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Debate on Gun Violence Limited by Either-Or Thinking

It is not only our arguments, but more importantly, how we frame our arguments, that shape our perception of the issues. Each party has a narrative based on its ideological stance on a particular issue – for example, women’s reproductive health vs. “religious freedom,” or “anthropogenic global warming” vs. “climate change.”

Often, however, how those issues are expressed is, for want of a better word, dishonest. The Keystone XL pipeline comes to mind: Give the Kochs more money becomes a “jobs” bill.

We also see plentiful examples of various logical nightmares, from straw man arguments to special pleading to the infamous false dilemma (the either-or fallacy, or black-or-white thinking). An example of the latter is a poll by Lean Right America, which frames the gun violence article thusly:

It serves the interests of the gun lobby to paint the picture in such stark and simplistic terms, that the only option to gun violence is to ban guns. But it is a far from realistic portrayal. It is not the platform of the Democratic Party to ban guns outright, nor that of any major Democratic politicians, from Barack Obama on down, despite the suggestion created by the quote used above, that,

[Gun violence] has terrible consequence for our society … and if we can only do one thing to stop it, we should all try and do that.

One would think from the choices present that the president is making the second choice, the dreaded “one thing.” But the quote is taken from Obama’s press conference following the Newtown School shooting in December 2012, in which he said,

We may never know all the reasons why this tragedy happened. We do know that every day since, more Americans have died of gun violence. We know such violence has terrible consequences for our society. And if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation — all of us — to try.

President Obama is talking, obviously, of ending gun violence. He talked about high capacity ammunition clips. He talked about background checks. He said nothing about ending ownership of guns. Obviously, there are a broad range of possibilities beyond these two extreme points of view.

The President’s Plan to Reduce Gun Violence, unveiled in January 2013, embraced the following positions:

  • Require background checks for all gun sales
  • Strengthen the background check system for gun sales
  • Pass a new, stronger ban on assault weapons
  • Limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds
  • Finish the job of getting armor-piercing bullets off the streets
  • Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime
  • End the freeze on gun violence research
  • Make our schools safer with new resource officers and counselors, better emergency response plans, and more nurturing school climates
  • Ensure quality coverage of mental health treatment, particularly for young people.

Not only do we not get these measures, we do not even get a discussion of these measures. They get dismissed out of hand by the gun lobby. As The Washington Post reported in July of 2013, “None of President Obama’s other legislative initiatives survived the congressional debate that followed the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.”

In fact, as of that July, when the Senate confirmed B. Todd Jones to the position, the United States had been without a director for the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms (ATF) for seven years because of opposition to the idea of oversight from the gun lobby, starring the NRA, which doesn’t want the fruits of modern technology brought to bear on the problem of gun violence.

Instead, in response to more school shootings, we get Mike Huckabee telling us that having chapel services in public schools will end shootings. We get things like Texas’ “The Teacher’s Protection Act,” which permits a teacher to kill in defense of school property. In essence, teachers can gun down students engaged in vandalism. As Keith Brekhus wrote here Friday, “Stand Your Ground’ mentality gone mad.”

Yet that may not be the craziest idea put forward. Gina Louden wrote last October at World Net Daily that the Democratic plan is to destroy marriage, which will cause gun violence (an interesting admission, by the way), which will give Democrats an excuse to ban guns.

It is easy to see why we are not getting the intelligent, relevant public discourse we need on gun violence. And heavily armed open-carry advocates storming government buildings is not helping. provides a list of school shootings since Newtown in December 2012 up until January 26, 2015. There have been 101 school shootings in that time. Twenty-four have resulted in deaths. President Obama said in January 2013, “the time is now.” It is now well past time, and still nothing has been done.

Any attempt, no matter how incremental, to rein in the indiscriminate use of guns even by criminals and the mentally ill, comes up against a brick wall.

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, for example, would modify the Second Amendment, which reads as follows:

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.

And change it so that it reads as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia, shall not be infringed.

Obviously, the Founding Fathers, prefacing the Second Amendment with mention of a “well regulated militia” intended arms to be kept and carried for that purpose. Five simple words restore the original meaning.

It is difficult to believe that gun owners should be so easily convinced but the NRA has had them believing for decades that each successive Democratic administration is going to come and take their guns, even though nobody, in all those decades, has ever come to take their guns. If that works, an ad like that shown above (and it is certainly more add than poll) will have its desired effect: Democrats want to take your guns, so vote Republican.

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