The conversation about guns: Part 1, Having a “meaningful” conversation.
(This is the first in a multipost series on the ongoing debate over civilian gun ownership. This topic was introduced here and further parts to this series will be linked at that introduction post.)
In the moments following the Sandy Hook/Newtown mass shooting the rising and increasingly strident calls for – let’s be honest, here – bans on guns were quite often framed as demands that the nation finally be allowed to “have a meaningful conversation” about guns. Usually some poke or jab was made that we weren’t able to have such a conversation in the past because the evil and nefarious NRA immediately stepped on any effort to speak on the matter and spineless politicians simply wouldn’t speak against the NRA. This entire notion is a fallacy riding on fallacies.
We’ve been having a meaningful conversation about guns in our public policy for decades. It’s just that the conversation rarely turns out well for the people who think the 2nd Amendment should be repealed. Which leads me to my 1st response on this topic: having one’s opponents in a debate disagree with one’s stance does not mean a meaningful conversation has not occured. Just because one has failed to provide a compelling argument does not mean that the conversation was not serious.
Put more succinctly and directly to the gun-banning crowd: Agreement with your position is not the definition of “meaningful” or “serious.”
It was the position of we on the 2nd Amendment supporting side of this conversation that the parents and familes of those killed in Newtown should be allowed to grieve and lay their murdered children to rest without being used as talking points in this debate. We believed that it was the honorable and ethical thing to do to simply hold those families in our thoughts and prayers and hold off on the politics. In response to our suggestions to this effect – and I saw a number of these on Facebook, Twitter, and across blogs and columns – we were told such things as there was no time for that sort of thing or that such a respectful interval was a luxury, unaffordable in this debate. Personally, I disagree strongly. When someone bangs on the table and shouts that there’s no time for such things, that we must act now, that’s just a sign of an individual who knows, deep down, that their position on the topic won’t hold up under thoughtful scrutiny. They know they can’t carry the argument when passions are not enflamed. If their arguments were sound and rational, they wouldn’t need to resort to such a tactic.
And, again, that assessment is very much part having a meaningful conversation even as it disagrees wholly with their position.
As in such cases in the past, when the tide of the conversation didn’t immediately start flowing in their preferred direction, the gun-banning side of this debate resorted to demonization of their opponents. It wasn’t that a reasonable adult on the other side of the table doubted that their demanded actions would even work or that they represented a violation of civil rights, it’s that the other side was careless, selfish, callous, even reaching to the point of willfully enabling murder. The ad hominem attacks were especially leveled at the National Rifle Association, phrased as if the NRA was some nebulous and separate entity, operating entirely on its own and disconnected from the American citizenry. When that didn’t work – the NRA has roughly 4 million members – the ad hominem attacks started zeroing in on the members, ultimately poisoning the entire well of discourse.
Liberal columnist Donald Kaul wrote an editorial for the Des Moines Register wherein he called for banning the NRA as a terrorist organization, ordering the destruction of their property, the killing of their membership, and the torture of Republican elected representatives. Yes, that was published in a newspaper serving a state capital and hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
You cannot have a serious and meaningful conversation with people who act like this and the fault for that is 100% on the gun-banning crowd. No one forced them to make those characterizations of fellow Americans who are exercising their rights. This knee-jerk response to any criminal behavior to immediately start treating people who had nothing to do with the crime as if they are responsible for it is what has caused the climate of this debate to be so noxious.
So when the people screaming to restrict other citizens’ rights are ready to actually engage in the ongoing serious and meaningful conversation that has been taking place for years on the matter of civilian gun ownership, are ready to cease their demonization efforts and show that they are ready to start listening, I’ll be up in the front of the line to begin that dialog. Until then, they can try to repeal the 2nd Amendment and see how far they get with that one.