I wrote this little piece in a somewhat backwards fashion and got what I deserved, which is a discussion elsewhere--at LGM, which devolved into a discussion of Safe, Legal, and Rare rather than the competing world views of Pro-choice and Pro-Gun. This morning TPM reports that another 5 year old has been shot in the head. Down in the thread of comments below the post the commenters get into a tussel with a self described Texan and Aggie in which he accuses the "libtards" of wanting to end all private ownership of guns entirely. He specifically makes the argument I pointed to: that regulations and even what you might call "common sense" behavior like gun locks, gun safes, choosing not to own guns in a household with children are all a slippery slope to the end of "private ownership" and the Second Amendment. He and other commenters make the argument that the deaths of the numerous children are ephiphenomenal, not caused by "assault weapons" and therefore not regulated by the feds (can't be stopped by normal regulation) and also that they might be a false flag--that is, that they somehow didn't happen. One "liberal" commenter makes the rather common argument that given the deaths of children in gun owning families eventually there will be fewer gun owning families, a natural evolutionary progression and he and the other conservative posters react angrily that it is the liberals who will cease to exist because they are (presumably) all excercising their rights to abortion and therefore have no children at all. Unfortunately I can't link directly to the comments because Disqus is acting up for me but if you check the link you will see these comments in all their glory. They pretty much reflect the argument I make below which is that consciously and unconsciously the two sides mimic each other and have learned from each other in a thoroughly unpleasant and useless way.
Original Post: It has occurred to me during the last few months of active public debate on our gun laws that the pro-gun lobby makes essentially the same argument as the pro-choice side of the abortion debate: there is an irreducible number of "used as intended" deaths that result from the existence of guns or the existence of abortions and society simply has to accept that because: freedom. On the gun side the Second Amendment and a religiously fetishized approach to the idea of the gun toting individualist with rights over and above the government and society/neighbors. On my side, lets say, the pro-choice side the idea of the autonomous right of the individual to determine her own fertility and family and the uses to which her body is put. This essay at Kos doesn't make the comparison but as you look at the list of reasons they give for why, from a right wing perspective, the "problem" of gun violence is no problem at all you can't help but be struck by the similarities.
I'm not arguing that "both sides do it" or that the pro-choice side is kooky and amoral like the pro-gun side. Actually, I think just the reverse. I think that the pro-gun movement reflects much of the ideological blindness that the anti abortion side does. Neither the pro-gun side nor the anti abortion groups take seriously the notion of limiting harm from an obviously harmful practice. They are much more concerned with maintaining a right to control the debate, and a right to prevent erosion of an ideological stance which, ultimately, is about a lot of other things besides the ostensible goal (gun ownership/end of abortion per se).
This is why, on the pro-choice side, we have fought a losing battle from the moment we allowed the phrasing to be: "safe, legal, and rare." That phrase accepts the notion that there is something wrong about abortion, something that needs to be controlled and limited. We did it because we took the right wing opposition to abortion as an opposition to actual abortions and we thought we could get some agreement on creating conditions where the necessity for abortion was limited, not the access to abortion. But since what the right wing was really opposed to was safe sex, family planning, and female autonomy they just used the leverage of "safe, legal, and rare" to chip away at everything simultaneously. Now we are on the verge of losing the actual ability for women to control their fertility even though, technically, we haven't lost Roe v. Wade yet.
What's the analogy on the pro gun side? Well, its a bit complicated. We make a huge mistake accepting the pro-gun side's assurances that they are at all interested in limiting gun violence and negligent deaths. They aren't. This is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Second Amendment absolutists have the capacity to be horrified by tragedies and unnecessary deaths on a personal level, but they rigidly separate the reality from the principle and they are quite capable of permitting the deaths of thousands to protect the right to bear arms. This is why obvious precautions to prevent random gun violence, to prevent negligent homicide, to prevent children from shooting children, to prevent criminal possession of guns, to prevent crazy people from getting guns are all stymied-- not because it wouldn't work and it wouldn't save lives but because it would chip away at the generic individual's freedom to assert the right to own guns. And because the idea of the individual's right to own guns is attached to other cultural goods that the right sees as threatened including Republicanism, whiteness, masculinity, dominance, wealth.
In other words, if we were to take seriously the notion that gun people want to prevent actual deaths, we'd be wrong. They see actual deaths, even tragic and accidental ones, as the natural price you pay for the right to bear arms and the right for them to occupy those positions (Republicanism, whiteness, masculinity, dominance, wealth). The deaths, even of children, is nothing but a sad but rightful societal cost, like the deaths of soldiers. And they see even attempts to limit unnecessary deaths as part of a slippery slope to preventing gun ownership.
I'd argue that they take this hard line because they know, having observed it in action over the last thirty years--that this is exactly the tack their side took with respect to abortion rights. They know their side went for the easy lay up--the imaginary "late term abortions" and that their side has ceaselessly trumpeted the "deaths" off millions of "innocents" and used photos and "victims testimony"(hell, survivors of the "holocaust" of abortion are actually brought on stage to testify to their mother's botched abortions) to shape public opinion. I suppose that's a roundabout way of saying that with the right its always projection--the very thing they accused the President of doing (using emotion, using the victims, pictures of the dead, using the children) are all things that their own propagandists pioneered quite successfully in mobilizing their voters against abortion rights.
In other words I think the far right gun fetishists have been quick off the mark in countermobilizing against gun safety laws and even the limited gun regulations advanced because they know and understand the script surrounding a hard right (gun ownership, right to privacy/female autonomy) which is under attack legally and socially. In fact, they wrote the script.
Here's the Kos piece:
- Even though many more more people are getting shot in recent years, thanks to advances in trauma care the victims are significantly less likely to die from a gunshot wound than they were 20 years ago. This means our policy of allowing high-capacity magazines is more important than ever, since you may have to pump more bullets into your modern super-criminal if you want to make sure the doctors can't revive them later.
- While fewer households own a gun than 20 years ago, the people who do own gunsown a lot more guns. The obvious conclusion from this is not that less universal access to firearms reduces gun violence, but that crackpots hoarding guns are such an intimidating presence that they keep their entire neighborhoods safe via home-defense osmosis.
- School shootings are down 33 percent since the 1990s peak. This is now the satisfactory level of school shootings, thus eliminating any need to pass further gun safety laws related to schools or shootings. Future reductions in fatal school shootings will therefore be achieved by giving our kindergarten students bullet-resistant backpacks.
- Violent crime in general has declined a whopping 75 percent in the last 20 years. Gun-related homicides, however, have declined at only about half that rate: 39 percent. While you might expect the massively reduced rate of violent crime to have produced an equal decline in gun deaths and wonder why it did not, SHUT UP. Also, let's say video games.The good news, however, is that we've finally found a level of gang violence, suicides, accidental shootings, accidental shootings of children, school shootings of children, theater shootings, politically motivated shootings, drunken fatal whoopsies, and other mishaps that we can live with. Well, over a thousand Americans every month can't live with it, ha ha, but nobody's perfect, right? Now let's all go out and buy some ammo before the government gets it all, because liberty is a twitchy little bastard and who knows what it's going to make us shoot at next.