THE BLOG

The Pro-Gun Lobby and Political Correctness

12/14/2012 05:14 pm ET | Updated Feb 13, 2013
  • Jonathan Weiler Director of Undergraduate Studies in Global Studies, UNC Chapel Hill

30,000 Americans die by guns each year. Of course, people die in other ways, too. But that's no reason not to focus on one particularly significant source of preventable death in America. The number of people killed on 9/11 is dwarfed *every* year by flu fatalities. That's not a reason to scream "flu" every time someone invokes the horror and tragedy of 9/11, any more than it's a sensible or good faith argument to counter "what about swimming pools and accidental drownings?!" every time there is a shooting massacre, such as the one today in Connecticut, in which, at last count, twenty young children were among 27 people killed at a school in Newtown.

America stands alone among wealthy societies in the level of gun availability and violence and the vast majority of Americans support a range of stricter gun laws. And yet, despite the idiotic rantings of the gun lobby and its media minions that, any minute now, President Obama is going to take away all of our firearms -- there is no serious public policy debate about how to deal with this carnage, let alone any action. One important reason why that is so is that the gun lobby -- which has made it their solemn cause to ensure that automatic weapons, high-capacity magazines and the like are readily available -- has worked overtime to try to stifle debate and to insist that there is never a good time to talk about gun violence. For all the hand-wringing over the past two decades about political correctness, and how horribly stultifying it's been to public discourse for people to have to dodge charges of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., what about the political correctness deployed by the gun lobby, which screams "too soon" whenever there's a massacre involving a gun?

We each have our own standards for sensitivity and appropriateness. I myself have felt at times that some folks with whom I generally agree are too quick to hurl charges of racism, sexism or homophobia, for instance. But it's worth noting that, just as there's really no male analogue for the word "slut," a linguistic imbalance that is deeply revealing about sexism in our society, the charge of political correctness is only deployed to criticize people who think it's wrong use certain kinds of language to characterize historically persecuted minorities.

So, what should we label the calls far and wide for the firing of a sportscaster on a football broadcast because he has the temerity to bring up gun proliferation a day after a murder-suicide perpetrated by an NFL player? Twenty children were slaughtered today by a guy reportedly wielding a weapon that, outside a war zone, there is no earthly reason for anyone to have access to, and it's unacceptable to talk about that. We don't have a term for what happens when proponents of unlimited access to guns insist, in the wake of another horrifying massacre, that it's deeply insensitive to discuss openly the potential consequences of their advocacy. But if political correctness is insidious because it reflexively assumes the worst motives about the speaker and has a chilling effect on important conversations, I'd say this qualifies and arguably has much greater adverse consequences than a form of PC that requires people to be a little bit more careful when they talk about gay people, for instance.

The conservative writer David Frum said today, "It's bad enough to have a gun lobby. It's the last straw when that lobby also sets up itself as the civility police." Amen.

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