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Angry Gun Control Debate Does Collateral Damage

The Great Gun Debate shows American political discourse at its irrational worst, with both left and right promoting panic and hysteria that distracts attention from the nation’s truly menacing problems. Instead of addressing crushing deficits, economic stagnation, political gridlock, and the erosion of middle-class security, politicians and pundits obsess over gun violence—one of the few challenges where the United States has made dramatic progress in recent years.

How can the president and his supporters work themselves into a self-righteous lather over minor regulatory adjustments that have been tried before with no measurable impact on the rate of firearms crime?

And how can conservatives work themselves into a paranoid lather over minor regulatory adjustments that have been tried before with no significant impact on our constitutional right to keep and bear arms?

There’s no logical reason to believe that a bureaucratic ban on assault rifles—weapons that are currently associated with less than 2 percent of overall murders—will bring about a magnificent, harmonious new day of enhanced public safety or, for that matter, usher in a Fascist nightmare of jack-booted feds stripping law-abiding citizens of their right to self-protection. Enhanced background checks for gun purchasers? They may—or may not—constitute a worthwhile reform, but this modest proposal hardly dictates a sweeping, significant change in American life, for good or for ill.

Why, then, all the passion—on both sides—over an issue that in no way counts as a crisis? And why the ferocious polarization and doomsday rhetoric concerning potential changes with trivial real-world consequences?

In part, the craziness stems from appalling media malfeasance: in particular, the saturation coverage of the horrifying massacre at Newtown, with no effort at placing the incident in historical context. Inevitably, the thought of 20 slaughtered children provokes a wrenchingly emotional response, but the numbers indicate that young kids and all other Americans are significantly safer from deadly violence than they were 10 or even 30 years ago. Official statistics from the Department of Justice show the murder rate cut by more than half between 1980 and 2011, and the rate of all violent crimes reduced nearly as sharply. Very few economic or educational figures display decisive movement in a positive direction since Barack Obama first took the oath of office, but the rate of violent crime has declined dramatically under his watch: down a full 13.2 percent between 2006 and 2010.

Rather than celebrating this progress, the president and his allies seem determined to generate a sense of crisis and to persuade the nation that a (nonexistent) rising tide of gun crime requires emergency action. To conservatives, this represents one of the most loathsome habits of liberal elites: exaggerating or inventing threats to the public’s well-being in order to justify relentless expansion of government power.

This tactic usually accompanies another tendency that right-wingers actively despise, with progressive do-gooders outspokenly determined to protect ordinary people from their own bad decisions or irresponsible preferences. President Obama, who once derided blue-collar Americans for “clinging” so stubbornly to their religion and their guns, clearly views the decision to bring firearms into a home with suspicion and disapproval.

Despite their occasional assurances to the contrary, advocates of gun control clearly seek to reduce overall levels of firearms ownership, not just to limit the distribution of certain weapons, or to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and crazies. How else to explain their enthusiastic embrace of gun buy-back programs where, typically, churches and other neighborhood organizations sponsor campaigns giving cash or gift cards to respectable citizens who wait patiently in line to turn in their firearms for destruction? It’s hard to imagine this sort of program disarming violent thugs or dangerous lunatics.

Moreover, when the White House selected four children to appear with the president as visual aids when he signed his executive orders on gun control, their precocious letters (chosen from among millions) made it clear that these special kids hoped for a total firearms ban and not just minor restrictions. Eight-year-old Hinna Zeejah concluded her correspondence to the president with the sentiments: “I love my country and I want everyone to be happy and safe. No guns! No guns! No guns! No guns!” Julia Stokes, 11-years-old, also implored the president: “I know that laws have to be passed by Congress, but I beg you to try very hard to make guns not allowed.”

This visceral hatred of firearms doesn’t so much reflect profound distrust of guns as it reflects profound distrust of any neighbors who might choose to buy guns. Firearms, after all, are inanimate objects, incapable of inflicting harm on their own initiative.

People who hate all weapons, or who say they merely despise so-called assault weapons, remain perfectly free to maintain their homes as gun-free zones. But the fact that they want to impose their distaste for guns on the family next door, shows a lack of respect for those neighbors—an attitude that helps to drive conservatives wild. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City inspired enraged indignation with his ban on sugary drinks of more than 16 ounces, displaying a nanny-state instinct to save people from themselves. He displays that same instinct even more passionately when it comes to guns, suggesting that he knows better on what a law-abiding family should do to insure its own protection.

Conservatives react so angrily to officious “gun-grabbers” because they display the classic liberal impulse to impose the judgment of officials and experts above the choices of everyday citizens on how to invest the money that you earn, how to educate your kids, what insurance policy you can buy, and how to make yourself safer at home.

