The Firing Line Forums

Go Back   The Firing Line Forums > The Conference Center > General Discussion Forum

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old January 20, 2013, 01:12 AM   #1
Join Date: February 12, 2001
Location: DFW Area
Posts: 20,806
If it saves ONE life...

Why the statement:“We must do it my way if it saves even one life.” is the enemy of rational decision-making, how it cuts off constructive debate and how it attempts to vilify all who oppose the person making the statement.

It allows the claimant to avoid rationally justifying the proposed course of action.
It contains no justification for the course of action recommended since the content of the claim that would normally stand as a justification is a hypothetical/conditional statement. It doesn’t claim, “This way is better BECAUSE....” It claims that “This way is better IF...”. That would be acceptable if there was some reasonable attempt made to prove the truth of the conditional/hypothetical, but such a proof is generally not forthcoming. The claimant gets away without having to prove anything, and certainly without doing any sort of cost/benefit analysis comparison with other proposed strategies. This is possible because the construction of the statement deflects attention from the value of the strategy and focuses exclusively on the desired benefit.

It discourages opponents from performing comparison cost/benefit analyses and from proposing alternate solutions.
It not only allows the claimant to proceed without providing any cost/benefit analysis, (cost/benefit analysis being the basis of rational decision making) it actually prevents, or at least strongly discourages such an analysis by casting all who disagree as passive murderers. By constructing the argument so that human life is weighed against something other than human life, it places the person who objects to the strategy being “supported” by this argument in the position of stating that something else is worth more than human life. This effect is even more pronounced when the argument is about saving children. After all, what could be more valuable than a child’s life? Anyone who disagrees must be a cold, heartless, unfeeling monster at best, and, at worst, passively homicidal. Again, this is a result of emphasizing the proposed benefit to the point of virtually excluding any analysis of the strategy.

It “Poisons the well” with regard to those who oppose the proposed strategy, marginalizing the opposition and allowing/encouraging non-critical thinkers to dismiss any such opposition.
Because it casts the opponent as a monster, it is a construction which results in a poisoned well fallacy. The opponent’s strategy may actually be more beneficial, but because the statement makes it seem that he values something more than a human life, anything he says will be dismissed by those who live only by sound bites or who are emotional thinkers.

It is a logical crutch because it can be used to support virtually any proposal.
Because it neither contains nor requires any cost/benefit analysis, it can be used to support virtually any strategy preferred by the claimant as long as that strategy is not completely and utterly bereft of any value whatsoever. For example: “Let’s ban automobiles. We must do it if it saves even one life.” Of course, banning automobiles would save many lives, but there are clearly reasons why banning automobiles is not a good strategy even if it would save lives.

It is misleading because it oversimplifies the topic and ignores reality.
It misleads the listener by concealing the fact that humanity routinely makes cost/benefit decisions which weigh the value of human life against other activities or benefits. We all understand, at some level, that making rapid transportation widely available carries with it a significant cost in human life. However, it is agreed (even if it’s rarely stated outright) that an ongoing string of deaths is worth the benefit of moving about rapidly and conveniently. Society agrees that losing some lives to transportation accidents is not sufficient rationale to ban, or even severely restrict, rapid transportation because rapid, convenient transportation provides significant benefits.

It’s one thing to look at something like transportation, which many would consider an absolute necessity, and weigh its cost in human life, it is far less pleasant to contemplate the fact that society is willing to accept significant loss of life to preserve forms of recreation. The recreational use of alcohol is a perfect example of this. We all know that drunk driving kills many people each year, but society is unwilling to ban the recreational use of alcohol in spite of that cost measured in human life. Swimming pools, snow skis and trampolines are other examples of recreational devices and associated recreational activities which society accepts in spite of the fact that they demand regular payments in the form of human suffering and loss of innocent life.

To the extent that it is effective, it owes any such value to the fact that it is a clever trap, as opposed to a proper argument with a rational justification and logical construction.
It can be complicated argument to counter, and therefore, particularly in a situation where a long rebuttal is difficult or impossible, it is the rough equivalent of asking the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” and then demanding that the questioned person respond with ONLY a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. It places the opponent in a position of being unable to answer without taking more time to explain/rebut than is often considered reasonable.

