Should One Use Tragic Events to Promote One's Cause?

This is sparked by an argument re guns on last week’s episode of West Wing between President Bartlett and Vice President Hoines. (I don’t think describing the argument constitutes a spoiler.) Re pvt ownership of guns, permitting concealed carry, and “shall issue” laws: Bartlett’s opposed; Hoines disagrees with Bartlett.

In the show, some idiot in Texas had tried to shoot his girlfriend, in a Baptist Church, during services. A bystander tried to shoot the shooter. The bystander missed the shooter and killed a little girl. Hoines says something like, “you (anti-gun people) love it when one of these incidents happens!” Bartlett was very offended at being accused of being pleased that a little girl was killed.

But was Hoines really wrong?

I don’t for a minute think that the pro-gun control people are actually glad when they hear about a gun tragedy – but they are very ready to capitolize on such events, in a “see, I told you so” way. They seize on the tragedy and say, “see, that’s what happens if people are allowed to own guns”. Their message seems to be that the only possible way to prevent these tragedies is to outlaw the pvt ownership of guns.

IMO, outlawing guns would not prevent these tragedies, nor would “common sence” gun laws (whatever they are), as people wanting to own guns would not obey any law that sought to prevent them from doing so. Yet we seem to be so locked into this longstanding national gun argument that we are not able to consider any other steps that could be taken to reduce the number of gun tragedies.

The anti-gun people seem to have decided that outlawing guns is not only the best solution to problems with guns, but the only solution. Nothing else that might prevent any of these incidents can even be considered. Is it any wonder that the pro-gun people have begun to think that the antis actually welcome these events, and are seeking to prevent any measures being enacted to prevent them (other then the one measure they want)?

The gun debate is the most obvious situation where people are making a regular practice of capitolizing on tragic events to promote an agenda or cause. I’ve also seen this happening in the wake of 09/11/01. IMO, some in government were quick to seize on the terrorist attack as an excuse to pass measures they had long wanted; mesures to give themselves more policing power. IMO, at least one of the new (so called) safty regulations the airlines are putting into effect is something they’ve long wanted to do for reasons having nothing to do with safety: reducing the number of carryon bags passengers can bring aboard.

Bottom line: people are set on what they want to do. When a crisis or tradedy occurs, they think in terms of “how can I use this to get what I want?” This gets in the way of actually solving the crisis or preventing future tragedies.

I’ve seen many pro-gun advocates try and use the tragedies of Sept. 11 to foward the view that if everyone onboard the hijacked planes had carried a gun, it all would have been avoided (avoiding the subject of explosive decompression and such, but that’s another thread).

If you’re a religious fanatic (and I believe that both sides of the gun issue, as well as many other ‘hot-button’ issues are religious fanatics), passing up using such a (to you) clear cut example of why you’re right and the other guy is wrong might seem immoral. It’s certainly hard to avoid parading it in the self-righteous garb that it usually gets wrapped in.

Seems the post is more about gun control than about making hay with tragic news stories, so I can’t resist adding a thought about gun control.
Isn’t the constitutional right to bear arms intended to guarantee power in the hands of the governed and prevent governmental abuse?
So isn’t the point kind of lost unless private citizens have aircraft carriers, nuclear subs, ICBMs and the other trappings of governmental might? Haven’t we already let the power slip away?
I have to agree with the gun nuts that the Constitution makes it clear: anybody who wants to arm themselves is to be allowed to, whenever, wherever, and however they wish.
But I also have to think the Constitution should be changed. It’s just insane to mass produce tools for killing people instantly at a distance, and sell them in every K-Mart. This is so hunters can keep their hobby???
It is important to work within the law, and the Constitution should be followed as is unless and until it is changed, but jeez…

Hi, George! Welcome to the SDMB.

You’re right. It’s hard to draw a line between what’s a legitimate point and what isn’t. I doubt I can do it in every case. But I’m thinking that maybe this is something we should call each other on, the way we on this message board call each other on non-kosher debate techniques.

