GOP lawmakers are gaslighting America on the gun debate

How the pro-gun movement has destroyed our ability to debate in good faith

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published February 16, 2018 4:34PM (EST)

Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio   (Reuters/Chris Keane/Photo montage by Salon)
Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio (Reuters/Chris Keane/Photo montage by Salon)

Whenever a mass shooting occurs — whether in a school or a nightclub, a concert or a movie theater — we always hear conservatives who favor guns make the same types of arguments. The reactions to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. offer several case studies here.

"The reaction of Democrats to any tragedy is to try to politicize it. So they immediately start calling that we’ve got to take away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."

- Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas

In order to stop mass shootings like the one at a Parkland school, we need to have gun control as a possibility. The reason we can't have a meaningful discussion about preventing mass shootings is because one side — the conservative side — is absolutely determined to never allow gun control to be considered as an option.

This observation may not in itself be new, but it warrants constant repetition.

While it is normally constructive to hear out the positions of those who disagree with you, Cruz's claims are noteworthy because they aren't a good faith contribution to the dialogue. There are rather an attempt to end dialogue altogether.

It's perfectly logical to believe that if thousands of people are dying because of the prevalence of a certain item, our government should consider at least regulating that item. It no more "politicizes" mass shootings to discuss gun control than it "politicizes" a foreign attack on our nation to discuss declaring war.

Even worse, though, people like Cruz who say this do so in order to shame men and women of good will into silence. While there are opportunists who attach themselves to a number of causes, the vast majority of people who want to regulate guns feel that way because they're devastated at the constant loss of innocent life. It's one thing to disagree with their policy conclusions, but to try to shame them into silence is beneath contempt.

"Shouldn’t we at least know the facts? I think that we can always have that debate but if you’re going to have the debate about this particular incident, you should know the facts of that incident before you run out and prescribe some law you claim could have prevented it."

- Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

This argument isn't as vile as the one made by Cruz, but it's strikingly disingenuous. No matter how many details you provide after a mass shooting, the Rubios of the world will always insist that it isn't quite enough. They will comb through the evidence and seize upon any nugget that can be twisted so they can conclude, "You see?!?! Gun control wouldn't have worked anyway!"

The logical fallacy here, of course, is the assumption that we need to know every single detail about a mass shooting before concluding that maybe stricter regulations on the weapon used to carry out the attack could be necessary. Arguments like this one by Rubio create a standard of evidence that is impossibly high so that people who might want to regulate guns won't ever be able to reach it.

Of all the arguments used in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, this one has the most theoretical validity to it. This isn't to say that I agree that the "18 school shootings in 2018" figure is a lie, or even wrong; any situation in which guns endangered people at a school building merits attention when discussing whether certain guns should be regulated or banned. (One could make the case that a term other than "school shooting" could be more precisely accurate to describe the problem.)

At the same time, more than 400 people have been shot in more than 200 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. More than 150,000 students throughout the country have experience a school shooting since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. And that doesn't even account for statistics about mass shootings in general: Even if though America has only 5 percent of the world's population, it has 31 percent of global mass shooters.

In other words: People are dying. Guns are, at the very least, a big part of the reason why they are dying. It is craven to try to distract from that by nitpicking statistics.

"But gun control is unconstitutional!"

- All of the pro-gun people, all of the time

I've already explained in detail why the argument that gun control violates the Second Amendment is grossly simplistic and detached from historical reality. What I will simply add here is that, when conservatives trot out the Constitution in cases like this, they do so in order to delegitimize the other side rather than engage in constructive dialogue.

As residents of the United States of America, all of our policies need to ultimately be traded back to the principles of the United States Constitution. By arguing that gun control legislation would be unconstitutional, conservatives attempt to shut down any efforts to regulate their favorite weapons by literally claiming that those policies would be un-American.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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