“An assault rifle is not a Swiss Army knife”

“False analogies lead to dangerous conclusions when people know longer think rationally.

This opinion piece published at the Tampa Bay Times is yet another example of people letting their biases color what they believe is “rational” while forgetting that rationalizing something is subjective. The Chinese rationalized creating concentration camps for the Uighurs, censoring their media, and controlling their population through threats of violence and murder. Those were all also rational, by their standards. Not our rationale, theirs. You can absolutely rationalize yourself into “wrong” actions. You can rationalize yourself into very narrow views and limited perspectives. You can do this all within the veil of perceived authority that is academia, or under the government identity that what you are doing is right because you are the government and acting ‘rationally’ in the ‘interest’ of your people. Under these perceptions of authority it becomes easy to see your perspective as the only proper one.

Once again the author is commiting the intellectual sin, failure to acknowledge that nobody is obligated to think like they do. I think it far more egregious, but also unsurprising, in this instance because of the author’s background.

I have spent the past 42 years practicing and teaching principles of rationality. As I learned during my doctoral education in rhetoric, rationality is at the core of our humanity, and it anchors productive deliberation in a democratic society.

What I hear is someone establishing their bonafides while simultaneously failing to realize that their background placed them in a position to condition others think as they do from a place of authority. This is a widespread problem in academia at the moment, the goal of the academic should be to never give away a political opinion they hold as a teacher in place of providing the information and attitudes the form the various sides of a debate.

I am a firm believer that a student of yours should never be able to nail down your politics as a teacher. Cold objectivity.

The good Professor, despite their background being in rhetoric, fails to grasp that rationale is subjective. What they reason and what the next person reasons, given similar information, will still be influenced by their life experiences and critical thinking capacity. Two people with similar powers of reasoning can come to two different but very logical conclusions.

The shallow response towards these two differing conclusions is for one side or the other to immediately attack the other as imbecilic. It is a tactic seen from all groups towards their opposition and has no origin in the left or right, it is an old old tactic.

What undercuts it here is the immediate false appeal to the authors own authority which amounts to, “Yo, I been doing this thinking thing for 42 year so I am daaaamn good at thinking, so my thinking is the best thinking and any other thinking opposed to my thinking is dumb.”

In the past few years, the hope by many is that rationality and logical reasoning will be restored, serving as an effective corrective to the untruthful narratives dominating and contaminating our public discourse. However, I have become less sanguine that this will happen, given the current hyperpolarized political environment.

Again, the problem is failure to acknowledge that more than one point of view can be held and respected is the problem. In this case the author is completely antithetical to the idea that a rifle is a practical multi-purpose tool and is using their lofty academic background to force their single perspective rationale down the readers’ intellectual throats.

Unfortunately, the absence of rationality and logical persuasive appeals also has intruded on the realm of legal decision making — a place that historically has prided itself on the lack of partisanship. An example from this past week provides a case in point.

Translation: I don’t like this legal decision, so I am going to declare it partisan instead of acknowledging their are more perspectives, including rational ones, than my own.

In a ruling on Friday that compared the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife, a federal judge overturned California’s longtime assault weapons ban. In his ruling U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego used this questionable analogy to argue that California’s 30-year assault weapons ban violated the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.

“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” Benitez said in the ruling. “Firearms deemed as ‘assault weapons’ are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles.”

Apparently, Benitez never took a course in argumentation and critical thinking, thus failing to understand a false analogy. As I taught my Argumentation and Advocacy students at the University of Texas for over four decades, a false analogy is where one makes a comparison between two subjects that have more dissimilarities than similarities.

You notice he drops immediately into attacking Benitez’s intellectual credentials. Benitez has a Doctorate in Law for reference, and earned it in 1978. Meaning Benitez’s credential in Law (which this case is about and his field of expertise) is longer than the author’s credential in ‘thinking’.

A false analogy is a type of informal fallacy. A false analogy takes a similar characteristic of two things and then falsely assumes another thing about them. The Ford F-150 and Ford Mustang both have powerful engines, therefore they are both good at towing because towing is easier with a powerful engine. That is a false analogy. It misses crucial extra details to the comparative assumption, in this example the structure of the vehicle also matters a great deal for towing and the engines power is only one of many factors that make a vehicle suitable or unsuitable.

Judge Benitez analogy works fine. The Swiss Army Knife is a tool that does many things. It is a term that doesn’t just mean the Victorinox products, it is analogous with any device that has many purposes. The AR-15 has many purposes as a rifle, it is not as limited or purpose built as other rifles are. The analogy works fine, it is also not the point of the argument but simply what was single out on as a point of attack.

Only an angry pedantic individual would misconstrue the crystal clear analogy to attack this point instead of trying to dismantle the argument that the AR-15 is exactly the type of personal firearm the Second Amendment is meant to protect. Common, ordinary, and popular. No one can successfully argue that anything about the AR-15 or similar firearms is unusual or dangerous, because on the macro scale.. it isn’t. The AR is the logical progression of personal arms technology just as the laptop and tablet are the progression of personal computing.

Nobody argues that the laptop or tablet should be limited because they are sometimes associated with the commission of crimes, you prosecute the criminals. The entire argument is “but it is a weapon!” and nobody can seem to accept the answer that “that is the point.”

Consider this example: Using hairspray every day is analogous to launching a nuclear weapon. Like Benitez’s comparison of a Swiss Amy knife and an AR-15, this analogy is not only fallacious but defies common sense. Therefore, we must ask Judge Benitez: When has a Swiss Army knife ever been used to kill a large number of people in a short period of time? Surely Benitez realizes that had a Swiss Army knife been the chosen weapon in recent mass shootings, more victims would have not lost their lives.

