Friday, April 5, 2013

Sounds familar, doesn't it?

The NYT editorial board is getting frustrated with gun control obstructionism:
This is the group that said the blood of Newtown was on the hands of lawmakers who create gun-free zones around schools. Its executive director, Larry Pratt, considers the United States government to be largely unconstitutional, and says that gun rights come directly from God. “When we’re talking about firearms,” he said in 2010, “we’re not really talking about a right but an obligation, as creatures of God, to protect the life that was given them.”
And yet this twisted radicalism is playing an outsized role in the current debate. As Jennifer Steinhauer reported in The Times on Thursday, the gun group’s demands helped pressure Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to back out of negotiations on the background-check bill, depriving it of crucial Republican support. The group has helped push the N.R.A. and several members of Congress further to the right, and Republicans say fear of its retribution is preventing a deal.
On behalf of the people trying to get the world's governments to pay a little attention to our radical and destructive hijacking of the climate via greenhouse gas emissions: welcome to our world.

I've been talking to the rah-rah-guns folks online a little bit, and the similarities are many:

* They use the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect study to argue that all the evidence is indeterminate and too confusing to be the basis of action.

* They repeatedly make inaccurate and offensive claims -- Hitler took away the guns, gun-free zones around schools attract shooters and kill children -- which take far more effort to unpack and disprove than they take to assert, wasting reformers' time and energy and cultivating the impression that a real debate is still going on.

* A prominent feature of their inaccurate claims is statistical illiteracy (and as usual, it's hard to tell the difference between true ignorance and tactical dishonesty). I.e., the UK murder rate is up! (Slightly in 2011, after decades in decline.) The US murder rate is down! (As part of a long-predicted demographic shift, while still far, far higher than the UK's.) Therefore gun control obviously doesn't work!

* The tone they strive for in these debates is a world-weariness tinged with a quiet sadness that anyone could be so naive: despite little knowledge and less interest in the actual data on gun violence, they affect to have seen it all, and have an encyclopedic knowledge of its glaring flaws. If people would just look at the data skeptically, as they have done, they would see the gun control can't ever work.

They are also rapidly developing in-group "facts" that protect them from some of the more devastating data points. Australia, in 1996, severely tightened their gun laws in response to the Port Arthur massacre, and saw firearm fatalities fall dramatically (see right). By now those interested in opposing all gun control "know" that the homicide rate was already falling (gun control lagged, it didn't lead!) and therefore the experiment was a clear failure (just as our friends "know" that the Hockey Stick graph is a corrupt, discredited mess).

I'm not sure if this is a function of the age we live in, in which these tactics have become second nature to the right, or whether, by spending far too much time picking apart deniers' "arguments," I have inadvertently given myself an education in how dishonest people argue, more or less universally, which is simply a function of the tools they have available (in support of this theory, I now have an internal critic that attacks viciously when I am tempted to transgress.)

Either way, the only way these tricks become less popular is if they become generally ineffective. While they serve the dual purpose of delighting and energizing ideological fellow-travelers whilst confusing and repelling the public at large (cementing the status quo) I don't see that happening.

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