The above phrase is so frequently heard in the debate about gun ownership that it warrants a specific and detailed response. An earlier post covers the subject more broadly. Today's has a more narrow focus.
1. By stating that guns do not kill people, it is implied that guns are almost passive in the process. They are not. They are the means of the killing. These objects become an extension of the person's actions. They, in fact, facilitate the killing. Think about how ludicrous the following statement sounds: machines don't demolish buildings, people do. The statement drives a wedge between the action of the driver and the tool he or she uses. In stating it this way, one is invited to believe that the machine is entirely passive in the operation or that it can be excluded altogether from discussions about demolition - that the only important issue for discussion is that of drivers and operators. This is an example of logic to the point of absurdity.
2. Guns are specifically designed to kill or wound. Although they do not yet have the capability to decide when they shoot (though the technology surely exists to enable a gun to make this choice), they are nonetheless designed to kill. That is their purpose. There is therefore a continuum of intention and responsibility between the actions of the designer, the lawmaker, the seller, the buyer and the user of the gun.
3. Guns do kill. It's physically very difficult, apparently, to kill another human being with one's bare hands. The effort required to do so and the trauma associated with attempting it make this an act that few would try. Picking up a rock makes the action easier. A knife can also be an effective tool, but it requires close proximity to the victim and a degree of physical strength. Guns, however, make the task so easy. No physical contact with the victim is needed and limited physical strength is needed to fire one. It is also possible to kill with guns from a distance, removing the killer even further from the victim. Dehumanising people is a necessary prelude to killing; guns allow this to happen, making the action of taking life less unpleasant in the mind of the killer. He receives no wounds himself, and is not physically touched by his victim's blood. Do those who chant guns don't kill really believe that there would be as many murders in America if guns did not exist? Surely not!