I’ll admit it; I’ve gotten into a bit of a rut when dealing with the left and media (pardon the redundancy).
Especially when they talk about “reaching across divides”. Whenever people on the left talk about “Reaching” across one “divide” or another (let’s leave aside the fact that divides are always of their making), the best one can hope for is that they’ll act like Jane Goodall – ideological anthropologists, here to furrow their brows and write about the Conservatives in the Mist. At worst, they come to mug for their fans and exude their self-perceived superiority and laugh at the locals.
Both efforts pretty generally backfire when the subject is firearms and the Second Amendment. The mugging and smugging usually gets undercut by a lot of unforced errors. And once in a while, the lefty has a Road to Damascus moment and sees the light. Yes, it happens.
The New York Times, wrapped as its endeavors are with pretentions to serious journalism, tries to stick with the anthropological route; a little of the mug and smug leaks through, as it often will; their piece earlier this week, “Reading Across The Aisle on Guns“, by Lawrence Downes, is reminiscent of Jane Goodall, if she was really ambivalent about and afraid of gorillas.
MANCHESTER, N.H. — “A gun is a tool,” said the instructor to his class on a snowy Saturday morning in downtown Manchester. He was teaching 24 women how to safely carry, clean, load and aim a handgun. Later they were going to a range to learn to shoot.
No, I thought. A gun is a weapon. A screwdriver is a tool. You can kill with it, but mostly you open paint cans.
It actually does get better:
I could tell you the guy was wrong, but I’d rather just say: I disagreed. Because to me he is not an abstraction or an adversary — he’s Bob. Robert Boilard, an N.R.A.-certified instructor at the Londonderry Fish and Game Club. He and fellow club members opened their doors to me and a colleague, and over two long days, in the clubhouse, in the classroom and on the range, we talked, shot some and got to know one another.
We’ll come back to this.
Downes relates what is a fairly typical story in these sorts of discussions:
Our back-and-forth was a game of hypotheticals. No serve went unreturned. What about the danger to children with guns in the house? Well, what about the danger from a burglar? New Hampshire is heroin country, and robberies and violence are serious threats. Yes, but crime is so low in your state! Hah, point proved: New Hampshire is safe because of guns.
And they never really can answer that.
But we finally get to the part where “reaching across the aisle” gets complicated; the part where you have to start dealing with fundamentally different worldviews:
The men could not have been friendlier, or more serious and sincere, or less moved by my case for gun restrictions. Laws that strike me as common sense they see as ominous. At some point in the second hour the tone shifted — in my view — from prudence toward paranoia. The unanswerable hypotheticals this time involved government tyranny. Registering gun owners, the men said, simply makes it easier to round us up. Think of Japanese-Americans in 1942.
Mr. Obama, Hillary Clinton, San Bernardino, Newtown, ISIS — to me these are abstract, empty reasons to buy a gun. To my new friends, and so many of their friends, they are concrete and immediate reasons.
And that, right there, is one reason that it’s not so much “reaching across an aisle” as it is “scaling an intellectual and philosophical Berlin Wall”. Mr. Downes and the cultural left are like an army of Leslie Knopes; they see government as friendly, incorruptible, an expression of the highest and most noble human endeavor, government.
Of course, conservatives see government as a necessary evil, to be kept on a tight, merciless leash – by means that include the direct power of veto implied in the Second Amendment.
The left thinks conservatives are paranoid. The right thinks the left are naive pollyannas. You know where my money is.
That’s why attempts to reach “across the aisle” are doomed if all they involve is taking a liberal to a pistol range (fun as that can be). It’s not just understanding the guns (more below), but understanding and having some empathy for the motivations.
Although understanding the technology would go a long way toward giving the left some of the credibility they lack on the issue – including Downes:
These were the law-abiding gun owners you always hear about, those who are — or want to be — at ease with guns. That’s not the feeling I had when I first held the 9-millimeter revolver, or fired the fully automatic rifle with a drum magazine.
It may be possible – if unlikely – that Downes fired a machine gun. But a 9mm revolver?
It isn’t necessarily constructive to chortle at lefty newbies’ technical illiteracy. But then, who says I must always be constructive?
Oh, OK. I should.
But honestly, the difference in overall worldview are so daunting, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start:
Or when I watched Mr. Boilard explain where to shoot, using a poster showing ribs, heart, lungs and spinal column. Right there in the kill zone, he said, not lower. Otherwise “you’re just punching holes in intestines.”
The world they inhabit, where good people strive to be as lethal as the bad ones, is not one I want to live in.
So Mr. Downs prefers a world where the bad guys have a monopoly on lethality? Where the good guys exist by the good nature and will of the bad ones?
Their response: You already do.
I don’t share all their fears. When I hear a noise downstairs at night, I assume it’s the cat. You could say that’s because of the lucky circumstances of my life in a quiet place.
Mr. Boilard approaches the noise-in-the-night differently.
“Dad goes downstairs, Dad’s probably going to die,” he told the class.
He went further: “What happens to the people upstairs?”
“They’re going to die, too,” the women said. The logic was pretty clear.
I give Mr. Downes a C on the facts, and an A for effort.
Which puts me in a mind to try to find some Metro liberal – a politician, a journo, whatever – to do the same.