated. To legally drive, one must be licensed and insured. Cars must be registered with the state and licensed. Their use is also carefully regulated, and safety features are mandatory. When people are incapable of operating a vehicle safely or commit certain crimes (like driving drunk), then they lose the right to drive. This is because cars are dangerous machines and can do a great deal of harm—even by accident.
Going with Kennedy’s automotive analogy, the same should apply to guns. One should be licensed and insured in order to be able to own one, their operation should be carefully regulated, and safety features should be mandated by law. When a person cannot possess a firearm safely or they commit certain crimes, they should lose their right to possess a gun.
The obvious reply is that on some interpretations of the Second Amendment, individual gun ownership is a constitutional right—hence such restrictions would be unconstitutional. One obvious counter is that existing restrictions on guns are constitutional (that is, they have not been struck down) and thus there is well-established precedent for limiting this right. And, of course, all rights are restricted and limited—for example, the First Amendment has numerous limitations (many of which have been imposed by Republicans). Another obvious reply is to point out that the Republicans who oppose gun control are the same ones who are busy passing laws to restrict voting rights. The right to vote is the foundation of democracy and if they are willing to restrict this right on the grounds of their claims about the harms of almost non-existent voter fraud, they have no principled way to object to strict gun control laws—the harms of not having adequate gun control are quite evident. Perhaps a bi—partisan solution is to have people vote by shooting ballots with guns—everyone gets a gun and everyone gets the right to vote.