By now, we’re all entrenched in our camps of gun nuts and gun grabbers. There’s optimism that maybe the teenagers from Parkland can lead us into a better future with fewer slaughtered schoolchildren. There’s pessimism that change in Washington is hopeless so long as the party in power is owned by the NRA.
I was riveted to the CNN Town Hall on the gun issue, but a bit frustrated by the questioning. To break out of the rut of common gun arguments I’ve read so often I’ve given them nicknames, I offer five questions that I rarely hear asked of people that I prefer to call gun fetishists§.
The Machine Gun Pivot
“Would you support a bill to legalize the sale and possession of fully-automatic machine guns by adults?”
One of the rhetorical games the NRA likes to play to keep the gun fetishists in their thrall is the slippery slope. Why, if we give an inch on even one gun law reform, our children will live in a fascist state (or maybe socialist, whichever bogeyman) because they’ve been stripped of all their guns!
So, then, play the slippery slope back at them. There’s really only two directions their answer can go:
a) Of course not! or b) Why, yes, I do! and if the answer is the latter, you need not continue the debate, because that person is crazy.
If they don’t support legalizing machine guns, you follow-up with the “why not?” Push hard enough and you’ll get them to admit that such a weapon, capable of inflicting mass carnage at great distance with brutal efficiency and exceptional speed, doesn’t belong in the civilian world.
If they’ve gone there, now your debate about semi-automatic weapons is one focused on how much carnage can be inflicted how fast. Now they’re stuck defending why guns that shoot 600 rounds-per-minute with 1,200-yard range in belt-fed loads of 100 7.62mm bullets at a time are unacceptable, but guns that shoot 45 rounds-per-minute with 600-yard range in magazine-fed loads of 30 .223 bullets at a time are acceptable?
I like to use this “Machine Gun Pivot” whenever they trot out the “It’s Not an ‘Assault Rifle’ / ‘Weapon of War’ Obfuscation.” We don’t care what it’s called or what it looks like. We’re not talking about the guns that go ‘pop, pop, pop,’ we want to ban the guns that go ‘popopopopopopopopopopopopopopopop!’
The Credible Threat Taunt
“What credible threat are you facing that requires firing 30 bullets in under a minute without reloading?”
Our side too often says, “Nobody needs an assault weapon!” or “AR-15s aren’t for hunting!” only to be hit with the “Right of Self-Defense Declaration.”
I’m sympathetic to that argument. I do believe there are realistic situations in which citizens should have the ability to kill another citizen who is threatening their lives.
Only to a point, however. We can’t argue that our right to self defense entitles us to that machine gun or anti-aircraft artillery or nukes. I can’t dig a moat filled with flaming oil around my home to protect against home invaders. I can’t install ballistae on my roof to defend against dragons.
Living in a society, by definition, means ceding a monopoly on a certain level of force to the government. We’re arguing about how much of that force should be limited to police and military.
With the “Credible Threat Taunt,” you’re putting the gun fetishist in the position of exposing their paranoia in public. You can add to the taunt with follow-ups like “Just how bad a shot would someone have to be to need thirty shots to take out a bad guy?” and “I can understand why a maniac looking to spray bullets into a crowd of schoolchildren needs 30 rounds without reloading, but why do you?”
If they’re really frustrated, they’ll retreat back into “It’s My Right, Dammit!” and stomp their feet. Remind them that, no, it’s your right to bear arms; we’re just debating what counts as “arms,” and take them back to the “Machine Gun Pivot.”
The Australian Walkabout
“Aside from the ability to buy and possess a machine that can spray 45 bullets per second up to 600 yards, in what way are Australian citizens significantly less free than Americans?”
At the heart of the gun fetishist paranoid fantasy is that they are the John Waynes of the USA, the III percenters, the last bastion of good god-fearing true-blue American patriots whose possession of bullet sprayers is the only thing keeping the land of the free from descending into some socialist hellhole (or fascist, whichever bogeyman).
I think it is time to puncture that fantasy by pointing out that there are (gasp!) more countries in the world than the United States, most of them don’t allow citizens to have any guns, and they seem to have democracy and capitalism and freedom and McDonald’s and sports and so on.
