The Language of Gun (Crime) Control

Posted: January 22, 2013 in Philosophy, Politics

After President Obama revealed his proposals for gun control last week, GOP leaders in Texas ran press releases stating that nothing in the proposals would have stopped the Newtown shooting. That reaction had to be orchestrated by national GOP leaders. There is no way that so many GOP Congressmen would have answered so quickly with the same argument against the proposals.

Such an answer however cannot be taken at face value. It was a strategic statement.  It was not a good answer, but if you understand the strategy, then you might agree that the GOP was clever.

The strategy would be to completely disarm the Democrats. The thinking goes like this, “We are discussing gun control because of the Newtown shooting. If the proposals would not have prevented the Newtown shooting, there is no reason to talk about gun control.”

Focus on the GOP constituency. They are motivated to embrace any argument against gun control. GOP leaders merely offered an argument for their consumption. It wasn’t a good argument, but that doesn’t matter. The GOP constituency isn’t going to listen to anyone other than GOP leaders. If you argue with GOP leaders, you still aren’t convincing their constituents.

If we can reduce the adverse consequences inherent in our reserved right to bear arms, then it is my view that we bear a moral obligation to submit to a reasonable review.

Democratic leaders have now created their own strategic answer to the GOP rebuttal. We aren’t talking about “gun control”.  The proposals address “crime control”.  The thinking here is, “A crime was committed in Newtown. Proposals to reduce crime may decrease crime committed with guns.  There are many good reasons to talk about crime control, as it might pertain to the need to control gun ownership and use.”

Of course, that thinking isn’t going to reach the GOP constituency easily.  So when I wrote a blog about what my representative (Congressman Kenny Marchant) published in his press release, you can see that he isn’t really sharing his unique opinion. He is not conveying the opinions of his constituents. He is simply repeating what GOP leaders recommended. That begs the question: “Does Kenny Marchant represent his constituents, or is he just a minion of the GOP?

We are not too far into the debate on gun control that we can see how a wide division in national opinion is created. Let me review how this is done. It involves the manipulation of language.

Democrat: “The tragedy at Newtown necessitates a review of gun laws. Proposals are needed.”

Republican: “No proposal would prevent an incident like Newtown from occurring again. There is no reason to talk about gun control.

Democrat: “We are focused on reducing crimes with guns in general, not only the Newtown tragedy. We are talking about crime control.

The Elephant in the Room

Politics frustrates a good many people. Part of the problem is the public language of politics: it is often strategic, not literal. Seldom is it cooperative.  The cooperative side of politics is not done in the open. Compromises and deals are done in private. A private conversation permits leaders the opportunity to restrict access to the unpleasant facts that guide decision making.

The Unpleasant Fact

The unpleasant fact about the Second Amendment (the Elephant in the room), is that we, as a nation, have already accepted the consequences of gun ownership. That debate took place a long time ago.  Step into my time machine so you can eavesdrop on that discussion.

Whirrrrrrrrrrrrrr. (Sound of time machine).

Leader: “So what you are saying is, you want to reserve the right to bear arms?”

Citizen: “Yes.  We want to reserve the right to protect our property and life as might be required by those who would certainly not be inclined to abide by rules prohibiting gun ownership for citizens.”

Leader: “Okay, let me just jot that down here…. Now then, you do realize that some citizens will misuse their firearms. People will shoot each other. There will be accidental shootings, violent crime, and in some cases, many people could be killed by a single actor.”

Citizen: “Yes, I believe we are aware of that.”

Leader: “And you consider that probable outcome to be acceptable?”

Citizen: “No, it is not acceptable when it is considered by itself.  If you compare that outcome with the alternative, then it becomes the better choice.”

Leader: “To what alternative do you refer?”

Citizen: “If people were not permitted to bear arms, we would be completely defenseless against armed criminals. In addition, and as it might one day be relevant, our very government might bear arms against the citizenry if we should protest too fervently against policies the people deemed to be tyrannical…”

Leader: … “Let me interrupt please: It isn’t likely that the government would bear arms against its citizenry.”

