Gun Control Debate 101

BY BOB BARR

Reading the social media posts of liberals following the latest mass shooting tragedy, occurring over the weekend in the small Texan town of Sutherland Springs, one might notice a pious gloating to their collective outrage. Rather than just the reflexive recitation of hatred at the National Rifle Association and congressional Republicans generally, liberals also lashed out against Christians, viciously blaming “prayers” for the lack of gun control efforts in Congress. It was almost as if they wanted to be at the scene of the horrific crime – a church – just to wag their fingers at the dead, for not heeding their snarky memes about gun owners and discredited studies from Michael Bloomberg’s “Everytown for Gun Safety” group.

As victim-blaming goes, the Left has reached a new low; hard as that is to imagine.

There is, however, a reason Congress has yet to fully address the problem of mass shootings, but it is not prayers, PAC-money from the NRA, or any of the accusations peddled by gun control activists. It is because, despite the same, trite demand from the Left for an “honest discussion about common sense gun reform” after every mass shooting, the Left appears to have no idea how to (or interest in) engaging such a conversation.

Having served both in Congress and as a board member of the NRA, I have never met a serious person who is absolutely opposed to any limitations on firearms ownership or usage. However, this is often how gun owners are characterized when they refuse to engage the Left in a gun control debate on its terms; which is more or less standing there while they rant about the purposeless of individual firearm ownership, and how other countries do not have gun violence problems like America does.

In the interests of helping foster a meaningful and constructive conversation on firearms, there are at least three basic rules to follow:

First, parties must decide if they are discussing solutions for mass shootings specifically, or general gun violence. And, even here, further clarification must be made as to the definition of mass shootings. For example, does the terminology include indiscriminate “mass shootings” in public places like those in Texas or Las Vegas, or the broader definition that Bloomberg’s “Everytown” uses to pad its stats (which includes “any incident in which four or more people, not including the shooter, are killed with a firearm”)? While most gun control rhetoric follows close on the heels of any multiple shooting event, little of what is debated has relevance to the specifics of the tragedy. There is a distinct difference between mass shootings and, say, gang activity that involves multiple homicides; and, solutions to each issue will be just as distinct and complex. Actually and appropriately defining the problem is the only way to reasonably debate effective solutions.

Second, recommendations must not be vague; they necessarily must be specific, with the burden of proof on those calling for the curtailment of current freedoms. Arguing, for example, that “America needs common sense gun control,” or that “it needs to be harder for people to buy guns” are far too vague to be of any use beyond worthless rhetoric. What does “common sense gun control” entail? Or, how specifically would have making it harder for millions of Americans to purchase guns stopped the Las Vegas shooting? (And it is now apparent that the Texas church murderer was able to purchase his killing instruments because government bureaucrats failed to put his prior domestic-violence court martial in the government database.) If these questions cannot be answered directly and accurately by those proposing these ideas, then they are not sufficiently serious to warrant further exploration.

Finally, unless engaging in some abstract discussion of firearms, there are inescapable facts that cannot simply be waved away. For starters, the Second Amendment is real; and unless and until it is struck from the Constitution through the process of amending that magnificent document, the ruling a decade ago by the Supreme Court concluding clearly that it protects a fundamental and individual right to keep and bear arms, remains a cornerstone of any reasoned debate.

Moreover, this natural right is deeply imbued in American history and culture, meaning millions of law-abiding Americans will be impacted by any changes to gun laws, and will not take such changes lightly. There is no magic wand to change this reality – nor should there be — but if gun control advocates wish to try, have at it.  In the meantime, stop wasting our time with empty calls for “an honest debate,” which to this point have been anything but honest.


Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, Bob Barr, represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 -2003 and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-1990.