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I've been hearing this a lot lately, that people who talk about gun control post a mass-shooting are "appealing to emotion", which is a fallacy.

Is this true?

I am not convinced by this argument, for two reasons.

  1. First of all, let us assume for a moment that these gun control proponents actually are attempting to appeal to emotion.... is that so wrong? People are not 100 % logical rational human beings. Often, it necessitates an emotional link before people become invested in a topic, and it is only once people are interested that the fact-based compelling arguments will work on them. For example, if I say war is bad because it kills many people, if somebody is emotionally uninvested, they may not be convinced by the idea of many people dying. Hence, is it really fallacious of me to say "how would you feel if you or your family was bombed?". Here, I am appealing to emotion, but I am not doing so to manipulate them, but rather to make them realize the true strength of my original argument.

  2. Secondly, I don't think the premise that gun control proponents actually are appealing to emotion is necessarily true. When a mass shooting occurs, this strengthens the argument of the gun control proponents, since mass shootings is exactly what their gun policies are meant to prevent in the first place. Hence, after a mass shooting, their argument is not stronger than it was before, and therefore it makes perfectly good sense for them to restate this stronger version of their position in the hopes of now being able to convince more people.

Or am I wrong?

To be clear, I am asking whether or not talking about gun control after a mass-shooting is an appeal to emotion fallacy. Have any philosophers addressed this topic?

closed as off-topic by jobermark, Swami Vishwananda, virmaior, Thomas Klimpel, Not_Here Oct 7 '17 at 23:58

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If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1) This depends entirely upon the meaning of 'politicizing'. Political decisions can be made with valid arguments about the common good, or they can be emotional nonsense to pacify constituents. 2) Fallacies are not about correctness of the result - they are about the validity of the argument: things can be rhetorically convincing and have a high likelihood of being correct without being valid in the logical sense – jobermark Oct 5 '17 at 21:21
  • Given the subject of this question, it is very likely that you will get a lot of answers that are just people giving their opinions and a lot of them won't even address the fact that you're asking about a fallacy. I'm going to edit in something making what you're asking explicit in order to preserve the fact that this is a Q&A site designed to ask about philosophy because this can become open conjecture and political debate fodder very quickly. Feel free to roll back my edit if you don't like it. Also be aware that this might get closed as opinion based/not philosophy related. – Not_Here Oct 5 '17 at 22:10
  • Your question sounds kind of borderline between philosophy and political science; in fact, it sounds closer to politics to me. Unfortunately, you will have a hard time finding an honest political discussion site. I've found this site a fairly good source of information on fallacies: logicallyfallacious.com – David Blomstrom Oct 5 '17 at 23:19
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    Talking about gun control, or anything else, after a mass-shooting or at some other time is not a fallacy, and neither is "politicizing". Fallacy is a form of invalid argument, so saying that guns should be controlled because mass shootings are abominable would be an appeal to emotion. But politics is a domain of rhetoric, not logic, and there savvy appeal to emotion is not a flaw but a virtue. Even applied argumentation theory endorses the use of fallacies when they are effective. – Conifold Oct 6 '17 at 0:17
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    As written, the question is either (a) asking for us to merely confirm what the OP thinks = off-topic OR (b) in desperate need of clarification on (1) what the author thinks "politicizing" means, (2) what the author thinks "fallacy" means in general, and (3) what the author thinks "appeal to emotion" means. – virmaior Oct 7 '17 at 5:59
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I'm assuming you mean is it inherently illogical to use a mass shooting as a reason to repeal gun control? In which case the answer is definitely no. In some cases it can be an appeal to emotion. I think the easiest way to explain this is with some example arguments.

Fictional example argument for appeal to emotion:

Many peoples' loved ones were killed and injured in the Vegas shooting, so we should ban guns.

Example argument that is not an appeal to emotion:

The Las Vegas shooter was able to kill 59 people and injure many more because he had access to many semi-automatic weapons, modified to fire like fully automatic weapons. Without the ability to fire as many rounds as fast the Las Vegas Shooter would not have been able to fire off as many rounds and kill as many people. Therefor banning assault weapons could reduce the death toll in future shootings.

