Like clockwork, mass shootings in America trigger us to engage in the exact same debate about gun rights. It doesn’t matter if the shooter obtained his or her gun legally or not. Or if they showed clear signs of mental health issues in retrospect. Or if any gun law ever proposed would have done anything to stop it. All that matters is that someone decided to use a gun to shoot people.
Gun controllers begin with the same old refrain. How we allegedly have a “epidemic” of mass shootings. How we should ban “assault weapons,” whatever the hell that term means on that given day. Whether the Second Amendment should be repealed or severely curtailed. And why that damn heartless NRA so enjoys watching people get slaughtered.
The statements they make are frequently filled with falsehoods and ignorance. Almost none of them bother to actually learn basic concepts like the difference between semi-automatic and automatic. This fact is worn like a badge of pride, like they are somehow morally superior for not understanding these evil death machines. Gun owners of all stripes are mocked, ridiculed, and insulted, as is the country as a whole and our “gun culture”. Other nations are held up as beacons of peace and love.
In return, gun rights supporters raise important facts about the impracticality of banning guns, about how guns are more often used defensively, about how “assault weapons” are not an actual thing and are no more deadly than handguns. They point out how gun laws have done nothing to stop crime (see Chicago) and how they mainly serve to inconvenience and disarm law-abiding people but do nothing about killers. Examples are raised of gun laws preventing people from defending against stalkers and angry exes.
All of these facts bounce off the gun crusaders. When one feels one has moral righteousness on one’s side, why should anything matter, after all? Why would they bother to listen to a bunch of NRA-bought gun nuts who just think guns are “cool” and don’t care about stopping mass shootings? When gun rights supporters are portrayed as heartless monsters who will gladly watch children die, why should their opinions and facts have any bearing? Why care about people who have no morals?
So the same debate rages over and over again. We have marches and vigils and now Congressional “sit ins”. We have comedians and media figures shouting and ranting about how horrible it is that “normal” Americans can buy guns (note that no one questions if police should have them). Facebook is filled with well-meaning folks posting the same old deceptive talking points. And for a while we fight like dogs and hate each other.
Lately though, something has changed. Sometime in the past few months the proposal was raised to ban people on the “no fly list” from being able to own guns. Initially, the proposal was limited to the so-called “terrorist watch list” but it soon expanded to include every secret list the government maintains of supposed bad guys. Even at first glance, the problems with such a policy are nakedly obvious. For starters, the lists in question are not public, and there is no procedure for even knowing if you are on the list, much less for getting off it. The vast majority of the list is made up of Muslims who have done nothing wrong but having Arabic names. And this is not even getting to the issue of taking away a right by adding someone to a list.
There was a time when the ideas of secret lists and surveillance of innocent Muslims were things the left opposed. When the Bush era brought these new horrors into existence, they were widely derided as being unconstitutional and discriminatory. But suddenly, the subject of guns was brought into the mix. The secret lists once hated were now a tool to take away gun rights. And, far more importantly, a way to portray opponents as supporting the right of “terrorists” to buy weapons.
With alarming alacrity, the gun control movement has fallen behind this heinous proposal en masse. The gun controllers hate guns so much that they are willing to defend a proposal that spits in the face of due process and equal rights. Does it matter that no one even knows who actually would be prevented from buying a gun? Or the question of what to do if those on the lists already own guns? Or that the list is plainly biased towards Muslims? Not at all, because all that matters is that Guns Are Evil.
There comes a certain point where one side in a debate has become so unhinged, so utterly convinced of its righteousness that there is no point even talking to them. This is true of the hardcore “pro-life” movement that believes anyone not supporting a total abortion ban is akin to Hitler. On people who have so completely fallen off the ledge of reason, there is no saving them. There is no discourse. The only thing you can do is cut them off and try to work out something with the sane people.
The problem with the gun debate, though, is that pretty much the entire anti-gun side decided to jump off this cliff together. There are some stragglers, sure, who realize the implications of the “no fly, no buy” proposal and stay firmly on ground. But movements are not made of rational policy wonks. They are made of ignorant masses who follow the leader who is shouting the loudest and making them feel the best about themselves. When the leaders decide to jump off a cliff, most will follow them.
So the gun debate is pretty much over. Not that it really was much of a debate to begin with. It never mattered if policies actually would stop gun violence, just that they were “doing something.” There wasn’t much talk of finding solutions that would reduce gun violence while protecting rights. But now any hope of that is gone. The gun control side has gone off the deep edge, where nothing matters but hating guns and things like rights, reality, and logic are gone. The “no fly” law represents a jump into the abyss. A total abandonment of any good faith or honesty. A decision to check out of discourse and live in a fetid pit of hate and anger.
Maybe some will come back. Maybe those who are left are the serious ones who actually want to find solutions. But I wouldn’t bet on it. I’d bet on the “gun issue” going on forever and ever until all of us are old and gray. Not much will change in the actual legal landscape, barring a horrendous sequence of events that leads to SCOTUS overturning Heller (not impossible, but years away at least). What will change is the tenor of the debate and how it affects relationships and social interaction. It’s clear the gun control side has largely decided that they have no interest in understanding guns or gun owners. Hopefully, at some point, that will change and we can actually talk. But I’m not holding my breath.