Did you hear? They’re talking about repealing the Second Amendment. It started with former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley. And it sure does seem like those calls prompted skeptics of American gun culture to echo their remarks. Turley and Stevens were joined this week by op-ed writers in the pages of Esquire and the Seattle Times. Democratic candidates for federal office have even enlisted in the ranks of those calling for an amendment to curtail the freedoms in the Bill of Rights. Of course, this is just the most mainstream invocation of anti-Second Amendment themes that have been expressed unashamedly for years, from liberal activists like Michael Moore to conservative opinion writers at the New York Times. Those calling for the repeal of the right to bear arms today are only echoing similar calls made years ago in venues ranging from Rolling Stone, MSNBC, and Vanity Fair to the Jesuit publication America Magazine.
Are you sitting down? You might be surprised to learn that none of this occurred. It’s only your vivid or, some might go so far as to say, fevered imagination. Rest assured, CNN host Chris Cuomo insists that “no one” is calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. And even if they are, as Justice Stevens most certainly is, he’s a “boogeyman” who commands no influence or respect. Apparently, to suggest that anyone is calling for such extremist measures, and not universally beloved “common-sense” restrictions on firearms ownership, amounts to swatting at phantoms. Cuomo retreated into a familiar, well-fortified rhetorical trench—a place where other liberals can be found whenever basic firearm-ownership rights are called into question. Essentially, his contention boils down to this: You didn’t hear what you thought you heard.
You might also have heard conservatives complain about a double standard applied to students who survived the Parkland shooting and emerged as prominent gun-control activists. Those conservatives claim that when they take these students seriously and engage with their ideas or criticize them for unfairly smearing their opponents, they are accused of issuing personal assaults on the character of near-defenseless children. Well, you’ll be happy to learn that this, too, is a figment of conservative imaginations.
It is a “straw-man argument,” suggested the New Republic editor Jeet Heer, to claim that liberals have reacted with anything other than friendly disagreement when student activists are criticized. The left’s only visceral objections arise when figures on the right accuse these students of fabricating their identity or experience—which, unfortunately, has occurred. The mere suggestion that the left has done anything other than welcome respectful and legitimate criticism of the Parkland students amounts to “conspiracy theories,” according to Rewire New editor-in-chief Jodi Jacobson. Anyone saying otherwise is “scared” or peddling a “weak case.”
That’s good to know. I was concerned for a while there that liberals had deliberately conflated substantive disagreement with personal attacks on the Parkland activists. I had been under the apparently mistaken impression that mainstream venues such as the Washington Post opinion page had published pieces like the one authored by Molly Roberts. I could have sworn she argued that National Review editor Charles C.W. Cooke was “cruel,” “heartless,” and had engaged in “attacking a child” by taking the Parkland students’ arguments “seriously” and “sincerely.”
“[T]he students take away the most critical tool conservatives use to win political arguments,” wrote liberal Post columnist Paul Waldman, “the personal vilification of those who disagree with them.” The Guardian’s Jason Wilson equated The Federalist’s Chandler Lasch to right-wing paranoiacs like “Gateway Pundit” Jim Hoft and Alex Jones for writing that “enduring tragedy does not make anyone a source of wisdom on legislation,” which isn’t so much slander as it is an empirical observation. National Review’s Dan McLaughlin, too, received a dishonorable mention for daring to suggest that these minors may not have a full understanding of the legislative process.
At least, I thought all that happened. Maybe I daydreamed the whole thing.
At this point, we are long overdue for a discursive and reductionist attempt to change the subject. You know, the Republican president of the United States seems rather fond of issuing inflammatory and unsupported allegations that amount to straw-man arguments, right? Are you okay with that? And have you seen the calumny GOP Rep. Steve King wrote about Emma Gonzalez? Your conspicuous failure to condemn these Republicans might suggest to observers that you aren’t as interested in objectivity as you claim. This is to be expected. In the age of social media, reaching irrelevant conclusions is a competitive sport. Nevertheless, tossing red herrings about like chaff from an aircraft under fire does little to dispute the fact that conservatives have been subjected to an absurd gas-lighting campaign over the last few weeks.
It’s enough to drive you crazy. That is, it would be if you were to take any of this performance art seriously.