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Gun Tribalism: A reply to TPM's Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo, writes from the view of the “non gun owning tribe." He demonstrates why we all just can’t get along, why it is almost impossible for conservatives and progressives to even communicate.

His thesis recognizes that although people have a right to possess guns, because guns scare him, he wants them gone.

As a progressive he is confused about what a right is. While he doesn’t “have any problem with people having guns . . .,” he also has his “own set of rights not to have gun culture run roughshod over me.” Where conservatives see rights as things like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Josh has discovered a right not to be made scared or uncomfortable. While we see as inalienable the right to defend our lives, and the right to possess any weapon that any other citizen may possess, Josh sees his “right” not to feel bad as an equal counterweight, if not a trump, to our rights.

He reminds me of the stereotypical anti-gay who objects to being made to feel “oogie” by seeing gay couples doing gay things in public. If you must do those things, thinks Josh, do them behind closed doors. Or in the case of guns, in “rural” America where “urban” Josh doesn’t have to see them.

The problem is not just one of hypocrisy: how can conservatives and progressives discuss things like the infringement of inalienable rights if we have such an Orwellian language debasement that we cannot share a common definition of the word “right”? To distinguish between the two versions of rights notice that the exercise of the conservative version has no effect on anyone else. My being alive requires no effort nor change on your part. And I can point to concrete empirical evidence where violations of the right to live usually involve a perpetrator and a corpse.

The right to not be made to feel “oogie” however is self reported and thus can only be discerned by a sensitive progressive. His discomfort can be resolved only by modifying the behavior of others until he no longer reports being discomfited.

Note also that the right to remain “oogie” free applies only to the privileged class. A progressive can ban guns to relieve his feelings. Let a conservative object that the tyrrany of Obamacare makes him feel “oogie” and see how far that goes. Some animals are more equal than others indeed.

This is a reflection of the abuse of rights and language that progressives use to advance their agenda. As with “hate speech,” if you have a right not to have your feelings disturbed, you can avoid addressing conservative arguments by shouting down the messenger for using “maccaca” and heckle the conservative viewpoint out of the marketplace of ideas.

Josh does not have the curiosity to actually understand the subject he is talking about (“Once about ten years ago, my friend John Judis and I were talking and decided it would probably be educational for us as reporters and just fun to go to a firing range and do some shooting. For whatever reason it never happened.”) So it is unsurprising that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

When he says things like “handguns especially are designed to kill people” it is, per Wolfgang Pauli, "not right. Not even wrong."

Infantry is the Queen of the battlefield. Worldwide the primary infantry personal weapon is the rifle. Understandable as rifles have an order of magnitude advantage in energy, range, ease of use, and human factors. With a rifle an infantryman can kill anything he can see. Rifle vs. handgun would be a no-contest win for the rifle.

Handguns are no more especially designed to kill people than knives are especially designed to kill people. Knives are especially designed to cut. Whether or not that cutting kills someone is up to the intent of the user, a distinction that escapes Josh as he trembles before a 10 inch chef's knife.

Handguns are, well, handy. They are an explicit compromise trading martial effectiveness for portability and concealability. The saying is that your handgun is for fighting your way back to your rifle. Your handgun is your “Sunday go to meeting” gun, the gun you always have with you, politely out of sight, just in case someone decides to shoot up your church service.

The gun for opportunistic hunting is your “truck” gun, a cheep rifle kept in your car, that you wouldn’t be too sorry to have stolen. Your primary rifle is too expensive, too heavy, and too unwieldy to carry every day. You use it when you plan on doing some shooting. You are actually out hunting elk. Or you have gotten back to your store and are holding off looting mobs for three days.

Josh is ignorant and determined to remain so:

But it captured a mentality that does seem pervasive among many more determined gun rights advocates — basically that us non-gun people need to be held down as it were and made to learn that it’s okay being around people carrying loaded weapons.

Well, I don’t want to learn. That doesn’t work where I live — geographically or metaphorically.

Thus when he quotes “studies” you don’t know whether to laugh or cry:

There’s a lot of bogus research (widely discredited) purporting to show that if we were all armed we’d all be safer through a sort of mutually assured destruction, pervasive deterrence. As I said, the research appears to be bogus.


...firearms in the home are most likely to kill their owners or their families.

Let us start with actual 2011 FBI/CDC statistics:

  • Violent crime continues down by 4% vs. Gun ownership and concealed carry up
  • Weapons used to murder were:
  1. Handguns - 6220
  2. Knives – 1694
  3. Guns, unknown type - 1677
  4. Body (hands, feet) – 728
  5. Blunt Object – 496
  6. Shotguns - 356
  7. Rifles – 323
  • Other unnatural causes of death:
  1. Suicide – 38364 (19766 firearm, 18519 other)
  2. Transport Accidents – 37275
  3. Poisoning - 33554
  4. Falls – 26631
  5. Homicide - 11101
  6. Drowning – 3555
  7. Fire - 2621

The above numbers do not separate out criminal on criminal violence. Yet Josh wants to start with banning rifles, because they make him feel bad.

He states “even if it was [sic] possible that we could be just as safe with everyone armed as no one armed, I’d still want no one armed.” Nice. Think of the anti-nuke protestors in the cold war. Imagine the West disarmed and the USSR the sole possessor of nuclear weapons.

That is the fate Josh has in mind for you when he advocates disarming “everyone,” everyone except the state and criminals that is. He doesn’t care if the state retains its weapons. “Cops, I don’t mind.” He sees himself as a neo-aristocrat in a neo-feudal age. Where “bright makes right” and he self identifies as one of the brightest. Yet he reasons from emotion and ignorance.

His ignorance has real world consequences for the rest of us, and not just because he votes. He tells a story of pointing a gun at a friend at age four. His friend was horrified, as her gun-owner parents had obviously trained her properly to follow the rules of gun safety. The lesson that he draws is not that his parents were neglectful and did not prepare him to face the world as it is, and not that he is neglectful in not preparing his sons. The lesson he draws is that since bad things that scare him could happen, he should prevent others from owning tools that he is unable to use safely.

He says “It would scare me to have one in my home for a lot of reasons.” I know just how you feel Josh. Your owning a gun would scare me too. But I would defend to the death your right to do so. And I pray you would accumulate the wisdom and fortitude of that little girl of your long ago, and do so responsibly.

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Category: Politics