Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Validation from the Left

Happy 4th of July to everyone. This will be my last post on TSM for a while, as I'll be out of town without internet access for several days. Others have done a creditable job of writing patriotic holiday posts, so I will forbear doing so in order to write this one. (Warning! 5,900+ words follow.)

Joe Huffman put up another of his "Quote of the Day" posts this morning which reinforced for me something I wrote back in April. Joe's quote is this:
Emotion is what wins arguments, and there is a tremendous amount of emotion among those fighting to reduce gun violence -- there always is when someone gets hurt or must go through the tragedies that we experience in this country as a result of gun violence.


That is important emotion, and it will do more for the argument for stronger gun laws than any facts or figures ever will.


We have to show legislators the human side of this issue, too, and force them to base their own decisions and policies off of that emotion...
I went to the Gun Guys site (no link - on purpose) and ran down the piece referred in it. It's a excerpt from Emory University Professor of Psychology Drew Westen's book The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.

The piece I wrote? Gun Banners Have to Use Emotion...

Let's see what Mr. Westen had to say:
Despite Large Majorities, Democrats Are Chicken on Gun Control
Right off the bat, Mr. Westen bases his entire essay on an incorrect hypothesis - that Democrats are chicken about "gun control." Let's see what he has to say to bolster his erroneous thesis:
On April 16, Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, carried two semiautomatic pistols onto campus and killed 32 people. It was the deadliest shooting in modern American history.

The following week, a nation listened in horror as witnesses recounted stories of how they had barricaded desks against their classroom doors to keep the psychotic young man from entering, only to hear him spend a round of ammo, drop the spent clip, and reload in seconds.

Democratic leaders offered the requisite condolences. But that's all they offered. They didn't mention that the Republican Congress had let the Brady Act, which banned the sale of semiautomatic weapons, sunset in 2004.
True to form, a lie within the first three paragraphs. A blatant, unapologetic, bald-faced LIE. A lie, so far as I am concerned, deliberately written so as to inspire anger in the reader. Remember, this is an excerpt from a published book, and a piece also published in American Prospect. I thought these people had editors?

While most of my regular readers are aware of the facts, let me state them plainly for those who may come here and read this that don't: The bill Mr. Westen refers to is not "the Brady Bill." It's the 1994 "Assault Weapons Ban" that wasn't. That law did not "ban the sale of semiautomatic weapons." It banned the sale of a small number of specific firearms - mostly rifles - and some semiautomatic firearms with certain specific features. Semiautomatic firearms were still perfectly legal to sell, and sell they did. I happen to own a "post-ban" semi-automatic AR-15 rifle I had legally custom built during the period that law was in effect.

What that law most emphatically did not do was place any restrictions whatsoever on the types of firearms used by Seung-Hui Cho - a Glock Model 19 9mm semiautomatic handgun and a Walther P22 semiautomatic handgun. While the law did affect the availability of new "standard capacity" 15-round magazines for the Glock, it did not affect the availability of used ones. At this point I am unsure whether Mr. Cho used 15-round or post-ban 10-round magazines in his shooting spree, but realistically it hardly matters. No, the point here was to lie to the reader, and induce strong emotion. In addition, from the reports I've seen Mr. Cho had only two magazines for each weapon, so he hardly was able to constantly "drop the spent clip, and reload in seconds." He had to stop and reload the magazines, too - a relatively slow process. But this fact detracts from Mr. Westen's narrative.

They didn't mention that in the decade or so after the passage of that act, 100,000 felons lost their right to bear arms, but not a single hunter lost that right.
Unless, of course, some of those felons were, you know, hunters too.
Instead, the Democrats ran for political cover, waiting for the smoke to clear.

