The problem isn’t always identifying the problem

Rick Perlstein says liberals are making a big mistake with the way we respond to mass shootings because we don’t appreciate how conservatives think:

More mass shootings make right-wingers more attached to arming themselves yet further, yet more impassioned about defeating gun control, yet more paranoid about those who would ‘disarm’ them and render them more vulnerable to the scary scary scary everywhere around them. If you don’t understand that, you can’t contribute to winning the gun control debate.

Perlstein highlights the post-Sandy Hook response by the gun safety group as a typical, counterproductive approach. The group’s “heart-rending” campaign “had volunteers send ‘Father’s Day’ cards to members of Congress depicting families whose dads have been claimed by gun violence.”

The goal of campaigns like that are to call more attention to the severity of the problem, based on the assumption that this is what was needed. Convince members of Congress of the severity of the problem, the thinking goes, and they will be more likely to embrace your solution.

But Perlstein argues that emphasizing the severity of the problem only serves to deepen conservatives’ commitment to what they see as the solution to that problem: less regulation and more guns.

With every mass shooting that forces us all, yet again, to think of the gravity and severity of this problem, both sides become increasingly frustrated with the other’s stubborn refusal to swing around to embrace their preferred solution. “See what just happened?” we liberals say, “Can’t you see we need to get these guns off the streets?”

See what just happened?” conservatives say. “Can’t you see we need to do more to arm ourselves?”

These opposite responses make compromise impossible. Or, in a sense, they make the status quo a perpetual, inevitable form of compromise. We say fewer guns, they say more guns. So here we are.

I think where Perlstein is going with this is to suggest that liberals learn to “think like conservatives” so we can speak to them in a way that we’re more likely to be heard and less likely to reinforce their frustration. With regard to mass shootings, that would mean not responding in a way that emphasizes the severity of the problem, but rather responding in a way that gets at the fear and the “scary scary scary everywhere” that makes the more guns and more guns and more guns solution seem attractive.

That’s a laudable project and Rick Perlstein is a very smart guy, so I’m interested in following this discussion (this post is the first in a series of his). But here I want to talk about another, bigger problem that his post illuminates. The larger problem, I think, isn’t that liberals don’t know how to “think like conservatives” — or that conservatives don’t know how to “think like liberals.” I think the larger problem is that when we find ourselves with opposite proposed solutions to a problem, we lack any mutually recognized way of evaluating them. We don’t share any framework that would allow us to test our competing approaches or our opposite solutions and decide, together, which passed the test — which was more true, or which works better.

This is a problem not just with how the two sides respond to problems, but with how we respond to solutions. Social Security and Medicare are, by any measure, effective and efficient programs. Yet by any measure, there is no means of measuring that conservative opponents of those programs will accept as valid. In other words, the disagreement isn’t just a matter of ideology, but of epistemology.

And it goes deeper than just the ancient “through a glass, darkly” problem. This isn’t a blind-men-and-the-elephant type problem arising from the limited information available to all of us humans. It’s a more fundamental disagreement. In the terms of that old parable, it’s as though the liberals felt the elephant’s leg and said, “An elephant is round and tall, like a tree trunk” and then the conservatives felt the elephant’s leg and said “An elephant is tangy and articulate, like a curtain made of Roth IRAs.”

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  • caryjamesbond

    No, the guy doing a driveby is the issue. The guy with the Saturday night special is the issue.

    Mass shootings, are, frankly, irrelevant. They’re rare, media driven events. It’s like focusing on plane crashes instead of seatbelt laws. Yes- plane crashes are big and dramatic and scary and they kill far, far fewer people than even the gentlest car crash.

    If you’re interested in scoring political points, you go after the guy with the fifty guns, and you stand in front of congress and talk about arsenals and who needs that many guns.

    If you want to save lives, you get 9mm glocks off the streets of Chicago. THATS where the problem is. That’s where the bulk of the killing is happening- with a perfectly legal under any proposed scheme handgun, usually wielded by one kid against another. Mass killings make excellent arguments for ineffective measures.

