Can anyone imagine a major newspaper running an op-ed justifying public ignorance on public policy? Actually, not merely justifying the ignorance, but rather arguing that facts only help smother discourse rather than enhance it. It’s improbable. Then again, this is the gun debate. And one side benefits from policy illiteracy.
The Washington Post ran an op-ed by former Gawker writer Adam Weinstein arguing that Second Amendment advocates use “jargon” to bully gun-control supporters. “While debating the merits of various gun control proposals,” he contends, “Second Amendment enthusiasts often diminish, or outright dismiss their views if they use imprecise firearms terminology.”
How dare Second Amendment advocates expect that those passionately arguing to limit their constitutional rights have some rudimentary knowledge of the devices they want to ban? To point out the constant glaring technical and policy “faux pas” of gun controllers, he argues, is to engage in “gunsplaining,” a bad-faith argument akin to intimidation.
“If you don’t know what the ‘AR’ in AR-15 stands for, you don’t get to talk” explains the sarcastic subhead. If you don’t know what the “AR” in AR-15 stands you still get to talk. But if you want to ban or confiscate AR-15s and you haven’t taken the time to learn what the AR stands for, then gun owners have every right to call you out.
Weinstein bemoans the unfairness of gun controllers “being forced to sweat the finest taxonomic distinctions between our nation’s unlimited variety of lethal weapons.” This statement is illustrative of the emotionalism and hyperbole of the debate (the notion that there’s an “unlimited variety” of firearms is absurd) but also, at the same time, it’s an exaggeration of the Second Amendment advocate’s expectations.
Like with any contemporary disputes over public policy, there will always be those who attempt to dismiss opponents who possess less expertise. It’s certainly not unique to this debate. And no, simply because a person refers to a “bullet” rather than a “cartridge” or “clip” rather than a “magazine” should not mean exclusion from conversation.
Then again, much of gun-control policy is driven by the mechanics of a firearm. So while not knowing what a “barrel shroud” is should not prevent anyone from pondering gun policy (well, unless you’re a politician who goes on TV to advocate the banning of barrel shrouds without knowing what they are), failing to understand the distinction between a semi-automatic and automatic weapon tells us you’re either dishonest, unserious or unprepared for the debate.
So, for instance, Michael Bloomberg.
In a debate imbued with emotion, gun-control advocates rely on this ignorance. When Barack Obama tells a crowd that a mass shooter used a “fully automatic weapon,” he’s not concerned with the finest taxonomic distinctions of a gun, he’s depending on the yawning obliviousness of a cheering crowd. When CNN featured an alleged gun expert explaining that the AR-15 he’s about to fire is “full semi-automatic,” he’s making the functionality of firearm sound scarier to those who are ignorant about guns.
“Jargon” are words and expressions that are difficult for a layman to understand or use. Rather than use jargon, Second Amendment advocates are usually mocking those who use jargon-y sounding words in efforts to fearmonger viewers and constituents. When you claim that the streets are rife with “high-capacity, rapid-fire magazines” or “jumbo clips” you’re trying to fool your audience with a veneer of expertise you don’t possess. When you claim that we need to ban “gas-assisted, receiver firearms” you’re trying to make a semi-automatic weapon sound like a machine gun for a reason.
It’s not always the mechanics, either. When Joe Scarborough misrepresents the Heller decision, he’s preying on policy ignorance that has little to do with gun culture. When Steve Schmidt goes on television and passionately tells an audience that it’s more difficult to buy cough medicine than an “AK-47 – or 50 of them,” he’s either lying or he has absolutely no grasp of how gun policy works. Either way, he shouldn’t be talking to grownups about firearms.
All these people use a moralistic fallacy, which is often predicated on the ignorance Weinstein rationalizes. Not that it stops him from embracing the appeal to authority he condemns elsewhere.
For example, Weinstein takes Fox News personality Tomi Lahren to task for failing to mention that “the family” of Eugene Stoner, the AR-15’s designer and champion, claimed in 2016 that the inventor would be “horrified and sickened to see his military rifle pattern become so common in civilian households and school shootings.” You’ll notice the conflation. Of course Stoner would be horrified that his gun was used in school shootings. But Weinstein fails to note that there’s no evidence anywhere on the record that Stoner was “horrified and sickened” by the notion of civilians owning his gun. Since he was selling proto AR-15s to civilians a decade before his military model was adopted by the United States, we have no reason to believe he would be.
Perhaps that kind of discussion spurns conversation in favor of condescension. But at least it’s a debate that revolves around the veracity of facts. Which is a lot more I can say for the rest of the “gunsplaining” grievance.