Debating gun control with false equivalence

Is there a difference between callous, gutter partisanship and working hand in hand with the victims of a tragedy to make a difference? Some people would say no. But that’s because they choose to debate issues of national importance with fallacious logic and false equivalence.

This week I blogged abut the Arkansas politician who sent out the following tweet while me and the rest of my community were trapped in our homes as police hunted for the at-large suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. The politician, Nate Bell wrote:

I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?

This garbage infuriated thousands of people, including me. We were not cowering. We were not dreaming of holding a gun. We were waiting for the police to do their jobs. And they did.

Some people want to defend Bell by saying liberals are just as guilty of scoring political points in the face of tragedy. Perhaps some liberals are guilty of that, but one commenter on my blog would have me believe that demanding stricter gun control in the wake of tragedies like Newtown is no less repugnant.

Commenter David D. wrote:

How is this different than Pres. Obama using small children from Newport [sic] Connecticut to further his agenda? Do you condone this type of action, so long as it coincides with your personal beliefs, but respond with righteous indignation when someone dare do or say something that hits to the right of your viewpoint?

Let’s assume that David D is referring to Newtown, and not Newport.

Never mind the fact that the parents of those Newtown children who were murdered by a lunatic with an AR-15 are demanding stricter gun control, as are the victims of the Aurora shootings, the Tuscon shootings, the Virginia Tech shootings and many, many more.

Instead, let’s look at David D’s logic. He would have me believe that Bell’s cynical statement about “Boston liberals cowering in their homes” and “wishing” for AR-15s is somehow equivalent to Obama standing up with the parents and siblings of murdered children to demand meaningful gun reform. There is no comparison.

Bell’s statement was a cheap shot at the expense of people who were under siege. Obama’s actions were a response to a demand for reform by the victims and their families.

Describing our people as “cowering” “Boston liberals” was meant as a pejorative slur, and I think Bell knows it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have deleted the tweet. A truly equivalent statement from the left side of this debate, would be something distasteful and callous. Something such as:

I bet all those police officers who are getting shot at in Watertown right now are wishing we had stricter gun control laws.

Isn’t that disgusting? If someone truly said this in earnest, I would happily condemn him. But I didn’t see such a statement. Did you?

I also expressed my frustration with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s eagerness to withhold the bombing suspect’s Constitutional rights by designating him as an enemy combatant. I asked why Republicans are so eager to defend the Second Amendment while they trample upon the rest of the Bill of Rights.

David D. disagreed with me again.

Let’s turn this around shall we, why is it that Democrats and other liberals [are] so protective of the First Amendment’s free speech, but so blithe about eroding the protections of the rest of the Bill of Rights, especially those rights afforded by the Second Amendment? Why is it that Mr. Bell can write words that so many find offensive, and you can publicly criticize a government official, and neither of you are even the least bit concerned about being yanked from your beds at night and thrown in jail?

Again, this logic crumbles under scrutiny. Liberals are not blithe about the Second Amendment. We just look at the entire text of that amendment and demand intelligent interpretation. The amendment begins:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…

Liberals do not want to infringe on the right to keep and bear arms. We just think regulation of that right is justified. And none of the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights are completely unfettered by reasonable controls, including the First Amendment that David D. referred to.

As we all know, I cannot stand up in a crowded theater and falsely yell “Fire!” without facing legal consequences. I cannot slander someone without facing legal consequence. I cannot invade the privacy of an individual and publish the results of that violation without facing legal consequences. The right of free expression does not allow for such abuse.

I argue that that owning weapons that are designed to inflict mass casualties, such as an AR-15 with a large-capacity magazine, is an abuse of the Second Amendment that should be curtailed. I do not say that “blithely.” I say that soberly. I say that as a reasonable person who is offering compromise. I am not asking that gun owners give up their hunting rifles and their handguns. I’m asking them to submit to background checks, national gun registries and reasonable restrictions on lethality (assault weapons bans, clip size limits).

David D. also wrote:

I also thank God each day that we don’t live in a perpetual war zone where the need to keep and bear arms is a necessity and not a right.

He is right. We don’t live in a war zone. So why are we armed to the teeth?


