The Price Of Mistrust

President Barack Obama went on the airwaves to explain why he had no choice but to assert executive action to “fix” the gun problem in America. He has added a New York Times op-ed to the mix.  To those who agree with his message, his tears, appeal to his background teaching constitutional law and plea for “common sense” were convincing. To those who did not agree, they were unpersuasive.

As letters poured in following the president’s television appearance, one thing became clear: those who support the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms don’t trust the government, the president.  The government’s history of lying about its motives and ends makes it impossible to believe.

He rejected accusations that he wants to confiscate guns, calling that a ridiculous idea.

“Yes, it is a false notion that I believe is circulated either for political reasons or commercial reasons in order to prevent a coming together of people of good will” to solve the problem of gun violence, Mr. Obama told the audience and Anderson Cooper, who moderated the forum.

Attributing good will to oneself, and thus bad will to anyone who opposes you, is a recipe for increasing mistrust.  Appealing to “common sense” is pandering, seeking to avoid responsibility for reason and facts, and instead seeking the comfort of feelings of paranoia and fear. Our president is a smart man. He knows that he’s playing believers for fools.

Claiming that there is a majority of gun owners who agree with him does not make it so. While many will agree that enforcement of existing background checks and updating of databases of people who should not be permitted to possess a weapon is needed, the blame for the failure to faithfully execute the laws that currently exist falls on government. The same government that’s failing to do its job now cannot be heard to complain that its failure demands greater restriction.

President Obama’s bizarre reference to his having taught constitutional law, followed by his misstatement of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ abandoned analogy of “yelling fire in a crowed theater” from United States v. Schenck, creates an insurmountable conflict.  Either he knows constitutional law, in which case he deliberately sought to make the public stupider, or he doesn’t and was lying about his qualifications.

None of this is of any consequence to those who have no interest in gun ownership, but see the 300 million guns in private hands in the United States as a imminent threat to their children’s lives.  They are wholly disinterested in engaging in rational discussion about guns because fear trumps reason.  They see no countervailing interest worthy of discussion. The Second Amendment doesn’t interest them, bundle of rights or not. Personal protection is deemed a macho sham, as they believe a gun owner to be more likely to be harmed or do harm than protect himself and his family.

For those who hate guns, there is nothing to discuss.*

For those who want to keep their guns, unmolested by the government, they cannot believe that the government has any intention but to impair their right to do so. At the extreme end, the crazies, a la the Bundys or the Sovereign Citizens, are ready to go to war over perceived tyranny. Closer to the middle, the mistrust in the government’s intentions, for a long list of reasons, is palpable. It was only a couple months ago that the President told the nation that we had to reform criminal laws, prison nation, overcriminalization, followed by nothing.

The price to be paid for the government failing to do as it says, keep its word, prove that it can be trusted, is that the people won’t trust it. Nor should they. When government’s only consistency is inconsistency, that it fails to honor its promises or do as it says it will, there can be no trust.

All of us have a role to play — including gun owners. We need the vast majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us after every mass shooting, who support common-sense gun safety and who feel that their views are not being properly represented, to stand with us and demand that leaders heed the voices of the people they are supposed to represent.

There is no such reality.  Propagating lies is not an effective means of gaining trust.

“Since the gun lobby refuses to compromise on any reasonable gun laws, it’s time to finally declare, ‘Yes, we are in fact coming for your guns,’ ” Roger in Phoenix wrote. “You can still have a simple rifle or shotgun for hunting or protection as you see fit, but even those will have to be safely secured in your home when not in use.”

Fear of mass shootings is good reason to act now, some said.

Fear of harm has become the prime motivator for most of the public. It’s proven remarkably effective in getting us to remove our shoes on airport lines and silence those who makes our children cry.  Fear works.  The president is not a foolish man, and is playing fear deftly.

Some readers accepted assurances that the president’s actions would simply keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals, without encroaching on law-abiding gun owners.

For those paying attention to the government’s characterization of “potentially dangerous individuals,” this obvious and acceptable notion to those favoring control presents the government’s characterization of “dangerous” without proof. If anyone whose name is placed on the “no-fly list” can be deprived of constitutional rights, and if anyone can be placed on that list because some government functionary chooses to do so (combined with a plethora of other, problematic, flaws), then this facially soothing concept is deeply fraught with deep, abiding problems. Glossing over the problems doesn’t make the concept work any better.

Why won’t we just accept the government’s good will, good intentions, good purposes, to just help protect us without any meaningful impairment of rights?  Because the government has continually failed to fulfill its promises and claims.  No matter how emotional one gets over the harm guns could cause, the tears will not overcome the mistrust the government has brought upon itself.**

President Obama’s latest effort may cause the choir to cheer, but it may also cause the “crazies” to attack.  As for law-abiding, sane, caring gun owners (yes, they exist, even if you never met one at your lean-in group), there can be no discussion. It’s not because they are of ill will, as the president accused, but because you are so filled with the self-righteousness of your fear and moral certainty that your only interest is to use your tears to beat them into submission.

