The Kids Are Alright (It's the "Adults" Who Concern Me.)

Since January 2017, I have remarked (more than once, I believe) that marching is the new brunch. This weekend was no exception. The March for Our Lives descended on Washington in full voice demanding sensible gun reform legislation. Of the organized events I’ve attended since Trump took office, this was more of a march comprising parents and their children than any other I’ve seen yet. The Women’s March, the March for Science, and the Climate March all had a mix of adults and children, but this event outdid them all in terms of parents and children – families – taking to the streets of the capital to exercise their first amendment right to peaceably assemble.

The arguments for or against firearms legislation are too broad and complex to fully cover in a single blog post. Even if I could, it's beyond just one person to dissect them all. However I do like to think I can at least identify and ignore the utterly ridiculous ones born of ignorance and foundational to the shared internet memes of illogical, reactionary, and backwards-thinking family members everywhere. (Follow my Facebook page and you’ll see that I have them, and I know you do to.) It is clear the weapon of choice for conservative ideologues is lies, smears, propaganda, denigration, and a continued refusal to even engage in a debate or discussion. They blame, equivocate and slander. They, predictably, have become the children in a wider debate being led by high school-age students.

And I think that is what is most sad and unfortunate regarding those disparaging the movement led by teenagers. It is not rooted in any kind of wisdom or meaningful position. It’s a gigantic knee-jerk reaction fed by opportunistic extremists peddling manipulation-disguised-as-proper-logic. And folks are too ill versed to see through it. Or perhaps too busy. More likely, too lazy, and definitely too scared of the vulnerability inherent in asking for help understanding. Because there are arguments to be made counter to what this movement is saying. Our country’s history is wrapped in perpetual debate that, when made thoughtfully and logically, helps us progress. But when it’s reduced to lowest common denominators and arguments no deeper than that which fits on a bumper sticker, it becomes childish, and therefore dismissible.

To be clear, I’m referring to conservative ideologues; folks who have fully abandoned the slightest notion that there may be something to actually discuss here. For them, dialogue is tantamount to surrender, and I believe it is because they know if they were to engage in an actual dialogue, one of two things would happen:

They would be exposed as people who are neither capable of understanding logical argument or making one themselves, or,

Any logical argument they could muster would not suffice to maintain the status quo. In short, they would lose.

And that would mean admitting they were wrong. And they cannot do that.

Take, for example, Laura Ingraham’s debacle of taunting one of the Parkland teens over his non-acceptance to a few colleges. Because her ideological position is so untenable, she launched a complete non-sequitur knowing her audience will follow the line she is hoping they see her draw: he didn’t get into college and whined about it, therefore anything he is saying about gun reform legislation must be dismissed.

Following the public shaming and advertising flight, she issued an apology, “in the spirit of Holy Week.” Had she simply said, “I was wrong,” she would have appeared more sincere. Instead, she looks like the child dragged next door by an enraged parent to apologize to the neighbor’s kid for whatever slight was committed. The guilty child apologizes, albeit reluctantly and under duress, and just wants the whole thing to be over with. In those cases, however, the child learns the lesson and reforms. I do not hold out such hope for Ms. Ingraham, her ilk, or their audiences.

If, as the teens leading this movement are doing, anyone suggests gun legislation reform, the first ideological cry is, “They want to take our guns away.” No, “they” don’t. I understand former Supreme Court Justice Stephens opined in the New York Times this week that the second amendment should be repealed. While I appreciate his point of view, I disagree. Preventing the government from infringing the right to defend one’s home is part of America’s DNA. Further, how would such a ban be interpreted among those who hunt, particularly as a means of gathering food? I used to find this argument silly until I found myself spending more time among such people once I moved to the Midwest and began spending more time among them in the inland Northwest as a result of my marriage to an Idaho native. There are more of them out there than you might think, and for the ones whom I would not classify as conservative ideologues, their arguments are just as valid and principled as any we might make to try and curb the violent excesses of gun ownership. Listening to them is the best way to sharpen the arguments supporting sensible firearm rules.

However, there are plenty of them out there who do fall into the category of being too irrational to discuss this topic in a productive way. They fail to realize that banning assault-style weapons, like the AR-15, does not mean they cannot own a shotgun, a 30-odd-six, or a pistol. Their right to own a weapon is not being taken away from them any more than banning ownership of a Formula 1 race car for commuting on I-95 means they’ve lost their right to buy a car. Further, banning high-capacity magazines does not prevent a hunter from having the ammunition necessary to fell a deer. When was the last time you read about a standoff between a deer and a hunter? The need for high-capacity magazines in home defense is equally laughable. If you need that many bullets, you’re probably a horrible shot and should have a shotgun instead. At least with buckshot, you’ve got a better chance of hitting something. And if you do need that many bullets to defend your home, how many people are coming after you? In both instances – poor marksmanship and gang retribution – you probably shouldn’t have guns to begin with.

Above I mentioned the early notions of the second amendment and its connection to protection, particularly against tyrannical government. That’s a fair argument under two scenarios:

If the government were actually going to “come for you”, and,

If you had the ability to fight back on equal terms

If the government wanted to “come for our guns” and impose tyrannical rule the way our founders knew it in the 18th century, it would have do so by now, if only because it would have cost a lot less to do it in the 80s than in the 21st century. And even if it decided to go full tyranny on the American people, the government has tanks and drones. The people have surface-to-air nothing.

For my part, I believe firearms should be treated much the way we treat automobiles. To get my drivers license, I needed to pass a written and physical exam. That license is valid so long as I re-certify, in a short and well-defined period of time, my ability to properly use it. Should I eventually exhibit an inability to properly operate a car (eg: an onset of blindness), my license is revoked and I cannot drive. The same should apply to firearms, particularly in the cases of deteriorated mental health.

In addition, we register cars and meticulously track them via titles and vehicle identification numbers (VIN) as they change hands. The same should apply to weapons. Despite what reactionaries and conspiracy theorists propose, the government has yet to show it will confiscate everyone's weaponry. If it really was intent on disarming America, it would have (and could have) done it a long time ago. Further, this registration it should apply to any and all transfer of weapons, be it at a store, a gun show, or a person-to-person sale facilitated online or by any other means. If a gun is going to transfer from one person to another, it should be on record. Same as a car.

Lastly, insurance. It’s necessary for driving a car and helps provide accountability for accidents. The same should apply to weapons and would ensure owners take the massive responsibility of a life-taking machine more seriously. And just like insurance, the cost is commensurate with a track record of responsibility.

Gun owners typically chide at these types of reforms, citing them as too burdensome and punishing them for the bad deeds of a few. That is a smokescreen argument. If anything, they should welcome these rigorous steps. By and large, responsible gun owners can meet them, further proving their fitness for gun ownership. This will allow the conversation to remain squarely focuses on the perpetrator in question while disarming critics of gun ownership.

These are just some ideas I believe will help, though I admit they won't solve everything. Another big help would be mitigating the effects of political contributions from entities that by default stake out an extremist defensive position. Also helping is this new movement. It has only been a few days since the March for Our Lives and it seems clear it has staying power. Further, because these kids are smart, savvy, and undeterred, it’s getting under the skin of reactionaries and decision-makers who can do something about the untenable position in which we find ourselves.

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#US


Update: Nick Kristof penned a more thoughtful, logical, and eloquent opinion piece than my own. Check it out.

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© 2020 by Mark Konold