04/10/2013 05:07 pm ET Updated Jun 10, 2013

On Gun Control Emotions Matter

With the recent progress in the U.S. Senate on gun control, national attention is finally returning to the issue of gun ownership. How much we should control gun ownership in America is a question that divides religions, families and even some humanists--whose frequently progressive views might lead people to falsely assume that humanists aim to outlaw all guns. Our nation has a history of gun ownership that goes back all the way to our struggle for independence and our trouble with the criminal use of firearms goes back almost as far. Leaders on both sides recognize the need for some limits; according to a new poll by Mayors Against Illegal Guns even members of the National Rifle Association aren't arguing for everyone to be able to buy any gun, anytime, without some restrictions.

Still, a recurring problem with contemporary gun ownership is that any conversation about the issue is obstructed by the powerful moneyed interests in the gun and ammo industries. The other side of the debate doesn't have anything like gun advocates' access to resources. The result is that a majority of people who understand the desire of Americans to own guns but want to regulate how they are purchased are routinely lumped with those who want to outlaw all firearms. And as Michael Pearson of CNN points out, they are often labeled by gun lobbyists as un-American tyrants who want to oppress innocent citizens merely trying to protect themselves.

This anti-gun control argument is based almost entirely upon the emotional appeal to fear; fear of criminals, fear of government as an oppressor, and fear of government's unreasonable limiting of a citizen's ability to engage in sport. Gun lobbyists use this fear to summon massive grassroots campaigns to oppose new gun regulations, and in the process convince even more Americans to distrust their elected government. This cycle is self-perpetuating, and Byron Tau of Politico shows us in a recent article that the monetary rewards for its organizers are quite impressive.

Gun control advocates on the other hand typically use dispassionate statistics to prove their point, not only because gun violence statistics are prime evidence of the need for gun control, as Jonathan Stray of The Atlantic points out, but also because the gun lobby has worked its hardest to prevent gun control groups from ever making their arguments in terms of actual human suffering.

We all can remember the numerous and horrifying mass murders that have occurred in recent years at the hands of gun users, and most of us also remember the cries from the gun lobby that gun control advocates were trying to use these tragedies to score political points. The reason behind this uproar is rather simple: gun lobbyists want to have a monopoly on approaching gun rights from an emotional or human standpoint, and they are determined to see gun control advocates limited to promoting their arguments merely through cold statistical analysis.

That's why gun lobbyists try to put as much distance between incidents of extreme gun violence and the larger debate over gun control. They know that the statistics aren't in their favor, so they work their hardest to convince their supporters that gun control advocates, regardless of their convincing data and the never-ending mass murders, are out to subjugate them to a life of oppression. There is no denying that this tactic has been enormously successful. As Abram Brahm of Forbes points out, guns and ammo are sold today at a higher level than ever before, and there seems to be no indication that this trend will slow anytime soon.

So what's the path towards legislating reasonable restrictions like mandatory background checks, waiting periods, and assault weapon bans? To do this successfully we must buck the criticisms from the gun lobby and support gun crimes statistics with testaments to the human impact of gun violence.

Imagine if the average American, gun-owning or not, were able to see the heartrending pictures of the aftermath of the Newtown shootings. Even a conversation with family members of the victims or just regular residents of the area might show those that are undecided on the gun control debate that the fear propagated by gun lobbyists is outweighed by the statistics concerning gun violence and the testimonies of the human beings that suffered as a result of this violence.

Progress is beginning to be seen in this debate, and if reasonable people on both sides can respect the value of both the heart and the mind, solutions can be put in place that respect individual autonomy while making for a safer society.

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