DEAR MR. REPUBLICAN'S ADVICE TO BOTH LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES
In the wake of the tragic school shooting in Parkland, FL, I've been thinking a lot about the issue of guns in this country, which is really, in some ways, unique.
I'd like to say something first to conservatives and then to liberals.
It's time to take our positions in this argument to the "next level." So many of us relegate ourselves to grossly oversimplified clichés and conspiracies that range from misleading to wrong to simply unhelpful. They don't actually do anything to further healthy debate.
For example, how many times have we or someone around us said something like, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people"? There's a kernel of truth to this--but only a kernel. That's why it's misleading. Kernels of truth don't bring us closer to solutions.
There are logical fallacies with all of these clichés too. For instance, to the extent that guns don't kill people, nuclear bombs don't either. As with guns, nuclear bombs don't harm anyone until people decide to use them. Should this then be an argument that all 325 million Americans should have their own nuclear arsenals? Of course not. There's more to it than these little clichés indicate, so stop undercutting our own arguments by tossing these soundbites around.
Frankly, it's simpleminded to begin and end your argument with an overworked cliché.
Another common one: "Guns are the private citizen's fundamental protection from an overbearing government." Saying this makes you immediately sound as though you have no credibility to the very people you're trying to convince.
Practically, the government kills FAR fewer Americans than private citizens kill. More often than not, the government--via the intelligence community, law enforcement, the military, etc.--is in the business of saving lives, not taking them.
There's also a stone cold practical reality here: When the Second Amendment was written, the arms that the citizens owned were the same ones that the government owned. When you joined the military, you may well have simply grabbed your own musket and headed off to fight.
In case we've failed to notice two centuries of changes, things are a little different now. If the government decided to come for you today, you wouldn't be facing muskets. The balance of power of weaponry between government and citizenry has changed dramatically--in the favor of the government.
Guns no longer offer us protection from the government. No matter how many rifles, shotguns, pistols, or AR-15's you own, you'd be powerless against tanks, heavy armor, missiles, jets, 50-caliber armor-piercing machine guns, and various types of chain guns that can lay down over 80 pieces of lead every single second in your direction.
Your best bet would simply be to lay down your guns and surrender. So, seriously, let's drop this impractical, conspiratorial argument. The days when it applied have come and gone. (Besides, considering all the murders and terrorism that take place today, there are probably more important threats to protect ourselves from than a federal government that kills almost no one, so let's stop defeating ourselves by repeating this conspiracy theory.)
Finally, we call ourselves "strict constructionists"--meaning that we see ourselves as the side that literally interprets the constitution, relative to the liberals who take all sorts of liberties with it.
Let's look at that through the lens of our prior nuclear weapons example. The Second Amendment simply says that we have the right to keep and bear "arms." It doesn't define that term, however, and never mentions "guns," which are just one type of arm.
Therein lies the difficulty in always strictly applying something written in the 18th Century to events in the 21st Century.
Most of us conservatives agree that private citizens should not be able to own nuclear weapons--or cruise missiles or any other arms like these. How many of you have a confrontational relationship with your neighbors but would still be perfectly happy with their having nuclear bombs, cruise missiles, and tanks sitting in their backyard pointed at your house?
I didn't think so. We also agree that people who've committed mass murder with a gun shouldn't be able to buy anymore guns. (Yes, one mass murder each is probably enough, right?)
Wait though: In agreeing to prevent private ownership of nuclear weapons and to prevent mass murderers from buying anymore guns, we're taking a less-than-strict interpretation of the Second Amendment. It simply says "arms," not guns.
It also says that our right "shall not be infringed"; it doesn't say "shall not be infringed UNLESS..." So, by default, we're already not strictly interpreting the Second Amendment.
It's intellectually dishonest to say that restricting gun ownership in any way is a violation of the Second Amendment but that restrictions on nuclear bombs, felons, children, etc. aren't. Let's be honest about that: It's our interpretation. It isn't an objective fact.
The truth of the matter is that we have no idea how people like George Washington would have reacted to nuclear bombs, mass shootings of children in schools, etc. We can have a more effective place in this debate if we begin by being honest with each other and with ourselves.
Where does this leave us? Frankly, it probably leaves us with the reality that some sort of restrictions are justified and, regardless of justification, are coming.
That should be clear: both at the state and federal levels, restrictions in some form or fashion are coming. If we scratch and fight against ALL reforms, then all we're doing is simply locking ourselves out of having any influence in the discussion since public opinion has turned so decisively against us.
Policymakers are going to start responding to that change in opinion. If we drop our clichés and shaky, convenient Second Amendment arguments, then we could earn ourselves a seat at the table in these debates and have real impact on the types of reforms that are eventually enacted.
Get off your moral high horses. I mean, seriously, what's wrong with you?
The current gun debate highlights very well why so many conservatives have given up trying to discuss difficult issues with you: you turn every issue into both an indictment and a conviction of someone's morals.
Christian opposition to gay marriage? Immoral and homophobic. Republican support for corporate tax cuts? Immoral and corrupt. GOP efforts to reduce the cost of our welfare system? Immoral and cold. Conservative concerns about abortions--especially certain types of abortions? Immoral and sexist.
Anyone who disagrees with you about anything at all? Immoral and unethical. (I mean, there couldn't possibly be any other reasons for any of these positions, could there?)
The same goes for Second Amendment rights. Those who support them? Immoral--murderers even. The NRA? They're murderers. (Because of course they are.) Marco Rubio? He's a murderer too. (Didn't you know?) Anyone who receives NRA donations? You guessed it: murderers. (Because the cash that most of us use is harmless, but NRA cash is that rare kind that kills people.
