Succesful gun discourse hindered by ideology

by Timothy Johnson / Correspondent • February 20, 2013

The first installment of President Pelton’s Made in America: Our Gun Violence Culture promised a conversation between several ideologies on firearm ownership in this country. But during the debate, I found myself astounded that this is what passes for a discourse on guns in America.

It felt at times as though John Rosenthal, co-founder of the Stop Handgun Violence campaign and sole gun control advocate on the panel, was talking to a brick wall. Both Steve Moysey (of the NRA-backed Gun Owners Action League) and Richard Feldman (president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association) refused to lend any credence to the idea that the proliferation of firearms has made our society a more dangerous one, or that placing limitations on the amount of firepower private citizens can hold might diminish the scope of events like the Sandy Hook massacre. When asked about the prospect of banning the semi-automatic military style weapons that have become ubiquitous with mass shootings in America, Feldman confessed to owning seven such rifles, and Moysey advocated their use in shooting small game, which amounts to using a flamethrower to deal with an ant infestation.

The rhetoric surrounding the gun ownership debate since the Newtown shooting, which left 20 children and six adults dead, has been marked by ideological schizophrenia. Gun rights advocates see no reason to place their rights on the line to secure the safety of our nation, but stress the importance of investigating the “violent electronic culture” which they see as the font of brutality in our country, effectively crucifying the first amendment in defense of the second. A week after Newtown, Wayne Lapierre, the president of the NRA, put more onus on American Psycho and Natural Born Killers for these massacres than the proliferation of bushmaster rifles. It is absurd to entertain the notion of censoring an artist’s right to depict violence without first considering that assault rifles have no place in a stable democratic society. The idea that media depictions of violence are currently a cornerstone of the dialogue indicates the extent to which gun rights interests are holding the conversation hostage.

If we’re going to engage in a meaningful conversation about eliminating mass violence in America, the gun lobby is going to need to make meaningful concessions, starting with the presence of military style firearms on the free market. Throughout the panel, both Feldman and Moysey employed extremely flawed and reactionary logic in the defense of private ownership of these types of guns. Moysey claimed that these firearms shouldn’t be banned because their mechanism of action is inseparable from other semi-automatic firearms, because they all fire bullets at high velocity at the pull of the trigger. Such a claim is like saying that a MACK truck and a smart car are inseparable because both have engines. Rate of fire, caliber, magazine size— these are important categorical distinctions. A .22 ruger is a very different beast than an armalite rifle.

Worse still is the claim that we need these weapons to protect ourselves from a despotic government, an idea Moysey brought up during the panel. The second amendment was designed in part to ensure that civilians could take up arms against their government if necessary, but in the context of drones, fighter jets, and smart bombs, I highly doubt an AR15 is going to get you very far. Gun advocates should know this; they are often part of the conservative bloc that pushes for big defense budgets that make these weapon systems possible. I, for one, would love to see Steve Moysey take to the hills to defend his constitutional rights, but I don’t see it happening.

A meaningful debate can be had on the myriad issues surrounding gun violence in America, but we won’t see any progress until the forces behind the gun industry stop hiding behind ridiculous arguments in defense of their right to ownership of a dangerous weapon.