After watching that West Wing what I wanted to do was argue with President Bartlett. Frustrated by the impossibility of arguing with a fictional character, I started this thread. If there are any actual Jed Bartletts reading this, I say, “Okay, you’re distressed about the people killed by the mis-use of guns – but that hasn’t stopped you from using these tragedies to advance your agenda, has it?” and “Okay, you people on the anti-gun side say you want to put a stop to gun tragedies, but what are you doing? You’re putting 100% of your efforts toward a goal that won’t work unless people obey the laws you want–and they won’t. Couldn’t you put some of your efforts into trying to come up with other solutions? To your oposition, your failure to do so makes it seem that you welcome these incidents as opportunities to score points for your side.”

Trying to keep things on topic…

There’s a difference between an honest disagreement between two parties on the best way to handle something, and pure opportunism.

For an example of the former, look at the debate between Republicans and Democrats over whether airline security should be Federalized. Lots of pundits have been saying that this is just partisanship rearing it’s ugly head, but I don’t think so. Conservatives honestly believe that creating a whole new federal bureaucracy is a bad thing, and in the end won’t improve security. Liberals, on the other hand, mistrust private corporations and think that security is properly the realm of government.

This is an honest disagreement, and both sides are trying to do the ‘right’ thing.

On the other hand, we have the pork that is slipping into these anti-terrorism and stimulus bills, because they are being pushed through Congress without the regular oversight such bills would normally get. So now we have Tom Daschle claiming that a chicken-manure processing facility (in his district, of course) is at this time an important national security operation, and he wants to slide a few hundred million to it. I’m sure there are equal abuses on the Republican side. THIS is the crap we should be fighting.

To be fair, Sam, security being the realm of the government is hardly a ‘liberal’ position per se. Traditionally only radical libertarians have argued for the privatization of security as such. In the current dispute perhaps, perhaps this is a correct break-down but it doesn’t strike me that way.

Using a tragic event to promote your own agenda is “vulture” behavior, pure and simple. After the 9/11 attacks, I got nauseated at the pro-gun advocates said that arming all the passengers would have prevented the attacks, and the Christian fundamentalists who were peddling “the world is ending so you better repent at our church” flyers (one of them popped up at work last week, which really cheesed me off).

Why does stuff like that bother me? Because it’s explicitly catching people when they are emotionally vulnerable, and trying to exploit that vulnerability for their own ends. People who do these things are simply dispicable in my mind, since they show that they’re unable to wait until their subject has recovered before pushing their agenda.

…instead of an appeal to logic. I’m not typically offended by it unless I feel their use of an event or image is in poor taste or they’re reaching to make a connection between the tragic event and their cause. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is attempting to capitalize on the fear of terrorism to pass stricter gun control laws. WTF? Which of the terrorist hijacked the planes with firearms of some sort? Organizations lobbying for hate crime laws love to show photos of Matthew Shephard, James Byrd, Jr., and Brandon Teena.

So don’t take offense. They’re just trying to manipulate your emotions to get you to see things they way they think you should. But what the hell, that’s ok.


Well, considering a little girl was killed by a ‘responsible’ gun owner, I’d say that using this incident to point out that even responsible gun owners are a danger is completely to the point. I can hardly think of a more relevant discussion.

Now, using the 9/11 to try an advance a pro or anti gun argument would IMO be using a tragic event to promote a cause. Because in that case, the gun cause isn’t central to the event. But in your example it is.

Really? So both of these men would have been carrying illegal guns if there were no legal right to own guns?
Doesn’t it seem a tad more likely that neither would have been carring? And would’t you rate it as a miracle of the highest order for a girl to be shot to death if no one in the church had a gun?

You don’t mention, but I’m assuming that neither the boyfriend, nor the bystander was a criminal.

It’s news to me that the pro-gun crowd is interested in taking steps. I doubt that the anti-gun would be against this, as you seem to be suggesting.

