How not to argue about guns like a deplorable

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I get it. Some people think there are too many guns and we need more restrictions. Others think that gun rights are individual rights and other people’s bad behavior shouldn’t determine what they can own.

If you are not in favor of more gun restrictions, go ahead and argue it.

You can try to convince people that gun restrictions don’t work.

You can try to convince people that there is no accurate description of an “assault weapon.”

You can point out that most gun deaths are suicides.

You can explain your perspective that the problem is in the mind of the shooter, not in the gun he holds.

You can explain your version of the current context for the Second Amendment.

These are all arguments about guns, laws, and policies.

But here is what you really ought not to do: make your case by ripping the people who disagree with you.

You don’t get to call Emma Gonzalez, the passionate Parkland teenager who has spoken out at anti-gun rallies, a skinhead lesbian. (That’s what a candidate for the Maine House of Representatives did.)

You don’t get to rag on her wearing the Cuban flag on her coat because her father was Cuban, even though she doesn’t speak Spanish. That’s what US Congressman Steve King did. (If her father were Italian and she wore an Italian flag, would that be a problem? If she did speak Spanish and had an accent, would you find that more to your liking?)

You don’t get to photoshop a fake video to make it appear she is ripping up the Constitution. And if you see that video, you don’t tweet it to spread it, as actor Adam Baldwin did. (The video is fake, but ripping up the Constitution? Really? It’s not the bible. Frankly, if you want to show a video of a yourself ripping up the Constitution, go wild.)

You don’t get to claim shooting survivor David Hogg is an actor right out of central casting.

I’ve read a lot of impassioned pleas that claim such vicious attacks on young, grieving survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting are deplorable, since they are simply exercising their right to speak.

This is wrong. While they may be teenagers and they may be hurting, once they put themselves into the public discourse, people should treat them like anyone else.

The problem is not who the attacks are targeted at. The problem is that such attacks are deplorable, regardless of who they are aimed at. Ad hominem attacks don’t change what is right and wrong.

I expect attacks like this from random crazies on the internet. I don’t expect our elected representatives to endorse them. I expect these leaders to explain to those they lead that these young people, and the millions who marched in support of them, have the right to express themselves, just as Trump supporters do at their rallies, even if those representative disagree with them.

Argue about guns, laws, policies, statistics, and rights, rather than who made the arguments, how they cut their hair, who they love, or what they wear.

Are your pro-gun arguments so flimsy that your only recourse is to viciously rip the people you disagree with?

That’s a pretty sad position to hold.

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  1. Kinda makes you wonder if those “ad-hominem-ing” people, especially politicians, really want to help in making (better) sense of this thing. Guess not.

  2. Nice post. I ‘ve always believed that you never, ever, never, ever convince people of your argument by telling them that they are wrong. That they are idiots. By disrespecting them. You say what you believe. You listen to them. You learn. And hopefully, they learn. But if you disrespect the other side, you really disrespect your own argument.

  3. While I agree with almost all of the content in this post, the Cuban flag actually does bear questioning. The Cuban flag represents a dictatorship regime, a communist country, and a history of oppression and political killings. To some, it is akin to wearing a Nazi swastika. If she was wearing an Italian or Spanish flag, I doubt it would have ever been brought up. The fact that it is her heritage and ancestry doesn’t change the fact that to many it is a symbol of oppression and killing. If a German-born student were wearing a swastika because of his grandfather’s heritage, people would be outraged.

    My personal guess is that she doesn’t understand the offense people might take at that flag, isn’t aware of the history of Cuba, or simply didn’t think about the flag in the first place. Like I said, it bears questioning, but until you know her motives for wearing it, attacking her for it is not appropriate.

    1. Ms. Gonzalez wearing the Cuban flag has absolutely no bearing on this particular debate; those who bring it up have no reason to do so. Arguing with anything except the ideas she expresses muddies the debate.

      Clear your thinking, “call out dodgy logic,” and discover how NOT to argue:

      1. Totally agree w. Katherine. Trump has spoken recently in front of the Cuban flag in the US—and the flag well precedes Castro’s regime.
        There is a flag for Castro’s revolution but she was not wearing that one.
        But also, c’mon… you are doing exactly what this article is explicitly asking you not to do.

    2. There is not a good motive to wear a Cuban flag on your uniform. Doing so, depicts your motives. Pointing that out is NOT an ad hominem attack, by definition. The fact that the flag has been in place since 1902 is not applicable; the history of a free Cuba was overridden by the dictators since. The flag is an idea she expressed and she opened herself up to criticism.

      Questioning the bad logic of the students and the probability that they are merely puppets of the anti-gun Left is acceptable also. So is the basic fact that none have proposed anything close to a workable solution to a real problem.

      Both extremes and both parties ought to be embarrassed by their behaviors on this issue and almost all others.

      1. One possible motive for wearing a Cuban flag may be that your ancestors came from Cuba. Who are you to say what motives are good or not good, or what the flag symbolizes? It think that’s up to the person who wears it.

        Questioning the “bad logic” of the students is fine. But I don’t see anything about logic in your response.

        As for the “probability” that they are “merely puppets of the anti-gun Left” — why must anyone be characterized as a puppet? Isn’t it probable that these students — and the masses of protestors who marched — actually believe what they say? I don’t think calling anyone, regardless of age, a “puppet” is acceptable. If you speak up against abortion, are you a “puppet” of the anti-abortion Right? That’s just name-calling.

        The teenagers have proposed a set of regulations. Whether it’s workable, we’ll find out in the Congress.

        I agree that extremes on both sides ought to be embarrassed. But embarrassment is in short supply these days.

  4. But you also raise an interesting topic which is, when are ad hominem attacks appropriate? Surely things have changed a bit since Socrates. For example, if a person is being professionally paid to hold a position, is it ad hominem to point that out? Or must you restrict yourself to debating them on the merits of their arguments. If they are clearly biased on an issue? If they held a contrary position previously? If they have a habit of lying or making up facts and the facts cant be checked in real time?
    I am not sure ad hominem doesn’t sometimes have its place.

  5. Gee, and not one word about how anyone objecting to the gun-grabbers are accused of having blood on their hands.

      1. I described actual representatives criticizing actual students. Your statement describes a supposed general state of affairs with no accusers and no specific targets. It’s not the same. Ad hominem means targeting a specific individual.

        Even if this were true it doesn’t justify what these critics of the high schoolers have done. It’s just whataboutism.

  6. Americans used to have morals and pride.

    Americans protested the war in Vietnam, but now Americans stay silent about illegal wars.

    Americans nearly impeached Nixon for wiretapping a hotel, but now Americans don’t care that Trump is unconstitutionally wiretapping the entire US.

    Americans used to fight Commies and Nazis, but now have become Commies and Nazis.

    Trade wars made the Great Depression worse, but Americans now scream trade wars that kill jobs and raise prices are good.

    Americans used to to think welfare was shameful.

    Americans used to care about the national debt.

    Americans are no better than animals at this stage.

    The total collapse of the USA is stunning and disgusting.

    Why the suicide rate in the US is not higher is a mystery.