It's time to reiterate a point I made shortly after CNN's counter-productive town hall meeting post-Parkland: When Second Amendment opponents telegraph how they really feel and what they really believe, the other side tends to dig in. The example I gave at that time was the audience's response to Marco Rubio objecting to a proposed "assault weapons" ban on the grounds that it could likely apply to virtually all semi-automatic rifles. The arena burst into cheers. Message received: Our leaders may talk about poll-tested "common sense" or "sane" gun regulations, with an emphasis on certain "weapons of war," high-capacity magazines, bump stocks, background checks, and age limits. But what we're really after is sweeping bans. I went on:
What visceral lesson might pro-gun rights alleged 'paranoiacs' draw from this display? Perhaps they'll conclude that their ideological opponents are, in fact, eager to grab and ban guns, and that their smooth, incrementalist talking points are meant to deceive through disingenuous assurances of restraint. Duly noted, a gun owner might think to herself after watching the Rubio clip. We cannot give these people an inch.
When gun control enthusiasts reveal the broader extent of their ambitions, regardless of whether those ambitions would actually decrease gun crime or mass shootings, gun rights advocates' defenses are heightened. They're heightened further when top political leaders offer positive (if vague) references to Australia's outright confiscatory laws. And they are immeasurably hardened when innocent, law-abiding gun owners are demonized and accused of being monsters because they don't agree with any number of political proposals. It turns out that people may not be especially interested in working with those who accuse them of abetting child murder. Go figure. The counterpoint to some of this is that CNN's event, widely criticized on the Right, featured emotional high schoolers, mere days removed from watching their schoolmates gunned down. Of course they reacted intensely and without deep policy or messaging sophistication. They were new to these issues and were thrust into the spotlight by horrible events. That's a fair point, but one that seems to apply less and less as certain prominent student 'leaders' (backed by national groups) continue to serve up inaccuracies and make increasingly slanderous statements, often unchallenged. It also doesn't justify adults in the media's decision to showered attention upon a small group of rhetorically...aggressive students who all share one perspective, while avoiding or ignoring others.
Nevertheless, perhaps a more revealing exchange was the one that Matt wrote up earlier. By way of background, my friend Bethany Mandel wrote a New York Times op/ed explaining why she's recently chosen to purchase a gun. She invoked the memory of her mother -- a committed political liberal -- who was nevertheless a gun owner. Not only that, she was a gun owner who once defended her home against a would-be intruder when Bethany was a young girl, a memory she's kept with her for years:
My mother heard me screaming in the middle of the night. It was the kind of scream that made her grab her rifle in one hand and some ammo in another. It was a spring night and I was sleeping with my window open, which was right above my bed; I loved breathing in the fresh air. That night, in that open window, I heard the banging of a ladder, and by the time my mother made it into the room and began loading her gun, a man was about to climb in. She said something along the lines of: “Bethany, come over here. I don’t want you to get his brain matter on your face.” I backed up behind her and my mother raised her gun. The would-be intruder slowly backed down the ladder. As he climbed down, my mother approached. The barrel of her rifle was inches away from his face and she told him, “Next time you come here, I won’t hesitate.”
The criminal fled and never came back. Lessons learned, on both sides of the equation. Decades hence, due to Bethany's outspoken critiques of Donald Trump during the 2016 election, she was targeted by the Alt-Right's darkest corners. A Jewish woman, raising a Jewish family, she was literally threatened by actual Nazis:
Over the Republican primary season, I was an outspoken conservative critic of then-candidate Donald Trump, and a torrent of hate rolled my way. I would later learn just how much: The Anti-Defamation League named me one of the top 10 Jewish journalists to be attacked by the alt-right during the election season. After years of receiving death threats for my conservative views, months of being attacked by the alt-right and then having our address published online by the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, I pushed myself to finally go through the process of asking friends for letters attesting to my character, obtaining fingerprints and submitting to background checks. I was given a reason to feel that I needed to defend myself and my family. And I acted on it.
If there were ever a case crying out for someone to exercise her constitutional rights in the interests of self-defense, this is it. But a leading gun control spokesperson -- not a student still processing fresh grief -- decided to publicly sneer at Bethany's decision, casting her as irrational and coddled by white privilege:
Because your privilege in feeling that a gun will make you safer is in part because you are white. CDC data actually shows the opposite about gun ownership.— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 6, 2018
My family and I are threatened with death by your followers - actual gun extremists - on a routine basis and will be again because of your tweet.— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 6, 2018
Over 50 women are shot and killed by intimate partners every month. Rhetoric about guns endangers women; it doesn’t make them safer. https://t.co/BzH4RkjJeo
Watts issued stupid and profoundly ignorant statements, peddled the race card for absolutely no reason, then informed Erick Erickson that his "followers" threaten her family every day. Anytime she is challenged online, she gets more threats, she said, implying that she should never be challenged, in the name of "safety." Lest there was any doubt, she explicitly claimed that "rhetoric" about guns -- i.e. talking about guns -- "endangers women." No guns, no talking. This woman is hostile to the Bill of Rights. And she's a major voice on the gun control side of the national debate. She chose to use her platform to attack Bethany, whose column was very well presented, by dismissing her highly-relevant lived experience. She decided to criticize a Jewish woman, who'd been personally protected by a firearm in the past, for purchasing a gun when her family was under threat from neo-Nazis -- and did so by bizarrely fixating on race. And when people raised objections to her choices, she accused them of fueling death threats from "their followers" or simply blocked them (as she did to me). And in the process, she totally ignored Bethany's endorsement of a middle ground gun reform proposal designed to keep firearms out of the hands of violent or mentally disturbed people. In summary:
1. Plays race card, sneering at Jewish woman for buying gun to protect her family from actual Nazis.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) March 6, 2018
2. Called out, plays victim card, saying such challenges lead to violent threats & *rhetoric* about guns (talking!) is dangerous.
Bad faith actor.https://t.co/LHQzSYdO3Q
I fully recognize that some of the Right's inflammatory rhetoric certainly has the opposite effect on moderate liberals on this issue; that's also a problem, but excessive conservative rhetoric is virtually always greeted with widespread media opprobrium. The policing of the other side is sporadic and muted, at best. As I've said on numerous occasions, I'm not a 'guns person.' I support the constitution, but I've never even fired a gun myself. I should theoretically be the target audience for discussions of reasonable and innovative solutions, and yet the rhetoric of gun control partisans very often actively alienates me. Can you blame ardent Second Amendment supporters for suspecting that limited, consensus, "common sense solutions" that protect everyone's rights aren't the genuine agenda here? In case you're curious about the status of any potential progress, these bipartisan bills seem at least somewhat likely to succeed:
While we scream at each other on Twitter, two sensible bipartisan Senate bills -- one on school safety, the other on background checks -- seem to have a decent chance at passage:https://t.co/juN1OgydfAhttps://t.co/3CVyv8JEPS— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) March 6, 2018