On Monday, The Daily Show's Trevor Noah asked why the pro-life movement won't support gun control measures that could save tens of thousands of lives.
"If pro-lifers would just redirect their powers toward gun violence, the amount of lives they could save would reach superhero levels," Noah said. "They just need to have a superhero's total dedication to life. Because right now, they're more like comic book collectors. Human life only holds value until you take it out of the package, and then it's worth nothing."
This isn't the first time a "dedication to life" argument has been used against pro-life conservatives — a similar one is often made in public debates about capital punishment. In his recent visit to the US, for example, Pope Francis cited his pro-life beliefs to explain his opposition to the death penalty.
But such an argument is unfair to pro-life, pro-gun conservatives — it misrepresents why they believe what they do. And while it's a funny take for a comedian, misrepresenting people's views isn't an effective way to change their hearts and minds.
Why Noah's pro-life argument is unfair to pro-gun conservatives
The facts on gun violence are, broadly speaking, on Noah's side: More restrictions on guns would save lives. The US has a higher gun death rate than other developed nations, because, according to the research, Americans have more guns, and more guns mean more gun deaths.
If the country reduced access to guns or otherwise cut the number of guns through measures like Australia's famous buyback program, it could reduce this uniquely American death toll. "Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide," David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health.
The fault of Noah's critique of pro-life conservatives who oppose gun control lies in the fact that they don't believe gun control can save lives. In fact, many gun rights advocates genuinely believe that gun control can get people killed — since without guns, they won't be able to, for instance, defend themselves from home invaders. So it's not, as Noah claims, that born lives are "worth nothing" to pro-life, pro-gun conservatives, but that they believe gun control won't save lives.
The research doesn't support this, though, and it's clear that reducing the number of guns — and access to them — would save lives. (Just having a firearm in your house increases your odds of death.) But gun rights advocates don't believe this research, though it's possible they would change their minds on gun control if they did.
So it's unfair to suggest the pro-life movement doesn't really care about born lives. It's the kind of argument that might appeal to a liberal who believes abortion isn't murder and that gun control saves lives, but it fundamentally misunderstands the genuine beliefs that pro-life, pro-gun conservatives hold. And even if those genuine beliefs are wrong, making people feel like they've been mischaracterized is not going to help change their minds.