Pro-gun folks are getting ambitious with their new proposals. They used to merely oppose legislation that would hinder the ability of people to own as many guns as they want, regardless of their criminal history, mental health, or ability to handle their weapon safely. Now they want to push legislation that would encourage or even require more people to own guns.
Take the recent commentary from NRA News Commentator Billy Johnson titled, “Everybody Gets a Gun.” Though he conceded that his ideas “may be seen as ‘ridiculous’–even by ‘Second Amendment advocates,'” I don’t think this admission comes close to expressing just how ridiculous his proposal is. It is flawed from beginning to end. But, it is a telling indicator of where some of the more extreme pro-gun supporters hope to go with gun policy.
All emphasis in the following excerpts is mine. Johnson begins:
As a country we have an education policy. Imagine if that policy was about limiting who has access to public education. I mean, let’s be honest, the danger in educating people to think is that they might actually start to think for themselves. Perhaps we should think seriously about who we give access to knowledge. They could use it to do a lot of damage.
As a country we have a far reaching public parks program. Imagine if that program was designed to limit who has access to those parks. You littered once in high school, sorry no park access for you.
As a country we have labor policies designed to ensure that people are given access to jobs regardless of gender, race, or creed. Imagine if that policy withheld certain types of jobs as only the purview of the government elite.
Here Johnson sets up his straw men, hoping that he can convince people who guns are actually comparable to any of these things. But, let’s break them down, one at a time.
First, he compares the right to own a gun to the right to an education. While it is true that only one of these things is mentioned in the Constitution, his argument actually defeats itself. He claims that knowledge in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing. This is the very crux of the argument for gun control legislation. None but the most extreme anti-gun advocates is seeking to outlaw guns completely. Most are merely hoping for measures are put in place that limit who has access to them, ensuring that they do not end up in the wrong hands. Even if Johnson is attempting to be sarcastic or ironic (and he may very well be, to be fair), he fails in this attempt. Claiming that knowledge can be dangerous but ignoring that guns can be is idiotic. Or, assuming he is being sarcastic, he is admitting that guns can be dangerous and we should “think seriously about who we give access to” them. Either way, the argument fails.
Next, he says litterbugs should be kept out of public parks. This is obviously a reference to legislation that keeps violent felons and those with violence-related restraining orders from owning weapons. But, his analogy is offensive as it compares acts of violence with littering. I think the victims and survivors of these acts would dispute the similarity to leaving trash on the ground in a public place. Surely, even Johnson can see the difference. And, if this is merely an attempt at humor, again, he has failed, as there is nothing at all funny about violence or trying to prevent it.
Then, Johnson compares gun owners to those affected by discrimination due to their “gender, race, or creed.” And he tops off this failed comparison with the right-wing buzzwords “government elite,” hoping to appeal to the paranoia of many gun extremists. One would assume that he is trying to make an analogy to the fear that the government will come take all the guns away from regular citizens, meaning only the government itself will be allowed to bear arms. Again, this is playing into the extremist paranoia, and doing so through an apples-and-orange comparison between the right to discrimination-free employment and the right for unhindered gun ownership.
But, all of that is just the set-up. Now, we get to the heart of Johnson’s proposal. He continues:
The point is that as a country we often write policy to protect access to something; education, parks, jobs. But one for one of the most important protections, a constitutional right, we write policy designed to limit access. Among Second Amendment supporters it’s common to talk about U.S. gun policy. We worry that policies will encroach on our rights; we share our concerns about overreaching gun policy that fails to make any of us safer.
But we don’t spend nearly enough time asking what is the purpose of policy and what should the purpose of gun policy be? We don’t have a U.S. gun policy. We have a U.S. anti-gun policy. Our gun policies are designed around the assumption that we need to protect people from guns, that guns are bad or dangerous. But what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better. Let’s consider that for a minute.
Gun policy driven by people’s need for guns would seek to encourage people to keep and bear arms at all times. Maybe it would even reward those who do so. What if instead of gun free-zones we had gun-required zones?
