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gun rights

Democracy

Jon Stewart just gave an 8-minute masterclass in highlighting gun politics hypocrisy

Stewart used an Oklahoma lawmaker's own arguments to show why his anti-gun-regulation stance doesn't make sense.

Jon Stewart interviewed State Sen. Nathan Dahm about gun legislation.

Jon Stewart is a unicorn among interviewers, masterfully striking a balance between calm questioning and insisting on interviewees providing answers. Not deflections. Not pivots or side steps. Actual, direct answers to the questions he's asking.

Anyone who has interviewed a politician knows how hard striking that balance can be. Politicians are rhetorical magicians, saying lots of words that seem like an answer to a question, without actually answering it at all. Sometimes their avoidance methods are obvious, but usually, they know how to manipulate and control a conversation, deftly steering it in the direction they want it to go. If allowed to, they will not only avoid directly answering a question, but they will manhandle the entire interview, filling the air time with their own messaging. Politely letting them talk allows them to pull all of their favorite tricks.


As such, if you want to make a politician actually answer a question, interrupting them is unfortunately necessary. While interrupting can seem rude sometimes, when it's done to bring a lawmaker back to a question they haven't actually answered or to point out a flaw in their argument before they move on to something else, it's simply calling them on their b.s.

And few do that more effectively than Jon Stewart. One reason is that he is simply unfazed by politicians. He knows their game and looks at them like a parent whose child is clearly trying to pull a fast one. Another reason is that he thoroughly does his homework before the interview and can predict how they're going to respond, so he's able to catch them in their own web of illogic or hypocrisy in real time.

Such was the case in an interview with Oklahoma lawmaker Nathan Dahm on Stewart's show, "The Problem With Jon Stewart."

“State Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-OK) has penned several bills loosening gun restrictions, including the nation’s first anti-red flag law," the caption of the clip reads on Twitter. "He thinks these bills protect the Second Amendment—and that they make us safer. We think it's probably one or the other."

The main premise of Sen. Dahm's argument is "More guns make us safer." Stewart challenges him to defend that point, given the basic facts about gun violence statistics.

Stewart points out that "More guns make us safer" flies in the face of what law enforcement officials have claimed. "When the police go to a house filled with guns, why don't they breathe a sigh of relief knowing that this Second Amendment that shall not be infringed is being exercised so fruitfully in this home?" Stewart asks. Good question.

Stewart also shows Dahm how his argument about people, not guns, being the problem doesn't make sense considering the fact that he shoots down all attempts at regulations that would help ensure those problematic people don't have easy access to guns.

Finally, Stewart highlights the hypocrisy of using government regulation to protect children from all kinds of things except the leading cause of death in children, which is guns.

Watch:

Can we have Jon Stewart interview all politicians on all issues, please?


Earlier this week, the Ted Cruz campaign posted this image on its official website:

Photo from Tedcruz.org, via TalkingPointsMemo.


The fundraising page and image were a response to Obama's executive order that tightened up a few existing gun laws.

The president's order expands the enforcement of background check laws to private and online dealers that sell firearms, initiates an overhaul of the FBI's background check system, and includes a proposal for increased investment in mental health care, among other things.

Many more vocal gun rights advocates worry that any change to America's gun laws — even a limited one — is one step on a "slippery slope" to all guns being banned.

A few presidential candidates other than Cruz have made statements to that effect. Media outlets and the NRA have also pressed the charge in recent months.

There is, however, one person who is pretty sure Obama isn't coming to take anyone's guns: President Obama.

Photo by Aude Guerrucci/Getty Images.

At a CNN Town Hall last night, the president categorically dismissed the accusation, which he described as as a false "notion of a conspiracy."

Anderson Cooper pressed him on that characterization...

Cooper: ... now, let me just jump in here, is it fair to call it a conspiracy...

And Obama replied...

Obama: ... well, yeah...

Obama pointed out that, in his seven years as president, he hasn't moved to try to confiscate any guns, and wouldn't be starting any time soon.