One quick and fairly simple response to it is:
“What an absolutely useless method for problem solving and what a truly short-sighted and shallow criterion for success. Rather than simply jumping at the first solution proposed because it might possibly save a SINGLE life, it would make FAR more sense to brainstorm for as many solutions as possible, compare those solutions carefully, and then pick the one that is MOST effective.
Did you know that there is a TEXAS State Rifle Association?
JohnKSa is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 01:59 AM   #2
Senior Member
Join Date: May 24, 2005
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 2,695
With respect to firearms, there are two sides to the coin. Whenever I hear the "if it SAVES one life" argument concerning banning guns or limiting magazine capacity, I am rude enough to turn the argument around with "if it COSTS one life."

Any restriction that impairs a firearm's offensive use to potentially "save one life" also equally impairs the firearm's defensive use to potentially "cost one life."
gc70 is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 02:15 AM   #3
Senior Member
Join Date: May 22, 2007
Location: The shores of Lake Huron
Posts: 4,783
As I explained to Joe Biden, when I answered his e-mail If Not Now, When?, it is a tired old saw, generally used by Hillary Clinton, that completely ignores the possibility that making it harder for law-abiding parents to acquire the guns they need for protection could cost many children their lives.
Join the NRA/ILA
I am the weapon; my gun is a tool. It's regrettable that with some people those descriptors are reversed.
Stevie-Ray is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 07:21 AM   #4
Senior Member
Join Date: October 20, 2012
Location: NC
Posts: 665
gc70 - I'm in full agreement. Also, how is it ever possible to show whether it has any effect (which it won't). In 4 years are we going to see one person who was saved? My understanding is that with more ccw the death rate is already going down. Will it go down provably (if that's a word) significantly faster?
If it doesn't and goes up, than what?

Al these are questions in my mind, but of course none of them go into the fact that it is against the constitution and out rights as citizens.
PatientWolf is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 08:42 AM   #5
Senior Member
Join Date: March 21, 2012
Location: Connecticut
Posts: 2,091
Great response gc70
1stmar is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 08:49 AM   #6
Spats McGee
Join Date: July 28, 2010
Location: Arkansas
Posts: 6,864
Well-said, John. Well-said enough, in fact, that I will openly declare my intent to rip it off and use it.

When I find myself faced with this particular argument, I usually counter with something like this:

Anti-Gunner: If banning assault weapons saves even one life, we have to do it.
Spats: So you support banning assault weapons to save even one life? (The litigator in me likes to make sure that the Anti-Gunner is "married to" the argument and can't wiggle out.)
AG: Absolutely.
Spats: Then you'd surely agree that there are other things that should be banned if banning them saves even one life, right?
AG: Sure.
Spats: Like cigarettes.
AG: Yeah, sure.
Spats: And alcohol.
AG: Well, I don't know.
Spats: And cars.
AG: Now, wait a minute.
Spats: But I thought you said you support bans if a ban will save even one life.
AG: Yeah, but those things aren't designed to kill.
Spats: Well, each one of them kills more people than assault weapons.
AG: Yeah, but . . .
Spats: But what? You have chosen to treat firearms different than other inanimate objects, presumably because they scare you. Your fear is a bad reason to strip me of my rights.
I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. If you need some honest-to-goodness legal advice, go buy some.
Spats McGee is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 08:55 AM   #7
Senior Member
Join Date: September 2, 2011
Location: New Hampshire
Posts: 195
What ticks me off most when Obama said that, was me thinking about how many lives were given so we could have these rights. And he would give them away to save one? What a jack ass

Last edited by Brian Pfleuger; January 20, 2013 at 09:04 AM.
MikeGunz is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 09:18 AM   #8
Dave Chuppa
Senior Member
Join Date: September 8, 2007
Posts: 412
Dave Chuppa is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 09:45 AM   #9
Join Date: August 14, 2011
Location: Rural, outside of Milwaukee, WI.
Posts: 76
"..if it saves one life".

Quite a statement for a man that has blood dripping from his hands.

Benghazi Mr. Obama? Fast and Furious Mr. Obama?

Blaming guns for crimes is the same as blaming forks for obesity.
Bellasogno is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 09:47 AM   #10
Senior Member
Join Date: November 15, 2008
Posts: 332
I think the opening post is very logical and well thought.