This wasn't the first time Democrats scattered when threatened with Republican gunshots. They were silent as the Beltway sniper terrorized our nation's capital a month before the midterm elections of 2002. And they have been silent or defensive on virtually every "wedge" issue that has divided our nation for much of the last 30 years. When the Republicans tried to play the hate card again in 2006, this time under the cover of immigration reform, Democrats scrambled to pull together a "policy" on immigration, instead of simply asking, "What's the matter, gays aren't working for you anymore?"
What I find really interesting here is just who's "playing the hate card." Apparently (according to Mr. Westen) the Rethuglicans hate gays and brown people, as that's the only conceivable reason they would support or oppose legislation on those topics. I'd say that's "hate speech" on the part of Mr. Westen, myself, but what do I know? I'm one of those oppressive white conservative types who likes guns.
So how did we find ourselves where we are today, with an electorate that has finally figured out that the once larger-than-life Wizard of Terror was nothing but a projection on a screen -- and an opposition party that can't seem to find its heart, its brain, or its courage, and instead wonders what's the matter with Kansas?

And most importantly, how do we find our way back home?


Visions of Mind

Behind every campaign lies a vision of mind -- often implicit, rarely articulated, and generally invisible to the naked eye. Traces of that vision can be seen in everything a campaign does or doesn't do.

The vision of mind that has captured the imagination of Democratic strategists for much of the last 40 years -- a dispassionate mind that makes decisions by weighing the evidence and reasoning to the most valid conclusions -- bears no relation to how the mind and brain actually work. When strategists start from this vision of mind, their candidates typically lose.
Mustn't. Lose. Self. Control... BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! "Weighing the evidence and reasoning to the most valid conclusions"??? We're talking about legislators here - a group of people at best only tenuously tethered to reality! Regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on.
Democrats typically bombard voters with laundry lists of issues, facts, figures, and policy positions, while Republicans offer emotionally compelling appeals, whether to voters' values, principles, or prejudices. As a result, we have seen only one Democrat elected and reelected to the White House since Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Clinton, who, like Roosevelt, understood how to connect with voters emotionally) and only one Republican fail to do so (George Bush Senior, who ran like a Democrat and paid for it).
G.H.W. Bush lost for one reason and one reason only: "Read my lips. No new taxes." Had it not been for that, I believe, not even Ross Perot would have derailed his re-election. Note also that, while Bill Clinton did win twice, neither time did he win a majority of the vote. He might have been able to "connect with voters emotionally," but he didn't reach most of them.
Our brains are nothing but vast networks of neurons. Of particular importance for understanding politics are "networks of associations" -- bundles of thoughts, feelings, sounds, images, memories, and emotions that have become linked through experience. People can't tell you much about what's in those networks, or about what's likely to change them (which happen to be the central determinants of voting behavior). They can't tell you because they don't have conscious access to them, any more than they can tell you what's going on in their pancreas. And if you ask them, they often get it wrong.

In polls and focus groups, voters told John Kerry's consultants that they didn't like "negativity," so the consultants told Kerry to avoid it. To what extent those voters just didn't know the power of negative appeals on their own networks, or didn't want to admit it, is unclear. What is clear is that George W. Bush won the election by spending 75 percent of his budget on negativity against a candidate whose refusal to fight back projected nothing but weakness in the face of aggression -- precisely the narrative Bush was constructing about Kerry.
Oh, please. "I actually did vote for the $87 billion dollars before I voted against it" had nothing to do with that image? "Christmas in Cambodia"? Even über-lefty blogger Markos Moulitsas understood how bad a candidate John "Reporting for Duty" Kerry was, and said as much in his 12/24/04 piece What the Hell Happened
Of course, there's a silver lining to all of this. A Kerry presidency would've been an unmitigated disaster, with a hostile congress, budget woes, the mess in Iraq, etc. Not a good time to be in charge.
Actually, I think it's remarkable he got as many votes as he did, because I think a lot of people understood what an unmitigated disaster a Kerry presidency would have been. But no, according to Mr. Westin, it's all because George W. Bush (more likely Karl Rove) spent 75% of his campaign money on "negative ads."

The American electorate are such mindless sheeple.

