Civil Discussion: Obama’s Gun Initiative and the NRA’s Cold, Dead Hands

“As the resident gun-toting redneck sort, I feel certain that I will add something worthwhile to this conversation.”

Every Friday in Civil Discussion, Ben Bartlett (Christ and Pop Culture writer who majored in Political Theory) and Richard Clark (Christ and Pop Culture editor-in-chief, and a political spectator who is friends with a guy who majored in Political Theory) discuss political events as they happen over email, hashing out the meaning and manipulations behind them. Also just being bros. 

This week features a very special guest, Alabama Southern Baptist redneck pastor, Brad Williams!

Richard: Hey Ben! We’ve been publishing a lot of different lists at Christ and Pop Culture lately, so I know how difficult it can be to decide what stays in the list and what goes. Arguments happen, feelings get hurt, one of our editors, Alan, says something about how the TV show Parenthood is just a bunch of first world problems, we fire Alan, then hire him back so we can make him edit the list. The other day Obama introduced a top ten list of his own: top ten ways to reduce gun violence.

My main question is simple: should Parenthood have made the cut? Will congress feel the need to add Django Unchained to the list? Have my bad analogies finally gone too far (don’t answer that last one, I know the answer)?

Ben: Rich, TV shows can be commended for a variety of categories: special effects, acting, writing, etc. Parenthood can and should be commended (and should make our list) because above all it is honest about our responses to life. We screw things up, overreact, have to apologize constantly, and struggle with fears continually. Honesty about challenges is powerful because it helps us to take a deep breath and confront those things in our minds and our hearts rather than running away.

The tragedy of yet another school shooting is, in a similar way, forcing us to be honest. The simple fact is that practically anyone can get a gun, and those with special interests can even build massive arsenals. Further, the guns available to them legally have impressive destructive force. Much, much more force than a person would need to, say, defend a home or hunt a deer.

The thing that’s unnerving is the amazing self-certainty of those conservatives who feel the President is being dishonest and even hypocritical. From what I can tell, they’re going to sabotage his gun control ideas without even breaking a sweat. Meanwhile, Obama knows they are going to block his efforts, so a cynical person might say he’s more focused on scoring political points than enacting real changes. Which position seems more honest to you?

Richard: The digging in of the heels by the NRA and their most staunch supporters has been disturbing, I will admit. I am incredibly frustrated by it – the insistence on what I perceive to be common-sense background checks and magazine limits seems culturally tone-deaf and transparently self-centered.

But what do I know? I kind of want to include one of our writers, Brad, on this conversation… is that okay? He’s been kicking up dust in our writers forum for a long time about not wanting to lose his guns, so I honestly want to ask him:

You know it’s not your guns you’ll be losing, right? You’ll be losing the right to buy large magazines and at worst, assault weapons. And you’ll have to get a background check that will, when also applied to others, stop a bunch of criminals and actual bad guys from getting their hands on a mean lean killing machine.

So Brad, here’s your chance: what’s wrong with the proposals Obama has put forth here? No ad hominem cries of hypocrisy or whatever, just address the issue at hand: why not encourage our representatives to vote for these measures?

Brad: Hey guys, thanks for including me on this. As the resident gun-toting redneck sort, I feel certain that I will add something worthwhile to this conversation.

First, I should admit that I am not a member of the NRA, mostly due to the fact that I don’t want to pay the dues, not that I am ideologically opposed to them. However, their rhetoric of late has confirmed that I do not want to be a member even if I did have the disposable cash. Surely someone out there can represent us gun-owners who doesn’t resort to calling the President “an elitist hypocrite”.

Up front, I think I should say that stricter background checks do not bother me, as long as they don’t become some draconian code that keeps citizens from acquiring a gun. I’m all for closing the gun show loop holes, and I would not find it much of a bother to do a background check before selling one of my own firearms. I would see it as a hassle, but not a deal breaker.

What I fear is that these measures are actually a sneaky way to get more guns than it appears. First, I think the magazine capacity ban is worthless. It takes less than a second to reload a clip. Restricting a magazine from 20 to 10 is rather irrelevant. Second, while “assault rifle” sounds scary, the definition is broad enough to include two of my deer rifles and one varmint gun I would like to have for the farm. My deer rifles that may be banned hold five rounds in a magazine, but they are “semi-automatic”, and semi-autos are in danger of being banned under the vagueness of the definition of ‘assault rifle’. So before I would urge voting on anything, I want to know exactly what they mean by assault rifle.

Here’s the thing that will make me sound weird, as if I don’t already, but I really do think the 2nd Amendment is there in case we have to give the government the what for. An armed populace that is able to cobble together a militia is one that is harder to subjugate, and the fact is that historically, governments have had a tendency to become man-devouring beasts. The idea that it cannot ever happen here is kind of naive, I think.The problem is that it is difficult to hold that line without sounding like a Sandy Hook, 9/11 conspiracy theorist.

