Paul on his dialogue with David: Guns, power, and history
Paul, a liberal New Yorker, spoke with David, a gun rights advocate from Pennsylvania. Listen to the podcast of their dialogue here. In another blog post, David reflects on the dialogue. Below, Paul discusses what he’s thought about since that meeting.
In the months before my dialogue with David, I read, like many Americans, about mass shootings and individual shootings that left some 33,000 Americans dead every year, and another nearly 75,000 people with non-fatal injuries. I read about many Republicans (and some Democrats) blocking gun-control measures. And I read about the NRA’s tremendous power to stymie even the mildest legislation on guns. And I wondered, how I earth could anyone believe that more guns or less gun control would make us safer?
So I wanted to hear from someone who felt that way. That person was David.
I wanted to know not just what his rational argument was for less gun control, but also what kind of character he had. In other words, what kind of person wants more guns and fewer gun laws?
On the first note, about rational argument. Our conversation revealed to me, if I didn’t already see it, that I didn’t know much about guns or the gun issue, narrowly speaking. I know what I read in the news and opinion pages, and some other sources I seek out. But I certainly didn’t have the arsenal of information—pun intended—that David brought to the table.
During the conversation, I was swayed by some of David’s arguments. I think he made a reasonable case about the futility of gun-free zones or certain other policies. I was interested to hear—if his information was correct—that gun technology hasn’t evolved all that much in recent decades, or that guns haven’t become all that much more deadly. Likewise, he broke down how some shootings, especially mass shootings, might not be prevented by certain policies that are bandied about.
On the second note, about character. David struck me as a friendly guy, interested in other people, committed to his family, and genuinely horrified by mass shootings. And even if he came from a more conservative background, he’s now a libertarian, and he even voted for President Obama. That’s just to say, his position on gun rights wasn’t wrapped up in some explicitly racist or homophobic or sexist ideology. So I was swayed on that score, too, in that he was an example of a gun-rights advocate who was not a nut case. I had some caricatures of gun-rights supporters.
I was surprised by how much I was swayed by him on certain points of policy, and by how reasonable he was.
Some of that change remains with me now, months after the dialogue, and some of it has not. I’ve since read more about the gun issue, and some information I’ve found contradicts David’s arguments about policy. And I’ve further imagined the scenario he described of a society where a segment of trained, responsible gun owners helps protect the public, and the more I think about it, the more unlikely it seems. The only way you could possibly arrive at such a state of affairs is through strict regulation, and maybe not even then. Such a slice of the population would be a para-police force, and that would bring along problems of its own
What’s more, during this election season, some of the racist, sexist, paranoid and anti-democratic current in pro-gun ideology has surfaced. Donald Trump saying that “Second Amendment people” could take action against Hillary Clinton was troubling, and, I think, just the tip of the iceberg. While David and most of the other pro-gun people he knows may not be overtly racist, I still think violence and guns and gun laws are tightly bound up with our country’s history of violence against African Americans and other people of color.
Before our dialogue, it seemed to me that the NRA had outsized influence on legislation. But in my conversation with David, who talked about its millions of members, I had to wonder if its influence was actually more proportionate to its size than I thought. There’s still the question of how much influence (read: money) the NRA gets from gun manufacturers; but its members are nothing to sneeze at.
Still, I’m troubled by the NRA for another reason. The group not only opposes gun-control legislation. They also support politicians who are terrible for this country in many ways having nothing to do with guns: the (mostly Republican) politicians who deny climate change, who seek to deny voting rights to people of color, who want to close our borders to refugees, who want more prisons, who want to tax the rich less and the poor and middle-class more. And now they support Donald Trump, who I think would be a disaster for this country as president. So, however I may have changed in my discussion with David, I’m still just as concerned—or more so, the closer we get to the presidential election—about how gun issues, and gun-rights advocates are demonstrably wrapped up in other matters.