As you may have noticed, guns are in the news. Vice President Joe Biden has taken the lead on addressing issues of gun control and is currently spearheading efforts towards producing legislation that would ban assault weapons, strengthen background checks and limit access to weapons with large, extended magazines. This issue is one we could debate all day, and the United States has no doubt been doing so in the wake of the Newtown shooting. What is really disturbing about this most recent gun control debate, however, is not the issue itself, but the rhetoric surrounding it. The toxic language used in the gun control discussion impedes, rather than furthers, intelligent policymaking.
The most recent and relevant example of this was nutcase Alex Jones’ appearance on “Piers Morgan Tonight”. He circulated a petition to get Morgan, an Englishman, deported from the country because Morgan supports stronger gun control. The petition received over 100,000 signatures. He justified his actions to Morgan, saying, “Mao said political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. He killed about 80 million people, because he’s the only guy that had the guns.”
This rant is characteristic of right-wing partisan arguments on the subject. They often say, ‘it’s not about controlling guns. It’s about self-control.’ This is usually followed by hazy connections to Hitler, Stalin, Mao and other figures in the American mythos that are used as symbols of the suppression of personal liberty.
These people, the Right claims, took the guns away, and since President Obama wants to do so, he is no different. First, let’s acknowledge that Obama is not a bloodthirsty dictator. Just because you disagree with his policies does not mean he is the epitome of evil. Or, frankly put: Obama has passed progressive, statist legislation. Mao Zedong killed around 80 million people; not terribly similar.
Alex Jones’ comparison flies in his face once you think about it. Even if Jones’ logic was solid, there was no right to bear arms in China, even before Mao took over. Do rabid gun enthusiasts like Jones really think that pre-communist Chinese citizens had the right to own (or even the means to access) firearms? The facts show that they did not.
To be fair, Alex Jones is the craziest of the crazy, and does not represent levelheaded conservatives. In fact, the real tragedy of this gun control shouting match is the silencing of the moderate Right. Classical conservative voices like George Will, Alan Simpson and David Brooks have been drowned out by the extreme brand of conservatism promoted by pundits like Jones and Glenn Beck. This is a tragedy because it undermines the fact that it is very healthy for a democracy to have a centrist, conservative party. It often serves to keep politics moderate and reasonable. When these kinds of conservatives give way to radical, paranoid Tea Party-types, politics resembles a zoo more than a debate.
The real way we ward off tyranny is not by joining a militia and practicing our aim, awaiting some fictitious government takeover. Instead, Americans should participate more in civil society by voting, debating and advocating for good government. Doing so, we strengthen our republican institutions, keeping the nation democratic.
So therefore, let’s actually talk about guns, not about control. Let’s debate the issue substantively, with statistics and logical propositions, rather than yelling about dead Communists most of us know little about.