If you start with the assumption of a dispassionate mind -- of voters who weigh the utility of each candidate's stand on a range of issues and calculate which candidate has the greater utility -- you inevitably turn to pollsters as oracles to divine which issues are up, which are down, and which are best avoided. The vision of the dispassionate mind represents public opinion in one dimension -- a straight line, from up to down, high to low, pro-choice to anti-abortion, anti-gun to pro-gun.

But this is a one-dimensional rendering of three-dimensional data. If you start with networks, you think very differently about campaigns, from the way you interpret polling data to the way you handle the wedge issues that have run Democratic campaigns into the ground for decades. On virtually every contentious political issue -- abortion, welfare, gay marriage, tax cuts, and, yes, guns -- polls show a seemingly "mixed" pattern of results, with the electorate endorsing what seem like contradictory positions. The vast majority of Americans support gun regulations but also support the right to bear arms. So are Americans pro-gun or anti-gun?
The majority is pro-gun, Mr. Westen. They're anti-CRIME.
That's the wrong question. And it inevitably leads Democratic strategists to the wrong answer: "Take the issue off the table -- it's radioactive."

This kind of one-dimensional thinking fails to appreciate that voters may be of two minds about an issue. The same issue often activates two or more networks that lead to different feelings in the same person (e.g., concern about guns in the hands of criminals, and support for the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect their families), and different groups of voters may have radically different associations to the same thing (whether to guns, gays, abortion, or immigrants). Unfortunately, these are just the kinds of issues that arouse the most passion and, hence, have the biggest impact on both voting and get-out-the-vote efforts. And they are generally the issues Democrats try to avoid.

If you cede the contentious issues, you cede passion to the other side. And given that people vote with their "guts," if you cede passion, you ultimately concede elections.
Wait... wait. NRA membership: approximately 4 million. Brady Campaign membership: ?? Who's ceding what? It's a numbers game, Mr. Westen. And people don't like being lied to (see paragraph 3 above.) They really don't like it when they realize they've been manipulated. But that's what you're advocating here, isn't it? For our own good, no? Because you know better than the voter, and they should just do what you tell them without complaint, no?
Republicans go straight for these gut issues, and they now have the confidence that they can do so even when support for their position is in the range of 30 percent, as is the case with their absolutist stance on abortion (that abortion is murder and should be illegal under all circumstances) and guns (that the right to bear arms is inviolable, no matter what the death toll). Democrats usually don't contest them, the public never hears a compelling counternarrative, and public opinion gradually shifts to the right.
WHAT? You mean all that television time, all those prime-time episodes of Law & Order and CSI Paducah where gang-bangers buy full-auto weapons from eeeeevil neo-Nazi licensed gun dealers, and Desperate Housewives accidentally (?) shoot their lovers, and all the news coverage of 19 year-old "children" gunned down doesn't count as "compelling counternarrative"?

I'm shocked, shocked I tell you!
If you understand how networks work, you understand that candidates should never avoid anything -- particularly when the other side is talking about it. Doing so gives the opposition exclusive rights to the networks that create and constitute public opinion.


Hunting for principles

If ever there was an issue on which Americans are of two minds, it is guns. Most Americans believe in the Second Amendment, but most Americans also support a host of restrictions on gun sales and ownership. In the 2004 pre-election Harris poll, slightly more than half of Americans reported favoring stricter gun laws, but far fewer -- only one in five -- wanted to relax the current laws. (When Harris framed the question more specifically in terms of handguns, the percentages became even more lopsided, closer to 3-to-1 in favor of stricter regulations.) Only a small majority, however, supports tougher gun regulations, and many of these people are clustered in large urban areas and on the coasts. This is one of those mixed pictures that lead Democratic strategists to run for the hills.
The point so often (always) left out here is that so few people actually know what the existing restrictions on gun sales and ownership are. By far the best current example comes from this piece at Seraphic Secret:
“I can't believe I'm here. I've been against guns and violence my whole life.”
“Did Ned threaten you, physically, I mean?”
“Said I belong to him and no one else. That's about it. But I know what he means.”
“What did the police say?”
“The last cop, as he was leaving, whispered for me to get a gun.”

