Tag Archives: NRA

An argument with an expiration date

The talk-show host Sean Hannity had a segment the other day about the “exploitative” nature of rushing in after mass shooting events to score “political” points. You can watch a video of him here:

And here’s a link to an NRA lobbyist saying the same kind of thing. Though I’m skeptical of the sincerity of these sorts of arguments, (see here for a sort of rebuttal), if not for the sole fact that running a spot on how others have violated norms in a time when we’re not supposed to be scoring points seems like an attempt to score points, I think it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at what might be a reasonable version of taking things on too soon.

The first question is this: what does it mean to “politicize” something or to “score political points”? My guess is that the events are going to be used as a premise in a policy argument. Something like this:

“the events of the other day have policy implications a, b, and c.”

Simple enough, but there’s more to this. Much hinges on what we mean by “political,” as in “political points” or “politicize.” My guess is that what makes these particular issues “political” is that those policy implications are (1) already well-known, (2) the subject of intense dispute, and (3) unresolved or in a kind of argumentative stalemate. By “argumentative stalemate” I mean that the positions of each side are well known and well defined, not that the sides have exhausted the possibility for resolution. The dispute is still live. Oddly, the only example I can think of is gun violence. Maybe readers can suggest different cases.

Now consider by way of counterexample that the injunction does not apply to one-off events where most people have not occupied ideological positions. Should there be, for instance, some kind of random event tomorrow with casualties, I’m going to guess that we’ll immediately discuss the policy implications. We’ll do so before anyone is buried or all the wounded are accounted for. The injunction against politics is not universal. It only applies to certain debates.

There’s a second thing to notice about such debates: the side that invokes the injunction will typically be the side that has the most to lose by the added evidence. This was covered (satirically) here.  Or, if not invoked by them, it will be invoked by others on their behalf.

Their concern might not be an entirely unreasonable one, but it underscores the somewhat limited scope of the injunction. They might fear rhetorical disadvantage by the tendency of people to run with latest piece of evidence adduced in deciding a question (by, in other words, availability bias). The politicization of the debate, or the “cheap points scoring” is therefore winning rhetorical advantage without working for it or by taking advantage of the temporary set-back of the other side.

This brings us to the key feature of such arguments: the invocation against talking “too soon.” It’s a temporal restriction rather than a content one. The presumption is that we can talk about it later, just not now. This can take a couple of forms. One argument is that the “the bodies are not in the ground, and the people have not had time to mourn” among other claims. This is a sensitivity claim. Arguing about the policy implications are alleged to be (1) insensitive to the people affected and (2) bad form for the participants, as their thoughts should be directed elsewhere. These don’t seem to be entirely unreasonable.

A second, and I think more problematic, version of the “too soon” injunction concerns the management of evidence “too soon.” This is an epistemological concern: we haven’t had time to learn the relevant facts or mull over the meaning of the evidence. Besides, as we’ve already noted, remarkable new evidence might bias us. Our haste will undermine the quality of our discussion.

Neither of these concerns is essentially unreasonable. We do care, after all, about the quality of our evidence and there is something to be said about hitting the pause button on civic disputes to focus on the needs of the large numbers of people affected. But, I might add here in closing as this has gone on longer than I meant, there’s something of a conflict between the state of the argument (stalemate) and the regularity of the need to hit the pause button. I think, furthermore, this takes concerns about making hasty decisions or corrupting our evidence off the table. We’ve seen all of this before. And our requiring frequent pauses to bury the dead seems to underscore the need to bring this thing to a resolution. If anything, this suggests that the “too soon” argument has an expiration date.

What would Martin do?

Fig.1, Prominent gun advocate

You have the argumentum ad Hiterlum, whereby any proposition p consistent with Hitler’s beliefs b or actions a is ipso facto wrong.  Now you have the ad regem (still working on the name), where any proposition p consistent with the beliefs b or actions a of Martin Luther King, Jr. is ipso facto correct.

By way of Think Progress, and last night’s Daily Show, we have an example:

WARD: I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.

This obviously suffers from terminal factual problems, but so powerful is the thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. that no one bothers to check what he believed any more.  He’s good, therefore he supports any view that’s good.  Hitler is bad, therefore he supports any view that’s bad, like gun control (which he didn’t support, actually).  But thus the fallacy.

Fair share of security

Fig. 1. Presidential Security

My hypothesis is this: given any opponent O to your view p, your first reaction is to claim that O is inconsistent with regard to p.  So, take Obama, whose first initial happens to be O.  He’s against arming school teachers and janitors.  The National Rifle Association naturally finds this absurd, and, of course, hypocritical.  In a recent commerical, which you can see at this link, they argue:

“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” the narrator of the group’s 35-second video asks. “Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s
just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”

Is the President a hypocrite because his family has armed security?

Obviously not.  First, the President’s security is provided by the (hated) government; each of the gun-carrying individuals surrounding the President and his children (etc.) is of the very well-regulated militia type: trained and retrained, background tested, sworn to uphold the constitution, serve and protect, and so forth.  Second, the President (and members of Congress, etc.) exist in a gun-free zone, except for the police.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t have my 2nd amendment rights at the Capitol building, among the NRA’s biggest legislative boosters.  Does that not make them hypocrites?  Not really.

Guns are people too

Fig. 1: an apt analogy for gun control

Unsurprisingly, there has been some talk recently about whether to ban certain types of firearms.  This produced the following comment from a former president of the National Rifle Association:

“And they even admit this is about banning the ugliest guns, it’s about cosmetics and it has nothing to do about how a firearm works,” host Ginny Simone said toward the end of the segment.

“Well, you know, banning people and things because of the way they look went out a long time ago,” Hammer responded. “But here they are again. The color of a gun. The way it looks. It’s just bad politics.”

People and things?

via Balloon Juice.