The last weeks have been a test of my willingness to engage, and have put a bit of a dent in my normal fondness for talking with people of a different mind. In all honestly, I usually like having political conversations with different minded people, more than I like talking with like minded people. I find the former so much more interesting, and I don’t learn nearly as much from the latter. The recent conversations about guns have felt different, and many of them are pushing my limits. These conversations have generally followed a few similar scripts. Of course none of these are word-for-word, and they’re clearly written in a way that gives me more time to think about things, and phrase things more articulated (and probably kinder) than I would when I’m trying to respond before somebody else does on FaceBook. Either way, here’s what they sound like…
Script 1: the don’t take my guns away script
Other: I have a right to bear arms. The Constitution says so, and you can’t take that away from me.
Me: But we limit lots of rights in some ways, and as long as you can have two guns (of any type), the right to bear “arms” is technically not infringed, right?
Other: Don’t be an idiot, that’s not what it means. The Founding Fathers knew that we needed to have an armed citizenry to prevent the government from abusing us.
Me: Well, I don’t think it’s fair to say that the Founding Fathers wanted anything, because that rests on the premise that the Founding Fathers were of one mind on anything. I’m not sure that’s true. Either way, my understanding was that the debate was about whether or not to have a standing army or a militia that would be responsible for defense. I don’t think it was all about resisting a tyrannical government, but even if it was, how many times does that work out? Even if you had a rocket launcher, don’t you think they would end up killing you in the end? Do you really think you could stand up to a SWAT team just because you’re armed?
Other: That’s not the point, it’s the principle.
Me: That’s fair. I think principles are important, but we already limit which weapons you can own.
Other: That’s wrong too.
This is the one that feels the most sane to me. It’s a logical argument in some ways. It is opposition to what is viewed as infringement of a right that is described in the Constitution. This gets to be a sticky nuance in some conversations, usually in conversations with people like me. People who want gun laws to be more restrictive. This conversation doesn’t follow a script as closely, but it’s close enough that we’ll call it script 2.
Script 2: Is there a right to bear arms?
Other: The second amendment doesn’t even say individuals have a right to bear arms, it says that the militia does.
Me: Well, that’s not how I read it. The text is “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It’s an interesting approach that’s different from other things. The other times our rights are mentioned in the Constitution, it doesn’t say why they are important. The Fifth Amendment doesn’t say why we shouldn’t be deprived of life, liberty, or property, it just says that we shouldn’t. The first doesn’t say why we shouldn’t have our speech restricted, it just says that the government can’t restrict it. The amendment is different because it says why it’s important, but it seems pretty clear that it states that we have a right to bear arms.
That’s when I realize that I’m better than Ambien for some people.
Then there are scripts that I just can’t stomach. These are the ones that are making it hard for me to continue loving talking with people who disagree with me. I’m not there yet, but it’s certainly pushing it.
Script 3: Semantics
Me: Can’t we at least ban assault rifles?
Other: You stupid liberals don’t even know what that means. There is no such thing as an assault rifle. It’s just a regular gun that looks like a machine gun. Machine guns are already illegal.
Me: OK, but why are AR15-style guns the weapon of choice for all these shootings?
Other: OMG, it’s just a gun. It’s like any other semi-automatic gun. It shoots as fast as you can pull the trigger. What is wrong with you?
Me: I’ll be the first to admit that there are lots of people out there who know more about guns than I do, you’re probably one of them, so you tell me: what ARE the important features, other than looks, that make these guns so deadly.
Other: THEY AREN’T ANY MORE DEADLY THAN ANY OTHER GUN!!!
Me: Then why do you care if we ban them? Why are they the ones that are in so much demand at gun shops? What is it about them that makes them so desired if they’re just like any other gun?
Other:They’re just guns! Stop being such a stupid liberal.
Those conversations usually then move into script 4, where the person does everything they can to make me stop thinking about the gun.
Script 4: Do anything we can to ignore the role of guns.
Other: Guns don’t kill people, people do.
Me: That seems a bit simplistic to me. The person can’t kill without the weapon, right?
Other: People are evil. They’ll find a way to kill no matter what we do.
Me: So why give them more options? Why not at least try to limit the ways they can kill?
Other: There are recipes for bombs on the internet. The guy in Orlando was in the club for hours…he could have killed all those people with a spoon in that time. [Somebody in a FaceBook conversation actually said that…this is almost a word-for-word quote.]
Me: There are recipes for Boeuf Bourguignon online too, that doesn’t mean that any Joe off the street can make it. And you sound kind of silly when you say that Mateen could have killed all those people with a spoon. I doubt it would have taken a SWAT team and hostage negotiators to stop him if he was armed with a spoon.
Other: You liberals are all the same. All you think about is the gun. Why does one evil person make you want to vilify responsible gun owners? Why is the mantra, every single time, to regulate guns and not deal with the evil people?
Me: Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t we do both? When we see the number of people suffering from diabetes, we don’t tell the scientific community that they can try to find treatments anywhere they want, as long as they don’t target insulin. We tell them to look everywhere they possibly can for a treatment, and we find those treatments in some obvious places (like replacing insulin) and some we would have never expected (like the saliva of a Gila monster). Why limit the options for addressing gun violence by saying we can look anywhere except for guns?
Other: But all you care about is guns. Why can’t you understand that the gun isn’t the problem, it’s the evil person using the gun? The only thing you talk about is the guns. If just as much effort was expended on the entire problem rather than just one direction and vilification of legal gun owners, I believe the situation would be different. We need more focus on mental health. More focus on stopping evil people no matter what weapon they choose.
Me: See, with a $1.5 billion budget to the National Institute of Mental Health, a $27 billion budget to the Department of Justice, a $55 billion budget to Homeland Security, and $534 billion Defense Department budget, it’s hard for me to accept the premise that the only effort has been to vilify legal gun owners. I think we spend a lot of time, effort, and money trying to fight evil and illness, but we can’t even make military-style drop-in triggers illegal. We can’t even stop people on the terrorist watch list from buying an AR-15-style weapon. I agree that restricting guns is not the answer to everything…but it’s a target area that is completely off limits. That seems foolish to me. Why limit the tools?
Other: But regulating guns won’t work. Criminals don’t care what the law says.
Me: OK, but that’s kind of odd logic. By that logic we shouldn’t have any laws because criminals won’t follow them anyway. The criminal is only a criminal because he/she breaks the law. Without laws nobody would be criminals.
Other: Banning guns won’t work. It won’t hurt anybody except the responsible gun owner.
Me: First of all, how do you know it won’t work? Isn’t it reasonable to think that when things are harder, they are less likely to happen? Marijuana use goes up in areas that legalize use. Make it harder to get guns, and then only the very motivated, very resourceful people will get them, and many who want to hurt people won’t have the means to do so. Why not at least say that we can’t own assault rifles?
Then we’re back to script 3.
In the end, I’m left with this sinking feeling. I’m sure there are some people out there who simply feel that it is an argument of principle. The fear of the slippery slope. If we ban some guns, then what’s stopping us from banning others? I think that’s fair. But my sinking feeling comes from my growing sense that it’s just about selfishness. These people want to blow shit up. They want to pretend they’re army badasses (maybe some actually are, and want to relive some element of combat days, or training — more likely the latter because I don’t know anybody who has been in combat and wants to relive it in any way). They aren’t willing to sacrifice one ounce of fun. When I’m confronted with that, the growing dislike of people, that’s when these discussions stop being fun for me.