As the push for some kind of policy response to a year of horrific mass shootings is confronted by a frustratingly intransigent US Senate, we’d love to see both sides making their arguments coherently and accurately. This is, however, unlikely, but the least we can hope for is that those favoring some kind of gun control reform can learn to temper their most counterproductive argumentative tendencies and keep the following facts and guidelines in mind:
1. You are not playing for a majority of Americans.
If a majority of Americans could pass laws in the US, we’d have a very different set of policies than we have right now. However, two complications in the gun debate mean that it will take far more than a majority to get control passed. First, gun control opponents tend to be much more invested in their lifestyle than gun control advocates, and so are more likely to include gun control on a very short list of issues that determine their voting. Secondly, the structure of the US Senate and Electoral College does not equally represent all Americans. Instead, rural Americans are immensely over-represented. Therefore, even measures with solid majority support may die if that support is focused on the coasts or in under-represented cities – we MUST have buy in from rural areas for any effective gun control.
2. Belittling people does not work.
Guns are not toys, they are not compensatory phalli, they are not adolescent obsessions. Too many liberals speak in terms that belittle those who believe in gun rights – which plays well with their supporters and particularly well with academia, which adores phallic comparisons and psychoanalysis. But gun advocates are right to respect (and even revere) firearms – guns are not just hunks of metal to be regulated like any other object. The Framers of the Constitution recognized this, no doubt because experiences like Lexington and Concord had taught them that being armed dramatically changed, for better or worse, the relationship between a citizen and his or her government.
Belittling guns and gun owners also weakens the most powerful line of argument in favor of common sense gun regulation: the inherent power that comes with owning a firearm, far from being an object of ridicule, ought to be a source of great respect for guns themselves, and a call for responsibility on the part of gun owners (private or commercial) to ensure that tools of such immense destructive potential do no fall into the hands of those demonstrably unfit for them.
3. Stop using bad stats!
First off, ‘gun deaths’ is an absurd statistic, so stop talking about it. The problem is murder rates – because if we bring down gun deaths without bringing down homicide rates, we’ve accomplished nothing (we could bring down accidental gun deaths or gun suicides, but neither of those aspects are really being addressed in the current debate). And while the US does have abnormally high murder rate compared to, say, Germany, saying we have ‘the highest murder rate in the industrialized world’ is a mite bit disingenuous, as it’s playing fast and loose with the definition of industrialized. When your definition excludes such enormous modern industrial economies as Mexico and Brazil (as it must for the statistic to be true), you’re really using the word ‘industrialized’ as code for ‘white’. Please don’t.
4. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
No amount of gun control is going to make us Germany, and no legal measures will eliminate mass killings by people who don’t mind dying, certainly not quickly. If we aren’t clear that this is a long term goal to address one of many causes of our disproportionately high murder rate, we’ll shortly see dozens of graphs showing the ineffectiveness of gun control once another gun (probably stolen or purchased long ago) is used in a mass killing, and any legislation enacted will expire before it has a chance to really take effect.