You need to speak up for the innocent lives lost. But you also need to be prepared for the debate that is sure to follow.
So there’s been another mass-shooting in America. And you’re compelled to say something, maybe for the first time. You’re upset; you’re frustrated; you’re worried and maybe even afraid.
But you have something to say. Maybe it’s a productive suggestion about firearm regulation, maybe just a cathartic release about gun-related violence, or maybe just commentary on the peculiar primacy afforded the U.S. firearm industry over public safety. But you’re compelled; it has to come out. So you log into Facebook and post your thoughts.
Okay, here’s what’s about to happen: one of your friends — you had no idea they felt this way! — disagrees with you as a matter of principle. And they post a reply. And because they posted a reply, their circle of friends are now aware of your post. And their friends, and their friends, and then their friends. They all start chiming in with horrifying perspectives whose prevalence worries you even more than the firearm issue you posted about originally.
Yep, been there.
But since you’re going to do it anyway, here’s a guide about what you’re about to wander into. I’m not suggesting you don’t do it — have some courage of your convictions! — but you’ll be better off with supplies in your pack before you enter the fevered, dread-swamp of Gun Debate on Facebook.
#1 — “Laws don’t matter to criminals.”
That’s the first and nicest circular-reasoning you’ll read all day. See, haters gonna hate, crimers gonna crime. That mass-shooter whose face is all over the news this week? No laws were going to stop him. Any new regulations are therefore only going to impact law-abiding citizens, and why should we have to suffer? Why are responsible gun-owners always the victim of your liberal fascism?
At this point, you can try to point out that you can’t have a society without laws, that laws are precisely how human beings balance the rights of the individual with the prosperity of their community, that the absence of laws isn’t freedom but anarchy. You may even point out the glaring inconsistency in that there seems to be plenty of laws regarding, say, gay marriage or women’s healthcare that your debate opponent apparently does agree are necessary to maintain social virtue. But by then you’re onto the next phase.
#2 — “Politicians should enforce existing laws before creating new ones.”
Here you need to understand: in a representative government — of the people and by the people — like America’s, politicians aren’t actually people. Politicians are just ambitious, cynical human-shaped turds who crave nothing but power and re-election and are desperate to pad their resume with legislative accomplishments and not actual results. Wow, you might think; I actually agree with that.
But after a moment you’ll catch yourself: wait … the weapons that shooter used were all legally purchased; what failed enforcement could have prevented that violence? And your debate opponent will point out something like … that the car the shooter drove to the shooting had a broken tail-light, and the whole tragic event could have been prevented by better enforcement of existing traffic laws. Before you’re even done scratching your head on this one, though, you’ll be onto number three.
#3 — “That idea you just suggested would not have prevented this shooting.”
This one reminds me of those feeble, overwhelmed parents of that completely awful child who routinely disrupts your child’s classroom and playground. And when you chat with those parents over light refreshments at a neighborhood meeting someday, they’ll tell you, “Well, we’ve tried nothing and we’re out of ideas.”
More to the point, the gun advocates you’re debating will dismiss the efficacy of: gun buybacks, waiting periods, mandatory background checks, assault-weapon bans, proof-of-competence, proof-of-secure-storage, letters of recommendation … none of those in isolation would have prevented this shooting, therefore none of them are productive ideas.
As you’re penning your response about the merit of incremental improvements in pretty much every other human endeavor, your adversary will snap the trap shut on you: “The only solution,” they’ll say, “is confiscation. And there will be a Second Revolution if ever the president issues the Confiscation Order”. And they’ll actually capitalize those words.
#4 — “You can’t legislate something you don’t understand.”
This distraction will emerge immediately as soon as you misuse a term of art. You didn’t call the firearm an “assault weapon”, did you? Because that term means nothing. You didn’t call it a “clip” when it’s a “magazine”, did you? Because one has a spring. You didn’t just call the Bay Jesus a Holy Porcupine, did you? See, you’re just displaying your ignorance. If you don’t know the pro’s and con’s to various upper receiver options of an AR-15, you’re frankly not even allowed to invoke the term “AR-15”. As you’re considering explaining the terms “semantics” or “fetishism” in your response, however, your opponent is already onto the next debate phase.
#5 — “The fact that I own guns means we’re both actually safer.”
I’m paraphrasing that, but I don’t need to. Here’s the actual conversation I’ve had: “See, there are three kinds of people in the world: Wolves, Sheep, and Sheep-Dogs. You’re welcome to be a Sheep, but when the Wolves come for you, you will rely on Sheep-Dogs like me to protect you.” And yes, they’ll capitalize those words as well. This debate tactic will often be accompanied with statistics that argue (a) there are more civilian-owned firearms in America now than there have ever been, and (b) crime rates are lower in America now than they ever have been.
Because, see, causation. And you’ll argue, umm, correlation? Not the same thing? And that all of the studies you’ve seen after an hour of Google searching indicates that firearm-related injury is substantially more likely in homes with firearm than in non-firearm homes?
And that the relative propensity of firearms in a community is strongly correlated to the relative likelihood of firearm-related violence in that community? And that if you’re really worried about protecting yourself from home-invasion … get a dog? But it won’t matter: see, the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. And the only way to be safe and strong like your debate opponent is for everyone to carry a firearm with them at all times. As frustrating as this lengthy avenue is, however, count yourself lucky because the swamp just gets deeper and darker from here.