I tell her that owning a gun isn't sufficient. She has to take safety classes, self-defense classes. She has to know what she's doing. I grab NRA brochures from the counter, make her promise that she'll sign up as soon as she gets her gun in ten days.

“Ten days?” she cries.

“First you have to take a test, here in the store, a written test. They'll give you a booklet to study from. Then you get a certificate making you eligible to buy a weapon in California. After you purchase the gun there's a ten-day waiting period until you take possession.”

“But why?”
“Background check. To make sure you're not a felon, a psychopath, an illegal immigrant, a terrorist, a drug addict; it's the law.
And because people like her have "been against guns and violence" - and in support of "stricter gun laws" - their whole lives.

Revelations like this come as a shock quite often when people finally understand who it is that's responsible for their protection.
Al Gore epitomized Democrats' discomfort with guns in an exchange with Bush in their second presidential debate in 2000:
Moderator: So on guns, somebody wants to cast a vote based on your differences, where are the differences?

Gore: ... I am for licensing by states of new handgun purchases ... because too many criminals are getting guns. There was a recent investigation of the number in Texas who got, who were given concealed-weapons permits in spite of the fact that they had records. And the Los Angeles Times spent a lot of ink going into that. But I am not for doing anything that would affect hunters or sportsmen, rifles, shotguns, existing handguns. I do think that sensible gun-safety measures are warranted now.

Look, this is the year -- this is in the aftermath of Columbine, and Paducah, and all the places in our country where the nation has been shocked by these weapons in the hands of the wrong people. The woman who bought the guns for the two boys who did that killing at Columbine said that if she had had to give her name and fill out a form there, she would not have bought those guns.
Behind this response we can hear the whirring of the dispassionate mind -- the gratuitous reference to the Los Angeles Times, the reference to Columbine without offering an evocative image. But what is most striking about this response is the lack of any coherent principle that might explain why Gore would place restrictions on new handguns but not on old ones. (Are the existing ones too rusty to kill anybody?) Nor does he justify why he is excluding hunting rifles, although the viewer can infer (correctly) that he wants to get elected.

Bush couldn't respond to the most powerful part of Gore's response, about the woman who had handed the guns to the Columbine shooters. So after reiterating his opposition to requiring gun purchasers even to show photo identification, he switched to a "culture of life" message (aimed at activating anti-abortion networks under the cover of guns) and a "culture of love" message (suggesting that somewhere out there there's a child longing to be told he's loved -- which would presumably prevent massacres like Columbine). Bush's message was not only cognitively incoherent; it was actually lifted from a phenomenally moving eulogy Gore had delivered at Columbine.

True to the dispassionate vision of the mind, Gore failed to mention that he had been at Columbine. With all their debate preparation, his campaign strategists never realized that the vice president's best weapon on guns was that magnificent eulogy, in which he artfully invoked "that voice [that] says to our troubled souls: peace, be still. The Scripture promises that there is a peace that passes understanding."

Bush presented Gore with a golden opportunity to personalize the issue, to put the face of a child on it. With a response like the following, he would have placed in bold relief the extraordinary indifference implicit in Bush's response and the extremism of the conservative narrative Bush was embracing:
Governor, I walked with those shocked and grieving parents, teachers, and children at Columbine; I shed tears with them; and I delivered a eulogy that Sunday by their graveside. I remembered with them the heroism of their beloved coach and teacher Dave Sanders, who bravely led so many to safety but never made it out of the building himself. I remembered with them a young girl named Cassie Bernall, whose final words were "Yes, I do believe in God."

I just told you how the woman who bought the guns that took the lives of Dave Sanders and Cassie Bernall wouldn't have done it if she'd just had to fill out a form and show a photo ID. And you still can't feel for Coach Sanders' wife and children, who'll never wrap their loving arms around him again? You still can't weep for Cassie's parents? You still think it's sensible to require someone to show a photo ID to cash a check but that it's too much to ask that they show an ID to buy a handgun?

