As the country reels from the recent mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., some on the left have introduced a particularly disturbing talking point to attack those who resist immediately enacting expansive gun-control policies. According to this argument, pro-life Americans must unequivocally accept the Left’s preferred gun regulations or else they can no longer call themselves pro-life.
This was the view put forth last week by Washington Post opinion writer Dana Milbank, who derided “the hypocrisy of those who profess to be pro-life but are also pro-gun without exception, those who denounce the termination of a pregnancy but not the termination of innocent life outside the womb.”
He produces not one scrap of evidence, though, that pro-life people were unmoved by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. That evidence would be difficult to procure, after all, because pro-life people routinely — and, many would argue, by definition — lament any loss of innocent human life.
It was clearly impossible for Milbank to identify a single pro-life activist who cheered at the deaths in Parkland, and yet he doubles down on this theme later in the piece: “It is no stretch to say that those who accept the routine mass murder of innocents are not truly pro-life.” Of course this isn’t a stretch, but no one who ought to be taken seriously is suggesting otherwise.
While such truisms do nothing to incriminate pro-lifers, their breathtaking vapidity does help to distract from the underlying weakness of Milbank’s argument. The primary intellectual failure of his column stems from its systematic refusal to compare like with like: He takes as his premise that an abortion and a gun are the same type of thing. In reality, one is an action — that pro-lifers correctly identify as murder — and the other is an object at the mercy of its user. Any accurate or useful comparison between the two must acknowledge this reality.
But Milbank does no such thing. Instead, he argues as if guns themselves were necessarily objectionable in the same way that a pro-lifer finds abortion necessarily objectionable. (Consider, for instance, the muddled reasoning inherent in his turns of phrase “pro-gun without exception” and “accept routine mass murder.”) There is no logical framework under which abortion and guns could rightly be compared in this way.
Every successful abortion ends an innocent human life. A gun, meanwhile, can be used for ends that aren’t immoral, including self-defense. One who wishes to ban abortion because every abortion ends an innocent human life is not intellectually inconsistent if he doesn’t also wish to ban all, or even particular, guns. Not every gun is used to take innocent human life; indeed, most are not. The fact that guns can be used to do so doesn’t mean that every gun is immoral or that accepting the right to own a gun is the same as accepting mass murder.
If pro-lifers argued that the U.S. government ought to ban scissors and vacuum machines because these are the tools with which late-term abortion procedures are performed, then perhaps Milbank’s thesis would cohere slightly better, but as it is, the comparison falls flat.
What’s more — and as Milbank surely knows — there are a multitude of policies on offer for lessening gun violence. But because he wishes to consolidate support for only the most radically progressive solutions, he is reduced to slandering compassionate pro-life people as callous. And because he wishes to discredit Second Amendment supporters, he sloppily erases the fundamental distinctions between abortion and guns.
Undergirding Milbank’s shoddy argument is the implication that any failure to embrace a certain model of limiting gun violence is also a failure to decry gun violence writ large.
Undergirding Milbank’s shoddy argument is the implication that any failure to embrace a certain model of limiting gun violence is also a failure to decry gun violence writ large. Interestingly, he does nothing to elucidate what his preferred model might look like, even as he demands that anyone who calls himself pro-life accept it, sight unseen.
If Milbank would like pro-lifers to denounce gun violence, the vast majority of us will happily comply. If he wishes that pro-life Americans would acknowledge that guns are sometimes wrongly used for murder, again, he won’t be disappointed. If he wants to locate pro-life people who believe society should try to prevent the loss of innocent human life, he won’t have a difficult time doing so.
But, judging from the tenor and conclusions of his column, Milbank does not want any of these things. What he wants most of all is to shame a large group of Americans he dislikes into capitulating to the progressive demands for gun control.
Milbank isn’t the only one to make this argument in the wake of Parkland, and those who joined him have proven themselves similarly unwilling to engage gun-policy disagreements on the level of substance. Instead, they attempt to bully others into accepting their preferred agenda without bothering to prove its merit.
While respect for the intrinsic dignity and value of human life can and should bear on policy decisions, being an intellectually consistent pro-lifer does not require the blind embrace of whatever gun-control policy the Left happens to favor at the moment.