Political lowlights of the Marathon bomber manhunt

I spent nearly 24 hours trapped in my home because a heavily-armed, murderous terrorist was hiding in a boat just miles from me. I spent most of that time watching the news, following police scanners, digging into social media and texting my neighbors in a desperate attempt to be informed about the crisis that was facing my community.

While all of the Boston metropolitan area was in lockdown so that authorities could hunt for the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, some people decided to use the crisis as an opportunity to score cheap political points and to further flawed policies.

In Arknansas, state representative Nate Bell, a NRA-loving Republican, called Boston liberals cowards in this since-deleted tweet.

I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?

Bell managed to crassly politicize an ongoing tragedy by dragging the whole crisis down into the muck of gun control partisanship. He also managed to call Boston liberals cowards.

Never mind the fact that the ongoing investigation will undoubtedly reveal that stricter gun control probably would have prevented these two young men from arming themselves with assault rifles.

The Tweet ignited a firestorm of criticism, which prompted the cowering Nate Bell to delete his original tweet. Then he posted a non-apology on his campaign Facebook page.

I would like to apologize to the people of Boston & Massachusetts for the poor timing of my tweet earlier this morning. As a staunch and unwavering supporter of the individual right to self defense, I expressed my point of view without thinking of its effect on those still in time of crisis. In hindsight, given the ongoing tragedy that is still unfolding, I regret the poor choice of timing. Please know that my thoughts and prayers were with the people of Boston overnight and will continue as they recover from this tragedy.

So he doesn’t apologize for calling Boston liberals cowardly. He doesn’t apologize for his crude attempt to score political points in the face of tragedy. He only apologizes for doing it while the Boston area was still under curfew. When would the timing be appropriate? After more people have died? After more bombs have gone off? After the amputees have been released from area hospitals? After the hundreds of people affected by these events have finished treatment for PTSD or completed a one-year period of mourning?

The bottom line is that there is no good timing for when to behave like a partisan hack and call the people of the city which fired the first shots of the American Revolution cowards. Centuries ago Boston bled so that the Constitution could be born and Bell’s precious Second Amendment rights could be codified. Boston is the crucible of democracy and freedom. Boston was the first city to drive British soldiers from its soil.  Boston is the city whose people ran into the carnage on Marathon Monday and used their belts and shirts as tourniquets while the smoke still hung over the bleeding masses.

But Bostonians cowered in their homes and dreamed of owning AR-15s? I don’t think so.

Speaking of the Constitution… aren’t our national leaders sworn to uphold that document?

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, took to Twitter to pressure President Obama to treat the surviving bomber as an enemy combatant and withhold his Constitutional rights, such as a right to a trial by a jury of his peers?

If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.

It’s become clear that the government will use the public safety exemption to delay reading the bomber his Miranda rights, but the president also made it clear that the kid, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, will be tried in a civilian criminal court. This is a good thing, because we are a nation of laws. We have a Constitution.

Still, Graham and other Republicans will continue to push for this kid to get the Gitmo treatment, because it’s a political position they have staked out since 2001, never mind the damage it might do to our Bill of Rights.

Why is it that Republicans are so protective of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, but so blithe abut eroding the protections of the rest of the Bill of Rights. Treating a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant takes away the rights guaranteed by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments. Why is Senator Graham so ready to toss out those rights while fighting any legislation that tries to make reasonable changes to the Second Amendment?  Votes. Republicans have relied on the politics of fear ever since 9-11. They’ve relied on it since gay people started demanding the right to marry. They’ve relied on it since African Americans demanded an end to Jim Crow.

In fact, fear is common thread that runs through the politics of both these crass political hacks. One man would have us cling to guns in fear. The other would have us sanction torture and indefinite detention of a 19-year-old out of fear.

I am not afraid. I don’t need a gun to feel safe. I don’t need to waterboard a boy to feel safe. Last night as I listened to the sirens  and the urgent radio calls of police officers under fire, I did not give in to fear. I simply waited for justice. Both of these politicians would have us pursue a path that would deny that justice. Rather than try this boy, they would shoot him, torture him and throw him in a hole. That’s not what our country stands for. That’s not what our Constitution demands of us.