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    « The Great Fallacy: Part 2 | Main | Prose and Context »

    The Great Fallacy: Part 1


    “No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men.

    They do not grow wise. They grow careful.”

    --Ernest Hemmingway, from A Farewell to Arms


    Once again we are face to face with ourselves.

    These last few days have brought on a combination of anger and exhaustion that I wouldn’t have thought possible, an irate numbness that refuses to fade. My wife has taken to turning off the news when I enter the room because she knows I just can’t take hearing it anymore. No matter how many talking heads speak, it’s all just words repeated, echoing metallically from broadcast to broadcast. The same questions fuel the same answers, all serving no purpose but to mask a self-supporting anomie that overwhelms us.

    Newtown is Virginia Tech is Columbine is Clackamas is Oakland, with each Next Time arriving more quickly. Each Next Time, too, we find ourselves navigating the same straits with the same maps, the same compass, the same stars, until not long after we again run aground.

    For those of us who care about gun control—especially those of us who are conservatives—it’s time to take action. We need new maps.


    We have grown too careful in our responses and, consequently, unwise, No more should we participate in the same old conversations, accept the same old ridiculous objections. No more should we even engage with the same facts we’ve used so often before; they remain unlistened to, ignored. In order to defeat the obsessive arms addicts, we must, instead, agree with them.

    Now, when someone tells me that they have a right to keep and bear arms, I nod my assent. The 2nd Amendment, I tell them, absolutely gives them that right. But which arms? Everyone—and I mean everyone, even the National Rifle Association—believes that the right to keep and bear arms should be regulated.  We don’t allow anyone to purchase surface-to-air missiles at a gun show, for example. Nor can I, obviously, legally own a nuclear or chemical weapon of mass destruction—something even the NRA must concede. Given that truth, the question is this: Who gets to decide how we define “arms?” Legislation has always defined such terms; it’s done for nutrition, for what we will or won’t deem “natural,” and even for such simple terms as “zero.” We even legislate elements of the 1st Amendment regularly, moving the lines as time and culture allow. So it seems absolutely logical that how we define legally-owned arms can and should be a legislative function. The argument, I tell them isn’t about the principle. We all agree. It’s only about where the lines should be drawn.

    I also refuse to engage in diversionary tactics, the bait-and-switch which has become so popular. In the past it’s been video games or Hollywood or parenting to blame, anything to deflect attention from the trigger being pulled. Now, with the Newtown incident, the inevitable red herring has shifted to mental health, about how the perpetrator was disturbed and didn’t get the help he needed. I agree. But I also ask this question: Why should it be one or the other? Why can we not address both issues, the disturbed mind who screams for help and the system that makes it so easy for him to acquire killing machines? There is no reason to accept the either/or argument of these diversionists. There is always a both/and worth talking about.

    Finally, I no longer argue at all with extremists on either side. Those that believe all guns should disappear are living in a fantasy world of impracticality and cultural blindness, and those that believe that their rights and freedoms exist outside the social compact share the same sightlesness. These people will never be convinced, and those of us who want to engage in serious conversation will only be wasting our time. Instead, I look for those with open minds, those who do more than echo the pundits, parroting the silvered tongues of lesser lights. It’s these others—these rationals—I wish to speak with.

    And they will hear.


    I recently created and posted this meme: 

    I saw many of the usual responses, the usual arguments, even the latest diversions devised and mimed by those at the edges of the bell curve.

    But I also saw this:

    I've always been a defender of gun rights. This meme…made me stop and think again about my views. I still believe in private gun ownership but my outlook on the whole matter has softened a little.

    and in response, this:

    I feel the same way. And now I’m really conflicted about it.

    I feel some of my anger and exhaustion slipping away.

    There is an opportunity, a window opened through tragedy, but open still. Our job now is not to let the Newtown incident become just another entry on a lengthening list, but to use it to grow smarter, to engage differently, to make change happen.

    To grow less careful and, perhaps, more wise.


    [Note: an excellent post on this topic, from Mary Ann Reilly, includes links to organizations you may wish to contact about sane and serious arms control.]


