Brian Beutler wrote a very interesting article, but because of the headline, I let it sit in my RSS queue for a while, Republicans Accept Mass Killings. That’s Why Gun Control Advocates Must Get Graphic. I knew at least part of what he was getting at. Ben Carson recently made a statement that he had treated many gunshot wounds, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” And I was afraid that Beutler might be calling for the gun control community to do what the anti-choice people do and show graphic, disgusting images. And that is more or less his argument, but it isn’t as bad as it sounds.
Before getting into it, let me counter what Carson said. His framing is wrong — I would say disingenuous, but he’s a seriously clueless guy. On the issue of guns, conservatives have gone far past the idea of a slippery slop and gone to a frictionless cliff. Implicit in what Carson is saying is that if we close the gun show loophole, private ownership of guns will be gone from the United States. It’s not surprising that he thinks this. The NRA has spent the last couple of decades arguing against any restrictions for this reason. If flamethrowers were legal, people would now be against doing anything to regulate them.
What Beutler pointed out is that there is another hidden assumption in Carson’s claims or the less obviously nutty claims of Jeb Bush. They look at the roughly 10,000 gun homicides and roughly 20,000 gun suicides each year. And they think that they are nothing. They are a minor issue that we should do absolutely nothing about because any measure to strengthen gun regulations is a much greater threat to us. It’s a curious argument, because pretty much every other peer country has far greater firearm regulation and they haven’t lost their liberty.
So Beutler thinks that we need to make this argument plain. He’s not suggesting that we march around with gruesome images of gun fatalities like the anti-choice groups do with large fake photos of abortion. But he is suggesting that we not hide the results of gun violence in reporting on it. When the results are not shown, just like in our wars since Vietnam, it has a propagandistic effect. It sanitizes it and makes it all about statistics. Note that in Ben Carson’s case, he was not treating people who had their heads exploded by a bullet; in the vast majority of cases, he was working on people who were wounded and not killed by bullets.
I’m not sure that I agree with Beutler that this would make any difference, however. The truth is that gun rights advocates will say the same thing that abortion rights advocates say: we all know the reality. Of course, look how different this is. In the case of abortion rights, we are talking about real people being negatively affected — in the case of late term abortions, we are talking about a matter of life and death. In the case of gun rights, we are talking about the idea that we can’t place any limits on gun ownership because (big assumption number one) it will lead to gun confiscation, which will lead to (big assumption number two) the end of liberty in America.
But maybe Americans do need to be reminded of the terror of a mass shooting. Beutler provided the following image from New York Daily News from the murder of television reporter Alison Parker. It isn’t graphic in the sense of showing blood and intestines. But I think it is quite graphic in the sense of showing the terror and pain caused by these shootings. Maybe such images would cause people who would normally stay at home to trudge down to the polling place and vote for reasonable gun control. It’s worth a try.
Image of Alison Parker’s murder used under Fair Use.