The first argument is clearly an appeal to emotion (fear), and does not address any logical reasons that assault weapons should be banned. The second argument however is a logical argument for why we should ban assault weapons.

Quite simply the claim that politicizing mass shootings is actually an attempt at censorship. The goal is to shut down the discussion about guns because this event and events like it supply logical reason to ban assault weapons.

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One could argue from the principle of utility and the mere count of lives lost. The people and potential generations lost could never be happy. Rational decisions are not devoid of emotion. This has been showed in neuroscience. We typically do not consider decisions that lack empathy, for example, to be rational.

If one takes a pragmatic stance, it is appropriate to talk about a problem when there is one.

  • But it is wiser to make decisions about a problem after emotions have settled. – kbelder Oct 9 '17 at 18:13
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Your second point is incorrect and is easily rebutted.

Suppose someone opposed driving cars, and, everytime there was a fatal car accident, claimed their position was strengthened.

This argument is invalid because people who support driving cars already know and understand that fatal car accidents will occur, and accept it as one of the risks of driving cars that presumably does not outweigh the benefit. In other words, each new fatal car accident does not provide any new information or a new argument: it is a position driving supporters have heard, considered, and reached a decision on.

No sane opponent of gun control denies that guns (knives, bombs, cars, snakes, battery acid, etc) can kill or harm innocent people, either by accident or intentionally.

They have already reached the conclusion that the harm of gun control outweighs the benefits. Each new incident does not provide a new argument.

Suppose, for example, that gun control opponents had provided a reasonable explanation of why gun control is bad after the last mass shooting.

You claim that the new mass shooting weakens their argument, but it doesn't. They can use the exact same argument as before: "we've explained previously that gun control is a bad idea despite all the mass shootings through yesterday; the exact same explanation applies to the mass shooting today, and will apply to all mass shootings in the future. We are already aware that mass shootings have occurred and may continue to occur, and explained why gun control is a bad idea despite these mass shootings".

A weaker argument would be: "the infrequency of mass shootings demonstrates that current gun control laws are adequate; if the laws were inadequate, mass shootings would be a leading cause of death, and they are not".

Another form of this argument: "if gun control laws were inadequate, over 1,000 people would die daily from mass shootings; the fact that this mass shooting killed fewer than 1,000 people AND that there has not been mass shooting deaths of 1,000 people daily, proves that gun control laws are sufficient. Each mass shooting reminds us how rare mass shootings are, just like each airplane crash reminds how safe air travel is (the media doesn't report on trivial events). Therefore, this shooting is actually proof that gun control laws are adequate".

Your first point is interesting and resulted in a long debate between me and @jobermark which doesn't answer the question, but may be of interest.

To summarize, I would say appeal to emotion in a moral argument isn't a logical fallacy per se, provided that we accept morality is ultimately based on emotion, provided that you don't make any other logical fallacies while employing the argument.

In your "war is bad" example, you are making a one-sided argument (you're not providing emotional arguments that living under oppression is worse than death, for example), but not one that is inherently illogical. Here's how I would breakdown your logic:

  • You: War is bad because it kills people

  • Opp: I accept that war kills people, but don't accept that killing people is bad.

  • You: What if it was your family that was being killed?

  • Opp: Yes, it would be bad if my family were being killed.

  • You: Do you believe your family is morally superior to all other people?

  • Opp: No, there are other good people in the world. Therefore, if it is morally wrong that my family were killed, it is also morally wrong that other people (not all other people, but at least some other people) are being killed. I recant my earlier position that killing people isn't bad.

  • You: Therefore, you accept war is bad because it kills people:

    • A: War kills people (you accepted this statement originally)

    • B: Killing people is bad (you now accept this statement)

    • Therefore, C: War is bad.

  • Opp: This argument is invalid because war does many things, not just kill people. Additionally, although I agreed killing people is bad, I didn't agree that anything that kills people is bad: it's quite possible something kills people (bad) but also has benefits (good). You have convinced me that killing people is bad, but not that it is a bad that can not be mitigated.

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