The Elements of Argument and the Daily News

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The elements of argument can be applied to issues we read or hear about daily in the news. Although the term warrant is not a familiar one, the concept of the warrant, or the assumption underlying a claim, can help to explain why a writer or speaker believes in that claim.


Consider the heated controversy surrounding gun control. Many in the United States would like to see more government control of gun ownership. Why? What is the assumption on which they base that claim? They believe that stricter control would lower the number of shooting deaths in America. As support for their claim, they offer statistics about the lower rate of homicides in countries where gun ownership is not so widespread. The assumption is that if there were fewer guns around, fewer people would get shot.


What about those who disagree? They do not argue that lowering the number of guns on America’s streets would lower the number of gun deaths. They hold that having guns to protect themselves and their families gives them a fighting chance against those who threaten146552_pastedImage_5.png them. They offer anecdotal evidence of individuals or families who protected themselves successfully against criminals with guns because they themselves were armed. They argue that if owning guns were made illegal, only criminals would have guns and law-abiding citizens who gave up their guns would be at their mercy. They see a slippery slope, however, toward something they fear even more: They fear that if government took away their guns, there would be nothing left to protect them from their government. They bring up the specter of Hitler’s Germany, where unarmed citizens were helpless against the armed military. Those who favor gun control question why it has to be legal to own guns that seem designed more for the military or for criminals than, say, for hunting, but gun advocates see taking away any of their rights where guns are concerned as the first step toward losing them completely.

Both sides in this bitter debate are guided by their fears. Those fears are just different. The assumptions behind each side’s stand on the issue determine what claim they support. The Second Amendment is brief, but complicated by the fact that the wording suggests that Americans have the right to bear arms in order to be a part of the nation’s militia. Ironically, those who most strongly support the Second Amendment do so because they fear the modern form of America’s militia.


Source: Jon S, Newspaper colour, on Flickr

About the Author
Donna Haisty Winchell directed the first-year writing program and codirected Digital Portfolio Institutes at Clemson University before her retirement in 2008. She edited several freshman writing anthologies and continues to write about argumentative writing and about fiction by African-American women. She is the author of The Elements of Argument and The Structure of Argument with Annette T. Rottenberg.