Citizen: “It has happened before, and it has happened in other parts of the world by other governments.”

Leader: “I see your point. But you do realize that an armed citizenry is no match for a fully-armed government.” [Laughs]

Citizen: “Again, that isn’t the point. When the people reserve a right to bear arms as a deterrent to the possibility of tyranny, it is not a guarantee that the citizenry would prevail against a tyrannous government.”

Leader: “Oh?”

Citizen: “It only means that we reserve the right to try to defend ourselves.  An unarmed citizenry has no chance at all. No matter that we would have little chance if we were armed. It is our choice, and we do earnestly seek to reserve our right to bear arms.”

Leader:” And you are willing to accept the adverse consequences as previously noted?”

Citizen: “Yes. Realizing that far more people would suffer if we did not reserve this right, we must accept that an armed society will not always be a peaceful one. We acknowledge that some people will misuse their right and cause harm to others. We further acknowledge that on occasion, some abuses will be miserably hideous.”

Leader: “But the consequences of not being able to bear arms would be far worse?”

Citizen: “That is our view. Yes.”

Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr (Sound of time machine).

So you see, the Elephant in the room is that we have already accepted that a tragedy like Newtown was going to occur, and will likely occur again. The alternative however is far worse. If the citizenry was not armed, it was foretold that the consequences would be far worse. Without an armed citizenry, there would be more tragedies than there are now.

No politician is going to raise this point, as it applies to Newtown, publicly.  It would be insensitive, impersonal and callous to make such a statement in public. Parents of the Newtown victims would not be able to accept that their tragedy was an acceptable outcome, by virtue of being the lesser of two consequences.  The points I have raised here will instead be discussed privately by our leaders as they debate the merits of the president’s proposals.

The language of gun control (or crime control) is strategic. It is intended to contain the public debate in order to secure the support of a constituency.  The real decisions will be made in private. The public is not so inclined to delve into a philosophical inquiry about the deeper meaning inherent in the Second Amendment. On most matters, a common understanding is all that is required. That is part of the beauty and genius of the American Constitution: it bears up under academic critical review, but remains clearly understood by the common citizenry.

Can We Improve the Consequences?

This is all the president is really saying. “We must try.” There is no harm done in having a public debate about gun/crime control. If we can implement solutions that will reduce the adverse consequences inherent in the Second Amendment, we are morally obligated to try – not because it might reduce the likelihood of the re-occurrence of the tragedy of Newtown; rather, out of respect for the victims of Newtown.

What is important to note here is that a people who reserves the right to bear arms also takes on the moral obligation to submit to a timely and periodic peer review of the consequences that right creates for others.  President Obama has publicly suggested that “we must try”. My representative, Congressman Kenny Marchant, did not join the president in this reasonable appeal. The GOP did not join the president.

If we can reduce the adverse consequences inherent in our reserved right to bear arms, then it is my view that we bear a moral obligation to submit to a reasonable review. Congressman Kenny Marchant does not yet adequately represent my view in this matter. I so enjoin him to do so.


Leader: “Earlier you said that “we reserve the right to try to defend ourselves,” against a tyrannous government, even if the chances of prevailing were slim.

Citizen: “Yes. It is better to try and lose than not to try at all.”

Leader: “So it would seem. I take it then that it would be better to try to improve the ill consequences inherent in gun ownership, even if the chances of doing so were slim?”

Citizen: “I cannot disagree.”

Leader: “And when might be the best time to conduct such a review?”

Citizen: “When the abuses of the accepted consequence are too difficult to bear.”

Leader: “So it would seem. By your word then, “It is better to try, than not try at all.” Let us hope that future generations see the wisdom in your reasonable concession.”

  1. It is refreshing to read your well-articulated thoughts on the issue, Kent. It seems to me anyone who doesn’t want to look at and re-evaluate gun control legislation is a non-thinker and is not worthy of any position of authority in government.