Can I use it in it entirety on other forums? I will say who wrote it.

horatioo is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 09:50 AM   #11
Old Grump
Member in memoriam
Join Date: April 9, 2009
Location: Blue River Wisconsin, in
Posts: 3,144
The man or woman just finds him or herself in a precarious situation and needs to be armed. Now has to jump through 3 more hoops and his first second and third choice was banned and a shortage of suitable arms are on back order. Jump the hoop[s, pass the background check, find a suitable gun and the day before they get it tragedy strikes. The bad guy gets a murder to his credit, gun control gets another victim to its credit.
Good intentions will always be pleaded for any assumption of power. The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern will, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.
--Daniel Webster--
Old Grump is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 09:56 AM   #12
Alabama Shooter
Senior Member
Join Date: December 20, 2012
Location: Sweet Home
Posts: 886
That is an excellent post. I have seen many of those arguments before but not all in one convenient place.

Life is fraught with risk. There is paradox effect that often times actions that we take to keep us more safe actually keep us less safe. For example if we are careful never to be exposed to any germs through life we may never get sick. Until the one time a germ gets through and we get sick; because our immune system is lousy we die.

There are lots of other examples of this in life.
Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday.
Alabama Shooter is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 10:17 AM   #13
Evan Thomas
Join Date: July 7, 2008
Location: Upper midwest
Posts: 5,098
Thank you, John, for articulating all this -- for spelling it out so clearly. Your post deserves to reach a much wider audience -- I hope you're thinking about submitting it as an essay to, for example, some of the more reputable progressive news/opinion sites, such as Counterpunch and Common Dreams. It should be read by people who actually buy into that "argument."

What galls me is that it's become the slogan-of-choice among people who really should know better, but don't care because they know perfectly well that on an emotional level, the argument by reductio ad baby-killing trumps everything else.

It's unfortunate that we often counter this with arguments that come off sounding as if we're saying "If it saves only MY life..." -- which has no emotional weight (except to the speaker) and reads as merely selfish.
Evan Thomas is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 10:39 AM   #14
Dave P
Senior Member
Join Date: August 16, 1999
Location: North Florida
Posts: 1,269
Go Trump!
Dave P is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 02:58 PM   #15
44 AMP
Join Date: March 11, 2006
Location: Upper US
Posts: 17,150
Excellent analysis. Thank you!

"if it saves just one life..." has always irritated me, because while high and noble sounding, it focuses all attention away from the equally, if not more important "if it costs just one life..."

In particular, look at waiting periods. Ostensibly, to allow for a "cooling off period", so someone upset would have time to calm down and think things over, before buying a gun.

But look at a real world unintended consequence of this reasoning. Many women have been injured or killed, often while under a "protection order" from a court, while waiting to legally obtain a gun for self defense.

There is no way to come up with a hard statistic on this, but it has, and does happen, a lot. How many lives have been lost, because the state prevented someone from getting a gun in time? If it was only one, it's still too many.

How are we to count the bodies found dead, with an empty gun? We can't. Not accurately. The anti's count on this. Someone(s) killed because they needed an 8th or 11th shot in a gun that had been legal to hold them before the new law, (and we all KNOW it is going to happen) seems like a very poor replacement for the empty promise of "if it saves just one life..."

On reflection, it seems that the claim of "if it saves just one life.." is actually valid. But the lives saved will most often be those of the criminal attackers!

Personally, I have no interest in that, or in that philosophy. We ought to be making things more dangerous for violent attackers, not less.
All else being equal (and it almost never is) bigger bullets tend to work better.
44 AMP is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 03:18 PM   #16
Senior Member
Join Date: July 20, 2005
Location: Indiana
Posts: 10,167
Thank you John for a very astute and well thought-out analysis. I posted a semi-analysis/semi-rant about this in another thread and I think part of it bears repeating here. I've chosen to mitigate the risk of violent attack to myself and my loved ones as much as possible by arming myself with the most effective weapons available to me. I find the "if it saves one life" argument particularly offensive because it implies, albeit in a very subtle way, that my right and ability to defend myself and family is less important than the safety, or more accurately the feeling of safety, of someone who has chosen not to take the same precautions that I have. I fail to understand why my right and ability to defend myself and my family should be limited so someone else can feel better. I'm sorry if this seems callous of me, but such people and their feelings are not, nor should they be, my concern.
Smith, and Wesson, and Me. -H. Callahan
Well waddaya know, one buwwet weft! -E. Fudd
All bad precedents begin as justifiable measures. -J. Caesar
Webleymkv is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 03:29 PM   #17
Senior Member
Join Date: September 7, 2008
Posts: 543
"if it saves just one life..."
Some would say that's a valid argument for impeachment.
In my hour of darkness
In my time of need
Oh Lord grant me vision
Oh Lord grant me speed - Gram Parsons
pnac is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 05:11 PM   #18
Senior Member
Join Date: December 12, 2006
Posts: 1,512
"..if it saves one life".

