A few highlights: click through for the full discussion…
People who value free speech object vociferously and in absolutist terms to any suggestion that anyone have any authority to censor anything. Why? Because they fear – and justifiably so – that a large fraction of the people who say they want “reasonable” authority to censor things are not actually reasonable. They fear that talk of “reasonable” limits on speech is disingenuous and offered in bad faith. They fear that people who talk of “reasonable” limits on speech actually have much more extreme limits in mind, if they could only achieve them; and that their push for “reasonable” limits are intended merely as a starting salvo in a longer battle to ban speech outright (or, at least, to ban outright any speech they disagree with, which is effectively the same thing).
People who value access to abortion object vociferously and in absolutist terms to any suggestion that anyone have any authority to limit such access at any time and under any circumstances. Why? Because they fear – and justifiably so – that a large fraction of the people who say they want “reasonable” authority to place constraints on abortion are not actually reasonable. They fear that talk of “reasonable” constraints on abortion is disingenuous and offered in bad faith. They fear that people who talk of “reasonable” constraints on abortion actually have much more extreme limits in mind, if they could only achieve them; and that their push for “reasonable” limits are intended merely as a starting salvo in a longer battle to ban abortion outright.
And, yes. People who value access to guns object vociferously and in absolutist terms to any suggestion that anyone have any authority to limit such access at any time and under any circumstances. Why? Because they fear – and justifiably so – that a large fraction the people who say they want “reasonable” authority to place constraints on gun access are not actually reasonable. They fear that talk of “reasonable” constraints on guns is disingenuous and offered in bad faith. They fear that people who talk of “reasonable” constraints on guns actually have much more extreme limits in mind, if they could only achieve them; and that their push for “reasonable” limits are intended merely as a starting salvo in a longer battle to ban guns outright.
If you want to bring along the sensible, practical people who lament the current state of affairs and, yet, who value their right to have access to guns for self-protection and/or sport, you need to do more than “re-frame” the language and the argument. You need to convince them that you are both sincere and trustworthy.
You are asking them to rein in (or, at least, have the political courage to ignore, or even oppose) the most extreme voices in their coalition. In the same way, you need to convince them that you can effectively rein in (or, at least, have the political courage to ignore, or even oppose) the most extreme voices in your coalition. You need to convince them that the “reasonable” proposals you have in mind really are — truly — your ends, and not merely a means to initiate a march toward something more extreme.
It has been a bedrock principle of liberal American justice that people are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty; and it has often been said (typically by those on the “left”) that it is better that ten murderers go free than that one innocent man be unjustly condemned and punished as a murderer. We are exquisitely sensitive to injustice and unfairness. It has, arguably, both instigated and consumed much of our political discourse in recent years.
If we want to pursue policies that try to predict who should not be trusted with exercising legitimate individual prerogatives (like owning guns – or, say, owning cars), we had best design such policies with multiple and nimble levels of appeal and review, with ample opportunities for error correction, and with the onus of the major effort resting on those who would curtail such prerogatives rather than on those who would retain them.
And we had best design them to minimize, as much as possible, false positives.
To be clear: we all need to acknowledge that it is unreasonable and implausible to expect we can define a system that generates no false positives at all. Gun rights enthusiasts just need to come to grips with that fact: any system that is effective enough to be useful in reducing the carnage is going to sweep a few innocents into its net.
But, the alternative is what we have now: far too many other innocents being swept into the net of gun mayhem. That is unacceptable.
Yes, there is a price to be paid for freedom. But, news flash for the gun crowd: not being shot in your classroom or at the supermarket or while playing on your front stoop is also a kind of freedom, and arguably more fundamental than a right to own a gun. We need to be willing to pay the price to protect that freedom, as well.
That said, people who want to enact various gun-related policies (and many other “progressive” policies) also need to acknowledge something: that restrictions on liberty, of any kind and no matter how “reasonable”, do, indeed, come with costs as well as benefits – yes, immediate human costs but, also, through legislative/legal precedent and an induced cultural complacency about such restrictions in principle, long-term systemic costs as well. The fact that the short-term, human costs are not ones that you, yourself, care about or will pay, or that the long-term systemic costs seem distant and abstract or are not ones you can imagine or lament, does not mean they don’t exist or are unimportant.
If you want cooperation from people who will bear those costs, you need at least to acknowledge them, and to acknowledge that building in safeguards to minimize those costs is a reasonable and beneficial part of any such policy. Insisting – as many on the “left” do – that concern about those costs is irrational or illegitimate – or, worse, is depraved and malevolent – is guaranteed to make cooperation impossible.
Being averse to research on “gun violence” is not irrational, for the reasons of trust cited above: the people calling for and performing such research are, in far too many cases, doing so in bad faith. Calling for research on “gun violence” is a nearly certain sign that the proposed “research” is not actually about science: it isn’t aimed at investigating and understanding root causes; and it isn’t aimed at testing a variety of hypotheses. Rather, it is aimed narrowly at proving a specific hypothesis: that “Guns cause violence (and should, therefore, be banned).”
That is poor science because it presumes the result it is purported to be researching.
More importantly, that is poor science because it is overtly political – it implies that the “research” is not as much intended to expand the boundaries of knowledge as it is to manufacture justifications for pasting a “scientific” patina onto a pre-determined policy preference. It is, all too often, advocacy disguised as science. It would be like proposing research narrowly focused on “Black criminality” or on “The cognitive bases for gender disparities”. There may be real-world observational evidence that those things exist. But, we can and would probably safely assume that anyone proposing such narrowly-defined “research” had some agenda in mind beyond the simple advancement of human wisdom.
Yes, by all means, let us research the nature and sources of violence and what might be done about it. But, don’t limit our focus to one specific tool. Ask, rather: what is it about our culture (including, but not limited to, “gun culture”) that breeds such solipsism and lack of empathy? Ask, rather: what is it about our culture that fails to discourage people from acting out that solipsism, from inflicting it on others? Ask, rather: what is it about our culture that so consistently fails to instill in its citizenry a respect for other people and a reverence for the Golden Rule? And what can we do about that?
I would venture that the “framing” I identified – that people who want to be able to use guns thereby assume a responsibility for ensuring that all gun use is responsible gun use – may be the key to engaging with those who value access to guns. Because, if we can turn the conversation from “rights” to “responsibilities” – if we can turn the conversation from “how we plan to impose our coercion upon you” to “how we expect you to step up and do the right thing” – the rest of the conversation will be immeasurably easier.
Perhaps, if we can find a way to turn our conversation about guns toward the duties of responsibility, rather than making it an argument about rights and regulation, we can not only make progress on guns but, then, extend that approach to politics and governance beyond guns into all the other subjects that currently divide us.
It occurs to me that perhaps the most effective policy for controlling gun violence would actually be to require any gun that can accept an external ammunition clip — which is a reasonably good proxy for its potential high-volume/long-term rate of fire — to be colored hot pink and fitted with a grip shaped like a phallus.
It would have no effect on the gun’s performance or its availability. But, slinging a giant pink penis over your shoulder or strapping a giant pink penis to your hip to carry it around, or wrapping your hand around a giant pink penis in order to aim and shoot, would simply not look macho or cool. It would not be photogenic. It would not project an automatic aura of menace and authority. It would, to the contrary, be rather emasculating. It would indeed, make you look silly.
That would somewhat clarify exactly why it is that people think they need such firepower — it would tend to separate those who have some genuine need for a tool with that kind of performance from those whose primary need is actually for a brace to prop up their sagging self-esteem.