After the Las Vegas shooting I wrote a will called “If I’m Killed in a Mass Shooting.” In it I made two claims:
- There is no gun debate. Despite the patina of rationality, the NRA slate of arguments is so transparently terrible that it makes a mockery of the whole concept of public discourse. What’s the point of calling BS when the NRA already knows it’s all BS?
- The standard “common sense” gun control position is wrong. Liberals should notice the incoherence and hypocrisy in their policy proposals.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, it is good to remind ourselves of both claims. The vocal and media savvy students are touching the hearts of the country while espousing the standard incoherent proposals. And by channeling the discussion through a strong appeal to sympathy, we again see how hollow the “debate” about guns truly is.
I want to make two big picture points. And when we combine them, they should make us rethink the short-term political prospects of gun control legislation. What’s more, we find that the most prominent gun control activism is likely counterproductive.
As the cycle of gun violence spins on, we grasp at any reason to believe that this time will be different. Since we know that the body count doesn’t matter, maybe the type of voices will. As some of the students have become national figures, people have allowed themselves to believe that something will change.
I’m not sure why anyone would think that. There is absolutely no evidence for it. Woke capitalism won’t take care of the gun violence problem. In fact, it is more likely to temper the desire for legislation. Perhaps we want to think that the kids can make a difference in this world. We shudder at the image of the disappointed students in the viewing galleries of state capitols. We want to fight the idea that cynicism will overtake the young activists. The path to wishful thinking is wide.
The main target has been the NRA. It is worth pausing to reflect on what exactly the NRA is. In its relatively new form, the NRA is simply a marketing and branding tool for gun manufacturers. Everything they do is for the purpose of selling more guns. So they adopt whatever position they must, peddle an absurd reading of the 2nd Amendment, and appeal to baser and baser drives (most notably, racism)—all for the purpose of making money.
And they have a brilliant strategy: they sell their products by establishing an entirely new culture. By tying people’s identities to their products, they have insulated themselves from all argument. Now the disagreement becomes tribal. Any attempt to restrict access to guns transforms into a tyrannical, socialist, effeminate plot against “real” America.
This explains the culture war imagery of the post-Trump NRA messaging. The gun manufacturers are experiencing the so-called “Trump slump”: gun sales are down because there isn’t the constant threat of ol’ “take the guns first, go through due process second” Barack Obama. They need to be more creative. So the NRA is pushing their strategy deeper.
The techniques behind the success of the NRA also explain Trump support. We’ve seen that deceitful and cynical marketing is more powerful than tenable ideas. In both cases, people are simply unaware of what they are supporting and how they’ve been manipulated into supporting it. The political views are a packaged commodity they have been sold by self-enriching hucksters. (The left is not immune, though the problem is far more pronounced on the right.)
When we grasp how effective the NRA has become, it is easier to understand what sort of gun control laws might pass. Since we are in the Trump slump, it might make sense for the NRA to allow some gun control legislation. And because liberals want something, anything, to happen—at least so we can hear a nice story about kid activists—we are focusing on the wrong issues.
If the left is successful (or, perhaps more accurately, if the NRA allows the left to think it has been successful), there are likely to be two consequences:
- The law will be largely ineffective. I mean that in two ways. First, in a sense, it will be literally ineffective. There is some evidence that assault weapons bans could help, but we live in a different time now. Regardless, there would still be an astronomically high amount of gun violence even if we banned the scary looking ones. But second and more important, the moderate legislation would be politically ineffective. When the next school shooting happens, the NRA will stand victorious in their position that laws are not the answer. Any gun violence at all will be turned around on liberals as evidence that “big government” fixes are failures. They will say this because they know liberals are too afraid to call for the abolition of private ownership.
- This leads to the second consequence. The hypocrisy of the left will show up when there is celebration following the passage of law that will have only superficial effects on gun violence. People will calm down, a feeling of complacent accomplishment will set in, and the violence will continue. When the violence is especially vivid and terrible, the NRA will return to the first point: we tried laws and they didn’t work.
Both of these points suggest that it might be in the NRA’s interest to allow some gun control legislation. It is a tactic for countering the Trump slump (legislation means frantic purchases), it is a clever long-term ploy against future proposals, and it unmasks the incoherence of mainstream liberal gun policies.
So I am calling for self-reflection on the left about gun control—even among high school students. On what basis are you calling for gun control? What principle are you advocating? Do you simply not want to see school shootings? Or do you care about all gun violence? Then your call for banning assault weapons must be part of a broader effort to ban all private ownership of guns. But if you wish to stay in the middle, please notice that your proposals are playing directly into the NRA’s hands.