It is hard to avoid self-righteousness and arrogance in politics, whether professionally involved or engaged as a citizen. I certainly have moments when my zealous advocacy for free speech crosses the line. When one loses his or her cool over an issue in public it is nearly always a mistake: it signals an end to debate and engagement and becomes, at best, a sermon for the choir. As a result, one may feel temporarily invigorated at the chorus of amens that follow, but more often than not the congregation ends up shrinking. One keeps the attention of everyone who already agreed, and loses those who may have been convinced by reasoned discourse.
It has been a long time since I witnessed such rabid anger on the part of a cause as displayed by segments of the anti-gun movement following the massacre in Aurora last week. I believe the last time may have been the height of the gun control movement in the late 1990s. Certainly most of Occupy Wall Street fits the bill, but they don’t actually have an articulable cause. The Tea Party has similar weaknesses, but its off-putting anger is largely limited to segments interested in conspiracy theories that no one else takes seriously. What makes the renewed gun “debate” so lamentable is that some political leaders and media figures have staked out the talking points as follows: guns are evil, gun advocates are stupid, and our position on guns is both evil and stupid.
Within hours—hours—of the massacre, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg took to the radio waves on the east coast and stated: “No matter where you stand on the Second Amendment, no matter where you stand on guns, we have a right to hear from both [presidential candidates] concretely, not just in generalities – specifically what are they going to do about guns?” Instead of cooling off after this ill-timed reaction, a few days later he called for police officers to strike if more restrictive gun laws are not passed. For Bloomberg, the debate is not whether we should pass more restrictive gun laws, but only how far we should go.
Upping the ante, the most flatulent tirade I’ve seen (so far) is from Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC. In addition to calling the NRA President Wayne LaPierre “blood-drenched,” he labels NRA members “simple-minded.” (Guns or religion, and whatnot.) Nothing quite illustrates the irony of the latter label than O’Donnell’s argument, summarized as: the TSA engages in invasive searches before Americans can get on an airplane, therefore Americans cannot argue against restrictive gun laws. Other nonsense buttresses O’Donnell’s blinding brilliance. He focuses in on the evils of 100-round drum magazines, ignoring the fact that the AR-15 rifle used by the Aurora shooter jammed, probably because it had a cheap 100-round drum magazine attached to it. Finally, he begs many questions: he claims a 10-round magazine would have given the moviegoers a chance to stop the shooter when he had to reload, ignoring the fact that he carried four guns. Of course, I’m willing to bet O’Donnell also favors restricting the number of firearms we can each own (perhaps even banning handguns altogether), yet he still dismisses the claim that this debate is one about restricting freedoms.
It’s quite something when, of all the leftists, it’s Ezra Klein keeping a relatively level head.
The good news for gun owners and advocates is that the anti-gun lobby lost from the outset, thanks in large part to this self-righteous anger. Perhaps this partially explains their rage: they knew going in that they weren’t going to get anywhere, knowing the suspected shooter had no criminal record and (from what we currently know) gave off few if any warning signs. So, they’re taking the opportunity to insult everyone on the other side before the news cycle moves on. Although this is good news for the cause, it damages the idea that we’re a democratic republic based on civil society. I, for one, have largely avoided the debate in this case because it turned into vitriol immediately. Leaders and pundits should know better.
The debate is difficult enough without all the rabid anger. My position is simply that more gun control solutions are far worse than the problem. With 12 innocent people dead and 58 wounded, that will easily offend, and that’s why this debate should not have started until weeks after the massacre. Nevertheless, we have a Second Amendment to protect us against tyranny, and it also serves very well for citizens to protect themselves against criminals (occurrences that do not make the national news or statistics). Far less importantly, it also serves for hunting, sport, and simply having a ridiculous good time. In the wake of 9/11 and the Supreme Court decisions in Heller and McDonald, gun rights are recognized by the public and courts alike, and they will wisely not let the abuse of rights by very few negate those of everyone else.