The False Equivalence Between Cars and Guns

A comment today about one of the suggestions being made by advocates of more stringent control of guns in the United States.Let's Treat Guns Like Cars

Simply put, the idea is that we should license gun owners the same way we license drivers of motor vehicles and that we should register guns the same way we register vehicles. The argument in favor of this suggestion is, essentially, that since it is acceptable that we register vehicles and license drivers for public safety, it should acceptable to register guns and license gun owners for public safety.

The comparison between cars and guns, however, exemplifies two forms of classic logical fallacy, false equivalence and false analogy.

The reason, of course, is that … despite the way the argument is put in the gun context … we do NOT register all cars … nor do we require all drivers to have licenses.

What? “Of course we do”, you say.

No, we don’t.

What we actually do is to require registration of all vehicles that are to be operated on public roads or in publically-owned off-road venues. And what we actually do is to require anyone who wants to drive on a public road or in a publically-owned off-road venue to have a driver’s license.

On the other hand, if a vehicle is not going to be operated on public roads or in a publically-owned off-road venue and is to be driven only on the owner’s private property, it does not have to be registered. In California, this is called “Planned Non-Operation” or “PNO”, which is described in this DMV online publication:

California Department of Motor Vehicles

It says:

PNO means that the vehicle will not be driven, towed, stored, or parked on public roads or highways for the entire registration year.

Similarly, any person who does not intend to operate a motor vehicle on a public highway or in publically-owned off-road venue is not required to have a drivers license. Individuals in California who do not have drivers licenses MAY (but are not required to) obtain a California ID card.

See this California DMV online publication for the ID card requirements:

California Department of Motor Vehicles

It describes the ID card as follows:

DMV issues ID cards to persons of any age. The ID card looks like a driver license, but is used for identification purposes only. A regular ID card is valid for six years, and a senior citizen ID card is valid for 10 years. To qualify for a senior citizen ID card, you must be age 62 or older.

In short, cars and guns are not equivalent; car owners and gun owners are not equivalent; and the analogy between cars and guns in this regard is false.

A true equivalence between cars and guns would be that the state should require anyone who wants to carry a gun in public to have a license … and that any gun which is going to be carried in public has to be registered.

On the other hand, if a person is going to own a gun, but will keep it only at home or otherwise only on his private property, there should be no requirement to either register the gun or have a license to own it.

THAT would be consistent with the way we treat motor vehicles and their drivers.


For an interesting and entertaining alternative view of this issue, see the post “We Need to Regulate Cars the Way We Regulate Guns” on Mike Z. Williamson’s blog “The Sacred Cow Slaughterhouse”:

The Sacred Cow Slaughterhouse header

This blog is interesting because it shows what we would have to do to buy cars if they were subject to all of the requirements already in place with respect to guns … and demonstrates quite clearly that the purchase and use of guns is already much more heavily-regulated than the purchase and operation of cars.


FLA 78

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