Really, I want to keep my guns for three reasons that count: 1) I hunt. 2) I farm and have real coyote/wild dog problems 3) Self-defense. And the reason that doesn’t count is: I like them.

Here is an unrelated image of Brad wearing a tin-foil hat.

So yeah, I’m a little aggravated with the NRA right now. I do believe they are culturally tone deaf. Terribly so. They need some younger blood speaking for them, and they need to quit acting like they are fighting an elitist government who is trying to disarm the populace to turn the USA into the USSA. (The United States of Socialist America.) They are dealing with a hurt populace who just saw its children slaughtered by a maniac, and they want their kids to be safe. The NRA needs to make the case that responsible gun ownership does indeed make us safer, and they need to make that case in a way that doesn’t sound like, “Know what helps keep gun crime down? MORE GUNS!”

I hope that helps.

Ben: Hey Rich, just a quick numbers-geek/civil discussion note for you. This statement is unhelpful: “you’ll have to get a background check that will, when applied to others, stop a bunch of criminals and actual bad guys from getting their hands on a mean lean killing machine.” That’s a very big assertion supported by almost zero evidence, so let’s be careful about it. Keep in mind that the vast majority of shootings happen with guns obtained through means that even Obama’s new gun laws won’t prevent.

In fact, personally I think Obama channeling more funding to gun research by the CDC is the single most important change happening here. The ugly truth about the gun debate is that NEITHER side can really prove their point with hard numbers, because we just don’t have many hard numbers. Instead, everybody resorts to stories, hypotheticals, and personal anecdotes (thanks for the demonstration, both of you) because there is no good science on the topic.

Let me ask this. Would you guys both feel comfortable with the government taking a more proactive scientific approach to the problem? I ask because the nasty implication there is that you might have to abandon your position if proven wrong. And the still nastier implication is that it might set a precedent Christians would have a hard time accepting in other areas of policy-making.

Brad: Science? I don’t know if that will help. I mean, people shoot people with guns. How do we science that? Plus, there is this other field of study we have called “History.” What does history tell us happens to unarmed swaths of citizens when they are faced with governments or hooligans who are armed?

Richard: There is no doubt in my mind: information, knowledge, that sort of thing – that can only help. After we do that research into what causes aggression, what makes a weapon most deadly against human beings, what can we do about mental illness, and what mental illnesses are dangerous and which aren’t, we are in a much better place to start making decisions.

Like, hey, I don’t think Alan has even SEEN Parenthood. Maybe he could start there?

Ben: Brad, by using a scientific approach I mean doing research into, say, gun crimes. Are more crimes committed with guns bought illegally vs. legally? Is there a correspondence between areas with high gun violence and weak gun control laws or not? If we experiment by increasing gun control laws in New York City, is there a statistically significant reduction in gun crimes? Maybe there will even be an especially creative grad student somewhere who makes their name by doing a study on how well prepared the populace is to defend itself in case of a military coup.

Right now the government is tone deaf like Rich and his cardigans, uninformed like Alan and Parenthood, and overly argumentative like Brad and, well, Brad. And lazy like me on top of it all! Here’s hoping this issue finds real traction in a day and age where deadlock is the norm.

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    “Are more crimes committed with guns bought illegally vs. legally?”

    1. I’ll go out on a limb and even before the research comes in guess, “Yes.”

    2. Researchers will probably have to guess as well. I think few people who buy guns illegally respond to surveys. I don’t own a gun and don’t intend to, but I’m at a loss to see how a law restricting purchase of certain kinds of guns is going to stop people who use those kinds of guns to break the law.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture Ben Bartlett

    Brett,

    Thanks for those thoughts. It might not be as obvious as you think, though. For instance, a huge portion of gun crimes (whether that is a majority or not I don’t know) happen in the inner city, using guns that were purchased legally (often by, say, a sister or grandmother). Reducing the size of magazines and requiring background checks would have almost zero effect on that particular group.

    Researchers have MANY ways of obtaining data (I do it for my department at work all the time, including finding ways of catching people cheating the system). The problem till now has been lack of funding for creative approaches to obtaining data, but it’s a huge need if we are to have a substantive discussion in this country about where we can get an excellent Return On Investment in terms of knowing what areas to regulate.

    Restrictions don’t only need to limit certain kinds of purchases… they can also limit certain kinds of production. For instance, we’ve done a pretty good job in this country of not allowing the spread of fully automatic weapons outside of the military. If gun companies are prevented from, say, distributing huge magazines, I’m pretty sure other kinds of regulations can be enacted as well. There are a lot more options out there than you might think.


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