Wow… should we bring up knife homicide vs rifle homicide statistics? Or do we only care to look at enough information to confirm our bias that the AR-15 is an effective weapon while ignoring the fact the knives are also effective weapons while inserting the wild hypothesis that if a knife had been used, even a Swiss Army Knife specifically, a mass casualty attack would somehow be improved.

Failing to see the forest for the trees, there is such animosity toward this one method of murder that they are angrier at it more than murder. They fail to see that mass casualty attacks are not particularly hard for someone who rationalizes the need to do so.

Yes, Professor, every single mass casualty attack was rationalized by its perpetrators. They thought about it. They planned it. They chose the method of firearm, explosive, vehicle, arson, etc. They had reasons. They found it to be the prudent thing for them to do, even if the rest of the world was in direct opposition. They rationalized it.

So no, Benitez does not need to realize that had a ‘Swiss Army Knife been chosen’ in the recent mass shooting, more victims would not have lost their lives. This is a false analogy. It boils the whole intricate process of planning such an attack, a meticulous process often carried out by intelligent people, down to the method of injury alone. It ignores other methods of injury that resulted in high death counts. It furthermore makes the asinine assumption that Judge Benitez’s analogy was speaking about the Swiss Army Knife as a weapon and not as a device with many purposes, which anyone with a greater than 5th grade reading level and an objective outlook lacking a pedantic axe to grind can easily and properly understand.

Sadly, Judge Benitez’s spurious reasoning is yet another instance of our nation’s current rhetorical habit of abandoning previously well-accepted standards of rationality and logic.

There are plenty of examples of this, yes. But this ruling is not one. You simply disagree, Professor, and are therefore throwing out the base logic because it does not match your subjective rationality.

Everywhere you look, partisanship dominates and trumps (no pun intended) our discourse — something that makes deliberation less possible and therefore threatens the survival of democracy. Moreover, as a colleague and friend of mine poignantly observed, faith in humanity is required for a faith in rationality.

What expresses more faith in humanity than trusting them? Trusting that men and women are naturally of general good faith and character and can, with the structure of nonpartisan logic, make their choices. Choices that do not have to agree with yours.

Seems we are at another false analogy. The premise seems to be that the AR-15 is owned only by ‘mass shooters in waiting’ according to your subjective rationale. By that same logic, every human being is a mass killer in waiting. While objectively true by casting a wide enough set of observations, like all mass shooters drank water at some point in their lives or some other patently ridiculous single point, it is a fruitless observation that does nothing more than confirm your subjective feeling on the AR-15.

You don’t like it.


You don’t have too.

I do.

Also cool.

My faith in humanity allows me to confidently state that everyone should be able to make the decision whether or not to participate in the right to ownership of common and effective personal arms on their own. That the knowledge and skills to learn them should be prevelantly taught and widely available from an early age follows. That fearing our fellows, that some men and women will take this or other knowledge and use it for unjust harm, does not diminish the right to arms, nor my overall trust in humanity, nor my belief that this should be an individual and well informed choice.

For me that faith in humanity is dwindling.

Why? Because you disagree?

Judge Benitez’s ruling, combined with what seems evident from current congressional political skirmishes, leads me to believe that we have reached an inflection point in our nation’s history.

We’ve been there, but partisanship is nothing new. This isn’t an inflection point, it is business and history as usual where we’re a little more iriate with each other than we have been a few years back. But not so badly as other points in history.

As a former scholar and teacher of rhetoric, who on a daily basis monitors and analyzes the country’s political discourse, I feel less confident that America’s great experiment can withstand the onslaught of persuasion not grounded in rationality and logic.

Me too. But we likely disagree on the ‘why’ it seems. Maybe we are more closely rationally aligned than either of us believes, I don’t know. What I do know is this argument against Benitez is shallow garbage that all boils down to, “I don’t like AR’s so Benitez is wrong.”

I hope my pessimism is refuted in the near future.

I believe, sir. That by opening your mind to perspectives and rationality that differs from your own and giving it the respect that it was arrived at logically, you will be open to all kinds of perspectives, stress less, and ultimately see that despite the individual negative events and the fact 2020 and 2021 have been hard in places the world is continuing to do alright in the grand scheme and the 21st Century is our best one yet.

We cannot banish negative outcomes. We can work to reduce them by continuing to create opportunities for positive outcomes. The AR-15’s ownership isn’t a negative outcome. It isn’t anymore special than the bolt action or the pump action or any other item that came previously, especially in the age of greatest human civility we have had yet.

But just as more safe or safest does not mean the absolute safety, more civil and most civil does not equate to universal civility.

The Second Amendment is the harsh acknowledgment that neither individuals or governments are under any unbreakable obligation to be civil, moral, or polite. History teaches us, and therefore a rational mind should acknowledge, that all it takes is the choice of someone with the ability to cause harm to do so. The same goes for governments, see the Treaty of Versailles.

Morality platitudes of ‘limiting the harm’ fail all logical threat analysis, they rely on absolute compliance against extreme behaviors which would make the rule irrelevant in the first place.

Rifles, firearms in general, in the hands of free citizens do far more good than harm and it is because of the ‘western’ rationality, the overall societal belief that weapons are meant to protect, that this remains true.

Keith Finch
Keith is the former Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Agency, Inc. He got told there was a mountain of other things that needed doing, so he does those now and writes here when he can. editor@gatdaily.com A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. Teaching since 2009, he covers local concealed carry courses, intermediate and advanced rifle courses, handgun, red dot handgun, bullpups, AKs, and home defense courses for civilians, military client requests, and law enforcement client requests.