Op Ed

Thoughtful Discussion Needed on Guns

George Mitchell’s “gotcha” column doesn’t help. Real exchange of issues is needed.

By - Mar 1st, 2018 11:55 am
Hanging sculpture of guns. Photo by Craig Mastantuono.

Hanging sculpture of guns. Photo by Craig Mastantuono.

Some Urban Milwaukeeans may have read “The Contrarian: The Real ‘Gun Nuts’” by George Mitchell. Some of you may have nodded in agreement, while others may have shaken their head. I was in the latter camp. This piece did little, if anything, to further the conversation on gun control measures and only re-hashed arguments we have heard over and over again. It is great that the author wants to talk about gun control; he would benefit the populace, however, if he did it in a productive way that would bring our community forward rather than keep it stuck in place.

Mitchell starts off by stating that he is relieved to be off Twitter and Facebook because it was too stressful to bear people’s ignorance about  gun control. To show how these “otherwise sensible people” are “completely ignorant,” the author takes us on an imaginary trip to his local Starbucks where he tells his friends he owns a semi-automatic assault weapon. Their eyebrows raise and jaws drop when they hear this fact. He then shows them a picture of a Smith & Wesson MP pistol and says this is the assault weapon he owns. “Assault” because it could be used in self-defense to assault an attacker and “semi-automatic” because a round is automatically chambered after each trigger pull.

Setting aside that this conversation is all in his imagination, everyday people do not use the term “assault weapon” when discussing a pistol. In fact, referencing legislative language used in the 1994 US Assault Weapons Ban, the pistol he is referencing would NOT be considered an assault weapon. The author manages to dream up an argument in his head, obscure the definition of assault weapon, and not get to the heart of the issue that the vast majority of us “completely ignorant” gun control advocates want: re-evaluation of flaws in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), strengthening of processes that can prevent firearms ending up in the hands of those prone to violence, closing any loopholes that allow people to purchase a gun without a background check, and keeping military grade weapons out of the hands of civilians.

The last point, what constitutes “military grade,” should be properly debated in Congress but, as the author points out, we already regulate fully automatic weapons so clearly there is a role for Government to play in the regulation of firearms. Over 97 percent of Americans support universal background checks yet nothing is being done. Instead of stretching definitions and setting our friends up with “gotcha” moments, how about we focus on what 97 percent of Americans want and make sure our elected officials are truly representing us.

On that note, let’s go further into what actual Americans want. Polls show that 66 percent want stricter gun laws. Of actual gun owners, 50 percent support stricter gun laws compared to 44 percent that do not. In addition, 83 percent want a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases; 67 percent think it’s too easy to purchase a gun and 75 percent say Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence. These are not “nutty” propositions from “completely illogical” people. These are a majority of Americans expressing support for gun control that does not strip away gun ownership from law-abiding citizens, but rather limits access to guns for those that may wish to do harm. And this is a majority of Americans wanting their government to do something to help prevent mass murders rather than being paralyzed by gridlock and outside lobbying.

After all this, Mitchell proceeds to assert that even if AR-15s were banned and confiscated from lawful owners, people could still get their hands on a pistol and become proficient enough to discharge 100 or more rounds in less than five minutes. Even if we accept this as fact, the author demonstrates that it is harder and takes longer to prepare a mass shooting if you only have a pistol. We can never fully remove the threat of violence from society, but that does not absolve the government of the responsibility to take common sense steps to reduce the chance of violence occurring. Citizens are seeking a better future, not another funeral to attend.

The author’s argument boils down to the fact that if a law cannot completely prevent an atrocity from happening, then why have the law at all? Since a law against speeding doesn’t stop all cars from speeding, why have the law? Since banning heroin does not stop people from using heroin, why have the law? Mitchell would be well to remember the saying, “Do not let perfect become the enemy of good.” There are no perfect laws. This does not mean we shouldn’t strive for good ones.

Finally, the author proclaims that gun controllers always have “chest thumping-assaults on the NRA”. He seeks to prove the NRA is a fine organization because he has taken courses at his local gun club and everyone there was down to earth. Again, a majority of gun control advocates are not attacking individual gun owners. And they are against the NRA for many reasons but, for the sake of this reply, I won’t even get into the NRA debate. I will simply present quotes from David Hoggs, a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that survived the tragedy. David said “we have a right to live just as we have a right to bear arms,” and that he doesn’t “want to take a constitutional right away from American citizens.” The real leaders of this movement, the students who have risen to the occasion after this tragedy, are not even suggesting the confiscation of weapons that the author seems determined to prove is their main goal. Let’s listen to the kids who were affected by this tragedy and work together to implement common-sense reform instead of arguing against straw men in fictitious conversations.

