Editorial: Stereotypes obstruct discourse

Editorial Board

As budgets, immigration reform and a seemingly bellicose North Korea advance to the front rows of public attention, one thing remains clear: The debate about gun control is alive and well, and will not go away easily. One recent example from Indianapolis, Ind. demonstrates exactly why agreement on how many restrictions there should be on the acquisition of firearms, and what those restrictions should be, is so elusive and fleeting.

Last Thursday, ThinkProgress, a liberal blog, reported on an event that was part of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns National Day to Demand Action. While the Indiana “state chapter of Moms Demand Action held a rally in favor of limiting the availability of military style weapons and universal background checks,” the report says, “Several men with assault rifles and handguns … engaged in a discussion about gun regulations with the group” that was holding the rally. (A much less biased source, the Washington Post, corroborated ThinkProgress’ story.)

Although the pro-gun advocates who appeared at the scene with loaded AR-15s apparently engaged in a discussion, which is something we cannot condemn, since we have taken so many people to task for engaging in fake discourse rather than legitimate conversation, the added touch of discussing gun control literally at gunpoint does their cause no favors.

Like the hippy supporters of marijuana decriminalization who simply want to be able to smoke a joint or pro-life zealots bombing abortion clinics, daring gun control proponents to take away gun owners’ weapons by showing off the firearms plays right into the stereotypes that distort discourse and make a reasonable solution impossible. The people who went to the rally in Indianapolis with loaded rifles gave gun-control advocates the best propaganda imaginable — a scene with some men looking as if they wanted to intimidate others into agreement.

There is no reason this incident in Indianapolis will not reverberate throughout the country, across airwaves, across the front pages of newspapers and magazines and across the banners of websites, as proposals and counter-proposals for gun regulations come into public view.

Unfortunately, it is such obviously stupid individuals such as these who become the image of the cause they support. Unfortunately, it is impossible for some people to leave behind the trappings of their compensatory identity as a gun owner at home and try to talk as equals with a fellow citizen who disagrees with them. Unfortunately, it is impossible to think before we act and make sure we don’t aggravate the opposition before we enter a public forum and exert our energies on public issues.

It may sound like a broken record, but politics is about considering others and coming to appreciate their concerns. Indeed, without a knowledge of other viewpoints, it is difficult to truly appreciate one’s own.

In the end, the question that must be asked is this: Do we want people to agree with us because we have convinced them? Or do we want them to agree with us because they think their lives are in our hands? Bringing people into the fold is a much better alternative than exterminating their existence. The political process depends on a multitude of equals. When one group looks poised to eliminate some of those equals, politics is replaced by war and a state of nature.