Your hysteria will not convince them. Until the gun control crowd recognizes that they are not the exclusive owners of morality, there will be no useful discussion, and no national agreement as to a viable means of addressing guns. They’re not crazy. You are. We are.

We can chose to stop being crazy any time we want. As for the government, regaining the trust of the people will prove far harder. It may never happen. That’s what comes of the toxic mix of tears and lies. While guns don’t matter a whole lot to me personally, truth does. It’s impossible to fault gun owners for refusing to accept your “good will” when we’ve endured lie after lie.

For those who feel very strongly about the need for gun control, and can’t grasp why everyone else doesn’t feel exactly the same, your passion might be better put to use calling out the government’s lies than calling your adversaries names. But the morally self-righteous crowd struggles to see how anything can be their fault, and so the lies will continue and guns will be gripped ever more tightly. No one will be saved.

*I am not a gun owner or gun lover, but I have learned from those who are. It’s remarkable what can be learned once one removes the cloak of self-righteousness and opens one’s mind to the possibility that other people’s differing perspectives have merit.

**The irony, of course, is that we all know of the government’s duplicity, but labor under a peculiar sense that when we agree with the government’s actions, the government is wonderful. When we disagree, the government is awful. That it’s the same government somehow eludes most Americans, overshadowed by our love of confirmation bias. We are nothing if not a simplistic people.

22 thoughts on “The Price Of Mistrust

  1. DaveL

    President Obama’s latest effort may cause the choir to cheer, but it may also cause the “crazies” to attack.

    In my opinion, that seems to have been the point of this whole exercise. While I keep hearing about how the President expanded the requirements for licensing and background checks with his latest round of executive actions, I can’t seem to find the meat of it anywhere. The “exceptions” he claims to have eliminated simply do not exist in statute or regulations, and haven’t for at least 30 years. They aren’t in 18 USC 921(a)(21), they aren’t in 26 CFR 178.11. He even refers to courts having upheld convictions for dealing without a license for cases involving only a few guns, something that wouldn’t be possible if he had just now expanded those requirements.

    1. SHG Post author

      I avoided the weeds of Obama’s latest salvo because there are far too many substantive problems and issues to address, and it’s all wrapped up in mountains of false, conflicting and inconsistent allegations. Instead, I tried to focus on the fact that we can’t even get to any substantive discussion about guns because of the manifest mistrust of government and the inflexible moral self-righteousness of gun control advocates.

      Can we address this hugely controversial issue when the government has demonstrated that it will shamelessly lie to us about everything? Can we discuss this rationally when the argument of one side, the gun control advocates, is bound in mindless emotion, such that they assume their adversaries to all be crazy, evil, malevolent killers? Until these problems are recognized, the details mean nothing.

      And maybe there is no epidemic to address at all, but this is just one more effort by the government to stoke internal strife and fear, giving rise to greater control over the people. Fear works and makes us stupider. Until we get past that detail, the others don’t really matter.

      1. Keith


        The president literally laughed as if mistrust of government is always equivalent to some Jade Helm conspiracy & mocked anyone that thinks the government would try to take their guns. Meanwhile, he balked at answering questions about why he brings up Australia in speeches and a few years back they tried an assault weapons ban which would ban entire categories of weapons through legislative means.

        But please tell us more about how the people are merely paranoid and you’re not trying to take away any one ones guns.

        To give him credit, this was the first speech where I heard him acknowledge some of the reasons and motivations of gun owners when he mentioned why ideas like registration lists are non-starters.

        That being said, we’d all do a lot better if we resorted to first principles before propaganda.

        1. SHG Post author

          In fairness, President Obama’s disingenuousness is neither better nor worse than the lies of the co-equal branches. When principles take a backseat to policy pandering, when emotions are elevated over reason, this is what we get.

          We are all to blame. The public accepts, if not embraces, a steady diet of logical fallacies as long as they confirm our bias, and the politicians are only to happy to feed it to us. It’s tedious to continue to argue the point that we choose to forsake principle as long as we get whatever makes us feel good at any moment. But it’s more frustrating to realize that few give enough of a shit to recognize that we are just as much the problem as are those we elect to represent us. As Pogo said,


  2. Robert Newton

    There was no dissent in US v Schenck. Holmes wrote the unanimous opinion, in which he used the infamous “fire in crowded theater” phrase.

  3. Shannon Severance

    “Oliver Wendell Holmes’ abandoned analogy of “yelling fire in a crowed theater” from his dissent in United States v. Schenck,” When I follow the link supplied to United States v. Schenck it says, “MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.”

  4. JAV

    Just a little insight from one of the instantly distrusting.

    The political stupidity of the moment has to be this tendency for many people to reflexively pick a tribe and exclude the middle in a discussion. I have to count myself among the reflexively mistrusting, and my best explanation is fatigue. Whether by accident or design, the US govenment rains proposals and actions on its citizens and doesn’t expect an honest discussion, only that the members of the only two politcal parties out there rally around the flags and wait until one side can win without compromise.

    I don’t think that it’s fair to the discussion, but I’m damn tired of it, and being a contrarian by nature makes me lean to instant distrust.

    1. SHG Post author

      Like you, I want to blame government, party, politics, for all that we suffer, but then I wouldn’t be responsible for any of it. But I am. We are. As much as I can dismiss my influence as worthless, which it is, none of us are absolved from responsibility.

  5. John Barleycorn

    Well you could send a few dozen congressional leaders, from both sides of the isle, and the President some Super Soaker CPS 4100s and insist they settle their difrences like adults at high noon out in front of the Supreme Court while the justices look on in tourist rain parkas with hoods.

    Never mind…it’s probably just me that has always wanted to see the Supremes lined up out front for a photo shoot in tourist rain parkas with hoods.

    Pro Tip: Do not send packages of Kool-Aid along with the Super Soaker CPS 4100’s.

  6. losingtrader

    “The price to be paid for the government failing to do as it says, keep its word, prove that it can be trusted, is that the people won’t trust it. Nor should they.”

    Damn. I was planning to rely on that $693 social security check coming my way in a few years to buy an AK-47 collection. This is a double gut-punch.
    Party pooper.

  7. Brady Curry

    I believe what is happening to the second amendment is related to first amendment problems in this country. College campuses have devolved into places where free speech, that without consequence, is unheard of. Try to state your position on a subject and get shouted down as being a hater or denier. These shout downs are the second amendment equivalent of mass murder. The only difference is that instead of a human being and idea is being killed. The idea that reasonable people can have a reasonable discussion on a subject, based upon facts and realities, and come to some sort of understanding of each others position. And then come to some sort of compromise or, at least, agree to disagree humanely.

    In my eyes the second amendment debate is has clear lines. The first group is painted as gun owning crazies who are not part of the future and will not compromise. The second group is painted as constitution deniers who want to confiscate all private arms and will not compromise.

    Sadly, I believe the second group will eventually win. Gun owners are a minority. When dealing with minorities, majorities are pretty much free to impress upon them any conditions they see fit. But the majority needs to have an baseline of humanity to work from. In a true democracy of 51 men and 49 women, a law stating the women must have sex with the men, which passes 51 to 49, may be legal but is not moral. Our founding fathers placed the second amendment into a special class of amendments meant to protect them from the tyranny of the majority.

    For the President, being against the second amendment has no consequence. He passed a law giving himself and all future presidents armed guard for life. Yet I’m left out here depending upon police who may or may not fell like protecting me and my family.

    1. Kirk Taylor

      “Yet I’m left out here depending upon police who may or may not fell like protecting me and my family.”

      I learned somewhere recently that the police have no actual duty to protect me…
      Now where was that?

  8. Mike G.

    That town hall was a joke. Some on the left side of the spectrum are trying to make hay out of the fact that the NRA turned down an invitation to the meeting. I reckon I would have turned it down too if I could only ask one question and it had to be vetted before hand.

    I am a responsible gun owner. Before Obama came into office, I owned one hunting rifle, one single shot shotgun and one hand gun. My “arsenal” has grown considerably since then as has my stock of ammunition.

    I swear Obama must own shares in several gun and ammunition manufacturers because he has been the best gun salesman in history.

    1. Mort

      Smith & Wesson stock has gone up some 600% since Obama took office. they should build a freaking statue to the man.

  9. PVanderwaart

    The mostly disorganized forces of gun control are comprised of people who want to reduce gun violence, and people who just hate guns. I know the latter group exists because my wife is one of them. I’m not at all sure that the gun haters aren’t the majority, though I don’t really know. The gun haters really do want to take away everybody’s guns. We have examples enough in the UK and Australia. So the untrustworthyness is built in.

    I’m an Obama supporter in most things, but the gun stuff has been a train wreck. He knows that the spree shooters are a tiny fraction of all gun deaths, but he has made it the focus and he has made a big deal out of very modest proposals. Everyone with an interest is going to be disappointed.

    Has anyone seen how the $500 million for health care is to be spent?

  10. Johnathan Swift

    “I can’t believe those filthy animals on the other side called us filthy animals!!”

    This article does exactly what it’s decrying – attributes lies and ill will to those on the other side.

    1. SHG Post author

      Not exactly. That would be my own side, which I’ve found to be more factually mistaken and close-minded than those “filthy animals.”

    2. Patrick Maupin

      First, as Scott says, he’s not particularly pro-gun, so you have the sides wrong. Second, believe it or not, he’s not surprised by or disbelieving of any of this. Finally, he has calmly and firmly and honestly documented actual lies and accusations of dishonesty, which is not at all the same as “attribut[ing] lies and ill will.”

      The point received was not the point you think you are making. Most of Scott’s regular readers will enjoy the rich irony of the baseless accusation of baseless accusations. The inapt moniker chosen to impute a keen grasp of humanity is the maraschino cherry on top.

      Your comment is, in fact, so perfect that if I wasn’t myself completely sure of Scott’s honesty, I would have to question whether he made it up to prove his thesis.

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