The most common view of the gun debate in the United States is that one side is sensible and factual — and quite attractive — while the other side is a pile of meat that has been sitting in the sun too long. The main source of disagreement about guns has been narrowed-down to this key question: “Which side is the rotting meat side?” But I think most people agree on the big picture — that one side is completely batsh*t crazy while the other team is brilliant, well-informed, and inexplicably sexy. You’re lucky you’re on the good team! Pity the people on the other side. Losers!
But that’s not how the Persuasion Filter sees it. The Persuasion Filter sees nothing remotely like rational debate happening on either side. The persuasion filter sees individuals with different risk profiles favoring policies they feel will keep them safer even if it makes someone else less safe.
If you’re new to the concept of the Persuasion Filter, I use the term to explain how a person trained in the art of persuasion sees the world. The main distinction is that trained persuaders see humans as fundamentally irrational, yet hardwired at birth to believe we have common sense.
The Persuasion Filter describes a world in which no one involved in the gun debate, on either side, is engaged in honest, rational debate. But we sure FEEL as if we’re being honest and rational. And therefore, logically, if the folks on the other side of the issue don’t see things the same way, they must be lying, hallucinating, stupid, or mentally ill. But they sure can’t be thinking as smartly as we are. If they were, they’d be agreeing with us so hard it would hurt.
If you look at the gun debate through the Persuasion Filter, you see people who are pursuing their own self-interest as they see it at the expense of other people. But humans can’t say that directly. To do so would make us appear to be bad people in the eyes of society.
For example, anti-gun people know that some people would be safer with guns in the house for self-defense. I know a single mom with two teenage daughters who gunned-down a documented sex offender who broke into her home in the middle of the night. No charges were filed. She was safer with a gun, and she knew it. That’s why she had one. So the anti-gun folks (the most extreme of them anyway) would accept a world in which my friend and her daughters were sexually assaulted in their own home so long as it makes their own risk a bit lower. But they can’t say that. So instead, they point to England and say whatever works there would totally work here. That might be true. But it isn’t rational. There are too many differences to be confident we’d have the same outcome.
Many pro-gun folks feel safer owning guns. Or they might simply enjoy guns for sporting purposes. They might also prefer gun ownership to lower the risk of a despot taking over, or simply because gun ownership is a freedom granted in the Constitution. But the unspoken part of those preferences includes the knowledge that some number of innocent people, including children, will die because of current gun laws. To be fair, guns will save some people as well. But no doubt about it, some innocent people will die whenever guns are easy to obtain.
We humans can’t say aloud that we prefer our position on guns (either pro or con) even though we know that getting our way will mean certain death to innocent people. So instead, we concoct irrational arguments about how places such as Chicago or Tokyo tell us all we need to know about the effectiveness of gun control. They don’t.
Personally, I judge my gun risk to be similar to that of my friend who shot the sex offender in her house. As a public figure, my risk is higher than average. So if I want a right to own a gun for self-defense, I have to accept the fact that innocent people will die should the laws of the land go my way.
One of the reasons I respect advocates on both sides of the gun debate is that we live in a political system that allows (and maybe encourages) people to vote for their self-interest, as they see it, even if the outcome would lead to the death of other citizens. I would prefer an option in which no one ever dies for the preferences of others, but for some types of political decisions, people will die no matter which direction you go. And that means people will vote in a way that makes it less likely they will be the ones dying and more likely it will be some other class of people doing the dying.
If you see a gun debate in which both sides claim their preferred laws would save lives, you’re watching a fake debate. A real debate would sound more like this:
Honest Pro-gun argument: “I realize the right to own guns will result in the death of thousands of innocent people. But owning a gun lowers the risk for my family, in my opinion, because of my specific situation, and so I favor gun rights.”
Honest Anti-gun argument: “I realize that some forms of gun control could result in the deaths of people who would otherwise be able to defend themselves, but I’m okay with that because my family’s risk would be lower if there were fewer guns in circulation.”
Those are examples of honest opinions about guns. If you can’t say your preferred laws about guns are guaranteed to result in the deaths of innocent people — albeit different classes of people depending on the laws — you aren’t part of a real debate. You’re part of a fake debate that feels real.
Personally, I’m pro-gun, with a preference for a national no-buy list. I believe my preferences, if they were the law of the land, would make me safer in my situation, while definitely leading to a greater risk of other people dying. I also accept the risk of people ending up on the no-buy list who shouldn’t be there. Some of those people might die because they can’t defend themselves, and I accept that tradeoff for purely selfish reasons because I think it is unlikely I would end up on the no-buy list.
I also believe gun ownership makes the United States slightly more dictator-proof than it would otherwise be. Private gun owners stand no chance against a professional military, but they wouldn’t be facing a military. They would be kidnapping the family members of anyone involved in the dictator’s overthrow. While it would still be possible for a dictator to take control of the United States, that dictator would end up ruling a country that he or she wouldn’t want to live in. Gun owners would see to that. And that’s worth something.
For more of my opinions on gun control, see my prior blog post on the topic in which I attempt to be rational but probably fail.
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