Americans do have a clear choice in this election. And it is about a culture of life. They can do something to honor the lives of those who died that day at Columbine. Or they can vote for a man who, as governor of Texas, signed a law allowing people to bring guns into church.
Right. Texas, where seven defenseless people were shot dead in a church in 1999. Boy, those "gun free zones" really do make people safer, don't they? That law allowed the law abiding to legally carry a defensive firearm. It did nothing to help or inhibit the shooter that day.

But to people who see firearms as totems of evil, it doesn't matter who has the firearm (unless they wear a uniform and collect a government paycheck). Guns are bad, mmmmkay?
Although most Americans were much closer to Gore than Bush on guns in the 2000 Harris poll, they thought Bush was stronger on gun control. Although Kerry had hunted all his life,
"Can I get me a huntin' license here?"
Bush was the overwhelming choice of American sportsmen, even though he'd purchased his Crawford ranch as a prop only two years before running for president -- something Democrats never thought to mention in two presidential campaigns. Nor did they mention, as James Carville and Paul Begala have pointed out, that Bush had stocked his ranch's man-made lakes with fish because the river running through it was too polluted.

These are just the kinds of facts and images that win elections. And they are just the kinds of facts and images that should win elections, because they tell where a candidate really stands, not just where he stands for photo ops.

This is precisely the kind of information that informs the emotions of the electorate.
Then why didn't it?

Gunning for common ground

To understand the poll numbers on guns in three dimensions, you have to consider the different associations the word "gun" evokes in urban and rural America. If you prime voters who have grown up in big cities with the word "gun," you are likely to activate a network that includes "handguns," "murder," "mugging," "robbery," "killing," "crime," "inner-city violence," "machine guns," and "criminals." If someone in New York City is packing a piece, he isn't hunting quail.
No, but that someone might be Margaret Johnson, a resident of Harlem who defended herself from a mugger with her .357 Magnum. Or Ronald Dixon, a resident of NYC who shot an intruder in his child's bedroom.

You don't hear much about these people because it's so damned hard and expensive to get a permit to possess a firearm in New York - unless you're famous or politically connected. Of course, that difficulty doesn't seem to affect the criminals....
But now suppose we prime a group of voters -- let's make them men -- in rural America with precisely the same word, "gun." This time, the associations that come to mind include "hunt," "my daddy," "my son," "gun shows," "gun collection," "rifle," "shotgun," "protecting my family," "deer," "buddies," "beer," "my rights" -- and a host of memories that link past and future generations. A voter who lives in a rural area knows that if an armed intruder enters his house, it could take a long time before the county sheriff arrives. The notion of being defenseless doesn't sit well with southern and rural males, whose identity as men is strongly associated with the ability to protect their families.
An idea apparently stripped from the metrosexual urban male?

Just askin.'
There are some voters you just can't win. As my colleagues and I discovered when we scanned the brains of partisans during the last presidential election, roughly a third of Americans' minds won't bend to the left no matter what you do or say (roughly the percent who continue to support Bush). But southern and rural voters are not unambivalent in their feelings toward guns. Rural voters have no fondness for what happened at Columbine or Virginia Tech, and they have little genuine affection for handguns or automatic weapons. If the National Rifle Association scares them into supporting semiautomatics for felons and teenagers with its slippery-slope argument about "taking away your guns," the fault lies as much with the Democratic Party, which has put such a powerful safety lock on its own values that no one knows where Democrats really stand -- on this or virtually any other moral issue.
Ah, more fearmongering! "Supporting semiautomatics for felons and teenagers." Yes, this is exactly what the NRA is doing! As opposed preventing the goverment from taking my private property in violation of the Second Amendment, which is what the Left (and Mr. Westen) is advocating.
When a party finds itself courting potentially winnable voters who have seemingly incompatible associations, the first task of its strategists should be to look for two things: areas of ambivalence and ways of bridging seemingly unconnected networks to create common ground. The areas of ambivalence on guns are clear, but Democrats should be searching for the common ground that connects left to right on guns. One of the most powerful "bridging networks" revolves around law and order. A central appeal of conservative ideology is that it emphasizes the protection of law-abiding citizens. Those in the cities who want gun control for the protection of their families and those in the countryside who decry the lawlessness of the cities share the same concern: the freedom and safety of law-abiding citizens. Democrats should also connect the dots between the extremist message of the NRA and another powerful network: terrorism. You can't fight a war against terrorists if you grant them unrestricted access to automatic weapons on your own soil.
Err, I'm sorry, but isn't this exactly the strategy advocated by the Violence Policy Center in 1988? Aren't they the ones who published a white paper on banning "assault weapons" which included this passage:
It will be a new topic in what has become to the press and public an "old" debate.