Sometimes this venture into the “Australian Walkabout” can yield interesting conversation. Often, it will retreat back to “It’s My Right, Dammit!” but sometimes you can get a vintage “We Have a Different Culture” out of them. How, exactly? We’re both white majority descendants of English settlers in a new land populated by tribal brown people. We speak the same language, kinda. Our films are all over their cinemas starring their actors. Keith Urban is a damn American country music star. What, exactly is so different about Australia than America and how, exactly, are they less free than we are?
It’s calling the gun fetishists on their paranoid fantasy. OK, y’all believe we have to have guns to take out the inevitable socialist fascist government that inevitably subjugates a disarmed population… so when, exactly, is that coming for Australia?
Which leads us to…
The Troop Murder Call
“Let’s pretend your worst nightmare comes true and the laws are changed to confiscate all your guns. When US soldiers show up at your doorstep to collect your guns, will you murder them?”
I can’t emphasize enough how much the John Waynes really believe they need bullet sprayers to fight their own government. It’s not a surprising take, for most of them also subscribe to Rapture Thinking, the idea that the apocalypse is due any day now, Jesus is coming back, and everybody in the Correct God Club gets to chill with God for eternity while Muslims, Democrats, and gays burn in the Lake of Fire, because He’s the God of Love, ya see.
I like to call them on the paranoia by taking it to the logical conclusion. Some of them grudgingly assert they would shoot and kill US soldiers who’d try to take their guns. Then I can take them to my prepared rebuttals I like to call “Meet David Koresh” and “Aerial Drones 101.”
If they can’t admit to themselves the logical conclusion of their paranoid fantasy, they’ll deny it could ever happen. “They’ll never repeal the Second Amendment!” OK, great, on this we agree. So, it follows, that if the Second Amendment can’t be repealed, then there will always be some baseline level of arms we’ll have a right to keep and bear, no matter where we draw the line between civilian arms and weapons of war.
What we’re doing then, isn’t heading down a slippery slope to banning all guns. Instead, we are determining how far up civilians can go on the slope from pellet guns to nuclear weapons.
Given that when we talk about a mass shooting that happened this month, we have to specify which one, we’re arguing that our laws allow civilians too far up the slope.
The Human Perfection Counter
“Do you believe there is any bureaucracy in the history of mankind that has never made a mistake?”
A common tactic of the gun fetishists is “The Mental Health Deflection.” It has currency even among the moderate gun owners when paired with “The Collective Punishment Grievance.” They’ll wail about how the real problem is maniacs who get bullet sprayers and we should stop maniacs from getting bullet sprayers, but that doesn’t mean law-abiding citizens should be punished by the taking of their right to own bullet sprayers because some maniac got a bullet sprayer.
Sure, we should stop maniacs from getting bullet sprayers, we all agree. The problem with that is two-fold; not everybody presents as a maniac when they get their bullet sprayers and sometimes the system fails to identify those who present as maniacs.
By presenting “The Human Perfection Counter,” you tap into their innate hatred and fear of the government. For instance, often they’ll make arguments against adding people on terrorist watch lists to gun bans, because the government makes mistakes that take an innocent person’s guns.
So, we’re flipping that. If you’re positing that the government is going to make mistakes, then you’re ceding the point that no matter how we try to identify the maniacs, eventually one’s going to get a bullet sprayer.
Should it be one that goes ‘pop, pop, pop?’ Or one that goes ‘popopopopopopopopopopopopopopopop!’
§ Admit it, when you see that word, you think sex. That’s purposeful on my part. There are people who are normal, responsible gun owners, like my septuagenarian parents and my petite lady-partner (I’m fifty, dammit; I will not use “girlfriend”). They see the gun as a tool for their hunting hobby and self-defense, but don’t ascribe unto it any sort of significance beyond that. For the gun fetishist, though, it is a totem, a symbol, a representation in steel of god-fearing, traditional America. If we want to make lasting progress on the gun issue, we must cleave the rational gun owners from the fetishists. I want to hear them saying, “Well, look, I’m not one of those NRA-types…” whenever confronted on this issue.