Hyperbole. (Or strawman). They aren’t saying it’s the only solution, they are saying its the best.

Bullshit. This is nothing more than demonizing your opponant. Only a fool would reject a solution to this sort of incident. The pro-gun people simply havn’t offered any solutions.

When anti gun people say that outlawing guns would prevent tragedies like this, they are right. The counter argument is NOT that the pro-gun people have a better solution, but that the anti gun “solution” would be worse than the disease; Or more commonly, that the question of good or harm is simply moot because the constitution prohibits outlawing guns.

On the whole, I consider the example in the OP a very poor example of using a tragedy to push an agenda. A much better and clearer one would be the House Republicans who are using the recession and the war to push a ‘stimulus’ plan that is more than 90% non-stimulative corporate tax breaks/rebates.

The democrats did a bit of the same with their plan, but at least had the decency to keep the pork in their alternative plan to under 10%.

No, Sam, the abuses on the republican side are quite a bit more excessive at the present time. Benefits of having a solid majority in the house and virtual immunity from a presidential veto.

Good examples. I agree with the distinction you make.

Good example. The Brady people made what I think is a very common mistake (well, I view it as a mistake). They have a cause. They are always on the look-out for news events re which they can issue a statement pointing out the need for the country to do what they want. It’s fine to have a cause; it’s fine to issue statements about current events. But there is a need for caution. Sometimes you need to restrain yourself, and not comment on something, because the wrong comment, or a comment about the wrong event, will not advance your cause.

If the Sept. 11th hijackers had used guns, it would have been quite reasonable for the Brady organization to speak up and say that the laws they want might have prevented the hijackings. But as the hijackers used edged weapons, not guns, anyone popping up and saying, “see, we need gun control!” just looks foolish.

Actually, I’d say it was a time for the Brady people to keep a low profile. Whenever a major crime is committed with a weapon other then a gun, bringing up gun control just drives home the point that if a way were ever found to deny guns to criminals, they would still have edged weapons, pipe bombs, crossbows, poison gas, etc.

Well, actually, Tojota, I do think that if guns were outlawed, both men would quite likely have been carrying illegal guns.

The boyfriend has decided to kill his girlfriend. If he doesn’t already have a gun, he acquires one: legally, illegally; what does he care? He’s already decided to commit murder; he’s not going to hesitate to buy a black market gun. Then, we have the bystander: a man who wants to go about armed. Presumably, he feels strongly that carrying a gun is something he needs to do. Would a law against doing so stop him? I doubt it.

IMO, outlawing guns would work about as well as Prohibition did, about as well as outlawing abortion did, about as well as the current war on drugs is working, about as well as the ongoing wars against prostitution and various forms of gambling are working. That is to say, not at all.

And I’m not saying that the anti-gun people are against trying other means of preventing gun tragedies. I’m saying that they so focused on the effort to outlaw guns that they are not considering anything else. I don’t think outlawing guns would do any good, so to me, it seems a shame that they are putting so much effort into something so futile. If they put the same amt of effort into something that might actually do some good, who knows what they might accomplish? And I agree that the pro gun rights people should be working hard to reduce the incidence of gun tragedies. They, too, seem to be putting all their efforts into one endeavor: trying to defend the right to bear arms; trying to explain that the 2nd amendment really, really does mean that individuals have the right to own guns. (They’re right, too. Like it or not, it does.)

To me, it seems very similar to the situation with the abortion debate. Most of the people who are enough against abortion to put some time and effort into an attempt to put a stop to it seem to be focusing entirely on trying to get the practice outlawed. To me, this also seems to be an excersize in futility. Women and girls with unwanted pregnancies will get abortions regardless of legality. They did so in droves prior to Roe vs. Wade. Suppose the anti crowd put all that time and effort into working to reduce the demand for abortion? There are many things one could do to this end. Unfortunately, most of the really committed anti-abortion people are also against the very things that would reduce the demand for abortion, such as improved contraception education, improved access to contraception, & research into improved methods of contraception. If the most fanatical of the anti-abortion people ever suceed in getting abortion completely and totally outlawed in all circumstances (and they’ll settle for nothing less), they will not pause for a minute. They’ll go right to work trying to get all forms of contraception outlawed for everyone.