Although handguns claim more than 20,000 lives a year, the issue of handgun restriction consistently remains a non-issue with the vast majority of legislators, the press, and public. The reasons for this vary: the power of the gun lobby; the tendency of both sides of the issue to resort to sloganeering and pre-packaged arguments when discussing the issue; the fact that until an individual is affected by handgun violence he or she is unlikely to work for handgun restrictions; the view that handgun violence is an "unsolvable" problem; the inability of the handgun restriction movement to organize itself into an effective electoral threat; and the fact that until someone famous is shot, or something truly horrible happens, handgun restriction is simply not viewed as a priority. Assault weapons — just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms — are a new topic. The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons — anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun — can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.
There's a lot more, but that's the gist of it. "Get them to vote our way through the exploitation of fear - and to hell with the facts." This is precisely what Mr. Westen is advocating with his language of "granting (terrorists) unrestricted access to automatic weapons on your own soil." Lying to inspire fear. It's not like this is a new idea.
This convergence of networks suggests a simple, commonsense, principled stand on guns that Democrats could run with all over the country:
Our moral vision on guns reflects one simple principle: that gun laws should guarantee the freedom and safety of all law-abiding Americans. We stand with the majority of Americans who believe in the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns to hunt and protect their families. And we stand with that same majority of Americans who believe that felons, terrorists, and troubled teenagers don't have the right to bear arms that threaten the safety of our children. We therefore support the right to bear arms, but not to bear arms designed for no other purpose than to take another person's life.
As someone once said, if the guns I own were "designed for no other purpose than to take another person's life," then all of them are defective. I own an M1 Garand - a weapon designed by a government employee and described by General Patton as the "greatest battle implement ever devised." Was it designed for "no other purpose than to take another person's life"? Should I be allowed to "bear" that arm? I own a 1911-pattern semi-automatic pistol, the sidearm issued to our military for over fifty years. What about it? I own an AR-15 carbine, another semi-automatic firearm that most police departments currently issue to their patrol officers. In fact, many departments issue the fully-automatic M-16 version. Are the police issued arms that have the sole purpose of "taking another person's life"?

Facts are pesky things, aren't they? Emotion is so much easier to manipulate.

Shooting blanks

At Virginia Tech, we witnessed another Terri Schiavo moment, when Democrats could have asserted a progressive moral alternative to an extremist narrative of the far right. But once again, they cowered in the corner, hoping to convince the American public that they're almost as right as the Republicans. Unfortunately, you never win elections by being almost as principled as the other side. If only one side is talking about its values, its candidate -- not the moral runner-up -- will win over voters.

With the polls strongly at their backs, Democrats had a historic opportunity to turn the Republicans' indifference to the suffering at Virginia Tech into a moral condemnation, and to put every Republican in Congress on record as caring more about the blood-soaked dollars of the NRA than about the lives of our children.
Isn't this more "hate speech"? Rethuglicans are "indifferent" to suffering? The NRA's "blood-soaked dollars"? I'm personally pretty pissed off at Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker, who applauded that school's "no guns on campus" policy on the grounds that it made people feel safe, when in fact it made them all defenseless.
Instead, they turned tail and ran, fearing they'd be branded as "anti-gun" and pushed down the slippery slope the NRA has used to pick them off at the ballot box for years: "They want to take away your gun."
Because, in fact, you want to take away our guns. The ones you define as "designed for no other purpose than to take another person's life."