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    Reader Comments (4)

    Michael - as a self-pronounced "progressive/liberal" I am so encouraged to find you as a self-pronounced "conservative" engaging in such a thoughtful, analytic way on a vital topic that too many have reduced to knee-jerk propaganda statements. I believe on this issue, and so many others that effect the future of our nation and our world, we need more of exactly this type of civil dialogue that allows people with varying views to discuss intelligently how to move forward. Thank you and let's hope that larger numbers get involved in this discussion in as measured and nuanced fashion. With gratitude, - Nadine B. Hack, CEO beCause Global Consulting and Executive-in-Residence Emerita IMD Business School

    December 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNadine B. Hack

    Thanks for your comments, Nadine. I do believe we are entering (albeit slowly) an era where extremism is pushed to the sidelines and more rational minds can prevail. We're seeing it across the board, and I'm once again optimistic that the pendulum is swinging back to a position of careful normalcy.

    December 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    Kudos, Michael. Another excellent post filled with rational thinking.

    I still believe in America (without all the jingoism), and our ability to tackle and solve problems. My faith in Americans and their ability to change things for the better for everyone, however, tends to go up in inverse proportion to the age of the individual and in direct proportion to their lean to the left.

    It just seems to me that there are lots of people of our generation who wouldn't even agree to the notion of a new "map", let alone agree to look at it and to follow it. You, my friend, are clearly an exception to that rule.

    At the risk of being accused of politicizing this issue, I feel compelled – motivated by your post, really! - to offer a few thoughts.

    The Republican "base" seems especially susceptible to a blindness toward new ways of seeing things and to charting new courses. They behave over and over again in ways that make me think that there can be no "map" for some of them. The GOP base, such as it is today, seems so lost in regressive and antiquated beliefs that it seems impossible that they'll ever find their way back toward any sort of reasonable and rational center. This is once again in evidence on the issue of gun laws.

    Arming teachers? Arming everyone? Allowing guns everywhere? Those are truly extremist views and proposals. What does it say about someone who, in the aftermath of a tragic mass shooting, wants to arm even more people in more places? Attempting to compromise with people who think like this strikes me as the definition of an exercise in futility. To my knowledge, these are ideas coming exclusively from conservatives and Republicans.

    I've said this quite a bit over the last 12 years and even more so over the last 4: you true Republicans are in the fight for your political lives when it comes to your party. Good luck.

    Likewise, I recognize and acknowledge that some consider it extreme to even talk about an outright ban on clips holding more than 10 rounds or "arms" which can be defined as semi-automatic, including handguns. As a liberal, I don't consider either of these as “liberal” thinking or as extreme. I'm not suggesting we ban all firearms, although I do admit to dreaming of a world in which human beings didn't shoot each other. It's a dream, I know.

    Limiting ownership of certain kinds of firearms and ammo seems to me to be a reasonable and rational first step in the right direction. Here's why.

    Above all else, there is no getting around the fact that the firearm is the central non-human element to any shooting. All the other red herrings aside, it is the one constant throughout. It (including the ammo) is the one "thing" that is a thing.

    That's why it seems to me that no matter how daunting the challenge, it is not an extreme idea to consider limiting and eventually eliminating the availability of a "thing."

    If not now, why not?

    Have we not yet come to the point when enough innocent people - and now little children - have been murdered by someone with semi-automatic firearms and extended ammo clips?

    Are we really not yet ready to concede that the Second Amendment has been usurped and perverted by the NRA and firearms manufacturers, and that it's time that they are dismissed from the conversation altogether?

    Will the center in this discussion be populated by a majority willing to speak out in agreement that even if we start the long and arduous journey toward eliminating citizen ownership of weapons designed solely and strictly for inflicting maximum damage with minimal efforts - including all extended clips and semi-automatic firearms - that the 2nd Amendment will be just fine?

    Will the rational among us convince the fearful that no one will be coming for your granddaddy's shotgun and, frankly, if you get your jollies from playing Rambo out back or at your gun club by firing off 30 rounds at a clip with your AK-47 at bowling pins and Obama posters, well, too effing bad. Looks like you'll need to find a new hobby or learn to shoot a revolver or bolt-action rifle.