    And, simply put- economics remains one of the biggest factors here. A guy with the money to amass a huge gun collection is much less likely to be willing to throw it all away to shoot someone in a bar, or go home and grab his gun to take back to an argument.

    I’ve known the guys with fifty guns and I’ve known the stupid drunken kids with the pistol they bought from a friend, and I’ve seen both get into drunken arguments- and the one who pulled out the gun and waved it around was the stupid kid, not the fifty year old with a job and a wife and kids.

  • caryjamesbond

    “right side of history”- what, exactly, does that phrase mean?

    Does it mean never doing anything questionable, ever, or does it mean doing what you have to do to stop things that are even worse?

    I’m not really that interested in what people a hundred years think of me, because, I’ll be dead. I’m interested in taking real steps to get rid of guns. One of those steps might be using terms that are traditionally considered racist dogwhistles, because A. Large segments of the population already respond to those and B. in the past, racially charged issues have led the NRA and similar groups to support gun control.

    The Tea Party is gonna be swayed by racist dogwhistles, no matter what we do. We might as well sway them in our direction.

    It doesn’t mean we have to be racist- it means we use their ‘secret’ language against them. We can then apply those laws equally, and justly, within white and black and brown populations. But we need the laws first.

  • Your experience differs from mine. From what I’ve seen, the higher the number of guns, the higher the chances they’ll act like an idiot.

    And by all metrics, the numbers of drive bys and bar shootings, i.e. individualized shootings, are GOING DOWN, without us doing anything, while the numbers of mass shootings are going up. So yes, the mass shootings are the problem.

    There was a segment on the Daily Show that talked about how conservatives are working on redefining mass shootings, because by the current definition(4 people and over) over 96% of shootings in the US have been mass shootings.

    Yes, these things are media driven, and the media should be held accountable for that. But that is not their sole cause. I have been for many years, a gun rights advocate, but after this past year, no more. The problem is the culture, and we have to fix the culture. That is a long term solution, and won’t stop people dying right now, so short term, we need to take the guns.

  • IMO, it’s indicative of a disturbed mind.

  • Perpetuating their “secret” language is to perpetuate racist thoughts. Full Stop. You can’t play that game, and not be racist, even if you yourself are not a bigoted person.

  • caryjamesbond

    See my point about wanting to be seen doing the absolutely right thing, instead of the effective thing. This isn’t freaking Narnia. It’s America, and yes, there is racism. It’s a powerful political current that our enemies routinely manipulate.

    We can play the angel and just butt heads against the opposition for all eternity, “Guns are BAD” vs. “guns are awesome!” forever.

    Or we can do this:

    Billboard: Stereotypical black thug, sneering,with a MAC-10 in his hands. In front of him is a cop with a piddling little 9mm and a (white) family cowering behind him.

    Text: “He’s got more firepower than the cops. Don’t you think its time we took it away? Vote yes on “LAW XYZ.”

    People are stupid. Racist people doubly so. That’s how you use fear, the great motivator, to start passing REAL gun control laws. As you pointed out- the number of gun owning households is plummeting, while the number of racists is about the same. That means there are plenty of people who are still racist, but don’t have guns. You can use that racist fear of being unarmed- or underarmed, to get them to vote for your proposals.

    It’s emotional manipulation, the same as the Father’s day cards.

  • caryjamesbond

    And? Disturbed or not, you need to look at which people are actually doing the killing. If you want to reduce the rates of drug use, you can go with the stereotype “poor black on welfare” or you can look at the actual statistics, and start focusing on well-off suburban kids. IF you want to reduce gun violence, you can go with the stereotype of “madman with an arsenal” or look at the statistics and focus on impoverished people with prior criminal records and one or two guns in the house that they don’t know much about.

    You complain that I want to use stereotypes to reduce guns, while you’re engaging in one yourself. Both the idea that people who are mentally disturbed are more dangerous, and that people with a lot of guns are mentally disturbed.