I would love to engage with the author, and the broader public, on what policy solutions we think should be implemented to decrease the rate of mass murders in America. Instead of telling pistol owners to try an “experiment” to fool their “completely ignorant” friends, let’s have a real discussion on guns, safety, mental health, and individual rights. Discuss with your neighbors and friends what you can do in your community. Find someone who disagrees with you and seek common ground on the issue.

And ask yourself and others, if 97 percent of Americans support background checks then why did the State Assembly of Wisconsin remove background checks from a recent Wisconsin gun bill?

If the author quit Twitter and Facebook because of the knee-jerk reactions or hyperbolic statements, then I see no point on bringing that type of discourse to the important issues of our time. Let’s instead combat immature discourse with decency, common sense and logical argumentation. These are the methods that will lead us into the light of a more perfect union, not cast us further into the shadows.

Kyle Hagge is a Trinity Fellow at Marquette University and the co-host of Bridge the City, a podcast that bridges together people, resources, and ideas in Milwaukee, and can be found on twitter. https://twitter.com/bridgethecitywi

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23 thoughts on “Op Ed: Thoughtful Discussion Needed on Guns”

  1. PMD says:

    This is great. Thank you Kyle. Mitchell’s piece should never have been published in the first place. That kind of stuff belongs on personal blogs. It is beneath UM.

  2. Terry says:

    Trump just supported adding Feinstein’s Assault Weapons BAN to current gun control legislation he supports!! He also said “Take the guns first. Due Process second…” Could anyone even imagine if Obama or Hillary said this? Republican’s undies would be in such a bundle! It would be treason! Tyranny! An all out assault on Liberty itself! But what are republicans doing now that it is their boy coming for their guns? Bending over, of course. This is how it works folks. Enjoy republicans, enjoy.

  3. WashCoRepub says:

    First they came for my AR-15 ‘assault-style’ weapons and magazines, and I said nothing.
    Then they came for my semi-automatic pistols and extended magazines, and I said nothing.
    Then they came for my semi-automatic rifles, and I said nothing.
    Then they came for my shotgun, and I said nothing.

    Then they came for my family and me, and I could do nothing.

  4. PMD says:

    Ah yes the old slippery slope nonsense, preferred by those incapable of complex thought for hundreds of years. In other countries that have enacted stricter gun control laws than we have, where have “they” come for families? Where has what you are alluding to happened?

  5. Old Man Yells at Cloud says:

    Bahaha, Washco you’re killing me, too funny!

    It does make sense that you would only care about yourself! Think of all the lives and families that have already been destroyed by those very guns you list. Also, I do believe the only person talking about illegal seizure of firearms is your buddy Dumpy.

  6. TransitRider says:


    “They” came for your machine guns 84 years ago (National Firearms Act of 1934), and nothing further along that line has happened since (unless you count Bill Clinton’s short-lived “assault weapon” ban).

    So what (other than NRA hysteria) makes you think banning AR-15’s will trickle down to other rifles, pistols, or shotguns?

    p.s. Why does one need an AR-15 with a high-capacity magazine at all? (What can that AR-15 do—other than mass murder—that couldn’t be done just as well with a less potent firearm?)

  7. Terry says:

    @WashCoRepug, And by “they” you mean TRUMP, You know the guy you actually voted for! Man you got suckered hard! How stupid are republicans. Answer: very. You voted for the guy that is going to take your guns away! Enjoy! You voted for him! Lol!

  8. frank schneiger says:

    Kyle Hagge’s thoughtful piece rests on two assumptions. The first is that it is possible to have a reasonable discussion on the issue of guns, and, the second, that it is a soluble problem. The reason to make these assumptions is that the alternatives are pretty frightening to contemplate. But, what if there is no reasonable discussion and the problem of gun violence in American society is insoluble?

    What if the landscape for any discussion is the following: (1) What if the discussion can only take place among gun owners who range from hunters to neo-Nazis? The others, who don’t understand weapons, are either stupid or the hated liberals, most likely both.(2) What if the discussion can never be about reducing the number of guns in society? (3) What if the discussion can never be about the lock that the NRA has on government at every level in the United States, and, as an organization, its drift toward out-and-out fascism? Two suggestions for those thinking this is overheated language: read “The Arms Dealer” by Mike Spies in The New Yorker for March 5, 2018 and go back and watch the NRA presentations at the recent C-PAC conference, which, for the first time, also showcased French and British fascists. (4) What if anyone wanting to discuss “assault weapons” is simultaneously attacked as an idiot and (falsely) as a hated liberal who never wants to talk about handguns, as if the two are mutually exclusive? (4) What if the discussion can never be about the vast difference in gun deaths between the United States and every other industrialized country, all of which have mentally ill people? And (5) what if Donald Trump’s call for a “Second Amendment solution” to his opposition wasn’t seen as a joke by some of his fans?

