Gun Rhetoric Fires Blanks
By Joe Serio
Once again, we’re in the middle of two sad American cycles: senseless, lethal violence and the slew of specious arguments that inevitably follow, flying hither and yon like, well, bullets that never quite hit the mark. After two mass shootings within weeks of one another, it’s time we talked rationally about guns in our country.
Typically, pundits accuse and obfuscate until the terror of the latest massacre fades and everyone gets sick of the debate for the time being. We must analyze why these same arguments continue to fail. Doing so could help us move in a productive direction.
On the far left you’ll have the inevitable call for a complete ban on guns. Since bears, wolves and bandits are no longer beating at the door, we can easily live without firearms, some folks say, as have people in other nations. But this is obviously unworkable here, for reasons practical, political and logical.
To serve practicality, exactly how do we enforce a ban on something that millions of people already have? CNN estimates 270 million guns are owned legally in America. That’s quite a recall effort, one that would meet a lot of resistance—armed resistance.
Politically, we’ve got the Second Amendment to contend with. There is room for debate about what it allows (the phrasing is, after all, “well-regulated militia”). But there’s little inclination to do so. Where the rubber meets the road, it’s like this: If you think it’s tough to give Americans access to health insurance, just try taking their guns.
Logically, why would we want to build a stronger, meaner and more profitable black market for guns? The drug war has made it clear that this nation is no longer capable of learning from its history. One would hope that there's a limit to our myopia.
Why would we want to build a stronger, meaner and more profitable black market for guns?
Moving toward the right, we find the notion that discussing solutions is disrespectful to the families of the victims. It's just political opportunism. I imagine Kairos, the ancient personification of deliberative opportunity, stocking his fridge with beer and kicking back with the remote after every massacre.
I note, however, that considering an immediate response to the 9/11 attack wasn’t disrespectful. The same with the Tylenol murders, tornadoes, floods and in fact, every disaster that doesn’t lead to a discussion about gun use. It can be argued just as well that tackling the problem is the way to show respect.
And finally, the weakest argument of all: If more people had been armed, the Aurora gunman would have been stopped before hurting so many people. This is always stated with the same certainty as tomorrow’s sunrise, even though it is not at all certain. Consider the facts: The theater had rapidly changing light conditions because of the film; vision was further occluded by clouds of tear gas; people were panicking and screaming; and the shooter was wearing a bulletproof vest, leggings and helmet.
All of that adds up to quite a different situation than you meet on the shooting range or in that video game you’re so good at. There is also the possibility that despite a particular carrier’s confidence—or in many cases, hubris—he or she might just choke when the tear gas and bullets start flying. Taking the class to carry a concealed weapon is not enough training to turn most of us into action heroes.
Taking the class to carry a concealed weapon is not enough training to turn most of us into action heroes.
So it is highly debatable that sending more lead flying through the theater would have stopped the well-armored shooter instead of doing some of his work for him. The fact that massacres happen in states where carrying a concealed weapon is both legal and popular illustrates this uncertainty.
Straddling the center, we have the question of whether certain firearms—such as the AR-15 rifle used in Aurora—should be sold in shops. After all, plenty of military weapons are unavailable to the public. The same is argued for other types of equipment, such as magazines that hold 100 rounds, or body armor. The availability of these items over the Internet could be debated in this middling space, where we might also discuss our shoot-em-up society and what we might do to make it less shooty in the future.
This is sparsely populated ground, though. If put on a physical map, it would be what politicians call the “flyover states”—regions only seen from a plane heading from one coast to another. Introspection is for those who lack the American assurance that they are simply fantastic the way they are.
These arguments are as cyclical as the events that engender them, and in turn, through their utter uselessness, enable the next event. We need to acknowledge their uselessness and get off of this rhetorical cycle because two things are certain in all of this mess. One, guns aren’t going anywhere. Two, we will never lessen the obvious problem society has with guns until we start speaking realistically about it.
Joe Serio is an instructor in the University of New Mexico’s English Department, where he pursues graduate work in rhetoric and writing. He has also researched, written and produced the KNME show “New Mexico in Focus.”
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