  • caryjamesbond

    Not really- I’ve got a lot of family in backwoods Tennessee, and I’ve spent a lot of time with them and their friends who have actually, “The government is gonna fall, I need to be prepared” arsenals. Politically, their beliefs are whacko. In terms of day to day safety? Incredible. These are people who will flip out on you for acting unsafely with an unloaded gun (and with good reason). These are people who properly carry their guns, who make sure to safe them, who properly unload and store them.

    When it comes to someone handling a gun around me, I want the guy who shoots everyday and who obsessively studies marine combat manuals, over the idiot with a loaded glock in a sock drawer he sees once a year. The obsessive guy knows what he’s doing- and the most important part of knowing what you’re doing with a gun is gun safety. Not to mention he knows the law- idiots do things like fire warning shots, or spray-and-pray or shoot wildly- the paranoid who knows what he’s doing is gonna follow the law, and know what his backstop is- which means he isn’t going to shoot through the wall and kill the kid upstairs.

    Just like with cars- it isn’t the expert that’s gonna kill you. It’s the idiot that thinks he’s an expert.

  • RavenOnTheHill

    You can’t reason with an obsession.

    Sigh. Obviously we need Gunowners Anonymous.

  • Easy to say “Let’s perpetuate racism to stop racism” when you’re not the one being targeted.

  • caryjamesbond

    Easy to take the moral high ground on political policies when your children aren’t being killed.

    And I’m not trying to stop racism- or at least, that’s not the goal of what I’m suggesting- which, incidentally, would include stuff besides racism- lying, for example, and demonizing our opponents. The use of racist dogwhistles is just the most controversial part of what I’m suggesting.

    Racism exists. Destroying racism is a laudably implausible goal. I’m interested in practical things that can be done NOW- IE, reducing the number of guns in the US, particularly among populations- poor whites, poor blacks, poor hispanics, that are at most risk for gun violence. One tool that can be used is to turn the inherent bigotry that a lot of people have against those populations- liberals among them, to a better purpose.

    How about this billboard. Lowerclass whiteguy with a shaved head, neck tats, etc. holding a mac-10. In front of him is a black cop with a….etc. etc.
    Exact same billboard, with the races switched around. Play on bigotry against poor whites instead.

  • Jeff

    I find your argument confusing. On the one hand, you acknowledge that there is such a thing as a responsible gun owner, and that such people aren’t the problem with respect to gun violence. On the other, you want to take ALL guns out of the hands of ALL private citizens. This raises two questions. First, why take the guns from the responsible gun owners? And second, how will your proposed method get the guns from those who acquire their guns illegally?

  • caryjamesbond

    Simple- guns are massively dangerous. Yes, there are responsible gun owners. But, on the level of an entire society, we can’t handle them. A simple glance at our murder rates (and comparative murder rates both between our nation and nations that have outlawed guns, and between those nations today and before they outlawed guns) demonstrates this.

    Yes, some people can handle their guns. The majority can’t. Sad, yes. I’m sure there are plenty of people that would handle RPGs and nukes responsibly. But most wouldn’t. So, yeah- the majority wins.

    I’d be willing to consider an extremely strict licensing process involving days of training (I’m talking actual, military level weapons safety training. Preferably with somone that flips on you when you act unsafely.)

    Add to that mandatory insurance on weapons, and holding gun owners responsible for whatever crimes their weapons commit. If your gun gets stolen and used in a crime- even if you report it, tough shit. You shouldn’t have let your deadly weapon get stolen. The fact that you did clearly indicates you aren’t responsible enough to own deadly weapons.

    As for the illegal guns- well, first, the number one source of illegal weapons is guns stolen from law abiding idiots. It’s one of the first things criminals look for in a burglary. Second….well, again, this will catch me flak. But back in the day, big city cops had a policy- they’d go into the bad neighborhoods, stop groups of guys hanging out on the corner in the middle of the day, and frisk them. almost every time they’d confiscate a gun. I’d say do the exact same thing in the trailer parks and you’d start getting the illegal guns away from the wrong people pretty quick.

    Stiffen penalties for unregistered weapons, and have no fault, paid confiscations.

    Make regular gun checks a standard part of probation. It won’t happen instantly, but it can be done as plenty of places demonstrate.