#6 — “Guns are just tools.”
This is the just the mas-macho home-improvement version of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, of course. But it’s one meta-level above that. See, the mass-shooter who killed a dozen or so people at last week’s massacre could have killed those people in a variety of ways. Maybe with a car. Or a sword. Or a spoon. It’s all about the person and their capabilities, not the tool itself. Focusing on the tool is just typical lazy liberal thinking; we need to focus on the person. And their mental-health, their upbringing, their drug use, their gang membership, their culture’s proclivity to violence…
At this point, you will feel compelled to point out that, wait, all tools are optimized to achieve a purpose. So if, say, cars were optimized to jump curbs, plow into crowds and quickly grind up as many people as possible under saw-like wheels, you’d probably support restrictions on that type of “tool” as well. Or maybe that … if tools are tools, why bother buying a handgun for home defense; if any tool is dangerous, why do you need a handgun? Don’t you have spoons? But now that you’re up into a meta-level above guns, the air is too thin for reason, just light-headed analogies.
#7 — “Swimming pools caused more deaths in America last year than guns, so why not outlaw those?”
Yes, swimming pools. Sometimes stairs, but almost always swimming pools. This comparison is more common when the most-recent firearm-related tragedy involves a child accidentally shooting another child (please don’t Google that; it happens several times a week in the U.S.) See, those kids who were killed by a loaded, unsecured firearm that another child found in their home could have just have easily drowned in neighbor’s unattended swimming pool. Ergo, swimming pools are just as dangerous as firearms.
And as for those parents who left the loaded, unsecured firearm in a place where a child had ready access to it? “Well, you can’t outlaw stupid; I raised my kids to know and respect firearms”. Before you can even suggest that we can do better than merely accept that children sometimes die because of an adult’s lack of doing something, you’re taken to the next level.
#8 — “The Second Amendment guarantees my right to firearm ownership.”
There is no getting around this. Point out the historical debate about what that strangely-worded amendment even means. Point out the phrase “well-regulated” contained within it. Point out the restrictions on every other limited-right in the Constitution (including speech, assembly, religion, redress of grievances.) Point out the contradiction of how most gun advocates support restricting firearms to some class of citizens, such as convicted felons who just happen to live in prison.
Point out the generally acceptable restriction on civilian ownership of surface-to-air missiles. None of it matters. Your opponent considers this an unlimited right intended by the Founders to insure the government exists in perpetual fear of its citizenry. Quoting a national political figure just last week, the Second Amendment is “a fundamental check on the overreach of government.” As you’re formulating a response along the lines of absolute faith in the Second Amendment means that you pretty much don’t believe in the rest of the Constitution, you cross into the darkest swamp district you’ve yet seen.
#9 — “You know, the first thing the Nazi’s did was take guns away from the Jews.”
Umm, what? Are you suggesting that gun-control led to the Holocaust? Or … are you calling me no different from a Nazi because I support gun buybacks? Yes; yes, they are. In response, you may jump onto Google and investigate the gun-control policies of the Weimar Republic that the Nazi’s overthrew, learning that gun-ownership was strictly limited in pre-war Germany.
You’ll continue to be not-surprised to learn that the Nazi’s took every property right away from the Jews, while at the same time encouraging gun-ownership for the “right” sort of people. But of course, it’s far too late to reason here. This is Godwin’s law: that every debate on the Internet eventually spirals down into someone being compared to a Nazi. It’s like when the first tequila shots pass around the table; it’s much too late now to return to your dignified chardonnay. But take the offered shot, as you’re about to need it.
#10 — “Conservative gun-owners in America own 200 million weapons and trillions of rounds of ammunition. If we became violent, you’d know it.”
Yes, they’ll either say that or post the meme-photo of it. And this is a logical conclusion, of course: your Facebook debate partner is arguing that they require unregulated access to firearms because, someday, they’ll be called upon to protect the Integrity of America by supporting an armed-overthrow of the federal government. What will cause this Second Revolution? Of course, it will be the Confiscation Order, akin to the breaking of the Seventh Seal in the Book of Revelations.
When this happens — which could be any day now, your debate partner will tell you — they are prepared and ready to join local militia, to marshal forces, to start shooting at elected officials starting with their President, Senator, Congressman, or maybe even city-council if need be. And it’s the fear of this Second Revolution that insures the freedoms we hold dear. “Umm,” you ask, “if that happened, couldn’t you just … try to elect different leaders? Isn’t controlling public policy with the fear of violence a tactic of, you know, terrorists?
Not of a Constitutionalist, nor a Federalist? That harboring the option to kill Americans who disagree with you legislatively is somehow … un-American?”
And that’s where it all leads to, of course: the debate of what it means to be American. Whether the Founders intended the government to operate in perpetual fear of invoking an armed uprising from a discontented electorate, making avid firearm-advocates the preventative remedy to tyranny.
Or whether the Founders intended a system of checks and balances where a representative democracy can peacefully debate the implementation and enforcement of laws in order to form a More Perfect Union.
In other words, can you decorate the zero-sum manner in which you’ve chosen to live your own life anyway with the patina of patriotic virtue? Or do you trust in the good intentions of your neighbors as much as you want them to trust in yours?
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Photo: Getty Images