Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Never the Right Time

There has been some debate over when is the proper time to cite the killings in Virginia Tech to advance a political agenda.

I'll deal with that in an upcoming post, but there is something worse to do -- you can indulge in a rant about your pet issue that has no chance of convincing anyone, and is just pretty much an attack on Those People Over There.

Here's one example. Apparently, according to Miss Shaidle, the proper Catholic response to this crisis is to express how distasteful and embarrassing we find their method of grieving, in the hopes of embarrassing them into what we would consider more dignified methods of grieving.

Now, let's say an actual grieving person who might be inclined to incorporate some soft rock and stuffed teddy bears in their her grieving process. Somehow, she comes across this post. What is her most likely reaction:

1. Realize the error of her ways, and proceed post haste to the nearest Catholic church to light a candle and begin a novena.

2. Decide that Catholics are a bunch of judgemental jerks disconnected from human experience, and swear never to walk into a Catholic Church again.

Here's another take on this.

Then there's Timothy Noah's column about gun control.

First, I probably support some of the gun control measures Noah supports, but I deeply oppose his method of argument.

Cherry-picking some passages...

Indeed, a local handgun ban in the District of Columbia was recently struck down by the D.C. Court of Appeals; it remains in force while the city government seeks a review by the full D.C. Circuit. So, even if Congress were to legislate significant restrictions on gun ownership, there's a decent chance the courts would rule them unconstitutional. That's the political state of play, and if I were advising a Democratic presidential candidate, I would tell him or her to steer clear of the issue. This country, speaking through its government, does not favor gun control.

Well, there's also the matter that there's an amendment to the constitution solely about establishing a right to bear arms. That probably has more to do with why the courts strike these laws down that the current political winds.

The massacre at Virginia Tech is a logical consequence of that reality. Are we sorry that 32 people, most of them no older than 22, were killed? Of course. But we aren't so sorry that we intend to do anything to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.We value the lives of Mary Read, Ryan Clark, Leslie Sherman, and all the rest, but we value more their killer Cho Seung Hui's untrammeled right to purchase not only a Glock 19 and a Walther P22, but also the ammunition clips that, according to the April 18 Washington Post, would have been impossible to obtain legally had Congress not allowed President Clinton's assault-weapon ban to expire three years ago.

And everyone who opposed the war in Iraq cared more about Saddam Hussein's right to construct WMD's without interference than the cops and firemen who were killed on 9/11.

This is a cheap trick Noah's deploying here. We know the names of the victims of this and other massacres. We don't know the names and faces of those who might be saved by the opposing policies.

Yes, that's why we're not enacting gun control. We don't care enough. I can just see those opposed to gun control reading this passage and nodding along. Indeed, Mr. Noah, you've got us pegged. We don't care enough. In fact, I think that's a main thrust of the NRA's campaigns -- "we're not sorry enough about tragedies to do something to end them."

Can Noah conceive of the notion that there may be another motivation for opposing gun control than insufficient care for victims? That an armed citizenry might have stopped the killer before the body count reached double-digits? That he might have been deterred by the possibility that his planned killing spree could be stopped before it became newsworthy?

I don't know that I completely buy all these arguments, but someone making the case for gun control has a duty to at leas acknowledge them.

I also can't help but wonder if Noah is truly sorry about this event, or pleased that it gives him an opportunity to take a whack at gun control opponents.

There are people in this country today who, one day in the future, will be gunned down by psychopaths like Cho Seung Hui. Future presidents will be assassinated, if the past is any guide, and probably the odd pop star, too. We could spare these lives—some of them, at least—by making it difficult or impossible to acquire a handgun in the United States. But we choose not to. Tough luck, whoever you are.

Many more, including a current governor, will be maimed or killed in automobile accidents. We could save these lives by passing serious restrictions on automobiles -- preventing them from exceeding certain speeds, not allowing cars to run unless the driver's seat belt is buckled, lowering speed limits. But we choose not to. Tough luck, John Corzine and others.

There are trade-offs, and there are winners and losers. At times like this, it is tempting to say that there is no countering good that outweighs the loss of 32 people. And if my daughter were killed in an automobile accidents, I wouldn't think anything was worth her death.

But that's not what we've decided. We're not willing to all drive 25 MPH, or accept other controls that would probably save lives. (though they may cost lives in other ways).

But Noah makes no attempt to address the trade-offs. We don't have gun control because we don't care enough.

Maybe we don't have it because those advocating it would rather indulge their desire to rant than make a case for their policies.


Archaeopteryx said...

Here's an example of the kind of thing you're talking about.

Bite oftheweek said...

Uh, maybe Noah doesn't have to make a case for gun control because the killer did it for him.

JohnMcG said...


He didn't -- people don't oppose gun control because they don't care about violnce. They oppose it because, on balance, they believe that it prevents more than it causes.

This may or may not be true. But violent incidents like the VT massacre doesn't in itself make that case any more than John Corzine's accident makes the case for mandatory speed controls on cars.

Bite oftheweek said...

Noah didn't say that people who oppose gun control don't care about violence.

He said that they care *more* about being able to get phallic substitutes easily than they do about gun violence.

And I agree with him.

JohnMcG said...

OK, great -- now use that argument to convince them to do otherwise.

Bite oftheweek said...

There is no convincing them. Anyone who needs a gun to feel like a man will never let it go.

They don't warrant reasonable arguments, only derision.

JohnMcG said...

Using Mr. Noah;s style of argument, it's apparent you care more about you sense of moral superiority over gun control advocates than about slain college students.