"Well, look, I mean, I'm only going to be here for another year. I don't know — when — when would I have started on this enterprise, right?" the president told Cooper.

Those who agree with President Obama about the need for tighter gun laws —and those who don't — need to do a better job of listening to what the other side is actually saying.

People on both sides of the issue have valid points that deserve to be heard, debated, and examined.

But good faith is too often missing from the discussion.

A gun shop in Las Vegas, which says it saw a spike in sales after President Obama was elected. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Too many on the "anti-gun" side have convinced themselves that most gun owners are irresponsible and just trying to stockpile weapons for the fun of it.

Too many on the "pro-gun" side believe that common sense gun control measures mean the government coming to their door, raiding their gun lockers, and carrying away all their expensive firearms.

Overheated rhetoric makes it harder to do the things most of us agree on.

Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images.

At the moment, the gun debate feels like a game of dodgeball. Team Pro-Gun vs. Team Anti-Gun. NRA vs. Everytown. Republican vs. Democrat. Which is a shame, because — with the U.S. topping 30,000 gun deaths per year in recent years — most of us really, really want to meet in the middle (and not throw big rubber balls at each other).

Over 70% of Americans oppose banning handguns. At the same time, 85% of all Americans — gun owners and non-gun owners alike — support background checks of the kind that Obama's executive order calls for. 70% support a federal database to track gun sales. Nearly 60% support a ban on assault weapons.

These are easy things we can do.

The vast majority of gun owners are responsible, and the vast majority of those who support stricter gun laws don't want to take anyone's guns.

That's the bottom line — and a great starting place for a discussion we Americans should probably get going on, pronto.

Now that we've gotten that, let's go team.

Aight? Aight.

More

Obama's emotional message on gun violence is worth hearing over and over again.

"Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well."

President Obama just revealed a series of executive actions to address gun violence.

After trying and failing to get a gun safety bill through Congress in 2013, shortly after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, he's making his last stand on the issue.


Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

With family members of shooting victims at his side, the president delivered an emotional address stating his case for moving forward on a plan without Congress:

"Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care aboutas well. ... Our right to worship freely and safely — that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City, and that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill and Sikhs in Oak Creek.
...
Our right to peaceful assembly, that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our inalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high- schoolers in Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown."

The executive actions have been described as Obama's boldest move on the issue so far.

The measures include a mandate for anyone who sells guns (not just firearm retailers) to get a license and run background checks, investments in improved gun safety technology, authorization to hire more federal agents to process background checks and enforce gun laws, and funding increases for mental health care.

It all sounds so ... reasonable. Sure, politically speaking, it may be fair to call it "bold," but if we're being honest, that's kinda sad.

Addressing gun violence should never have been a last-ditch effort.

Before the plan was even unveiled, gun rights advocates were threatening to challenge the plan in court. Republican presidential candidates have vowed to reverse the measures if they're voted into office. (Something to keep in mind in November.)

Jeb Bush speaks at an NRA rally. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

These are executive actions, not an ironclad piece of approved legislation, so that iffiness just comes with the territory.

But the president has been periodically forced into a corner, first when Congress rejected a bill containing provisions similar to those in this proposal after the Newtown massacre, then with each failure to act after the more than 1,000 mass shootings since.

The executive actions will do a lot of important things, but they won't solve the problem.

Studies have shown that gun ownership is a powerful predictor of gun homicide rates. And the United States will continue to have an unmatched volume of guns in homes and on the streets.

Photo by Dugan Ashley/Wikimedia Commons (altered).

If nothing else, however, the president is forcing the conversation and, hopefully, getting more voters to snap out of their dazes and respond with the passion and resolve we see in the NRA and other trigger-happy lobbies.

"All of us need to demand that Congress be brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby's lies. ... We need voters who want safer gun laws, and who are disappointed in leaders who stand in their way to remember come election time." — President Obama

Beating gun violence will require a huge reassessment of values. And it really does come down to one simple question:

Is it worth protecting one right, vague and dated as it may be, if it costs shooting victims so many others?

