While the student-led movement to tackle gun reform has spread across the country, culminating in hundreds of thousands participating in the March for Our Lives throughout the U.S. on Saturday, many Americans still want to protect the status quo of gun accessibility. Pro-gun advocates often argue that people kill people, not guns; point out cases of armed officers in schools foiling the attempts of shooters — whether true or not; or express fear that a restriction on legal circulation of guns will endanger people who relinquish their arms to the government from criminals.
As frustrating as these excuses are for failing to address how absurdly easy it is to obtain firearms in this country — especially the AR-15, which was used by Nikolas Cruz at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month and in four of the five deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history — one of the most disappointing pro-gun arguments is that gun restrictions should not be considered if abortion restrictions are not considered first.
Conflating access to abortion and guns in the face of endemic cases of mass shootings is a blatant example of “whataboutism” — a faulty form of argumentation that sidesteps an accusation by claiming an opponent is just as guilty of some other offense as the original subject, however unconnected those offenses may be. In this case, “pro-life,” pro-gun Americans argue that advocacy for productive arms regulations and violence prevention should not come to fruition so long as abortions remain legal. This logic is flawed and counterproductive. It equates the intentionally violent nature of mass shooters with people enduring the intimate and morally challenging processes of deciding to have an abortion. More importantly, refusing to stand by gun reform — whether banning bump stocks or instating more requirements in the gun-purchase process — unless abortion is addressed first directly contradicts the pro-life stance: Paralysis and neglect of gun law change has only enabled more violence and death to occur.
We first want to address the disparity between gun and abortion regulations to illustrate that it logistically does not make sense to refuse to approach gun reform so long as abortion remains easily accessible. Access to abortion is overall significantly stricter than for guns, even with regulations varying by state. Forty-three states prohibit abortions after a certain point in gestation. Eleven states restrict private insurance coverage of abortions. Forty-five states allow individual doctors to refuse to perform an abortion, while 42 allow health care institutions to do the same. Eighteen states require that people receive counseling before deciding to have an abortion. Twenty-seven states require waiting periods for abortions, 14 of which have laws that mandate people make at least two different trips to an abortion clinic before undergoing a procedure. Here in Ohio, Republican state representatives have introduced a bill to ban abortions altogether, regardless of cases of rape, incest, or endangerment to the person’s health or life. These legislations are not “pro-life.” They are barriers that put people’s well-being at risk and prevent them from making decisions about their health.
These state-level restrictions are topped off by the Hyde Amendment, which was instated in 1976 to block federal Medicaid funding for abortion services. According to this legislation — and counter to many conservative arguments claiming that tax dollars enable abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics — federal health care funding does not cover abortion procedures. Exceptions to this ruling only occur in certain cases when a person’s life is in jeopardy. But even then, the Hyde Amendment further interferes with the ability of people to make healthcare decisions, especially for those who are low-income.
Compare these restrictions to ones imposed on guns: Many Americans can enter a gun store and walk out with a new weapon the same day, so long as they pass an instant background check on individual criminal convictions, citizenship or immigration status, and instances of domestic violence. Although some states have other restrictions, such as further background check requirements and waiting periods, overall, many gun control experts and some former law enforcement officials say that gun sales still frequently occur both formally and informally with little oversight or enforcement of regulations. The New York Times reported that because of these relaxed laws, about a third of American gun owners buy guns without background checks, especially since federal law does not require them when purchasing from private sellers.
The Times compares U.S. restrictions to the more intensive gun regulations and ownership requirements of other countries, such as Japan, Australia, Mexico, and Russia, among others. Requirements to own a gun in many foreign nations include firearm classes and exams, medical evaluations for mental fitness, several-month waiting periods, memberships and regular practice at shooting clubs, and documentation by local authorities to prove a clean criminal record. Countries with stricter gun regulations consequently have significantly lower rates of mass shootings and gun violence than in the U.S.
Even with the disparity in regulations, a perspective that equates abortions with gun slaughter is narrow at best. It’s a point of view that disregards the way abortion restrictions and decreased funding to Planned Parenthood centers — which provide overall women’s and family health care, and many of which do not provide abortion procedures — compromise the quality of people’s lives. For many people, opting for an abortion is a morally challenging process that requires them to gauge how having a child will affect their financial, physical, and mental wellbeing. The decision whether or not to have an abortion is deeply personal and difficult. Mass shootings, on the other hand, are impersonal, inhumane, intended to inflict suffering upon others, and violate the “sanctity of life” that so many “pro-life” advocates dogmatically stand by.
So, we ask those guilty of this false equivalency: If you’re so preoccupied with saving lives, why aren’t gun buyers held to the same standard you set for people who want to consider getting an abortion? Even if abortions were altogether prohibited, how would that change trends in gun violence? Would further restricting abortions prevent another 17 high school community members or 58 Las Vegas concert-goers from dying at the hands of a gunman? Why won’t you engage in productive dialogue and participate in efforts to prevent mass shootings and gun violence? Most of all, why won’t you protect the lives you seek to save? We’re waiting.