Demonising gun owners: Persuasion versus putting on a show

The tragic mass shooting in a Texas church this past weekend has reignited the debate about America’s gun laws.

Despite being inclined towards the libertarian position on many political issues, I’m not really that invested in the gun control debate.

Firearm laws just aren’t a topic I normally have much interest in because there are other issues that matter more to me personally. Living in Australia, which has a different relationship to firearms than the US, I’m also wary of getting too involved in an argument with people for whom this stuff matters much more personally.

As a private citizen in Australia, I presently have no interest in owning any guns. However I am capable of admiring the skill that goes into the design and production of particular firearms – as well as the historic significance of certain weapons.

I also recognise that people can, in good faith, hold different views to me on the topic. These people they may be advocating for greater or lesser control over guns than the position I hold. And that’s ok.

But what frustrates me immensely is when people (on either side) fail to appreciate they’re dealing with other human beings when arguing about gun laws.

The latest is Fairfax business writer Michael Pascoe, who in the wake of the mass-shooting tragedy in Texas, has penned a piece on ‘The Fantasy Behind America’s mass shootings.’ In it, he does not simply argue against the need for civilians to own semi-automatic longarms. He goes further and demonises all those with an interest in owning such weapons.

“If you buy a fast sports car, odds are you have a fantasy to drive fast – and you will at some stage. Buy and hold a double barrel shotgun and you’ll be imagining clay targets disappearing in a puff of colour or game birds falling from the sky – unless you’re also purchasing a hacksaw.

Buy an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, you’re imagining… “

And another example:

“In a rational nation, an individual’s desire to buy a military assault rifle, let alone high-capacity magazines, is all the mental assessment necessary to forbid such a purchase.”

Or two.

The supercar owner may explore limits by investing in track days and closed road events. The owner of machines specifically good for killing people, what do they want to do?

Those in the anti-gun camp (especially Australian’s commenting on the US) might want to consider that 30% of American adults own a gun, and about half of those who don’t currently own a gun could see themselves owning one in the future. Among gun owners, 62% own a rifle. (Source: Pew, ‘America’s Complex Relationship with Guns, June, 2017 )

Anti-gun rhetoric that insinuates gun owners are all mad/bad/sad or have something wrong with them is insulting to those who are lawfully using their firearms. I’d hypothesize it could also be cementing resistance to tighter gun controls.

So I have a request to those who want stricter gun laws in the US – or those who oppose any relaxation in the Australian laws.

By all means advocate for stronger or tighter gun controls if that’s what you’re passionate about. But please try and remember when talking about gun owners you’re still talking about your fellow human beings.

Consider that you’re asking for a fairly large number of law abiding people to undergo a significant attitudinal change. Smearing and insulting people who disagree with you may not be as productive as you think.

When the argument by either side turns to dehumanising those with differing opinions, its time to ask if those voices are genuinely interested in persuasion, or simply performing for the mob that already agrees with them?

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