New cliché for us: "People don't kill people; NRA cash kills people." Quick! Someone put that on a sign and go march around outside in the street with it!) How can you expect anyone to engage you in a healthy discussion when you're asking them to wade through a bunch of water that you've already poisoned? If they make it through, then they still have to yell up at you on top of your ivory tower. That's no way to have a productive discussion. Stop it.
When you encounter clichés and conspiracies from the Right, you have an opportunity to listen, to try to understand, and to address them factually as I've just done. Instead, you ridicule and belittle. It's time for some real soul-searching on this.
As I said above, I agree that something must be done. Should we take away everyone's guns? Absolutely not. That is indisputably unconstitutional, and even if the government ordered us to turn them over, I and many others would refuse. Are there some reasonable, less Draconian restrictions that may be helpful though? Yes, absolutely.
Be intellectually honest about it though: The cold, hard reality is that none of the restrictions under discussion are likely to have much impact on shootings.
--Enact a "waiting period" after gun purchases? (Most people who shoot another person have had guns for months or even years. A waiting period won't make much difference.)
--Ban bump stocks? (Sure, but how many shootings involve the use of bump stocks? Las Vegas? Which others? Not many. It also isn't clear how much difference not having a bump stock would have made in Las Vegas. The shooter would have fired fewer rounds for sure, but his fire would also have been more accurate.)
--Prevent mentally ill people from buying guns? (I agree it should be done, but let's be honest: How many shooters have mental illness diagnoses? Very few.)
--Limit gun buying only to those over the age of 21? (Most shooters are over 21. Las Vegas anyone?)
--Ban semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15. (Sure, but how many shootings involve semi-automatic weapons? Most don't.)
That's really where we are. There are 350 million guns in this country, so restrictions like those can really only nip around the edges. They can't fundamentally change the reality here. There's this mythical idea floating around that if we just "ban guns," then we'll all live happily ever after, perhaps even while holding hands. Some things aren't very clear, but this is: That wouldn't solve the problem. Sure, it might help some, but it won't solve the problem completely or even come close.
One unfortunate reality of going too far with restrictions can be seen in your (liberals') own arguments on another issue: legalizing certain drugs. The argument goes that legalizing these drugs undercuts black markets for drugs and increases government tax revenue. That can be applied to guns as well: banning them would lead to the creation of a healthy black market for guns and would deprive governments of some revenue.
So the issue really is complicated. Let's stop pretending that it's as simple as just defeating conservatives and getting some sort of severe restrictions on gun ownership. It wouldn't work out quite like that.
Our focus right now is on "supply side" (gun) solutions. Too many guns? Too few? Too many restrictions? Too few? This is understandable. Guns drive ratings, so the media has much incentive to harp on them.
The Second Amendment mentions arms (which we limit to "guns" today), so it makes sense to talk about guns. These mass murderers are using guns, so, again, let's talk about guns, right?
I do believe that some restrictions on gun ownership are overdue. We should expand background checks. We should bar mentally ill people from buying guns. We should ban bump stocks. That said, those reforms would have only a very, very small impact. Is it worth it? Of course. I'd never tell a parent that his murdered child was only one and that one wasn't worth saving.
All are worth saving.
SOMETHING FEELS MISSING THOUGH. IS SAVING JUST A FEW THE BEST WE CAN DO?
Well, if we're only focused on "guns," then, yes, it is. Saving only a few is the best we can hope for.
Our focus should be on the other side: defense. Another cliché goes like this: "The best defense is a good offense." In real life, that usually isn't true. That best defense in most things in life is simply good defense. (Gosh, we humans love our clichés though! It's hard to let go of them.)
The truth of the matter is that regardless of what we do with guns, schools will remain extremely soft, high visibility, undefended targets for people who have a bone to pick with society.
An AR-15 isn't necessary to wreak havoc. A calm person with a revolver could walk into a school with six bullets and leave six young bodies in his wake. It would be small comfort to those parents to say, "Yes, but you should feel better. We banned AR-15's, so thankfully only yours and five others were killed. It could have been more. Pat me on the back now please."
That wouldn't go over well, but that's, in effect, what some the proposals mean.
Yes, enact reasonable restrictions on gun ownership like those I just mentioned. Don't kid yourselves though: It's time to focus on defense. The only way to stop these things on school campuses is to defend school campuses. The way to prevent a soft target from being attacked is to make it no longer a soft target.
This is, quite honestly, very basic.
I don't know the right way to handle this, but I do know that this is where we should be looking. You could arm a certain proportion of teachers. You could hire contracted security officers. You could have local police and sheriff's departments pick up security duty at schools. You could set up trained volunteer security units (like trained volunteer fire departments). You could send all kids, teachers, coaches, etc. through metal detectors before they're allowed onto campuses. There are any number of proposals with varying costs and other pros and cons.
Some may not work at all. Some may work quite well. Some may not be feasible, while others certainly are.
This is were we have to look though. We have to make schools harder targets. Is it sad that we need to do this? Of course it is, but it would be even sadder to refuse to do this either for ideological reasons or simply because we don't think we ought to have to "in this country." The fact of the matter is that this country has a problem with gun violence, and the best way to combat it is to make common targets much more difficult to hit.
No matter the restrictions placed on gun ownership, if someone really wants to carry out a shooting at a school, they'll be able to do so--unless they can't. They'll be able to do so unless schools' defenses are such that it's just far too difficult. We can't completely keep dangerous people from getting guns, so we have to make sure that when--yes, when--they do, they're not able to attack our schools with them. That's where real solutions lie.
No, it won't win ideological fights. No, it won't drive media ratings. It will save lives though.