  • They also don’t allow, “It’s worked reasonably well in [not America] in the past, so maybe we should try something similar here.”

    I mean, hell, we just have to look at Australia or the UK to see what good, strong gun control looks like and its impact. But that’s not ‘Murica, so it doesn’t matter. And don’t even get me started on looking to Canada to see if a single-payer healthcare system will work. They don’t even want to look at Massachusetts to see how THE EXACT SAME FRIGGIN’ PROGRAM we know nationally as ObamaCare worked and was received (hint, most Massachusettians seem to be on board with RomneyCare.

  • Um, hello, I have a school aged child, so YEAH MY KID IS BEING TARGETED!

    I just know that principled “concessions” to retrofuck attitudes for political expediency never works out better for the people being “helped”, because I know my history.

    Playing on racism will never solve the problem of racism.

  • caryjamesbond

    Ok. I understand the fear you have- but you’re allowing one event in a larger pattern of violence to disproportionately affect your thinking on the issue of gun control. I can’t blame you, but I don’t think there’s much point in continuing this argument.

    And like I said- I’m not interested in working to stop racism, because that’s a meaningless goal, How do you measure racism? When will racism be solved? I’m interested in working on solving problems that have measurable endpoints, instead of vague and noble sounding but ultimately meaningless statements.

    When the per capita murder rate in the US is the same as or lower than the UK’s or Japan’s, then the problem of gun violence is solved. Whatever policies get us there, I support.

    And one thing that might help us get there is playing on the unwarrented biases of the movers and shakers- fear of the poor, fear of minorities, fear of carjackings and etc.

  • FearlessSon

    To be fair, one can choose not to buy health insurance under the ACA, but one is fined for doing so, and the fine will increase over time as one continues to avoid doing so. So while it does not force people to buy health insurance, it does coerce people into doing so.

    Of course, that is like saying that police tickets coerce people into wearing seat belts while driving.

  • FearlessSon

    I am thinking of the reactions to the Black Panther Party, who espoused a philosophy of encouraging African Americans to arm themselves as a method of discouraging police brutality. There was a pretty serious backlash calling for gun control in the seventies among people who otherwise are strong Second Amendment supporters.

    The “guns for me but not for thee” kind of mentality.

  • An hour ago, I was too divorced from this issue to consider, now I’m too close to the issue to consider it? Stuff it.

    The fact of the matter is that gun violence, on average, is declining. We don’t have to do anything more to address it for the most part, it is being solved by actions we’ve already taken(though of course anti-poverty and education initiatives will always be helpful).

    What is on the rise are these instances of mass violence. This is not ” one event in a larger pattern of violence”, this is an emerging trend.

    These debates on gun control(and the inherent racism involved in the antis) can no longer take place on an intellectual level, as you seem to want to, which is why you can blithely talk about perpetuating racist tropes that KILL PEOPLE(remember Trayvon Martin?) to address gun violence, because it’s all hypothetical to you. I used to be the same way. But this is real world shit.

    Playing on those “unwarranted biases” only validates those biases, and will only cause more people to be killed.

  • That guy on SGS who’s been predicting hyperinflation will finally be proven right, it looks like. The US government will have to start printing money if the Repubs refuse to appropriate any money for any programs.

  • Especially with the way we got a preview of how these jackasses actually want to do their dialog when the Repubs got Congress in 1994. Everything they wanted, they just tried steamrollering everybody else on it and throwing around “liberal” like it was a swear word to push the entire country’s politics further to the right with each passing year.

  • Hell, even the guys who invented the flat tax in the first place back in ’83 admitted as much, that to stay revenue neutral taxes would need to shift around that would put more of a burden on the poor.

  • “Stop and frisk” was treating a symptom rather than the underlying cause, and has, in the end, simply reinforced racist power structures that are rooted in the white-cops-good-black-people-bad mentality.

  • Tinteardrop

    “The “guns for me but not for thee” kind of mentality.”

    It goes back much further than the Panthers. Much has been written about what’s been called the ‘racist roots of gun control’.

