Thoughtful Discussion Needed on Guns
George Mitchell’s “gotcha” column doesn’t help. Real exchange of issues is needed.
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.
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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