On the other side, when liberals hear the fury on the right denouncing the president as a tyrant, or a new Hitler with a secret scheme to disarm all opposition, they conclude that the emotional people who shout the loudest about gun rights are exactly the people who shouldn’t have guns at all. Conservatives who demonstrate on behalf of the Second Amendment see themselves as successors to the Founding Fathers and the original Minutemen, but progressives view them as latter-day reflections of the Ku Klux Klan and white-supremacist militias.

The same way that the right sees the push for gun control as an expression of the liberal instinct to impose elite judgments on ordinary people, the left sees the push for gun rights as an expression of the conservative ideal of radical individualism, with people looking out for the defense of their own families but wanting to make no contribution to society at large. President Obama regularly caricatures the conservative message as telling the public “You’re on your own”; to Obama supporters, the strong rightist insistence on citizens defending themselves seems to confirm that message.

In other words, the gun debate becomes explosive and impassioned because each side feels ridiculed and abused for attitudes and actions they view as positive and admirable. Conservatives acquire firearms to defend their neighborhoods from bad guys, but get stigmatized by liberals as a source of danger. And progressives feel proud of their efforts to uplift and enlighten the most vulnerable members of society, but find themselves derided for meddlesome interference that threatens privacy and self-reliance.

There’s no way to split the difference between the two extremes, but President Obama could have defused the most polarizing aspects of the debate by focusing more specifically on a few small areas of potential cooperation. All parties agree that it should become more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to get firearms and that enhancements in school safety are necessary and appropriate. Before framing his own multifaceted program as a noble crusade and suggesting that any disagreement counted as immoral and demagogic, the president could have reached bipartisan consensus on a few practical, uncontroversial changes to reassure the public.

Instead, he rushed to use the firearms issue as one more tool to bludgeon and discredit his Republican opposition. His moral fervor on gun control looks suspect at best, given his refusal to even address the issue during his first four years—when statistics showed violent crime rates looking considerably worse than they do today. In the current battle, the rage from all sides has already led to soaring sales of guns and ammunition. The angry charges and counter-charges will ultimately do nothing to bring further reductions in violence but have already made a major contribution to perpetuating the polarization, puerile posturing, and stalemate from federal leaders of every faction.

This column appeared first in THE DAILY BEAST.

Comments (14)

  1. From: Bruce Baker   On: January 26, 2013

    Gun control a non-critical issue? Tell me again, how do you boil a frog? The real issue that is never mentioned is the people’s lack of faith and even belief in God. That did not happen by accident.

    “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens… Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?” – George Washington, Farewell Address

  2. From: Larry   On: January 26, 2013

    There can be other issues more important than gun control, then on the other hand what is more important than saving someone’ life?
    Our country no longer needs a militia, we all ready have several very large ones independent of each other. The Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, the Police Departments on the state, county and city level. Also, all Federal Employee’s are required to arm themselves. Our country is beyond the old west by 100 years, we do not need a firearms to protect ourselves, our homes and are businesses. Stun gun’s have not reached their full potential yet. They can be disguised and mounted on counters and or in doorways operated by a control button or remote. Nobody dies and Stun Guns and Mace can easily derail a person until the proper authorities have the person in custody. Without guns in the home Parents will not be able shoot and kill their spouse or children and children will not be able to shoot their parents. Except for official hunters who are licensed and passed a class on firearms and are certified by a firing range, citizens do not need firearms. They are outlawed in Korea, Canada and Europe. They still have crime, but very little killing by firearms. Guns are a Cancer to our society and the NRA is not protecting our second amendment, but in fact supporting this cancer to spread throughout our country. In fact, we do not need the second amendment, it can be and at some point in time will be amended. On your radio talk show you sometimes refer to biblical passages. It is mentioned several times in the Bible, “He who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword.” God is telling us we should be very wary of our firearms.

    • From: mike   On: January 29, 2013

      Quite possibly the dumbest commentary on the subject I have EVER read. What is your grand plan for taking the guns away from the ill-intentioned and the criminals? None….because your thesis is ignorant folly. If you take away my ability to defend myself and my family, then I become an easier target for the armed criminal. Holy smokes, it could not be simpler to understand. You are ignorant and I feel sorry for you and your ilk.

    • From: Jerre   On: January 30, 2013

      Larry,
      You left out an important “independent” militia – all American male citizens between the ages of 17 and 34. “Well regulated” means that they all (hopefully) know how to wield firearms. Please read 10 USC 311. One of the major sources of conflict in this “debate” is – as has been pointed out – ignorance, although in your case I don’t think it’s willful.