It is a common tactic among pro-gun supporters (or “Second Amendment” supporters) to fall back on the Constitution. Yes, the Constitution does have an amendment that refers to a right to bear arms. But, there has been great debate over the ambiguously worded amendment and just what it actually does intend to protect. The Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It was only with the recent Heller decision by the Supreme Court that this was found to refer to the right for all people to own guns of any kind without restriction. But, even after that, the court has upheld numerous restrictions, as various states and cities have implemented legislation seeking to limit gun violence. But, gun supporters have been bolstered by the Supreme Court ruling, to the point that they believe their right to keep and bear arms should supersede the Constitution’s promises to “establish Justice,” “insure domestic Tranquility,” or “promote the general Welfare.” These far-less-ambiguous promises are exactly what Johnson mocks with his earlier dismissal of education, public parks, and jobs. Surely, if limits can be placed on access to these, the same can be done for guns. But, Johnson calls such restrictions an “overreach.” He then claims that gun policy “fails to make any of us safer,” despite proof that states with more gun legislation in place have lower rates of gun violence, and vice versa.
Next, Johnson makes a blatantly false assumption and then uses it as the basis for the rest of his commentary. He asks, “what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better?” The answer is simple. We would be making policy based on a false assumption. We might as well make gun policy based on the assumption that guns can make people fly or grow to be ten feet tall. All are equally ridiculous.
But, Johnson is undeterred, next suggesting that what we really need are “gun-required zones,” an apparent reference to the erroneous belief that criminals seek out gun-free zones for their killing sprees, though that argument has been debunked. So, now we have false information leading to a proposal that is itself based on the false assumption that people have a “need for guns.”
Now, we come to the big finish. Johnson concludes:
Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we’d give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn’t matter if a child’s parents weren’t good at it. We’d find them a mentor. It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade.
Gun policy driven by the assumption we need guns would probably mean our government would subsidize it. I mean, perhaps we would have government ranges where you could shoot for free or a yearly allotment of free ammunition. Sound crazy? Think about it. Education, healthcare, food, retirement, we subsidize things we value. Gun policy, driven by our need for guns would protect equal access to guns, just like we protect equal access to voting, and due process, and free speech. Our Founding Fathers believed that we did need guns. That’s why they codified our access to guns into the Constitution. But the idea of a gun policy that does justice to their intentions sounds ridiculous. What does that say about us? Even as Second Amendment advocates we can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.
Johnson has gone off the rails, contradicting himself at every turn. He now claims that young people should be educated to use weapons, just like they are taught “necessary skills,” after earlier stating that education can be dangerous (unless maybe he is joking again; it can be hard to tell). Then, in his most disturbing statement of all, Johnson says, “It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn. We would make it necessary…” Without making too many assumptions about Johnson’s political beliefs, wouldn’t this be the very type of government tyranny that Second Amendment folks are so worried about? Johnson then calls for government subsidies for guns since “we subsidize things we value,” like education, healthcare, food, and retirement. Again, aren’t these examples of government tyranny? While I am surprised that he admits that those are things we value, guns clearly do not fall into the same category–at least not unless you are still buying into the false assumption that guns are something “we need.”
He concludes by saying that even the pro-gun crowd “can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.” But, clearly he can. Not only can he fathom it, he can come up with a dubious justification for it. And, while this may be merely a tongue-in-cheek thought exercise, this kind of thinking can have real-world consequences.
For example, look at the recent legislation in Kentucky that seeks to arm survivors of domestic violence. This shows the danger of treating guns as a necessity rather than as something that can be used to do great harm. Rather than taking steps to keep people with a history of violence from gaining access to a weapon, Kentucky has now placed the burden on the abused, encouraging them to arm themselves, even though having a gun in the house drastically increases the likelihood that a domestic violence attack will result in the victim being killed.
The idea that guns make people safer is dangerous, and the idea that guns are something that people “need” is even more so. While guns may be protected by the Second Amendment, regulations on them are also protected. And, these regulations are necessary. The right to own a gun is no more sacred than the right not to own one, or the right to be free from the fear of having one be used against you. But, the NRA keeps pushing. And, though Johnson’s proposal is admittedly ridiculous, it justifies laws like the one in Kentucky, where the answer to a problem of violence is more guns. And, more guns should never be the answer, no matter what the problem is.