Argumentative Behavior: Don't Let Bad Guys Control Conversation on Guns

The elementary-school massacre in Connecticut set off renewed conversations about how to avoid such violence, but as usual gun-rights advocates have no interest in discussing what "well regulated" in the Second Amendment truly means. By conflating limitations on what types of guns can be privately owned with "taking away our guns," they reduce conversations on gun control to pointless blather.

Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, said, "The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." What people really want to talk about, however, is how to stop bad guys from getting guns in the first place. Reframing an issue so the crux of the matter drops out of sight is a common tactic for those who favor the status quo. Confusion and distraction serves their purposes, possibly more so than making a persuasive case.

LaPierre advocated armed guards at schools. Others on the right have echoed that call, but against the backdrop of the "fiscal cliff" showdown, none have offered suggestions on how to fund such a project, whose cost has been estimated at $8 billion. As with Homeland Security or invading Iraq, a more expensive, militarized society sounds great to Republicans, especially when they just change the topic whenever someone asks how they plan to pay for it.

To LaPierre's credit, he did address how we can afford armed guards in every public school. He said that if the political will to dedicate tax dollars toward armed guards does not exist, NRA members will volunteer for the task, a well regulated militia being necessary for the security of the first grade.

A big part of the gun-owner fantasy is that armed citizens are the last line of defense against government tyranny, yet LaPierre suggested a national database of the mentally ill. Gun sellers could access the database so they can avoid selling guns to crazy people. A tyrant would certainly enjoy control of a federal database of citizens deemed mentally unfit.

A significant number of spree killers suffer from schizophrenia. Most, however, are pushed to violence by circumstance: financial stress, failed romance, social pressures. Should a person be flagged as mentally unfit for gun ownership if he loses his job or plunges toward bankruptcy? Knoxville's spree killer chose his victims based on politics, so perhaps a library of books by Hannity, Beck, and Levin should land a person on the do-not-sell-guns-to list.

If NRA members are to roam school halls with guns, how much regulation will be enough for this citizen militia? Surely volunteers will be checked against sexual-predator databases. What other mental and behavioral tests are reasonable before allowing a person to go armed among children?

Mental health in America is an important topic, but if we let men like LaPierre frame the discussion, then our society has lost its mind. That sounds facetious, but consider that killing sprees often happen in affluent communities. Newtown is a wealthy suburb, home to banking industry professionals and military contractors, just like Aurora, Colo. College students were killed at Virginia Tech, not Tennessee Tech. It's the privileged who warp their suicides into massacres.

When a drone strike kills a dozen Pakistani civilians or a bomb hits an Afghan schoolhouse, we do not question the motives and methods of their killers, but maybe we should. Slaughter of school children is tragic wherever it happens, even if the perpetrators have the power to declare war and command armies.

When the privileged and powerful control public conversations, they can cast themselves in glowing light, but maybe the real crux of the conversation ought to be whether we are still the good guys. We torture prisoners and kill with robots. Our bankers cripple the world economy and still get bonuses. Political leaders lie with impunity.

It's not good guys with guns we need more of—it's just good guys.