The sound volume on our gun debate is intermittent. We turn it up to about 5 after an attention-grabbing mass shooting – for a few days. Then it goes back down to about negative 3. Thus begins another interim of inertia until another mass shooting occurs. People who consistently support reasonable gun restrictions find themselves flummoxed at how nothing gets done in spite of a healthy consensus for some kind of action on gun control. I’m not flummoxed at all. I know what the problem is. What little debate we do have stakes an extreme position of “we need even more guns” against a moderate and reasonable position of “some gun regulation.” The extreme position has won and will win every time.
If there is going to be any movement on in the discourse on firearm proliferation in America, there has to be a more hearty notion on the table to balance the heft of the “more guns” stance. That would be the position of “ban all guns” whose volume in the gun debate is consistently on negative 11. There ARE people who want to ban all guns, but they are treated like lepers because of the establishment liberals who fear accusations of guilt by association with people espousing extreme positions. Many of them have a sickening need to try to ingratiate ourselves to the people that argue that the reason we have so many gun deaths is because we don’t have even more guns. Basically this large proportion of liberals are saying "hey you totally insane gun nuts who we completely disagree with, we're just like you!" At the same time, they say to supporters of gun bans "get away from me so no one thinks I'm crazy like you." This nuttiness is a regrettable part of the liberal psychological profile. The one position that has any chance of moving us from ceremonial discussion to any reasonable action, is snuffed out because of congenital liberal fear of seeming liberal.
How did we get here? One thing that helped is the right’s inadvertent genius strategy of setting “ban all guns” as a pariah position. As always, the left took the bait. So this is how the debate goes:
Right: You want to ban all guns, commie pinko?!
Left: No no no no no. We just want some reasonable….
Right: They want to take our guns!!!
Discussion over. Mass shooting two weeks later. Same ceremonial debate that dies down in days.
Meanwhile, not only do conservatives not mind taking extreme and unpopular positions, they go so far as shutting down the government, or refusing to let the country pay its bills over unpopular stances. They might be wrong, but at least they fight.
I’m not suggesting Democrats shut down the government until all guns are banned. At this point, I really don’t expect much of anything out of dem pols. They are far too cowed by polls and elections to do anything unsafe. What I do suggest is that people who consider themselves concerned about the loss of life from gun violence be more willing to simply discuss a gun ban rather than be scared from even uttering the words “gun ban.” What would be good about a gun ban? What would be bad about a gun ban? How did they do it in Australia? What does our Second Amendment really say? What are the options of limiting guns? These are things that should be brought up in a normal debate on national firearm control. Instead, concerned people have essentially been trained by the NRA to keep the discussion limited to a narrow sliver of market-tested options that have no chance of advancing in this political climate.
An America in which people aren’t afraid of talking about banning guns has the potential to change everything. Here is how that conversation would go:
Right: You want to ban all guns, commie pinko?!
Left: My name isn’t commie pinko and I would love to entertain the notion of a total ban on my guns and your guns. I want to hear what people who support gun bans have to say and I want everyone to talk about it.
Right: (suffers apoplexy from show of lefty spine)
Honestly, I don’t think a ban on guns would poll well enough for establishment Republicans to rush to the table to compromise, but there are several possible effects. It just might increase the public urgency on tackling what we currently call reasonable gun restrictions. This is what introducing an extreme argument does. It creates shifts. In this case we are talking about a shift from doing nothing to doing something. It might not happen over night, and there is a chance that it might not happen at all. Let’s face it, America is like the first grade where everyone is trying to be cool and fit in. No one wants to be a wuss or an outcast. But every once in a while in America, courage gets just enough traction to move the needle - eventually. I'm not talking about the kind of courage it takes to do something that people will marvel at and want to throw you a parade for. I'm talking about the kind of courage it takes to defend unpopular arguments in the face of name-calling, threats of violence, and even actual violence.
As clarification to the cursory reader (who probably still won’t get this) This is not an attempt to convince everyone that we must ban guns. This is a call to drop the fear of expressing curiosity over a gun ban. I have already been misunderstood after by one raging liberal who, in spite of my explanation, kept arguing why he was against banning guns. I had to drop the discussion. Clearly, it’s an uphill battle, but here is one way of looking at it; even if you’re a liberal and you think banning guns is crazy, it’s not nearly as crazy as trying to seem cool to people who advocate reducing gun violence by increasing gun ownership.