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Hullabaloo


Sunday, March 25, 2018

 
Rhetoric Matters 

by tristero




It is deeply inspiring to hear the young voices demanding real responses to America's epidemic of gun violence. But the movement is being undermined by the media's obsession with a fake rhetorical balance that actually puts a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of the NRA.

We've seen this before. Perhaps the most cunning move by fans of coat hanger abortions was to demand that the media call them "pro-life." And even today, people sensitive to language and who really should know better give these fanatics a rhetorical pass. It's a huge mistake, because you end up having to argue that your position - namely safe, accessible reproductive choices for women - is not an "anti-life" stance.

And now, fans of gun violence have mounted a campaign to have themselves called:
Across the country, supporters of the Second Amendment gathered at state capitals and in city centers,
An earlier version of the Times article actually used this utterly misleading phrase - one that panders to some of the most extreme elements in our discourse -  in the headline (and it's in the print edition of the Times). This is not accidental. Pro-gun violence extremists have been pushing this framing for years.

This is a false dichotomy - "gun control advocates" vs "supporters of the Second Amendment." A false dichotomy that is perfect for the NRA to portray its position - quite falsely - as a patriotic one. Rhetorically, "gun control advocates" want to control - as in take away rights, they're control freaks - while "supporters of the Second Amendment" support the Constitution and are protectors of American freedoms. This framing is a free gift to the NRA.

To frame the fans of More guns! More guns!  in this way...well, we still might win, but it will take a lot longer because we'll need to explain to people who would otherwise side with us that we're not anti-American, not anti-Constitution, and note even anti-Second Amendment (given what its actual meaning is).* And while we fight an uphill rhetorical battle against people who have wrapped themselves in a deluded fantasy about what the Constitution means, thousands more will die from needless gun violence.

The leaders of the new movement should forcefully expose this rhetorical trap and refuse to let the media frame their issue in such a crude, deceptive fashion. At the very least, we should never call those calling for increased gun-cased mayhem in United States by this cynical phrase.

- - -

*Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU and author of a book on the Second Amendment:
There are surprises in this book for people who support gun control, and people who are for gun rights. When the Supreme Court ruled in Heller, Justice Scalia said he was following his doctrine of originalism. But when you actually go back and look at the debate that went into drafting of the amendment, you can squint and look really hard, but there‚Äôs simply no evidence of it being about individual gun ownership for self-protection or for hunting.