After every tragedy, political reformers seek to harness the emotional energy of the moment to push their legislative agenda. Typically, this consists of accusing those opposed to their reforms of being responsible for the tragedy in order to sway the undecideds. This grandstanding technique allows them to deflect any attempts at reason with emotional denunciations. Unfortunately, it deflects from actual substantive discussion that could result in positive reform.
This strategy has been on full display in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. At CNN’s town hall discussion between Stoneman Douglas High School students, local residents, Florida politicians and National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch, the students were frequently used as a political barrier to substantive debate. Any attempts by Ms. Loesch or Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., at discussing moderate reforms that could have aided in the prevention of the shooting were met with accusations of moral responsibility for the shooting itself.
Those affected by the shooting are understandably distraught, and this is why many have argued that the debate on gun control should not take place while emotions are high. This is not a desire to sweep the issue under the rug, but a recognition that discussion on such an important subject should not take place without rational thought. I implore you to watch the town hall and news coverage of the debate, with the NRA being called “child murderers” and audience members screaming insults at Sen. Rubio and Loesch, and consider whether this is truly a productive political atmosphere for debate to take place. The framing of the dialogue changes from “What measures could prevent future tragedies?” to “If you don’t support a ban on assault weapons, then you’re responsible for the deaths of those children.” Those kinds of false equivalencies certainly get a rise out of an audience, but they erroneously equate owning a firearm with killing children.
This tactic is certainly not limited to those on the left. Last October, an ISIS-inspired 27-year-old man purposefully drove a rented truck down a New York bike path, killing eight and injuring twelve. President Donald Trump responded to the attack by calling for an end to the visa lottery through which the man had gained his citizenship. However, an evil act by one man out of the 50,000 people given green cards through the program yearly does not, on its own, justify the end of the program. Unfortunately, this did not stop it from becoming a rallying cry on the right.
It is absurd to pretend that nothing short of an assault weapon ban could have prevented the shooting in Florida. The shooter had a long history of mental illness and violent behavior. His threats of violence would qualify as assault, a felony, or he could have been involuntarily hospitalized and psychologically evaluated through the Baker Act. As Loesch put it, “None of us support people who are crazy, … who are a danger to others getting their hands on a firearm.” If the goal is actually “common sense gun reform,” then it makes little sense to target the millions of law-abiding firearm owners, when laws in place could have prevented the situation.
Responsible gun owners have already been advocating for federally mandated reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and would be more than willing to support legislation to ensure those that display violent behavior are restricted from purchasing weapons. However, when politicians condescendingly say, “Nobody wants to take your guns,” while simultaneously advocating for an assault weapon ban — The Economist found that 73 percent of Democrats support a ban on semiautomatic rifles — any hope for cooperation becomes lost to fear that it will turn into a loss of the right to self-defense. The expiration of a federal ban of assault weapons in 2004 had no effect on murder rates. Additionally, from 2010 to 2014, rifles were used in slightly over 2 percent of all murders, outpaced doubly each year by hands, fists and feet, according to the FBI. However, the media’s obsession with mass shootings and campaigns based upon fear have painted assault weapons as a leading cause of violent crime.
This is why, unlike many of my classmates at Yale, I cannot support movements like the “March for Our Lives” that use scare tactics to push overreaching legislation. Their lack of specificity and depth on the issues, besides vaguely asking for “a comprehensive and effective bill” indicates that they either do not know what that bill would contain or they know that their idea of a “comprehensive and effective bill” would dissuade others from joining their cause. If you wish to bring about effective change, then educate yourself about firearms and engage in discussions about reform with those who support the right to bear arms. But if grandstanding and emotional appeals are more your style, have fun at the march and make sure to get a good photo for Instagram.
Jake Fischer is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .