‘You can’t really be pro-life unless you support X, or oppose Y,” or, most commonly, “agree with me on Z.” It’s a favorite refrain of nearly every virulently progressive, fiercely pro-choice politico. Just like that, the army storming the walls asserts its authority as gatekeeper.
They do it with health care: “How can you oppose single-payer and call yourself pro-life?” They do it with foreign policy: “Is there anything pro-life about dropping a bomb in the Middle East?” And they do it with immigration: “It’s a matter of life and death for some!” But more than any other issue, they do it with guns.
And they think they’re so clever to do it, too. Guns are dangerous. They fire bullets, and bullets can kill people. How could someone who’s pro-life support Americans’ right to bear firearms?
When tragedy strikes, the purveyors of this tired talking point grow in volume — meaning both size and noise. As surely as time is money, tragedy is political capital — so long as you’re craven enough to take advantage. In the wake of the horrible events in Boulder, Colo., several days ago, there are many craven enough to take that advantage.
Joe Biden is one of them. His remarks on the shooting appropriately touched on the pain and suffering of the victims and their families, but very inappropriately were primarily aimed at pushing a highly partisan agenda. He has the bulk of the Democratic Party at his back, with many echoing the “you can’t be pro-life unless . . .” canard.
Former United States ambassador to Russia for the Obama administration, Michael McFaul, insisted that “you cannot be pro-life and pro-AR15 at the same time.” Robert Reich, labor secretary under President Clinton, submitted that “if you’re against gun reform, you’re not pro-life.” Columnist Dean Obeidallah struck a more hysterical note, saying that “to the GOP, ‘Pro-life’ means forcing a woman raped to carry the rapist’s baby to term while opposing every bill in Congress in past 3 weeks to save lives from gun violence. GOP is NOT pro-human life, it’s pro-OPPRESSION of women.” They were joined by a chorus of others trying to make the same point.
It’s an asinine one.
Abortion is not a tool. It’s a procedure with a very specific purpose: to end the life of a growing unborn child with unique DNA. Every abortion ends the same way, with death. It’s not a car, or a gun, or a knife, or a shovel, or a candlestick — all of which can be used with homicidal intention, but are mostly used for traveling, hunting, eating, gardening, and setting the mood, respectively. Abortion is best understood not as an amoral object that can be used for good or for ill, but as a type of homicide.
A gun is a tool, one with a purpose that is the exact opposite of abortion’s: to show respect for individual human life. To own a gun is to be able to protect yourself and your family in a modern world that is still very much filled with selfish, crazy, and downright evil people. Even more important, it helps to clarify the proper relationship between the government and the people. The people confer powers and privileges upon the government in order to protect our God-given rights. Among those rights is that which is spelled out in the Second Amendment. The government can’t take it away from its citizens as you might take a toy from a child.
Category error aside, it’s also a cynical and shallow bit of sophistry. In the context of American politics, the term “pro-life” is used to describe opponents of abortion, and sometimes euthanasia and other forms of state-sanctioned violence against innocents. People who consider themselves to be broadly pro-life hold all sorts of different positions. Some might hold a no-exceptions antipathy toward abortion. Others might make exceptions in cases of pregnancies caused by rape and incest. Changing the definition of pro-life to mean “supportive of each and every measure that Joe Biden, Michael McFaul, Robert Reich, or any other technocrat might insist would save lives” is dishonest.
Calling yourself pro-life also doesn’t mean that you can’t rest until the world is rid of all risk. There are no solutions, only trade-offs in policy-making. Can you consider yourself pro-life if you don’t support lowering the speed limit on the highway to 40 or even 30 miles per hour? Surely, it would result in fewer traffic deaths. Dogs killed about 40 Americans last year. Can you be a pro-lifer and be complacent with this country’s lax regulation of canines? Opponents of the Biden-McFaul-Reich agenda on guns aren’t indifferent toward the victims of gun violence. They just harbor doubts about that agenda’s efficacy and have a different cost–benefit analysis about enacting it. That pro-lifers make a different calculation when it comes to abortion doesn’t make them hypocrites.
When progressives say that “reality has a liberal bias,” what they mean is “I have a liberal bias.” Their worldview shapes their interpretation of the problems we face as a society, as well as the solutions to those problems. That’s only natural. However, the inherent progressive urge to want to “do something,” as well as the confidence imbued by the agreement of media and academic elites, renders this inclination especially dangerous on the left. It also results in a total misunderstanding of the conservative position on basic, oft-discussed issues such as abortion and gun control and a lazy, too-clever-by-half, viral-tweet material kind of argumentative style.
We’re headed for yet another national debate over the Second Amendment and gun control. If we must have it, it’d be nice if progressives faced it head-on, rather than relying on rhetorical tricks such as the “you can’t be pro-life unless . . .” fallacy.