Wil Wheaton, the erstwhile child actor who once publicly berated his parents for having political opinions different from his, has a problem with the National Rifle Association. In recent years Wheaton has taken to Twitter to excoriate the NRA for—well, for what exactly? It’s sort of hard to say.
Wheaton has loudly been declaring the same thing over and over again for some time now: “Fuck the NRA,” he regularly tweets. He said it in December 2012, in April 2013, and this year once in April, another time in April, yet another time in April, once in May, once in June, once again in June, once more in June, one more time in June, once this month, and once again this month.
Why does Wheaton hate the NRA? For the same reason many other people hate it: ignorance. Wheaton serves as a great example of the near-total sphere of stupidity that encapsulates a great deal of the perennial American gun debate: somebody told him the NRA was responsible for mass shootings and terrorist attacks, he believed it unequivocally, and he continues to believe it.
Such a belief requires no real critical thought. One only has to associate two disparate phenomena—mass shootings on the one hand and a civil rights organization on the other—to produce the desired effect. A mentally ill young man kills his mother, steals her firearms, and shoots up an elementary school? “Fuck the NRA.” Both Republicans and Democrats fairly defeat a deeply stupid and unpopular gun control bill in the Senate? “Fuck the NRA.” A wannabe ISIS-worshiping jihadist with multiple firearm licenses shoots up a gay nightclub? “Fuck the NRA.”
It’s an all-purpose epithet, perfect for every occasion, and the best part is one doesn’t have to expend any rational contemplation on it whatsoever. It’s what George Orwell termed “duckspeak,” a way of communicating in which “articulate speech issue[s] from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all.” That is the most charitable thing you could say about Wheaton’s discourse on the NRA: it’s mindless, meaningless, animalistic honking.
The NRA has nothing to do with mass shootings. Everyone knows this. Even Wheaton himself probably knows it, somewhere down in the quacking recesses of his subconscious. The mass shooting phenomenon in this country is serious, but the pathological mainspring of each shooting tends to be radically different: the failure of our mental health system for one, the failure of our government intelligence apparatus for another, an irresponsible parent here, an incompetent military assessment process there. Each of these requires a different kind of fix, meaning the problem is unsuitable for pithy sound bites and 140-character pronouncements.
Sadly, such complexity is sure to confuse second-rate thinkers, especially folks like Wheaton, a fellow who prefers to argle-bargle about a nineteenth-century American nonprofit instead of expending any real cognitive effort on a problem of significant import.
We are not going to solve our country’s problems through a public discourse that appeals to the lowest common denominator of intellectual dialogue. There are real ways to solve America’s gun violence problems, and there are people making an honest attempt to realize those solutions. There are many paths forward to a safer and less violent country. But the Wil Wheatons of the world are not interested in a constructive debate of that variety. They are interested in saying “Fuck the NRA” over and over again. Good luck with that.