On January 7, Austin-based talk radio host Alex Jones excitedly claimed, “1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms,” during his appearance on Piers Morgan Tonight.
While this comment was certainly entertaining — I highly recommend watching the entire clip on YouTube — what struck me the most about this segment was Jones’ complete lack of interest in engaging in real conversation about gun control. Instead, Jones spoke over Morgan, who is a major proponent of gun control legislation, dodged Morgan’s questions and accused Morgan of asking him for “some little factoid” when Morgan inquired about how many gun murders there were in the United Kingdom last year. Jones’ angry, unapologetic tone and his emphatic body language also signaled that he was more concerned with advertising his point of view than taking part in a productive conversation.
This segment of Piers Morgan Tonight is representative of the larger hostile debate on gun control that has been at the forefront of domestic politics since the shootings at the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado and Sandy Hook Elementary School. Without true communication, the gulf between the two major camps of the debate will continue to widen, political rhetoric will replace political action and the American people will be left feeling helpless.
For example, the National Rifle Association has already geared up to fight President Obama’s recommendations for new gun laws. After Obama laid out his plan this month to reduce gun violence in America, the NRA was quick to respond “with a familiar gun lobby refrain: The nation doesn’t need any new gun laws, just better enforcement of laws that already exist,” wrote Dorothy Samuels of the New York Times. Despite compelling statistical evidence that lax enforcement is not the primary cause of gun violence — in 2010, for example, only 44 out of nearly 80,000 Americans failed background checks because they “lied or gave incorrect information were charged with a crime” — the NRA continues its efforts to reframe the debate in those terms to avoid other types of reforms.
The NRA has even taken part in anti-enforcement strategies, such as restrictions that make it challenging to “identify dealers who falsify sales records.” This utter hypocrisy highlights how the NRA aims only to appear responsive and decisive in the political battle over gun control, especially in the wake of Sandy Hook.
What the NRA and all other parties involved in shaping gun laws must do is reexamine current laws as well as the underlying forces that lead to gun violence in America, rather than spew empty rhetoric and staunchly defend their respective positions. The gun control debate needs to involve a real conversation incorporating many different perspectives. It needs to face the sticky issue of which rights the Second Amendments conveys to gun owners and determine the validity of those rights in the 21st century. It must address the role of private economic liberties and how to weigh these liberties against the security of our fellow citizens. Finally, it needs to examine a simple question: What kinds of laws will help save as many lives as possible?
I’m hopeful that these tasks are not mutually exclusive. The main obstacle facing a potential solution to the gun control debate is not that such a solution is elusive, but rather it is the intense polarization that characterizes the nature of the debate.
The current political polarization will remain strong if the two camps do not effectively communicate or accurately understand each other’s perspectives. Harry Wilson, Roanoke College professor of political science and author of “Guns, Gun Control, and Elections: The Politics and Policy of Firearms” has argued both sides hold misperceptions about the other. These misperceptions prevent real conversations from taking place. For example, Wilson has called gun control advocates to understand that “gun owners are not in favor of gun violence. Gun owners are in many ways like them, and would genuinely like to see gun violence reduced.”
In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, some folks in Washington have signaled a willingness to question their assumptions and reconsider their previously held beliefs. For example, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey has said he will support bans on military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines — both of which the Senate may soon consider — whereas in the past “he has explicitly opposed any new gun control laws,” NPR recently reported.
This kind of reevaluation of one’s position is necessary for a productive conversation on gun control to commence in Congress, whether or not such a reevaluation leads one to change his or her original stance.
Jaclyn Katz ’14 would love to discuss gun legislation with you and can be reached at email@example.com.