We live in political times of extreme intolerance for the views of others. The media increasingly negotiate the resulting political minefields and dodge the sniper fire by framing what they are doing as reporting on “the debate” or “conversation” or on calls for “having a conversation”, “having a debate”. The implication is always clear that “having a conversation” is a practical way to reach a middle ground, solve problems, find a compromise that both sides can agree on.
But is it? Is there any middle ground between the NRA and advocates for the regulation of firearms, for example? Where is the conversation when, following the Newtown massacre, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre stated that getting more guns in the hands of individuals was the solution to gun violence.
Where is the middle ground when Larry Pratt, head of Gun Owners of America, says that the main reason for owning guns is to defend ourselves against the government. In this thinking, the American government is not America. For Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) the US doesn’t have a gun problem, it has a people problem. Anyone who disagrees (in this “debate”) is pushing a political agenda. Huelskamp says he doesn’t exactly approve of children playing video games, but “I am not saying to pass a single law about that because it would be politicizing the issue.”
It is unacceptable to say that passing laws is “politicizing” an issue. “Passing laws” is why our founding fathers created an elected legislative body. That is democracy. At its heart Republican extremism is an authoritarian movement. It is no accident that neither Wayne LaPierre nor the NRA President David Keene would take questions at their press conferences. Accountability is a core value of democracy, not authoritarianism. A debate shouldn’t be about whether we want to be a democracy.
For the media endless talk about “debate” it is a way to cover themselves. They don’t have to expose that one side, and one side only, is incapable of moving off an extreme agenda. We shouldn’t, however, avert our eyes from the clear meaning of what is being said just because it exposes the limits of “conversation” and “debate”.
“Having the debate” also means getting out of calling the facts. The Violence Policy Center conducts research that finds “states with low gun ownership rates and strong gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths”: The NRA says that “gun free zones” have higher gun death rates. For the NRA, gun free zones are the problem. It’s presented as a debate, except it isn’t.
It is important to follow other stories that just follow the facts. For example, the profit gun manufacturers (and hedge fund mangers) make off weapons sales. LaPierre, in effect, opened a new business opportunity when he said the NRA would finance and fund a program called the “National Model School Shield Program” to train school guards. This at a time when the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has no workable data base of gun owners and registered guns because NRA will not let Congress pass the necessary appropriations. The NRA doesn’t want to make Americans safer, it wants to make them less safe – for profit.
We don’t need a “conversation” with far right extremists, we need to talk about what they are saying. What does it mean to say you need guns to defend yourself against (your) government? What is sedition? What constitutes incitement to violence? What is treason? And finally, what about exposing a right wing conspiracy to change America through cover organizations, funded by right wing billionaires, that push anti democracy laws in state legislatures and gett them passed. The American Legislative Exchange Council may drop pushing “Stand Your Ground” legislation after the killing of Trayyvon Martin last year and Stephen Feinberg of Cerberus hedge fund may drop Freedom Group Inc. gun manufacturers after Newtown. But how many more are still out there pulling strings? We need information, not “debate”.