More people are killed by hammers than rifles
More people are killed by hammers than rifles is an argument frequently used by Americans who disapprove of gun control, specifically the restriction or banning of assault rifles. A graphic with the heading, "Facts gun control advocates don't want to to know" made the rounds on Facebook in 2013, and the argument really became popular when it was taken up by Fox Nation, and posted on Twitter by Republican Greg Abbott, attorney general of Texas at the time, and later Governor of Texas.
How the Argument Is Dishonest
Murder Not Death
My first problem with the argument is that it is often presented using the word "killed" rather than "murdered." If you take a look at the actual FBI data cited, the chart makes it clear that the numbers are homicides. The Facebook graphic properly uses the term "murder," but Greg Abbot used the term "killed." This may sound like a quibble, but it has big implications. The FBI is not including accidental deaths or suicides. When you take these numbers into account, the values will probably be altered considerably because very few people kill themselves with blunt objects, but how many kill themselves with rifles?
Blunt Objects Not Hammers
Although both the Facebook graphic and Greg Abbot mention hammers and clubs, when I hear this argument, the arguer usually only mentions hammers, either way, they're not fully honest because the FBI's data combines all blunt objects into a single group. While this includes hammers, it also includes baseball bats, golf clubs, rocks, pipes, and so forth. Notice that "firearms" is broken up into five sub-categories. If you were to divide the blunt objects group into five sub-categories, the numbers would be smaller than rifles (assuming they're divided somewhat evenly).
Unknown Firearm Type
The FBI data includes a sub-category in firearms called "type not stated" in which a person was murdered with a firearm, but the police report didn't include the specific type of the firearm. This number is quite large, more than rifles, shotguns, and other firearms combined, and it probably contains a fair amount rifles which would increase the total numbers. There is also a section on the bottom of the chart called "other weapons, or weapons not stated" which could potentially add more to the total number of rifles. However, to be fair, considering that handguns account for such a high percentage, most of the "type not stated" category is probably handguns.
How To Make It True
In order for the argument to stated truthfully, it must be re-worded to something like, "According to the FBI, fewer people are murdered by rifles in America, than by all blunt objects combined, when you exclude murders where the firearm type is not known." An argument worded in that manner is true, but it certainly doesn't have the thrust of the dishonest soundbite. However, now that it is true, we can address it.
The Point of the Argument
I can think of two primary ways to interpret this argument.
Using Murder Rate As a Metric For Legality
This is a straight forward look at the argument. It asks, why are lawmakers picking on rifles when they only account for a fraction of murders in this country? In this case, the argument expects lawmakers to focus on those murder weapons that account for the most murders. The problem with this approach is that it backfires on people who are against gun control because the weapon most commonly used for murders, by far, is handguns.
Another question to ask is, why did the FBI sub-divide murders from firearms? I doubt they believe that rifles and shotguns are as fundamentally different as fire and drowning. I think a more reasonable answer is that the FBI sub-divided gun murders because the number is so large, more than all other methods combined, it helped to break it up to make it easier to track gun-related homicides.
Furthermore, if we used the number of people murdered as a guide for what should be restricted, one could argue that we should eliminate the restrictions on explosives and extremely toxic poisons since so few people are murdered by them.
Pointing Out the Folly of Murder Rate
This is a less intuitive interpretation of the argument, but, I think, the primary one intended by the people making the argument. In this case, the arguer is saying, everything can be used to murder, and, since we can't ban everything, there is no sense in banning guns.
This is similar to a gradient argument, and, like all gradient arguments, it ignores the fact that lines still have to be drawn. In this case, societies have to restrict things that are extremely dangerous; we don't let just anyone have access to plutonium.
Yes, any object can be used as a murder weapon, but most objects are not designed to kill. Guns are designed to kill, or, at the very least, frighten people by the fact that they have the ability to kill. A hammer is The problem I see with this argument is that it ignores two main points. The first is, objects like hammers, baseball bats, and the like have primary uses that don't involve killing or the threat to kill.