    • From: T-rand   On: February 1, 2013

      larry, call up the fbi and be the first one on your block to volunteer for the confiscate gun committee which will then go into dangerous areas of the usa to grab all the guns. you could volunteer to go into south chicago, east st. louis, the barios of los angeles, the poor sections of new orleans, washington, d.c., atlanta to get those pesky weapons. just think how much fun this would be and you could get to see areas of the usa you may not have seen before. of course you would have to provide your own bullet proof vest, helment, ammo, and firearms. oh, you dont believe in firearms so that wont work will it. i guess you could go into these areas unarmed and plead for the folks to just hand you their weapons. there are 300,000,000 firearms in the u.s. just think how many more we dont know about in the areas i mentioned above. and think of how many firearms will still come in through mexico, canada, and our numerous ports. your committee will be really busy. i cant wait to see how this all works out for you and your other liberal friends. if all of you get together and form enough committees and subcommittes, and have just the right amount of money and your secret knowledge i know you can get this job done. simple solutions and utopia are just around the corner. good luck! remember, talk is cheap and easy; like when john lennon wrote imagine while lying in bed in his huge flat in the dakota on the upper west side. like lennon, be a man of action!!!!!!

    • From: Larry   On: February 1, 2013

      None of those armed militia protected the 500+ people who died of gang violence in Chicago. As stated in the article, why are you worried about law abiding citizens not willing to depend on the groups you mentioned to protect themselves and their loved ones? Police and the Military are also composed of law abiding citizens (mostly). Do you wish to take their guns away? Your logic would apply to them too.

    • From: Joe   On: February 1, 2013

      Larry, your argument sounds logical, BUT is it? I think not!
      You fail to recognize that in a life-death situation -such as the school shootings- first responders (police etc.) rarely arrive in time to prevent the shootings. On the other hand, having teachers or
      guards that are properly armed cuts that ‘first responders’ time lag into fractions. You also fail to recognized that in the states where there are no restrictions on gun ownership, crime is but a fraction of what it is in states like Illinois (Chicago for example) which have very high restrictions.
      I also take exception to your loose use of the Biblical quote that you used about living “by the sword” since in NO WAY does the text refer to citizen gun ownership, BUT RATHER to the use of weapons as a way to intimidate, control and abuse others. If you don’t understand the simple language of the text, please don’t use it to support your irrational agenda.

    • From: MIKE MACA   On: February 1, 2013

      ARE YOU GUYS KIDDING? OBAMA IS SHREDDING THE CONSTITUTION. HE GETS HIS ORDERS AND POWER FROM HIS HANDLERS LIKE GEORGE SOROS AND BILL AYERS. OUR SOCIETY HAS BEEN WEANED FROM OUR BELIEFS IN THE CONSTITUTION TO THE POINT OUR PEOPLE ARE AT LEAST 50% COMMUNIZED, AND THE OTHER 50 DOESN’T KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING. THIS FIASCO REMINDS ME OF THE STORY OF THE PUPPET PINOCCIO. THE OBAMA PLAN IS TO STRIP US CITIZENS OF GUN OWNERSHIP. THE SECOND AMENDMENT WAS MEANT TO KEEP THE GOVERNMENT’S HANDS OFF OF OUR GUNS SO WE CAN PROTECT OURSELVES FROM THE KIND OF
      DESPOTIC GOVERNMENT THAT IS COMING AFTER US. MIKE

    • From: DrBob   On: February 1, 2013

      Taken from Wikipedia…

      “At approximately 6:45 pm, Reginald Oliver Denny, a white truck driver who stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues, was dragged from his vehicle and severely beaten by a mob of local black residents as a television news helicopter hovered above, piloted by reporter Bob Tur, who broadcast live pictures of the attack, including a concrete brick that was thrown by ‘Football’ Damian Williams that struck Denny in the temple, causing a near-fatal seizure. As Tur continued his reporting, it was clear that local police had deserted the area.”

      “Korean-Americans, seeing the police force’s abandonment of Koreatown, organized armed security teams composed of store owners, who defended their livelihoods from assault by the mobs. Open gun battles were televised as Korean shopkeepers exchanged gunfire with armed looters.”

      Our country still needs citizens who have accepted the responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and anyone within their means from the acts of people with evil intent. In both Aurora, Co. and Newtown, CT the damage was done before police ever made it to the scene.

  3. From: Kyle   On: January 26, 2013

    I guess we should thank Bruce and Larry for demonstrating the extreme polarization on both sides of the issue the Mr. Medved was discussing.

