For the first time since 1920, the New York Times has put an editorial on page A1, its front page. The title explains why.
End the Gun Epidemic in America
On its face, it’s a flagrant appeal to emotion. But then, it’s an issue wrapped in emotion. Death does that to people, as well it should. So the Times plays to its audience, northeastern liberals who have neither use for, nor love of, guns, and the heart-rending spectacle of a mass murder.
It is a moral outrage and national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency.
The deliberate choice of framing its position as a moral outrage immediately tells the story that this isn’t intended as a reasoned argument, but one that goes to the bottom line of public sensibilities. What is “moral” is a personal issue. Either you agree that it is or you don’t.
It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism.
That the editorial makes sweeping assertions, devoid of detail, repeating its plea to morality and national disgrace, reflects the division this editorial seeks to create and exploit. The chorus knows nothing about guns, so saying that the weapons at issue are “specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency” without more is sufficient. Calling them “weapons of war,” and characterizing them as “tools of macho vigilantism” plays on the vague understanding of non-gun people.
And reducing the outcome to the most dreaded word available at the moment, “terrorism,” untethered from rational definition, is as plain an appeal to emotion as possible.
To the extent I support the Second Amendment, it’s based upon the principle that one cannot pick and choose which constitutional rights to honor. Whether we like one or not, adherence to the Constitution is either its own virtue or not. But once we get to distinguish between the ones we feel are good or bad, we put them all at risk. There are a lot of people who really hate the ones we love.
But I’m no more knowledgeable about weapons than most New Yorkers. I’m not a gun owner, nor do I want to be. You can’t make me be either.
The Times seeks to dispense with the arguments against gun control:
Opponents of gun control are saying, as they do after every killing, that no law can unfailingly forestall a specific criminal. That is true. They are talking, many with sincerity, about the constitutional challenges to effective gun regulation. Those challenges exist. They point out that determined killers obtained weapons illegally in places like France, England and Norway that have strict gun laws. Yes, they did.
But at least those countries are trying. The United States is not. Worse, politicians abet would-be killers by creating gun markets for them, and voters allow those politicians to keep their jobs. It is past time to stop talking about halting the spread of firearms, and instead to reduce their number drastically — eliminating some large categories of weapons and ammunition.
And they dismiss the Second Amendment as comfort.
It is not necessary to debate the peculiar wording of the Second Amendment. No right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation.
While this assertion is facile, blame Scalia’s errant paragraph in Heller for opening the door. His unprincipled caveat means that Times and gun control advocates get to call for whatever regulation they deem reasonable.
The problem raised is that the emotional reaction to gun violence breeds cries for evisceration of rights, which are embraced by those who agree with gun control because it’s about gun control, but will invariably spill over to other rights. The slippery slope of evisceration of rights starts with emotion that overcomes reason, and flows downhill from there.
There is a host of issues that are raised by this hugely contentious subject, ranging from definitional problems as to what constitutes the dreaded assault weapon, why anyone needs a magazine that holds enough bullets to shoot up Milwaukee, why armor piercing bullets are justified, to name a few. People who describe themselves as “responsible gun owners” are the best supporters of gun control, explaining that they see no need for these weapons as well. People who just hate guns can’t play the honest broker in this debate any more than people who just love guns.
Since I can offer little on the question outside of my position on principle, not being knowledgeable, and given that I’ve limited discussion here up to now, maybe today is the right day to open the floor to anyone who has something to say. Go at it. For those of you who have been champing at the bit to express your views on guns, gun control, the Second Amendment and need to stop this “epidemic,” this is your opportunity to express your views.
The floor is open. Now it’s up to you.
Update: There are days when I wonder why I allow comments at SJ at all. And then there are days when commenters are so brilliant, thoughtful and illuminating that I wonder why I bother to do more than open up comments and let readers run with them. Yesterday, I could not have been prouder than to play host to you, the readers.
The comments below are, I submit, the best discussion of the right to bear arms/gun control to be found anywhere on the internet. For that, and the civility of such a controversial discussion, I thank you.