Watch President Obama's tearful address:

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In 1994, President Clinton signed a crime bill that, among other things, banned the production of certain military-type semi-automatic weapons for civilian use.

At best, it could be seen as a wise move for public safety — no matter your take on the Second Amendment. What practical need is there for a civilian to own such a thing?


Photo via Sanandros/Wikimedia Commons.

At worst, it was another example of politics as usual — collusion among lawmakers and lobbyists to create the illusion of cooperation in the interest of public safety.

The law narrowly made its way through Congress in mostly partisan votes. But the assault weapons ban had major shortcomings that, in light of the shooting in San Bernardino and many others like it, may be haunting us to this day.

1. It wasn't built to last.

Soothing as a salvo at sunset. Photo by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet/Flickr.

The deciding factor in getting the bill through a divided Congress was a sunset provision that gave the law an expiration date 10 years from the day it became law — unless Congress took further action to reinstate it.

With broad support for the ban — including from national police organizations — George W. Bush maintained that he would sign the renewal bill if it came to his desk.

But that day came and went in 2004 without a renewal of the ban from the Republican-controlled Congress, who defied public opinion to protect their political interests.

2. It was riddled with loopholes.

More like bullet holes, I guess. Photo by Jimmy Harris/Flickr.

First, there was no clear definition of what constituted an "assault weapon," wrote Brad Plumer of The Washington Post:

"There are fully automatic weapons, which fire continuously when the trigger is held down. Those have been strictly regulated since 1934. Then there are semiautomatic weapons that reload automatically but fire only once each time the trigger is depressed. ... Congress didn't want to ban all semiautomatic weapons — that would ban most guns, period. So, in crafting the 1994 ban, lawmakers mainly focused on 18 specific firearms, as well as certain military-type features on guns."

Congress's minced approach made it easy for gun makers to tweak features to legally produce weapons that were fundamentally the same as those restricted by the ban.

There were also "grandfather" provisions that gave a pass to semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines produced before the ban took effect.

3. It lacked the resolve seen in other rich countries.

Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, and their low gun-related homicide rate shows it.

A 1996 mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania, an island state south of Australia, ended with 35 dead and 23 wounded. So the Aussies took decisive action to stop future mass shootings.

They banned all semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, avoiding the types of loopholes exploited by gun manufacturers in the U.S., and spent a half billion dollars buying back the guns in circulation. Since then, the country has seen zero mass shootings.

In Japan, where all firearms except shotguns and air rifles have been outlawed for decades, they've had as few as two gun-related homicides a year.

The United Kingdom and Canada also have assault weapons bans and strict licensure rules for buying a gun, and both countries experience a fraction of the gun-related deaths we see in the U.S.

Meanwhile in the U.S., "there are depressingly few days — if any — between most mass shootings. More than 75% of the time, there has been another mass shooting on the same day or the day before," wrote Buzzfeed, citing data from ShootingTracker.com.

Politics won't solve the problem of gun violence. Humility over our mistakes and the courage to face them will.

A group of men pray together near the site of the San Bernardino shooting. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.

Authorities have confirmed that two of the four weapons used in the San Bernardino shooting were assault rifles "powerful enough to pierce the standard protective vest worn by police officers," said Meredith Davis of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. All of the weapons used were legally purchased.

Guns may be an ingrained part of the American identity, but we have a shameful record with them. And if there's anything we should have learned by now, it's that tinkering around the edges isn't solving the problem.

Banning assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and other impractical gun gadgets doesn't have to mean we're "taking away all the guns."

We can't say with any certainty that a firm ban would solve gun violence, but the stats from our more gun-strict global neighbors are evidence that a law like this could have limited the horror and destruction of events like the shooting in San Bernardino.

And forgoing chances to enact that and other reasonable measures is, to use a related cliché, like shooting ourselves in the feet — or worse.