I’ve always thought that Aaron Sorkin’s show, “The West Wing,” got an unnecessarily bad wrap from conservatives. Sure, it was packed to the gills with liberal pieties, but during its best-written seasons (which amounted to about half of its total run), conservative characters could get in a good riposte from time to time.
For instance, in a second season episode entitled “In This White House”, the president has just survived an assassination attempt where one of his aides was also hit by a bullet. That sets up this exchange between Sam Seaborn, one of the president’s speechwriters, and Ainsley Hayes, a sharp Republican pundit who’s rebuffed an offer to work in the Democratic administration (this being TV, she eventually joins up):
You think because I don’t want to work here it’s because I can get a better gig on Geraldo? Gosh, let’s see if there could possibly be any other reason why I wouldn’t want to work in this White House? This White House that feels that government is better for children than parents are. That looks at forty years of degrading and humiliating free lunches handed out in a spectacularly failed effort to level the playing field and says, ‘Let’s try forty more.’ This White House that says of anyone that points that out to them, that they are cold and mean and racist, and then accuses Republicans of using the politics of fear. This White House that loves the Bill of Rights, all of them – except the second one.
This is the wrong place to talk about guns right now. I thought your column was idiotic.
Imagine my surprise.
But for a brilliant surgical team and two centimeters of a miracle, this guy’s [the injured aide] dead right now. From bullets fired from a gun bought legally.
They bought guns, they loaded them, they drove from Wheeling to Rosslyn, and until they pulled the trigger they had yet to commit a crime. I am so off-the-charts tired of the gun lobby tossing around words like ‘personal freedom’ and no one calling ‘em on it. It’s not about personal freedom, and it certainly has to do with public safety. It’s just that some people like guns.
Yes, they do. But you know what’s more insidious than that? Your gun control position doesn’t have anything to do with public safety, and it’s certainly not about personal freedom. It’s about you don’t like people who do like guns. You don’t like the people. Think about that, the next time you make a joke about the South.
That dialogue came to mind when I saw the Media Research Center video that Drudge is linking to this afternoon. Culled from deep in the C-SPAN archives, it features then-U.S. Attorney Eric Holder suggesting that gun owners should be subjected to the same sense of societal shame as smokers (for the record, this would make me the most hated man in America) and suggesting an anti-gun media campaign that he compares to “brainwashing.” I’ve embedded an uncut excerpt below (the MRC version is edited, which I think is always unwise in gotcha situations like this).
Now — because our side tends to get too cute by half on these things — I think we should consider Holder’s message in total. His criticisms of a blood-drenched media don’t sound too far removed from what a lot of conservatives were saying in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting spree.
Candidly, I find that argument pretty unpersuasive regardless of which side of the aisle it’s coming from. If the overwhelming majority of the public can watch “Dexter” or play “Grand Theft Auto” without being compelled to embark on a murderous rampage, the real story there is how effectively we can separate fantasy from reality, not how blurry the line is. Certainly we ought to be looking at the factors that tie together the small handful of killers (like, just to pick something at random, mental instability) rather than the traits they share with a huge swath of the non-violent.
I do think Holder is on to something, though, when he talks about the fetishizing of guns among young men (though he slyly extrapolates it to all gun owners). But the story is incomplete. Abetted by examples in sports and music (especially hip-hop), guns have become an inner-city status symbol. I suppose, in some respects, you could interpret this as a sign of societal rot. The meanest streets in the nation are Hobbesian affairs. Respect can only be cultivated by force. Your Glock is going to earn more deference than that master’s degree from Tufts.
If there’s an urban vanguard, however, that’s arming itself as a show of dominance, it’s only logical that their neighbors — particularly in places where a call to the police might as well be a message in a bottle — are also going to acquire some firepower, purely as a matter of self-defense. All of the whiz-bang Madison Avenue PSAs of Holder’s dreams aren’t going to change that very basic calculus of personal safety and, ultimately, survival.
In the end, that’s what’s so troubling about Holder treating gun ownership as a social pathology. The big city scenario is only an exaggerated version of what the vast majority of gun owners are thinking. Most of us don’t purchase firearms to compliment our egos. In fact, most of us hope we’ll never have to use them anywhere except the range. Rather, we recognize that potentially life-threanting chaos could always be around the corner — and law enforcement may not.
One example: I have an elderly family member that lives in a high-rise outside of Los Angeles. One night, a man the size of a defensive lineman, fueled by alcohol and drugs, started beating on the door of the unit my family member and his wife live in, making violent threats because he was so mentally scrambled that he didn’t realize it wasn’t the home of his girlfriend (the source of his rage). The man threatened to beat the door down. My family member got his gun and repeatedly warned the man to leave, telling him that he had the wrong address and letting him know that he was armed and would fire if forced to. The police were called but didn’t arrive in time. The man broke down the door and charged him. Only because of the gun was the innocent man the one who lived. Needless to say (to Ricochet readers anyway, perhaps not to the Attorney General), my relation didn’t glory in that moment. In fact, it haunts him to this day.
An undifferentiated view of gun owners can’t account for this scenario. Seeing firearms purely as an instrument for bloodlust impedes recognizing how often they are a deterrent to–or even a remedy for–bloodlust. A gun, responsibly owned, is, in some sense, the very mark of a free person. For it says that the state, while it may have a monopoly on the legitimate initiation of force, does not have one on the legitimate repulsion of force. This is not a sentiment we can tolerate being “brainwashed” out of people.
These are all things, of course, that could be understood by politicians who weren’t motivated primarily by not liking people who like guns.
P.S. — I’m keeping the smokes too. Stuff it, Eric.
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