In Defense of ‘Gunsplaining’

A protestor holds a sign during the “March For Our Lives” demanding gun control in Sacramento, California on March 24, 2018. (Bob Strong/Reuters)
Ignorance is the gun-control movement’s Achilles heel.

It’s become popular on the left — thanks in part to a widely-shared Washington Post op-ed by Adam Weinstein — to scorn so-called “gunsplaining.” Weinstein defines the term as the habit of gun-rights advocates to “bully” gun-control supporters with technical jargon. Think the “AR” in AR-15 stands for “assault rifle”? Then you’re too dumb to talk about gun policy. Did you confuse a magazine and a clip? Then you’re too ignorant to talk about background checks.

There’s a kernel of truth in Weinstein’s critique. There are gun-rights supporters who revel in jargon and belittle those with inferior knowledge, but the problem of “gunsplaining” pales in comparison to the mass-scale ignorance of the gun-control movement and — critically — the mainstream media. It’s an ignorance that contributes to bad policy proposals and threatens constitutional rights. It’s an ignorance that has the potential to empower criminals while rendering law-abiding citizens more vulnerable to foreseeable threats.

This ignorance manifests itself in multiple ways. First, it’s common to see activists and marchers consistently say things that just aren’t true. You could see examples of this all over the March for Our Lives this weekend. Signs said ridiculous things like, “It was harder to buy this poster board than an AR-15” and “I want to live in a world where guns are harder to get than Hamilton tickets.” People routinely pretended that gun sales are virtually unregulated or that even “machine guns” are somehow easy to purchase.

Second, they’ll advocate “solutions” that won’t make a dime’s worth of difference to mass shootings or to gun violence more broadly. Our nation’s gun-violence problem is highly concentrated in a small percentage of the American population: people with prior criminal records who largely obtain and possess their guns unlawfully. Even if you focus on mass shootings — as a famous Washington Post fact-check noted — various “common sense” gun-control proposals would not have prevented a single modern massacre.

Third, the proposed solutions betray an extraordinary ignorance of the realities of gun ownership. Let’s take, for example, the common proposal to ban “high-capacity magazines.” That’s often defined to mean any magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. In reality, though, a ban on ten-round magazines is a ban on the standard-capacity magazine in tens of millions of guns that Americans use for self-defense. I often carry a Ruger SR9, and it came with a 17-round magazine. Dozens of other popular guns also come with magazines of similar sizes. Police carry guns with similar magazines, and — critically — criminals often do as well.

Activists can play funny games with language. The phrase “high-capacity magazine” implies something unusual, something you don’t normally see — like, say, a drum magazine on an AR-15. In reality, given the definition, they’re purporting to ban the norm. They’re telling law-abiding citizens that they should have less firepower than the very criminals who present the reasonably foreseeable threat.

Current gun-control proposals can sound interesting and compelling — until you hear that they’re likely ineffective, or especially if you hear that they would burden your own right of self-defense.

And why should law-abiding Americans have less firepower than criminals? Because — and this is where the gun-control movement truly loses its authority — they say we don’t “need” anything more than ten rounds to defend ourselves. That’s right, the very people who time and again demonstrate their profound ignorance about firearms purport to tell law-abiding, gun-owning American citizens — who possess far superior knowledge — exactly what they “need” to keep their families safe. It’s extraordinary. I’d rather take my self-defense advice from actual experts than from politicians and activists who don’t know what they’re talking about.

In an insightful piece for the New York Times today, Margot Sanger-Katz writes that “Political consultants who have worked on ballot measures say that it can often be easy for opponents of gun laws to chip away at very strong initial public support for a given policy.” She talked to David Farmer, who helped lead a failed Maine effort to impose universal background checks. He attributed the loss to gun owners’ ability to persuade:

“We know for a fact we lost the argument at the kitchen table and the bar and the bowling alley,” he said. “The gun enthusiasts were talking to their friends and relatives and neighbors. They felt about it in a way that was so passionate that they won those one-on-one encounters, and they were very successful in bringing in people to their side.”

Gun-owners aren’t just enthusiastic, they’re informed. Current gun-control proposals can sound interesting and compelling — until you hear that they’re likely ineffective, or especially if you hear that they would burden your own right of self-defense.

The media’s persistent and enduring gun ignorance is mystifying — as is its seeming willingness to actively mock or scorn actual expertise. Imagine if pro-life citizens wanted to limit abortions by banning or heavily regulating the instruments used to kill unborn children. Would counter-arguments that the regulations would adversely affect other, life-saving procedures be scorned as “devicesplaining”?

One gets the impression that all too many members of the media and all too many activists don’t want to know anything more about guns. They’ve made the decision they need to make — guns are bad — and the rest is a distraction. To them, the gun-control argument isn’t a technical argument at all. It’s fundamentally a moral argument, and in this moral argument the actual effectiveness of any given law is less important than its intent — or at least its ability in some way to chip away at American gun culture.

Yet Americans don’t give away their freedoms so willingly. And they’re especially unwilling to limit their liberties in response to arguments based in ignorance, sprinkled with condescension and moral superiority. So law-abiding gun-owners respond by “gunsplaining,” and they find that when they gunsplain, they tend to win. Ignorance is a plague, and the gun-rights community is eager to provide the cure.


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