    Pessimism is typically self-fulfilling, and hope and leaps of faith are the antidotes, but sometimes they are very hard to sustain. This may be one of those times.

  9. roz says:

    what if we start changing our language. why not call gun deaths what it is—an epidemic. why not look at this gun violence as a public health issue. we can work on this issue and decrease impulsive suicides, rage violence and mass shootings. gun owners are just as interested in not having their children killed as non-gun owners. there is common ground.

  10. Terry says:

    @roz, Honestly I am not so sure that is true. I know plenty of republicans and far right wing gun zealots who I can say with complete certainty, love their guns more than their own children, and they certainly love them much more than other people’s children. It’s sad, but true. They are that infatuated with their guns.

  11. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    I thought Obama was coming for your guns rethug?

    Washington County Deplorable is another massacre supporting conservative, willing to sacrifice innocent people to satiate his desire to masturbate his ego with a firearm.

    There’s blood on your hands.

  12. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    We also know that if every black man had a AR15 WashRethug would be all for banning military weapons.
    You can’t be a conservative or Republican and not be a white supremacist anymore.

  13. WashCoRepub says:

    Awww, Jake-boy, sweetie, where have you been?? I’ve missed you!! What’s the matter, no one reading your lousy blog anymore, you have to come race-bait here? Must be a tough day away from the high-pressure government job, huh? Bored and lonely after your Badgers get their beatdown?


  14. PMD says:

    Sort of an ironic title to this op-ed.

  15. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Can’t race bait Rethug, when you are already a deplorable bigot.

    By the way what’s your name then? Or like all trolls to much of a coward to tell the rest of us.

  16. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    LLLC stopped doing blogs long ago, I left long ago before they ended. Probably from all the threats your bigot friend Jim Hyatt made to everybody and the fact your mother liver Amy Hemmer made to those that disagreed with them.
    So WCR what’s your massacre loving ruskie traitor born name?

  17. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Not to mention the threats and stalking of myselfand wife as well from unstable rightwing hacks that couldn’t win an argument, to interference from 620 WTMJ staff against non conservative bloggers when the JS owned both.

  18. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    One last thing WCRethug – I hope that the irony is not lost on you that you and your support of ICE and authoritarianism makes you the Nazi.

  19. Happyjack says:

    Thank you Kyle!

  20. Happyjack says:

    I want to re-iterate that Kyle called very explicitly for a rational, fallacy-free, solution-focused discussion.

    I also want to point out that, for this to happen, it must be accepted as “fair game” to call out anothee person foe repeating the same repeated ad nasuem fallacies such as straw man, slippery slope, black and white, and ad hominem (whether abusive or you-as-well). Also changing the subject altogether, also – and its embarrassing that I need to say this – does not address the argument on its merits.

    Let us take up the task Kyle has put before us, but Let us also be prepared to, if we are called out on going off task – to consider this calling out a valid response and be prepared to apologize and get back on task.

    If calling out a person for violating the rules if rational discourse is considered irrational, than rational discourse is impossible. Let us together endeavour to avoid shooting ourselves in our collective foot. Or in this case, quite literally shooting each other.

  21. Happyjack says:

    I guess having said all that I might as well start doing the calling out. Though I can’t actually start because many of you know you have already been called out specifically and the specific fallacy and instance named. But I would also like to say that many commenters here who support reasonable policies and point out that so do we all and then so why do we vote foe people adamantly against them – those people have been a bit – cathartic – and while I can’t say I disagree with anything they’ve said – because i don’t – and here’s the little conundrum…. they have actually explicitly said “hey here are some solutions, what do you think about them?” And in return gotten jack f*cling sh*t. So you see i can’t really say they are not solution focused because they specifically suggested solutions. What it seems to me is that they are fed up – way beyond fed up – with people making excused, straw men, slippery slope, even ad hominem abusive, anything at all to avoid honestly trying to solve the problem of – get this – us shooting each other! I mean if we can’t work together on solving that one, we’re pretty much f*cked, aren’t we?

  22. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    We can’t work together with a percentage of the right because they hate us and hold the 2nd adm above “life” in the constitution.

    Even when faced with massacres, born of the guns for all the policies they support, they are unfased.

    If anything they are reacting to the people who have said enough. The high school students with a voice and those who support them.

    Call my cynical, but I’m sure the these people, the 2nd Adm fetishists, would have preferred a daycare or old age home be massacred. I don’t think those voices would have been as strong.

    Nothing will happen in Congress, the Republicans and gun nuts need to be voted out of office and their zealot supporters marganilized to stop massacres and the thousands killed by firearms each year.

  23. Troll says:

    On the one hand, the Left cannot tell Hispanics and African Americans that there are all these white supremacists out there wanting to disenfranchised you and then flip it around and say we’re going to take away your right to arm yourself so you can no longer protect yourself from all the white boogie men.

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