No need for a conversation.
- Joshua M Brown
- December 14th, 2012
My heart is breaking for the families of those affected by the events in Newtown, Connecticut this morning. Just as I'm sure yours is, regardless of your stance on the gun issue.
Now, we're going to hear people talk about this sudden need for a "national conversation" or a some grand debate over guns and gun control. I can't think of a more pointless waste of time.
There is a percentage of the US population - a fairly large one - that will never agree to the need for any kind of regulations or tighter controls on guns. No matter what evidence is presented, how many people are killed in any given massacre or what the statistics say. If anything, even the slightest hint of impingement on their "freedom" galvanizes them even more. They have their standard answers to everything you're going to attempt to say: "There was no shortage of violence in Ancient Rome or Feudal Japan before guns were invented" and "No one ever walks into a police station and tries to shoot at all the armed people" and on and on.
The Far Left will say it's time for the elimination of all guns period. Since there is zero chance of this happening right now, it will only serve to irk the other side. There is little value in these statements.
The Moderates will say that outlawing guns won't stop bad / crazy people from doing bad / crazy things. And they're right. But it certainly wouldn't hurt either.
The Center-Right will say that by removing firearms from the hands of law-abiding private citizens, you're virtually assuring that only the worst element in society will be armed and the rest of us will be defenseless. I can understand this point of view, even if I disagree because I think the trade-off is worthwhile when you consider the drastically decreased availability of these weapons.
The Libertarians will say that people passing laws against guns makes our need for guns even greater than ever. The Redcoats are always right around the corner, after all, lying in wait for 230 years.
And then there are the True Believers who will say that everyone should be armed, at all times, the more guns the better. Which is obviously just common sense. Of course having more people walking around armed is safer. Definitely safer than having almost no one armed and stiffer sentences for those who illegally obtain weapons. How can you not see that? I know some of these guys, a few are friends. I promise you there is no swaying them even an inch.
I don't claim to have the definitive answer in this fight nor do I necessarily believe that I inhabit the moral high ground, I'm just deeply saddened and a little bit scared. But I do know which side sounds more reasonable right now. I also know that the debate is utterly hopeless.
Think about it - Do you really believe that someone who has lost a relative to random gun violence is going to agree that we need to defend the ownership of assault rifles because "it's a slippery slope?"
Do you really think that a guy who collects, shoots, cleans and plays with handguns as a hobby is going to agree to anything other than the complete and total freedom to conceal and carry them everywhere? What statement is it that you think anyone's going to make that will change his mind? What elementary school bloodbath will he see on the television that might awaken inside him even an iota of doubt?
There is no statement anyone could make or massacre gruesome enough. They just want their guns.
No one will ever change anyone's mind. Not with a conversation or with discourse or with facts or with emotional arguments. Try explaining to an NRA member that the 2nd Amendment was actually not an argument for all citizens to be armed, but rather it was a method for preserving the existence of militias - the quasi-official organizations that were the precursors of our modern police and armed forces. You can quote him the actual words of the amendment itself and he will not budge. If anything, he'll fold his arms across his chest even tighter. "But it's my guns and my bullets and I want them and more than that I want my right to have them."
Good luck with that "conversation." Trust me, it goes nowhere.
This post was not intended to change the way anyone thinks or to try to convince anyone that they are right or wrong in whatever their stance is. I really don't care what you think, you probably don't care what I think.
This post is, however, intended to keep you from wasting your time. Do not engage each other in debate, friendly or otherwise. Do not attempt to spark a "national conversation." It will save zero lives and you will win no converts, regardless of the elegance or brutishness of the logic you employ on your argument's behalf. Gun people are gun people and gun control people are gun control people. That's it.
But I will say this - If you are anti-gun or at least pro-gun control, there is a silver lining you can keep in the back of your mind:
Progress comes slowly and society improves itself only by replacing itself with successive generations that are unencumbered by the social mores of their parents' and grandparents' eras. What was once acceptable to one generation in the course of American History eventually became unthinkable to a new generation just once, twice or thrice removed.
In my parents' lifetime, it was considered both lawful and socially acceptable in a large part of the country for people of one race to be treated differently than people of another. In my parents' parents' lifetime, discrimination against women and withholding from them the right to vote along with other basic freedoms and protections was totally acceptable. In my parents' parents' parents' generation the exploitation of child labor was considered to be acceptable and in their parents' generation Americans were legally allowed to buy, sell and own human beings.
But time passes and society weeds out that which proves to be more harmful than productive. People don't change their minds, it is the very people themselves who change, a progressive force for good which cannot be stopped. The religious wars that raged across Europe between Protestant and Catholic in which millions were slaughtered merely because of how they chose to speak with god did not end because people suddenly changed their minds. There was no "continental debate." No, these wars ended after hundreds of years because, eventually, the new people who came along didn't seem to be as hung up on the things that the old people were so concerned with.
This pattern repeats itself over and over again throughout history. Except where it doesn't. In places where this process is not allowed to run its course and the obsession with tradition distorts the natural trend of societal amelioration, you get primitiveness, dictatorships, warlords and stunted cultures. You get honor killings and forced marriages and regressive medical practices and radical religious fundamentalism and high infant mortality rates and female genital mutilation and ethnic cleansing.
But in America, we eventually evolve to where we need to be. You can ask "How many more innocent people need to die until things change?" I don't know. Maybe things never change. Maybe future generations remain as committed to their right to bear arms as past and current ones have. That is possible. Perhaps we'll also continue to allow big money interests to make the laws and packaged foods companies to poison us and tobacco companies to to murder us and schools to teach fairy tales as an alternative to science and lawyers to run wild with frivolous suits that act as a tax on the nation and government-guaranteed banking institutions to operate like casinos for the benefit of their employees and the lobbyists to ensure that we spend the equivalent of the next 19 countries combined on our military each year. Maybe we'll allow these things to continue forever.
Or maybe we won't. Maybe our children or their children will put a stop to it. Maybe enough people will decide that some aspects of our daily lives have outlived their usefulness or have begun to do more harm than good. And then something will be done.
But one thing's for damn sure - if it happens it won't be because you or I said anything to anyone, on TV or in an op-ed or on a blog or on Twitter.
My opinion doesn't matter and neither does yours, so save yourself the aggravation.
Commenters: In keeping with the spirit of what I'm saying, please don't rail against this post with your brilliant talking points about how terrible or how great guns are. We've heard them all before a million times and you're not convincing anyone of anything.
Also, if you insist upon bringing the facts into this, they're here:
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The Reformed Broker is a blog about financial markets and the economy. Joshua Brown is a New York City-based investment advisor for high net worth individuals, charitable foundations, retirement plans and corporations... More.