Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Gun Control Debate and the Definitions of Deranged

Several days before President Obama presented his Jan. 16 proposals on gun control, members of the NRA began writing to local newspapers nationwide to warn of an imminent series of executive orders that would bring armed agents of BATF (usually in tanks or APCs) blasting down the doors of gun owners to yank away their weapons.  The mere fact that so many were willing to believe the outer limits of Alex Jones fantasies, indicates that the real debate over gun control is not which assault weapons face an attempted ban, but how government authorities and citizens alike may choose to define who is too mentally disturbed to own a gun.

     I have owned guns in the past, and have many friends who are still members of NRA, and yes, some card-carrying NRA members actually know how to conduct rational arguments.  But a significant minority of members, amounting to a good quarter or third of the NRA base, now hold opinions resembling a toxic mix of Alex Jones, Ted Nugent, and Michael Savage.  They are the ones most adamant about owning multiple borderline weapons (some even claim rights to own RPGs and small missiles), yet they are the ones displaying irrational thought processes who would be most likely to be denied guns.

     This is a tougher problem than the mere name-calling act of declaring someone unloosed from Earth and off the reservation.  In some senses, the argument revisits one from 20 years ago regarding the Treasury Department's FinCen (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network), and the group of Libertarian/Randian/Extropian folks who were most adamant about its probing abilities to track international financial fraud. Back in the 1990s, several readers told Wired and other publications that the type of people that complained the most about FinCen were precisely the people the readers wanted to see monitored.  And when some indignant Extropians talked of building their own islands in the oceans to be independent from national oversight, the same readers suggested that these were precisely the type of people Interpol should put on their "Most Wanted" list.

     It's not that there isn't a power-elite we must constantly be vigilant in opposing.  It's not that a totally weaponless society wouldn't indeed be a perfect patsy for such a power-elite.  It's just that people need to remember the Christian Parenti warning that large, scary power elites operate as often from asinine and irrational principles as from deep evil will.  The 20-point Leninist plan of Obama to destroy America simply does not exist.  The black helicopters of the United Nations similarly are not real.

     But who is to say which beliefs are fantasies?  This is one reason why the definition of schizophrenia/paranoia by broad-based majority consensus is indeed important, no matter what R.D. Laing says.  It matters what a majority of Americans think of one individual's or one subgroup's mental health.  If you are proposing specific and fact-based points for keeping weapons in citizens' hands, such points can be argued back and forth, though the NRA's money power may sway rational argument considerably.   But if you preface your arguments by an assumption that a secret takeover of government is days away, you're probably too deranged to own a gun.

     One reason the clamor from this minority wing of the NRA is so scary, is that many in this NRA subgroup probably realize at some deep level that Obama was not looking for this fight - he was dragging his feet until Newtown.  Rather, this is a demand coming from a broad-based constituency that probably comprises a majority of Americans.  And that's what outrages those NRA members.  Some of the NRA rhetoric of late (not all NRA rhetoric, but what we might call the Ted Nugent wing) suggests that if a majority of U.S. citizens have gotten too namby-pamby to tolerate the right to own assault weapons, well then, it's time for those assault-weapon owners to show their support for liberty and our Constitutional rights by taking out some of those citizens.  Meanwhile, the majority of citizens that believe otherwise will look upon such talk, and such possible action, as prima facie evidence that these particular NRA members are too mentally disturbed to own a gun.

    My own take on this growing and very deadly debate is that the NRA as an institution has gotten so crazed, it must engage in some serious internal purges to be taken seriously.  And if a certain number of members continue to use this language, they must be judged as clearly mentally disturbed.  It is precisely the citizen that says, "You'll only take away my AK-47 when you peel my cold dead fingers from its trigger," that deserves to have all weapons taken away -- whether that represents an unpleasant extension of government power or not.


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