That would be pretty much all of them, I think.
But you only have to worry about getting branded and being pushed down slippery slopes if you're playing checkers while the other side is playing chess -- worrying about their next move when you should be anticipating six moves ahead. Democrats didn't do what they knew was the right thing because of their concerns about the political fortunes of red-state Democrats like Heath Shuler in North Carolina.
Wait! Wrong metaphor. Not checkers, not chess, but three-card-Monty. What, precisely, Mr. Westen, is "the right thing"?

Could it be "taking away our guns"?

Could it be anything else?
But they wouldn't have had to worry -- and they would have picked up a lot of "security moms" and plenty of dads -- if they had simply put Shuler in front of the camera, flanked by a couple of pro-gun Democrats like Montana Senator Jon Tester, with a hunting rifle over his left shoulder and an M-16 over his right, armed with a simple message:
This [pointing to the gun on his left] is a rifle.
This [the gun on his right] is an assault weapon.
People like you and me use this one [left] to hunt.
Criminals, terrorists, and deranged teenagers use this one [right] to hunt police officers and our children.
Law-abiding citizens have the right to own one of these [left].
Nobody has the right to threaten our kids' safety with one of these [right].
Any questions?
Yes, I have a few. Isn't the one on the left a "long-range sniper rifle"? Why are our police armed with the one on the right? And where can I buy a new M16? They've been off the market since 1986. A used one costs in excess of $16,000. That is, if you live in a jurisdiction that will allow you to own one, and you can jump through all the legal hoops - background check, permission of your local head of law-enforcement, $200 transfer tax - to qualify.

Once again, facts are pesky things, aren't they?
If you can't speak the truth and win elections, you need to learn another language. The language that wins elections is the language of the heart.
And here's the heart of it. Translation: If the truth doesn't work, lie. Lie big. The bigger the better. And go on the offensive. Change the subject when challenged on your lies, but never back down from the lies. Make the lies bigger, because you've got to lie in order to frighten the idiot sheeple in the direction you want them to go.

Risking invocation of Godwin's Law, does that remind you of anything?

Let me finish with the conclusion reached by James D. Wright and Peter H. Rossi in their 1983 meta-study of gun control laws, Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America - a cold, factual assessment of gun control:
The progressive's indictment of American firearms policy is well known and is one that both the senior authors of this study once shared. This indictment includes the following particulars: (1) Guns are involved in an astonishing number of crimes in this country. (2) In other countries with stricter firearms laws and fewer guns in private hands, gun crime is rare. (3) Most of the firearms involved in crime are cheap Saturday Night Specials, for which no legitimate use or need exists. (4) Many families acquire such a gun because they feel the need to protect themselves; eventually they end up shooting one another. (5) If there were fewer guns around, there would obviously be less crime. (6) Most of the public also believes this and has favored stricter gun control laws for as long as anyone has asked the question. (7) Only the gun lobby prevents us from embarking on the road to a safer and more civilized society.

The more deeply we have explored the empirical implications of this indictment, the less plausible it has become. We wonder, first, given the number of firearms presently available in the United States, whether the time to "do something" about them has not long since passed. If we take the highest plausible value for the total number of gun incidents in any given year - 1,000,000 - and the lowest plausible value for the total number of firearms now in private hands - 100,000,000 - we see rather quickly that the guns now owned exceed the annual incident count by a factor of at least 100. This means that the existing stock is adequate to supply all conceivable criminal purposes for at least the entire next century, even if the worldwide manufacture of new guns were halted today and if each presently owned firearm were used criminally once and only once. Short of an outright house-to-house search and seizure mission, just how are we going to achieve some significant reduction in the number of firearms available? (Pp. 319-320)
Yup. Facts are pesky. Emotion's all they've got.

I'll be back in a while. Thanks for visiting.

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