Why It’s So Hard to Discuss Guns Rationally With Some People

courtesy themainewire.com

I have a colleague who, until the Sandy Hook shooting, was very congenial, even complimentary. Though we don’t teach in the same department, we always got along very well, frequently chatting in more depth than merely exchanging greetings. And then one morning, I chanced onto a conversation between him and another teacher about school shootings. The encounter occurred shortly after Sandy Hook, while the issues raised by it were still very much the rage. He asked me if I thought arming staff was a good idea . . .

I should have known better, but I naively plowed ahead, expecting the same kind of cordial, collegial conversation we’d always enjoyed to that point.

He employed appeals to emotion. I countered with logic. He became outraged and questioned my humanity. I replied with calm and fact. Ultimately, I said “It all comes down to this: when an armed killer is walking down the hallway toward your classroom, do you want yourself and other teachers to be disarmed, or would you prefer that they be armed and able to defend lives?”

Displaying great disgust and exasperation, he actually threw up his arms and that was the end of the conversation. It took nearly a year before he would acknowledge my presence again and more time before he would exchange greetings with me. “Progressives” often claim that conservatives are anti-science and that refuse to deal with facts. The reality is, as illustrated by my conversation with my colleague, quite different.

Why do progressives deny the right to self-defense? Why do they refuse to acknowledge the benefit firearms provide society? Why do they ignore the Second Amendment (and any other part of the Constitution they find inconvenient)? Why would they deny children and teachers the only proven, effective means to protect their very lives when the worst-case scenario comes to pass?

There are three primary factors involved. To buy into these factors, one need not even consider themselves a progressive, they merely need to be a statist, one who believes in the supremacy of government. For the progressive/statist — first and foremost — government is the solution to every problem, therefore governmental power must always be increased, taxes must always rise, income must always be redistributed and only elite of self-imagined experts are qualified to run the nation and the lives of its citizens. For their own benefit, of course.

The common man isn’t capable of knowing what’s best for them. In order for statism to exist and flourish, individualism and individual rights must be continually diminished. The rights of the individual can’t be allowed to hinder the inevitable growth and power of the state and the wise and benevolent diktats of the elite ruling class. It is this attitude, and the second factor, that allows the progressive/statist to deny that unalienable rights exist. The foremost of unalienable, natural rights is the right to self-defense. Without it, what other right truly matters?

The second factor: a refusal to acknowledge the existence of any power higher than themselves. In essence, they refuse to acknowledge the existence of God. For some, this lack of belief is nothing more than being made uncomfortable by the idea that there is One greater than themselves, than their current maximum, cult-of-personality leader, than the state itself. For others, progressivism/statism takes on all of the characteristics of a religion; it become a matter of unquestionable faith. For such people, believing in God is essentially apostasy.

As it relates to the Second Amendment, these two factors make it not only possible, indeed, mandatory for the progressive/statist to deny the unalienable right to self-defense. If there is no God, the individual human life has only the value recognized by the state at any given moment. The individual exists only in service to the state, and the value of their life is measured by the individual’s adherence to the state’s goals and their usefulness to the elite ruling class. That being the case, there’s nothing particularly unique or precious about any individual, therefore an unalienable right to self-defense is nothing but an annoying impediment to the larger, more important goals of the state.

Indeed, God need not even be involved for the committed statist to deny the existence of any right of self-defense. Any unalienable right is an inherent limitation on the power of the state, and no such limitation can be acknowledged. Whether such rights are bestowed by God or invented as a result of human philosophy matters not. The power of the state cannot be diminished, and if the individual is allowed control over their own existence — if that control is bestowed by God which is far more powerful than the state — the power of the state becomes illegitimate and unquestionably hampered.

In any case, if there is no unalienable right to self-defense, there can be no right to keep and bear arms, or as progressives/statists often argue, such “right” guarantees nothing more than the privilege to carry arms in the military—in the service of the state and its ruling elite—and perhaps for hunting or sport shooting under highly restrictive circumstances.

