Don’t Ask, Don’t Yell

Jewish Light Editorial

Had the stakes not been so high, it would have been amusing to read the perverse set of opinions offered up in the Room for Debate section of the New York Times website last week about gun control.

The fully predictable voice from the National Rifle Association said we don’t need any more gun laws. Another cited flaws in the proposed pieces of legislation. Another lambasted senators who voted against, while the Democratic leadership also received a tongue lashing for not changing the filibuster laws.

Ultimately, however, this is all a lot of, in “Seinfeld” parlance, yadda yadda yadda. As in, there’s a terrible tragedy, people are outraged and demand that something be done, yadda yadda yadda, nothing comes of it.

This Tower of Gun Babel is perfectly suited to what the zealots want us to experience — a loud, ugly, finger-pointing argument in which every viewpoint is reduced to a blaring equivalence. If everyone shouts their version of reality, nothing is accomplished and the status quo just chugs along. It’s the bully-fest approach to public discourse.

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But that’s exactly the opposite of what should be happening. Why? Because despite the insipid mantra that “people kill people,” everyone knows that guns kill people. Lots of them — five figures’ worth — each year in the United States alone. People of all ages keep getting killed in gun catastrophes. Sandy Hook. Aurora. Columbine.

Saying that guns don’t kill people is part of the alternate universe sandbox in which the National Rifle Association wants to play. It wants to debate confusing statistics about gun violence, numbers that are largely meaningless without any context about culture and history in this nation and others. It wants to put forward inane (U.S. Constitution) Second Amendment arguments to have you believe that 30-round semiautomatic clips would have been just fine in the Founding Fathers’ time.

The NRA’s tactics show an utter disregard for public safety, because public safety is not its goal; the proliferation of guns and ammo is.

Longtime NRA member Adolphus Busch IV, great-grandson of one of the founders of Anheuser-Busch, acknowledged as much in his recently reported resignation from the organization.

“I am simply unable to comprehend how assault weapons and large capacity magazines have a role in your vision. The NRA I see today has undermined the values upon which it was established. Your current strategic focus places a priority on the needs of gun and ammunition manufacturers while disregarding the opinions of your four million individual members.

“One only has to look at the makeup of the 75-member board of directors, dominated by manufacturing interests, to confirm my point. The NRA appears to have evolved into the lobby for gun ammunition manufacturers rather than gun owners.”

The NRA might have succeeded with Congress in the short run, but the group and the many companies and individuals that echo its rhetoric are wholly irrelevant to any long-term solution since they have abdicated from useful constructive dialogue. When someone actually suggests there would be less violence in schools by placing even more guns there, you know you’ve reached a diplomatic dead end.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that despite the Second Amendment’s reference to a well regulated militia, the right to weapon ownership extends to individual citizens. Contrary to the wishes of the NRA and other gun-lobby advocates, however, the Court has not ruled that this right is absolute, plenty of effective regulations remain on the books and reasonably crafted new ones will almost certainly withstand judicial scrutiny. This is why the NRA and its allies are all in on the current national town hall on the heels of Sandy Hook, and why they devoted massive resources to calling in their congressional chits.

There is no point whatsoever for gun control advocates to engage in discussion with the NRA or its allies at any level. Trying to have a debate with the NRA on this issue is like talking to a brick wall. Doing so makes one frustrated, angry and is ultimately unsuccessful.

As a media organization we don’t usually discourage direct dialogue and efforts at compromise resolution. In this case, however, ostracizing the bully is the only approach that will work; talk show and news program debates are only likely to continue serving as the wrong playing field.

Those who care must appeal to the public to put direct pressure on legislators and candidates at both the state and federal level to support necessary, meaningful laws that can identify who has guns and help keep guns out of the hands of those who have a track record that demonstrates they ought not own or possess them.

There’s only one party at the true negotiating table, and that’s us, the vast swath of American people who know that human lives trump the right to own mechanized devices designed for killing. When the bully chooses to come back to the table as one of us, and not as one who endangers public safety, that’s fine. In the meantime, it’s full speed ahead without them.