    To your point, Michael, citizens already cannot own lots of weapons, including automatic weapons, rocket launchers, guided missiles, biologicals, nukes, tanks, etc. We're also at a point, I think, when we need to start calling out the gun advocates on the complete lack of logic and justification in their claims that they have a Constitutional right to own massive amounts of home-based firepower out of the fear instilled in them by the NRA and gun makers that citizens need to be prepared – nay, have the duty to – fight back against the bogey-men soon to be deployed by a tyrannical and evil federal government.

    Exactly how do you they intend to repel a tyrannical government with their AR-15s and Glocks? They're being silly and childish in their thinking.

    And to all the fearful homeowners worried that this whole if-guns-are-outlawed-only-outlaws-will-have-them ruse, I simply say this. Banning extended clips and semi-automatic firearms is not the same thing as hanging a sign on everyone's door inviting a home invasion. You can still own guns. Besides, do you really believe that what keeps someone from breaking into your home is the fear of possibly getting shot by you? Do you have a sign outside with the types of guns you own? You're far better off protecting yourself with a home security system and your granddaddy's shotgun. It requires less aim, and you'll appreciate that as you tremble in the dark at close range.

    For the record, no, I don't own any handguns or semi-automatic firearms. I've never felt the need, nor have I had the desire. I don't personally know anyone who has ever had to defend themselves, their families, or their property in some kind of shootout. Talk about your memes. On top of that, I can count on one hand the people I know whom I would even want anywhere near me in a shootout for fear of my own life. Sunday afternoon range shooting has to be a little different than if people are firing back, and I don't care at what paramilitary gun club you spend your Sundays playing John Rambo.

    I do own shotguns. Neither of them are semi-automatic. Both of them are fine for bringing down any game for which I once hunted (it's been about 10 years). They are nowhere near my bed, and yet somehow I'm able to sleep soundly. They are not in my glove box, and yet I've never been carjacked. I've walked down some of the meanest streets at night - even spent the night once in Grand Central Station as a young man - and never once had to point my finger into my jacket pocket.

    This isn't the Wild West of Hollywood lore, and life isn't a video game. We shouldn't pretend that more guns carried by more people will lead to less shootings, and we don't get to restart life from the last save point.

    No one will ever know for sure, but I think it's the central point for discussion: would there have been a mass shooting in Connecticut if there were no extended clips and semi-automatic weapons in the home of the shooter? Beyond the innocent victims, I find two other points particularly disturbing. First, those firearms and ammo clips were obtained legally. I find it disturbing that such things are available to anyone outside of law enforcement and the military.

    Second and even more poignant, the owner – the mother – was killed before her son turned them on others and himself. This really reveals once and for all the house of cards that is the argument for the the legality and the arming of citizens with such weapons.

    So, coming back to your map analogy.

    I'm proud to call myself a liberal. As such and all too often, it seems to me that the "center" of the conservative universe has moved completely off the right hand edge of the map on so many things. This “thing” about guns is one of them. More guns only makes the problem worse. Some guns ought not to be in the public domain at all, and there seems to be evidence that certain types of guns – semi-automatic firearms with extended clips – are the weapon of choice for mass shootings by disturbed individuals. Seems like the best first place to start with a new map.

    And, let me say this. Thanks to conservatives like you, there is hope of the conservative center and the Republican party returning from its self-imposed extremism, and to come back into view on the map of our society so that we all can find that elusive middle ground together.

    Keep up the good work!

    December 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Russak

    I'm taking another tack on "my child's life" - we need to talk about the 99.9% of Americans' right to go shopping or to school or to a movie without fear of being gunned down by an assault weapon carried by an unstable individual. In America we need a mandate to protect all Americans from the rogue act of an unstable individual -- and that doesn't necessarily mean that gun rights are being questioned. The collaborative efforts of the NRA, the Congress, the Executive, and the public can coalesce around an assault weapon in the hands of the unstable and make our neighborhoods safe without touching the 2nd Amendment. This is not an intractable position.

    December 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersouthmpls

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