Thursday, December 27, 2012

The discussion of limits on guns gets more convoluted every day -- guns don't kill people... people kill people with guns; and, as Tony Botello points out, they do it every day

The conversation this society has engaged about controlling the possession and use of guns, especially assault weapons, has been loud and clamorous -- but absolutely welcome.

Any conversation about this topic is a step in the right direction. Any serious conversation would be an even bigger step.

Alas, as I pointed out on Christmas Eve, having a serious conversation is difficult because the absolutists of the NRA are backed into a logical corner. They are stuck defending the indefensible  The idea that a society cannot exercise any control over the weapons its citizens brandish is impossible to rationally defend.

As a result, the argument has to pivot on a single point. The Constitution grants the right of private citizens to arm themselves. This, of course, is not an argument. It doesn't argue why armed citizens are good for society. It doesn't argue why no strictures should be placed on which weapons citizens should be allowed to arm themselves with. It doesn't account for modern firepower. It doesn't even attempt to interpret or otherwise understand the sentence. It just says, 'The constitutions guarantees this right.'

When the NRA faithful venture away from this position, they immediately find themselves on difficult terrain and their tangled arguments show it. Their arguments resemble talking points more than arguments -- convoluted talking points at that. They are convoluted by necessity.

Guns don't kill people; people kill people.
Guns don't kill people; people kill people.
Guns don't kill people; people kill people.
Guns don't kill people; people kill people.

What the NRA faithful want you to hear in this talking point is: Guns don't kill people.

Agreed. No gun can fire itself. A human must pull the trigger. A human of any age or temperment. But, a human.

However, saying guns don't kill people is meaningless. It's like saying cars don't drive and hammers don't hammer. Of course they don't. They're objects.

But, unfortunately, people do kill people. The second half of this talking point is correct -- but incomplete.

What do they kill people with?

Among the many objects they kill people with are guns. In large number -- both legally obtained (Newtown, Conn.) and illegally obtained (any Saturday night in Kansas City). 

So, this talking point only makes sense if you say it this way:

Guns don't kill people; people kill people with guns.

Now the meaning is more clear and the discussion can advance. Do people also kill people with knives, poison, cars and, sometimes, love? Yes. By all means. None of that makes a gun less lethal. The argument in favor of placing some logical restrictions on gun possession is not about knives, poison, cars or love. It is simply about guns. So, the convoluted 'argument' that begins...'well, we don't ban cars, do we?' has no place in the discussion. It belongs in a schoolyard taunt, structured on the same principle as, 'You sent me to the cloakroom but Johnny did the same thing and he didn't have to go.'

You see, the question is not about fairness to guns. It's about life and death. In Newton, it was about the death of 26 children and their teachers at the hands of an assault rifle. The same rifle a madman used to kill firemen a few days later in upstate New York with apparent intention of killing many more. And, besides, we do restrict cars. You can't drive them any damned speed you like. You can't drive them drunk. You can't drive them loaded. You can't even drive them without insurance in some states. You can't drive them until you're 16. You can't drive them without passing a test. You can't drive them without a license. You can't drive them without brakes or without a dime's worth of tread on the tires.

So, if we agree to only talk about the wisdom of placing some logical limits on gun possession, maybe we can start a conversation. But if the quality of the discussion now waged in the news is any indication, such an adult conversation is still a long way off.

Meanwhile, as Tony Botello vividly points out, people will continue to kill people with guns every day, whether in unspeakable carnage on one terrible day, or, drip by drip, one day at a time.


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