Agreeing to be a guest on the old “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart was basically a suicide mission for conservatives. Segment interviews would be edited and framed to make guests look like hapless nuts trying to match wits with the wise, wisecracking “correspondents.” I’ve not really watched his new show, “The Problem with Jon Stewart,” but apparently, the host’s new tactic is to invite fringe legislators as straw men.
In a new viral “8-minute masterclass,” Stewart schools, brutally confronts, eviscerates, and expertly corners an Oklahoma state senator named Nathan Dahm, who’s proposed a number of bills exempting his state from federal firearm laws. Dahm is clearly unprepared for Stewart — though in his defense, it’s difficult for anyone to deal with a host who engages in performative emotional outbursts, filibusters, and deflections whenever you try and answer a question.
The state senator starts off innocently enough, contending that “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and that the Second Amendment is the only amendment that “uses that very specific affirmative language.” To which Stewart responds, “Oh, it’s also the one right that uses the phrase ‘well-regulated.’”
This again. Well-“regulated” merely refers to an orderly civilian military force — rather than a rabble of men — it does not mean “regulation” in the contemporary nanny-istic sense. The regulated militia mentioned in the prefatory clause of the Second Amendment doesn’t weaken, much less erase, the operative clause of the amendment, which protects the individual’s right to “bear” arms — a right that virtually every notable figure from the founding era is on the record defending.
Anyway, perhaps Dahm was about to say all of that before Stewart interrupted him to unfurl one of his big gotchas lazily conflating illegal gun crimes with gun ownership: “I don’t want to ban guns. But you’re saying more guns makes us more safe. So, when? We got 400 million guns in the country. We had an increase, and gun deaths went up. So when exactly does this curve hit, that takes it down? Would a billion guns do it?”
First off, deaths didn’t always “go up.” Starting in the early 1990s, when gun homicides peaked, firearm ownership also began spiking. And, as more people bought guns, firearm-related homicides dropped steeply, hitting a historic low by 2014. Gun homicides remained relatively low until we saw a significant rise amid the BLM riots and the Covid lockdowns. Crime rates can rise and fall for an array of societal reasons. Major cities might begin adopting looser policing standards, spurring criminality. Or maybe a state-compelled national shutdown leaves millions of Americans feeling helpless and more inclined to violence.
Besides, it’s impossible to quantify the extent to which gun ownership mitigates crime. In addition to the daily documented cases of defensive gun use, we have no idea how many times would-be criminals are dissuaded from acting due to an armed citizen or the possibility of an armed citizen.
Dahm could also have turned Stewart’s argument around: How many fewer guns does he contend will make us safer? Where does that curve hit? Is it 300 million fewer or 50 million fewer? Using his calculus, states with the highest percentage of gun ownership per capita, like Wyoming, West Virginia, South Dakota, New Mexico, and New Hampshire, should also have the highest number of gun deaths. If every additional gun makes us incrementally less safe, then the optimal number should be zero. But, of course, it’s not that simple.
When Dahm notes that Stewart’s contention that he wants to bring chaos to order is merely subjective, the host really leans into argumentum ad passions: “We have 50,000 gun-related deaths,” he says. “That’s not a subjective opinion. That’s dead people.” This is a non sequitur. The subjectivity in the claim is that innocent deaths — more than half of them suicides, which exist at higher per capita rates in many nations with virtually no private gun ownership — are attributable to a lack of regulations, not that there are no innocent deaths.
But Stewart needs Dahm to rail against the imaginary anarchy. “If you don’t have background checks, and you don’t have registration and permitting, how do you know who has a problem in terms of the people who you’re giving a gun to?” Stewart asks. Well, I don’t know what Dahm is up to, but as it currently stands, everyone who purchases a firearm from an authorized dealer goes through an FBI check. Most of the psychopaths who shoot up schools or festivals or malls either have no priors or are already on the police’s radar.
Stewart soon gets Dahm to admit supporting curbs on the First Amendment in relation to banning drag queen shows but then showing inflexibility in curbing gun ownership. “You’re telling me…when it comes to children that have died, you don’t give a flying f**k to stop that because that shall not be infringed,” Stewart lectures.
Maybe Dahm is a hypocrite. Even so, that doesn’t change the Second Amendment or the reality of gun crime. What laws, short of confiscation, does Stewart propose would stop the killing of children by deranged gunmen? He does not say. Just fewer guns, I guess. Then again, if he had any answers, and if it wasn’t just about preening in front of his audience, Stewart would debate someone more formidable.