I’ve been saying that, instead of fighting about legality, we should try other means of reducing the incidence of gun tragedies. What other means might we try? I do have a few ideas.

IMO about the worst type of gun tragedy are the incidents involving very young children. Toddler or preschooler finds gun; does not understand that it’s not a toy; points it at someone and pulls the trigger. Well, we are already teaching children this young a lot of safety-enhancing things, from recongnizing the symbol for poison to dialing 911. Why not teach them to recognise a real gun when they see one? Why not teach them that if they see a real gun, (1) don’t touch it! and (2) go tell an adult about it.

To make it easier for small children to tell the difference between toy guns and real ones, why not have a national campaign urging people not to buy real-looking toy guns for children? Stick to toy guns that do not look the least bit real.

Other gun tragedies occur when older kids find a gun. They do know it’s real, and can’t resist it’s appeal. When a child finds and snitches a gun, a tragedy can result. Parents need to realize that their kids are vulnerable to this, even if they do not own guns. Their child’s best friend’s parents may own one. The temptation might well be de-fused by signing your child up for a gun safety class.

Like it or not, guns are very common in the US. Ideally, everyone should take a gun safety class. Maybe this should be a standard class, available (perhaps required?) in all schools, and available before kids reach the legal dropping out age.

When I was in school, driver education was a required course. The school board considered dropping it once, to save money. The chief of police urged them to keep the class; said it produced safer drivers. I would think the right gun safety class would tend to produce adults who, if they chose to own guns, would take precautions to keep young children from getting hold of them. Not to mention, adults who would be less likely to hit the wrong person when shooting at a criminal.

Hazel, I agree with your OP. A related issue is the personal self-interest of the individuals using the crisis.

In addition to their belief in their issue, the survival of their own organizaton and their own jobs depends on continuing donations and memberships. E.g, if they are employed by an organization like Handgun Control or National Rifle Assn. All the more reason to make use of any crisis or tragedy.

Ok. Then we are both coming from very different assumptions about what making guns illegal means.

We are told by the NRA that the vast majority of gun owners are law abiding citizens, and I, for one believe this to be true. You aparently do not.

“If guns are outlawed, gun owners will choose to become outlaws?” Do you really believe that?

You believe that obtaining an illegal gun would be easy, I disagree, I think it would be quite difficult. So difficult, in fact, that he would be forced to choose a different muder weapon, while the other guy, being an honest citizen, whould simply not be armed.

But ok, if you think that obtaining an illegal drug would be as easy as getting an ounce of pot, then I can see how you would think that the anti-gun agenda would be a non-solution. GIGO. I won’t hijack your thread any further on the subject.

There are rules to logicaly arguing. Using individual examples is good arguing as far as illustrating a point goes, but it should be backed up with statistical evidence. Arguing by anecdote alone will only persuade uneducated people.

Now a lot of people jump on things like Columbine right away, when waiting a while leaves a less offensive taste. The people you want to avoid offending are not your debating opponents, but rather the families while they are still in the midst of their grief.

Tejota, you’re right, I do assume that if they’re outlawed, it will not be difficult for people to obtain illegal guns. Maybe a little harder then buying marijuana today, but less difficult then obtaining an abortion prior to Roe vs. Wade?

A gun black market already exists for people who are barred from buying a gun legally; for people who don’t want to sit out a waiting period; for people with criminal intent, who want a gun that no govt agency knows they have. I don’t think many people who are turned away when they try to purchase a gun legally just give up. I think most buy illegal guns.

The more difficult it becomes for people to buy guns legally, the more this black market will expand. IMO, if guns are outlawed, the black market will expand to fill the higher demand.