I’m not a gun nut. I have never fired a gun, nor do I own one, and I don’t intend to ever do either. Guns never fascinated me as a super hero-loving kid, and they certainly don’t interest me now. In fact, I happen to be repulsed by the idea of hunting for sport. On paper, I might seem likely to be an enthusiastic cheerleader for Chris Murphy, my senator from Connecticut, as he leads the charge in the Senate for stricter gun control. But I’m not. That’s because my personal feelings about whether I want to own a gun are not pertinent to that debate.
In the wake of the terrorist attack in Orlando, our nation plunged into a sea of debates, ranging in topic from gun control to Islamic terrorism to immigration. And while these debates at times have been caustic, rash, or irrelevant, they are on the whole healthy for a democracy, especially one faced with an ongoing threat from terrorists.
In our modern debate arena, however, rhetorical flashiness is often preferred to solid argument, solely because this flashiness lends itself to our culture of attention-grabbing headlines and viral regurgitation.
In last week’s New York Times, former infantry officer Nate Bethea offered his explanation for why he doesn’t think “assault rifles” should be available to civilians. In the piece, entitled, “I Used an Assault Rifle in the Army. I Don’t Think Civilians Should Own Them,” Bethea explains how he feels about guns such as the AR-15 (the civilian version of which is not an “assault rifle,” but set that aside) being commonplace in the United States:
These weapons are intended for the battlefield. I don’t want an assault rifle, because I don’t want to think of my home country as a battlefield. I don’t want civilians to own assault rifles, because I think the risks outweigh the rewards.
However, as David French pointed out, these feelings are just that: feelings, which shouldn’t be the basis for abridging the rights of others.
Like David, I respect Bethea’s opinion, and I can’t blame him for wanting to use a large platform like the New York Times to express it. What I take issue with is the overall implication of the piece: that an Army veteran’s willingness to limit the Second Amendment rights of others should be a basis for policy because he wielded a gun during his service. It seems clear that the Times chose to run the piece for the impact of the headline.
This week, the Washington Post ran a similar type of story: entitled “I’m On a Watch List. I’m Innocent. I Still Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Buy a Gun Immediately.” Ana Garcia, who is mistakenly on a Transportation Security Administration selectee list, explains in the piece that while being on the list is an inconvenience to her, she does not think it’s problematic to prevent everyone on it from buying guns:
Here’s the thing: Innocent people will sometimes be wrongfully put on these lists. I am an example of that. I have a work-around. It’s not ideal, but ultimately I get on that plane.
When I go into secondary screening at the Los Angeles airport, I am always confident that I will get to go home. It costs me a few more minutes of my time. It annoys me. It’s not fair, but I have not lost the right to fly.
It just makes sense that if you are a terrorist on a watch list, you should be banned from buying weapons. And if you are innocent like me, I am sure the government can come up with a redress number specifically to protect your Second Amendment right.
But while Mr. Bethea and Ms. Garcia are open to government encroachment on their individual rights, that does not mean that others are or should be. If I were willing to quarter soldiers in my home, would I have more authority in publishing an op-ed entitled, “I Volunteered to Host an Infantry Battalion. The Third Amendment Should Be Repealed”? Of course not. But pieces like these — which I have often seen shared on social media — beg the reader to internalize the personal preference of the writer because of their background. But Ms. Garcia’s status on the selectee list adds nothing to her opinion on appropriate gun-control measures other than the ability to write a more eye-catching headline.
My aversion to guns should not compromise the rights of other citizens to own them. And regardless of one’s individual background, that principle holds true. Our trend towards sensationalist media has led to some people’s removing logic from the discussion, preferring to point to opinions like these as somehow extra valid. Experience can be relevant, but not when it is used as a substitution for argument. Yes, both Mr. Bethea and Ms. Garcia offer thoughtful pieces, but their voices remain only as valid as all of the other voices in our country’s cacophony.