Fun fact: In his first term, President Obama signed two gun-related bills. You’d never know it from listening to his opponents, but both bills actually extended gun rights, allowing citizens to carry guns in national parks and on Amtrak trains. They’re mild, short-reaching laws, and this sort of mildness has been the tone for gun control measures as long as I’ve been alive. Laws that restrict gun ownership haven’t gone much further than the assault weapons ban, a moderate law that doesn’t even exist anymore.
Since American gun ownership has enjoyed a stable, mostly unfettered relationship with the law, it amazes me that gun advocates still treat the issue like it’s under fire. Even when a relatively small issue like the noteworthy “gun show loophole” is brought up, the two sides are so agitated they talk right past each other.
There’s never a substantive national conversation about gun control because one side immediately says something about prying guns from their cold, dead hands, and the other side brings up dead children. The discussion devolves into a frenzy, and nothing gets accomplished.
Somehow, the gun show loophole still exists, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives still hasn’t had a permanent director in six years. These aren’t even restrictions on Second Amendment rights — they’re just matters of good housekeeping — but there’s no sign of progress because advocates keep warring with each other over nothing.
Salon.com recently ran a piece on Jan. 25 called “12 rational responses to irrational gun arguments” that made some interesting points with awful presentation. The first rational response managed to come across as condescending: “I’m not anti-gun, I’m pro-kindergartner,” and it got worse at the third response with, “If dead kindergartners don’t deserve your attention, what does?”
This brand of moral superiority — blaming the other side for the deaths of children without explicitly saying it — will never convince anyone. It’s no wonder gun enthusiasts don’t want to talk about gun restrictions if the conversation starts with them being called baby-killers.
On the other hand are the gun supporters’ reactions to the 23 executive orders signed by President Obama on Jan. 16. For example, number 6 published a letter to gun dealers with non-binding guidelines about background checks. Number 14 called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research causes and prevention of gun violence, and the last four are all concerned with mental health facilities.
None of the orders even came close to banning guns of any kind, but that didn’t stop the pundit community (or my Facebook feed, for that matter) from exploding with anger over the government taking our guns away and a slew of inapt Hitler analogies.
Perhaps it’s the result of a lot of successful campaigning from the NRA over the last few decades, but somehow, gun advocates spring into outrage mode with surprisingly little provocation. Take Alex Jones, the radio host who notably yelled at Piers Morgan for several minutes during a Jan. 7 interview, mentioning that tyrants like Hitler, Stalin and Castro “took the guns” in a context that was only loosely related to anything Morgan had asked. Texas Congressman Steve Stockman went so far as to threaten President Obama with articles of impeachment if he were to use an executive order to enact gun control.
Admittedly, those two men aren’t great examples of discourse, but I still see a common perception that any gun restriction whatsoever is a violation of the Second Amendment. The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech is often curbed for cases like hate speech or “clear and present danger,” yet so many don’t see any way to similarly curb the Second Amendment when gun violence poses a clear and present danger to American citizens.
In the same vein, pundit culture has a bad habit of equating background checks and inventory laws with weapon confiscation on a dictatorial scale, hence the (mis)perception that Obama, the president who would let you take a gun into Yellowstone, is out to take your guns away.
I bet most people would agree that it’s a good idea to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people, while still respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens. I also bet most people would further agree that there is a sane way to do that without confiscating every firearm in the country. I just never hear anyone talk about that sort of thing because gun rights are treated like a sacred cow, and anything that enters the sacred cow’s pasture is swarmed by shouting and Hitler analogies.
We could make some real progress on gun violence as a country, but the echo chambers of our media prevent it by constantly acting threatened and crippling the discourse.
Brian Hampel is a senior in architecture. Please send comments to [email protected]