  4. From: John   On: January 26, 2013

    From April 6, 1994 through July 1994, 800,000 Tutsi people were killed by machete’s and clubs. Bodies were commonly seen floating down the Kigara River into Lake Victoria. The killing only ended after armed Tutsi rebels, invading from neighboring countries, managed to defeat the Hutus and halt the genecide.
    So shame on our leaders of this great country, the USA. If the President and other members want to place blame on guns, we could say they are the fault of this violence with a failed economic policy. If there were good paying jobs, with health care and other benefits like my Union job, people would be more inclined to go to work and porvide for their families instead of committing crimes. So it seems to me the real problem with violence are people and lack of jobs. How many people were killed throughout history before guns? Our founding fathers were not stupid. There is a bigger picture to our existence, contrary to what our politicians and media tries pushing down our throats.

  5. From: DrBob   On: February 1, 2013

    Timmothy McVeigh only needed fertilizer and deisel fuel to kill 168 American and injure 800 more. No assault weapons were used and no law at the time or any law to be passed in the future could have stopped that henious attack. Where there is a will there is a way and when that will is evil the ways can get terribly creative. The more people we have that are capable of defending the innocent the safer we are. The less we have the more the possibility of these crimes happening.

    Michael Medved is correct. The rate of violent crime has come down in the last 10+ years. At the same time the ability of the citizen to carry weapons has increased as many states made provisions for them to do so legally. I believe that as were add restrictions to lawful carry we will see the violent crime rate increase again.

  6. From: Ray   On: February 1, 2013

    As I have read many comments, there may be a thread of truth to some of what is said. I however reflect back to the 1950′ and 1960′s during my years growing up. The family was actually a family with a few odd ducks along the way. The criminals were known and avoided. Many criminals couldn’t even find a job in a mill unless contected. The family unit doesn’t exist in todays world. There are exception to this case of course. Gun and gunownership is the same as what we take out of life and share. We use guns as a tool. The criminal steals and buys guns illegally for their own gain. I would much rather have an armed society with guntraining and concealed permits to be unseen and unknown until the time comes to protect their wives and family. Any government that tries to protect the citizen from themselves, I see a red flag and danger coming my way. We can be indivuals and take care of business. For the criminal put that person in jail for many years without parole. For the mentally ill make sure treatment is available and followup is par for the course. Do we want to be like Hitler and the Jews of Europe? Oh, the guns are gone and now what? We all know what happened. My brother went to Poland in 1946 to clean out the concentration camps. He rarely spoke of it and the hurt was seen in his face and verbage. Take away guns NO Adhere to the laws of the land with long sentencing and no parole is what the doctor ordered.

  7. From: Sarah   On: February 17, 2013

    I found this article which i found right on:Gun Control Buzzwords

    The biggest component of the Gun Control debate is whether existing gun laws are sufficient, or whether more gun laws are needed.
    Liberals and populists generally favor more gun laws. Look for buzzwords like “more registration” or “more licensing” to describe seeking further restrictions legal ownership; or “close the loopholes” and “restrict access” for further restrictions on illegal ownership.
    Moderate liberals and populists will generally favor more restrictions on ownership while paying lip-service “sportsmen’s rights” or respecting “the right of self-protection.” A moderate compromise is to “extend waiting periods” before allowing ownership, to perform “background checks” of varying degrees of severity.
    Conservatives and libertarians generally oppose gun laws. Look for buzzwords like “Second Amendment rights” or “allow concealed carry”. A call for “instant background checks” pays lip-service to gun-control advocates: it sounds like a restriction, but means allowing purchasing guns on the spot.
    Moderate conservatives and libertarians oppose gun laws while acknowledging that restrictions are inevitable. Look for buzzwords like “enforce existing gun laws,” which implies not passing any NEW gun laws. Similarly, “more strict enforcement” of gun laws implies a pro-Gun Rights stance, unless it is accompanied by a call for new gun laws.
    Centrists and moderates from both the right and left generally support restrictions on juvenile access to guns, especially in the wake of tragedies like Littleton and other gun-related deaths.
    Positive mentions of the NRA (the National Rifle Association, the largest pro-gun rights lobbying group) implies support of gun rights, while opposing the NRA or “taking on the gun lobby” implies support of gun restrictions.
    *We have to be careful not to give up our rights so easily, specially when the media and government creates such a fear in all the American people so we can’t think and give up our rights. The guns were originally not just for hunting and sport, but to make sure we protect ourselves from our government. We need to educate ourselves on what is going on, and not let the media or government treat us like we are native on what is going on.We all know there is a lot going on, and we need to prepared for it. We are going to need our guns and to be self sufficient…

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