If slavery would save one life would people rush to be bound?
teeroux is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 05:17 PM   #19
Senior Member
Join Date: December 4, 2009
Location: Frozen Tundra
Posts: 2,414
If we are going on the "if it saves one life" then I guess we need to outlaw all motorized transportation, showers, bathing ect... The list would be almost endless. Grind all our food into mush so we cant choke to death..

This is typical, most people seem to hate to do any critical thinking, and it is statements exactly like this that prove it... And people will vote based on such worthless statements, they just don't think critically...
Molon Labe

Last edited by BGutzman; January 20, 2013 at 11:17 PM.
BGutzman is offline  
Old January 20, 2013, 05:43 PM   #20
Buzzard Bait
Senior Member
Join Date: June 25, 2008
Location: Republic of Texas
Posts: 502
what a stupid argumemt

'but if it saves one life" well golly gee lets just have a 15 mile per hour speed limit nation wide, cities, towns, highways, free ways, build all cars so they can only go 15 miles per hour and ban all air travel. But, But, that would cause,, no stop! 15 mph every where it will save thousands of lives not to mention the fuel savings. The argument is stupid and when a person uses it I take it to mean they have no good argument to offer and use the lame but if one life is saved pitch because it's all they got they have lost the argument so they through this one out like a life saver when they can't swim.
Buzzard Bait is offline  
Old January 21, 2013, 05:26 AM   #21
Bud Helms
Join Date: December 31, 1999
Location: Middle Georgia
Posts: 13,155
Great post, John.

As charitable as the sentiment may seem, it is a utopian, elitist attempt to completely remove a perceived risk from society with heavy-handed, arrogant politics.

I recall a past Surgeon General that used this same approach with, "If it saves one child ...". Jocelyn Elders, I believe.
"The irony of the Information Age is that it has given new respectability to uninformed opinion." - John Lawton, speaking to the American Association of Broadcast Journalists in 1995

Last edited by Bud Helms; January 21, 2013 at 05:46 AM.
Bud Helms is offline  
Old January 21, 2013, 05:49 AM   #22
Senior Member
Join Date: July 30, 2010
Posts: 857
It's a lame argumentatiion device because it can be so easily refuted.

Then if posessing a gun saves one life - the previous argument is moot; and it can be easily proven that whatever style of gun you choose has already saved at least one life.
buckhorn_cortez is offline  
Old January 21, 2013, 07:20 AM   #23
Senior Member
Join Date: July 10, 2011
Location: Gillette, WY
Posts: 135
There is one life in Iran right now, that Obama refused to do anything about. An American preacher setting up orphanages was arrested back in June I think. If I remember correctly he's due to be executed today. Obama told his wife there was nothing he could do.

Just 1 life, Obama and you didn't even try.
chucknbach is offline  
Old January 21, 2013, 07:41 AM   #24
Senior Member
Join Date: September 6, 2007
Posts: 1,201
"If it saves one life" is what you say can't think of anything else to say.
TheNatureBoy is offline  
Old January 21, 2013, 09:15 AM   #25
Senior Member
Join Date: November 20, 2008
Posts: 10,526
I agree, just think of how many lives we could save if doctors were permitted to harvest organs from the elderly who are no longer contributing positively to society. We could also save more lives if we ban all motorcycles....and automobiles.
Skans is offline  

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 10:34 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
This site and contents, including all posts, Copyright © 1998-2016 S.W.A.T. Magazine
Copyright Complaints: Please direct DMCA Takedown Notices to the registered agent:
Contact Us
Page generated in 0.17758 seconds with 7 queries