Clearly visible and viscerally felt at the recent Gun Rights Policy Conference held in Chicago were polarized factions within the Gun Rights movement. There are those within the movement who have been decried as traitors and turncoats for being willing to consider background check legislation, for example, and others who are viewed as being so extreme that they have become “the enemy” because of the harm their violent rhetoric has done to the public perception of gun rights activism. (Something I find strongly reminiscent of the concurrent discourse about ISIS and Islam.)
The article focuses on a riveting bit of onstage debate between GRPC organizer Alan Gottlieb (considered a traitor by some of the folks in the auditorium) and activist Jeff Knox, whose father was an influential NRA board member until his death in 2005.
In the middle of Gottlieb’s remarks, he made one particular comment that sums up what I find saddening and maddening about prevalent and deep-seated attitudes that arise repeatedly in the gun rights debate. Defending himself against charges of being a traitor to the cause due to his support for a background check bill, the article notes, ‘…Gottlieb reminded his audience that even without a background check system in place, there are good reasons not to sell guns to strangers. “If you’re stupid enough to sell a gun to someone you don’t know, forget the criminal liability — what about the civil liability?”‘
“Good on him,” I thought. “Yes! What about the human consequences of selling a gun to a stranger who then uses it to kill someone?”
But that was not Gottlieb’s point. His next sentence was: ‘”What about you getting sued” if the buyer kills someone?’
In other words, Who cares about some dead person? They’re dead. The big question is: what happens to ME? I might face financial or legal consequences.
A significant portion of the gun “problem” is, I think, an attitude problem. The arguments I hear from this segment of the gun rights movement are first and foremost about how it affects them. Period. Full stop. It tempts me to think that for folks with this mindset, “USA” stands for “Unto my Self Alone”.
In reality, none of us is alone. We have to live with each other and our guns. In this context, Alan Gottleib is, at least, a realist. In a confrontation with Jeff Knox, Gottlieb tried to explain to his audience that the background check issue was different from other debates because of its broad public support even from gun owners and NRA members.
“What issues do you find that get 70 to 90 percent of the people to agree on anything?” Gottlieb asked.
Knox replied that he didn’t believe the numbers the polls are showing, to which Gottlieb responded, “You may not believe the number, but I’ve seen well over 500 polls all across the country over the last six years on background checks. They all say the same damn thing. They’re not wrong, believe me.” He offered Knox and the conference attendees a choice: deal with reality or read the polls as saying what they wanted to hear.
Knox concluded gun rights activists in states like Arizona are not going to change or give an inch on the debate. Gottlieb acknowledged the reality of that. “I’m being honest with you,” he told Knox and the audience. “I’m not expecting you to change, but that’s why we’re going to lose.”
Another maddening aspect of this, as someone who supports background checks (and other ideas such as mandated gun safety training), is another attitude evinced by the GRPC and individuals I’ve discussed guns with. That is, that I and people like me don’t really give a rat’s patoot about victims of gun violence or gun stupidity, that we don’t care about solving crimes or making everyone’s lives safer, these are just a smoke screen to cover our real goal—the confiscation of all guns so that we (somehow even with our own guns confiscated) can usher in a Nazi-like state.
This is difficult, if not impossible, for me to wrap my mind around. I know that what inspires me to blog and speak about gun violence is no bizarre fantasy about being part of a new totalitarian movement. I do not dream of being one of the powerful, controlling the lives of others. My goals in life and in this discourse are so diametrically opposed to that unrealistic and logistically laughable goal that it makes my head hurt with the effort to figure out where ideas like that even come from. I’m sure I don’t want to know. But let me assure readers that I really do care about gun safety, and fewer people who die because of the confluence of mental disorder, rage, fanaticism, or just plain negligence and guns.
I assure you, I don’t weep because I can’t control my gun-owning friends yet. I weep because of the sheer number of cases I read about daily, in which something as simple as a background check that included mental health, gun shows and internet sales, limited ammo magazines, gun safety training, and an attitude adjustment might have caused one less family to be grieving the loss of a child or other member.
One of the chief reasons for the belief that background checks are the first step toward a totalitarian takeover by jackbooted liberals (who are known for their warlike love of carnage) is this inability to trust that the individuals among gun violence activists have honest, human reasons that are consistent with their other “liberal” goals (healthcare for all, gender equality and all those other “bleeding heart” issues) and that those goals are shared with most other participants in the movement.
Remember what I said above about groups too extreme for the mainstream of the GRPC? Gun violence activists are no more inclined to embrace extremists in their cause than are gun rights activists. Possibly, because of their “bleeding hearts” they are even less so.