    Starting post Civil War, gun laws in many places centered around keeping Blacks from owning weapons.

    I’m not sure if it’s viable strategy on people like Rahm Emanuel’s part as they now make sure they’re not accused of racism by keeping guns from the young folks in his city. I understand the need to feel “you’re getting even” for the past but there is seems to have backfired in that they seem to just be killing their own.

  • Albion Tourgee wrote about that. I thought it was a rather bitter irony that the KKK claimed they felt OMGTHREATENED and in all apparent sincerity offered up that load of crap as the reason why they were trying to stop Reconstruction.

  • And by all metrics, the numbers of drive bys and bar shootings, i.e.
    individualized shootings, are GOING DOWN, without us doing anything,
    while the numbers of mass shootings are going up. So yes, the mass
    shootings are the problem.

    No they aren’t and no they’re not. The number of mass shootings has not changed by any significant amount since at least the 1970s. (It was, I believe, higher in the 60s). Mass shootings are big and scary and get the public all worked up, but they represent a TINY fraction of gun deaths. For every Adam Lanza, there’s a hundred “Beligerant asshole who really wanted that parking space”.

  • I’ve had it “explained” to me many times that such scenarios are obvious fiction and a massive stretchl; it could never be the case in real life trhat the person you saw was anytthing other than a drug-fueled junkie about to murder you and rape your mother, no one could ever mistake another vigilante for a spree killer, and no one ever looks like a threat unless they actually are, whereas all the time, millions of times a day good people are saved by shooting scary attackers.

    (Frex, the answer to the giffords example is “Yeah, but he didn’t shoot him. So obviously it could never happen that way”)

  • I think it’s even simpler than that. Some care about prayer in schools, but most care about the fact that their side lost a fight, plain and simple.


    2013-5(So far)

    It’s something that fluctuates(and don’t forget, THWARTED attempts don’t make the record), but it’s ludicrous to say that they are at the same rates(the 60’s may have been worse, I don’t have that data, but IMO, it’s useless to use data from our leaded days, with the correlating drop in crime since the ban). We would go years without one, now we go MONTHS!

    And we already know how to solve incidences of individualized gun violence. Address poverty, lack of opportunity, and education.

    I can think of a few reasons as to why some years are worse than others, the economy, elections tend to agitate a polarized populace, the continued stigmatization of mental health treatment. But address these underlying problems is a LONG TERM problem. Short term, we gotta take the guns.

  • DavidCheatham

    No need to be insulting to the Gifford’s guy.

    What _actually_ happened is that someone with a gun in the holster heard repeated gunshots and panic from around a corner.

    He pulled his gun and rounded the corner, and saw someone with a gun standing there…

    …and managed to figure out that said person had just pulled the gun away from the actual attacker. Before he did anything stupid.

    He wasn’t some ‘ace’, and he didn’t ‘nearly’ shoot someone. He didn’t shoot at all, because he recognized he didn’t know exactly what was going on.

    There’s no need to insult someone who responded _entirely appropriately_ to a situation.

    It is, however, a valid point that many of the pro-gun people seem to be ready to fire off shots randomly in a similar situation.

    And perhaps that more to the point, that if someone _had_ been right there with a gun, and responded to the gunfire with return gunfire, that guy could have rounded the corner, seen that, and shot _the responder_.

    (Edit: Or, of course, anyone could have shown up later and shot _him_, who after all was holding a gun.)

    There is pretty much one situation where you can deter crime with a gun. It is home invasions, a particularly rare form of crime, and one that doesn’t require any sort of carry permit at all for a weapon. So let everyone have a shotgun locked in a cabinet in their bedroom. The rest of stopping crime with a gun is total nonsense.

  • Yes, there is racism. Should that mean that we should all be racists because the best way to get results is to throw black people under the bus whenever it’s convenient? News flash: I’d rather not live in a world that’s only safe for white people.

  • Though for every home invasion stopped by a nearby gun, there are probably dozens of guns stolen out of homes and more than a handful of domestic incidents (intentional and otherwise) involving said gun…