To such arguments, conservatives and others commonly point to the Constitution and particularly, to the Bill of Rights. This is why progressives/statists argue for a “living Constitution,” which is another way of saying that the Constitution says what they want it to say and means what they want it to mean at any given moment. The better to legitimize whichever progressive/statist policy they wish to implement. This is also why progressives/statists labor to install judges who reflect the “living Constitution” frame of mind. Politics are too fickle; better to have true believers legislating from the bench when it’s not, for the moment, possible to impose progressive orthodoxy through the legislative process when the masses are temporarily rebelling against the elite.

The third factor — useful, indeed absolutely necessary, when all else fails — is the unshakeable belief in the brilliance and infallibility of progressivism/statism. Progressivism/statism is infallible—it cannot possibly be wrong—and it is also non-falsifiable, which allows the statist to shrug off any scientific, logical assault.

An instructive example is the Clinton gun ban, in effect for a decade (1994-2004). The ban restricted a favorite bugaboo of progressives/statists: the so-called “assault weapon.” A magazine capacity limitation of ten rounds was also a feature of the law. At the end of the decade, the law was allowed to sunset with only token progressive resistance. This was due primarily to a citizen backlash that swept substantial numbers of Democrats out of office, and also the undeniable fact that the ban accomplished nothing in terms of public safety. The “assault weapon” ban and magazine capacity limitations were a failure, if the consideration was enhanced public safety.

However, to this day, proponents of the same kinds of restrictions on the Second Amendment argue that ten years was far too little time. Only permanent bans could possible allow the magnificent benefits of such policies to reveal themselves. To the extent that the ban didn’t work, it was really only because they didn’t go far enough. Much more restrictive laws, in effect, absolute bans on semi-automatic firearms—a technology more than a century old—are needed to produce the appropriate and obvious benefits progressives/statists seek.

In other words, if any statist policy is seen to fail, it’s merely a misunderstanding. Statist policies cannot fail, therefore, insufficient money has been spent, the policy is not restrictive and punitive enough, and not nearly enough time has been allocated to allow the policy to work its magic.

“But,” opponents say, “the facts prove otherwise. They prove the policy is a failure, or that it costs far too much, or that it is destructive of liberty, or it violates the Constitution.”  This too does not matter.  Because progressive/statist policy is a matter of faith, and cannot possibly be wrong, how can it be falsified—proved to be false or a failure?  The solution to the apparent failure of progressivism/statism is always more, more expensive and more fervently oppressive progressivism/statism.

Thus is the anti-science hypocrisy of the progressive/statist is revealed. The very basis of science is falsifiability.  If a theory can’t be falsified—proved wrong—it isn’t science. All theories must be confirmable, using the same data and methods used to establish them, or alternatively, must be capable of being proved wrong. A theory that can only be supported, never falsified, is outside the realm of science. Therefore when a politician or scientist claims that the science is “settled,” or there is a “consensus” that proves or supports their policy, they are appealing to political will and/or faith, not to science or reason.

For my colleague, these three factors—and perhaps others—rendered my arguments ineffective. Indeed, because any challenge to progressive/statist orthodoxy can’t possibly be valid, and because progressives/statists believe themselves concerned only with making the world better—even though many of those whose lives they seek to improve cannot or will not see their good intentions or the brilliance of their policies—anyone opposing them must be evil and must wish to harm others.

Therefore, anyone who advocates the voluntary arming of school staff must wish to destroy a pristine educational environment and harm children. Anyone who believes the Second Amendment clearly acknowledges the individual right to keep and bear arms wants millions to die from “gun violence.” Anyone who advocates concealed carry desires societal chaos, murder, and so on.

This is why it’s so difficult, often impossible, to calmly discuss Second Amendment issues with a committed progressive/statist. Any opposition is not only an attack on their belief system, but on their self-image. Anyone expressing a differing opinion is not merely deluded, but evil. This is also why virtually all of those who claim to want to engage in “dialogue,” or who want to “compromise” on “common sense,” “reasonable” gun policies are being disingenuous. How might one compromise with evil, with those who are trying to harm the virtuous and caring? What compromise is possible with those seeking to diminish the power of the state and increase the power of the individual?

This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try—there is such a thing as a former or recovering progressive or statist—and more are converted every day. But it’s a frustrating and often fruitless pursuit.