Archived Story

Let’s retain common sense in gun debate

Published 9:47am Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Column: My Point of View, by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

You’re either in or you’re out.

Love it or leave it.

If you’re not with us, you’re against us.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

These are examples of the fallacy of false choice, which attempts to make us believe our options are either one of two extremes, and there is no middle ground.

The NRA leadership has given a clear signal that the organization will oppose any new measures that restrict gun ownership. At the same time, the NRA is promoting the idea that “anti-gun politicians” are using the Sandy Hook massacre to “disarm the American people.” (Quotes from the official NRA website.)

This black-and-white framing of the gun debate is inaccurate. The majority (if not all) of the politicians advocating for new gun control measures do not favor disarmament or anything remotely near it.

Despite the intransigence of the NRA, there is broad public support for making changes in gun laws while still supporting the Second Amendment. A recent Washington Post/ABC poll found that a majority of Americans support a new ban on assault weapons, a national database for tracking gun sales, background checks at gun shows and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

The term “gun violence prevention,” which has gained more stature recently, could also help bridge the perceived gap between the sides of gun rights and gun control. A new organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, aims to promote national dialogue around this idea.

It’s a project of former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, herself a survivor of a mass shooting two years ago, and her husband, Mark Kelly. Giffords and Kelly are gun owners, and their intention is to provide a counterweight to the political influence of the NRA and strike a balance between the Second Amendment and the problem of gun violence.

It’s a complex issue, even without the NRA, because the gun debate boils down to conflicts between our right to liberty and our right to life. As I’ve followed the arguments of people who oppose any changes to gun laws, I’ve seen two main reasons for being against restrictions: 1. personal protection and 2. defense against tyranny.

I partially understand the first one. If I were single and living alone, I might entertain the idea of keeping a handgun (at most) for protection. Since I have a young son who is fascinated by guns, though, any guns in the house would have to be locked up. I’m still recovering from the time he called from the kitchen, “I’m really good at using knives.” I rushed in to find him, knife in hand, looking for something to fillet. Thus, I have no illusions I could keep a gun accessible at a moment’s notice while ensuring that my son does not accidentally injure himself with it.

The second reason I have more trouble identifying with. I think distrust of government is healthy and necessary to some extent, and the government is prone to making mistakes (as every human institution is), but I fail to see how owning guns is going to protect people from the potential tyranny of the government. The U.S. government, thanks to its massive military build-up, has exponentially more firepower — tanks, howitzers, missiles, cluster bombs, trained soldiers, etc. — than individual citizens have access to. Therefore, I doubt Militia Mike’s gun arsenal is the only thing standing between him and dictatorship.

Open public institutions, educated citizens, free speech and fair elections keep tyranny at bay much more effectively. If anything, the NRA’s language of “stand and fight” makes it sound like it’s effectuating its own tyranny, that is, “dominance through threat of punishment and violence.” Politicians have pussyfooted around this outfit and its rhetoric for far too long.

The NRA, however, wasn’t always so trenchantly one-note. In 1963, after Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy with a mail-order rifle (purchased through an ad in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine), the NRA quickly supported a ban on mail-order gun sales. At a Congressional hearing, NRA Executive Vice President Frankin Orth stated, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.”

In contrast, a week after the Sandy Hook massacre in which a shooter murdered 20 first-graders with an AR-15, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre stated, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The only thing?

We can reach sensible common ground on gun violence prevention. The NRA doesn’t have to love it, but it doesn’t have to leave it either.
Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.