There are numerous disadvantages to arguing with crazy people: it’s futile, it raises your blood pressure, and because this is America, there’s a good chance that the crazy person will shoot you.
But a frequently overlooked hazard of debating a lunatic is that, if you argue long enough, you’ll start to wonder if you’re the crazy one. Because the more the maniac digs in, the more you will call upon your rational brain and your desire to be open-minded, with the result that you’ll eventually ask yourself, “Is this guy right—could the moon be a secret Martian base?”
The United States is at this point right now. A clear majority of Americans want action on gun safety. Acres of research and our own common sense agree that gun violence is out of control. Proposals to curb gun violence that were once derided as radical have become mainstream. There is no coherent argument to maintain the status quo of bloodshed and death.
But we’re not doing anything about this crisis, because Republicans are forcing us to debate how many doors a school should have, if hammers kill more people than assault weapons, and if a guy wielding a baseball bat could murder 20 people at once.
We are arguing with crazy people. And it is making us insane.
You see, the Republican Party has no solution to our nation’s gun violence. Their approach—unlimited guns for everybody at all times in all places—has proven to be disastrously, cataclysmically wrong.
But they cannot back down now. To do so would be to admit they have been idiots all this time, and the same psychological condition that keeps them tied to Trump prevents them from reconciling the errors of their ways. It’s just too psychologically distressing for them to go back on everything they’ve said. Because if conservatives proclaim, “It’s now time for gun control,” they are admitting that thousands of Americans, and hundreds of kids, died because they refused to listen to reason earlier. They cannot live with the cognitive dissonance.
Yes, there are also the true believers who insist that more guns will keep us safe, even if the exact opposite has been verified in study after study and is “one of the most robust research findings for decades.”
There are the religious conservatives who are obsessed with martyrdom and see dead schoolkids as the unfortunate price of freedom or a bizarre tithe to an angry god.
There are the social conservatives who believe America is a war zone that requires an authoritarian strongman and a heavily armed police state.
There are the insecure men overcompensating for their fragile masculinity.
And, of course, there are the white supremacists, who want nothing more than a gun-blazing race war erupting on every street corner in the nation.
All of these disparate groups share one goal: Keep distracting the reasonable people.
And it’s working. The more time we spend deflecting nonsense is less time we have to create effective gun legislation. Progressives wind up rebuking idiotic claims that good guys with guns will save the day. Or we are forced to point out that praying doesn’t prevent homicide. Or we must state—for the 8,179,946th time—that rap music does not cause mass shootings.
In the meantime, gun manufacturers see their stock prices rise “as investors dismiss the chance of tightening gun laws.” Republican congressmen smirk because they know that even if stronger gun-safety laws are passed, “it is by no means clear that the current Supreme Court will uphold them.”
And Second Amendment absolutists continue hoarding more weapons capable of wiping out small towns.
The irrational have dictated the terms of the argument, and we have acquiesced to their ground rules.
So just how bad is the state of political debate in this nation?
Well, I have a conservative acquaintance who has gone on social media to proclaim his solution to school shootings. All you have to do, he says, is position a fully armed SWAT team at the entrance of every school in America, and the problem would be solved.
How does one even begin to debate this insight?
Do we mention the exorbitant cost, the high possibility of accidental shootings, the odds that ethnic minorities will be arrested at greater rates, or the fact that fortifying schools has done nothing to solve the problem?
Or maybe we should point out that the image of every child in the country being forced to walk past armed police each morning just to learn their ABCs would be irrefutable proof that America is a failed state awash in fear and paranoia, with a bloodthirsty citizenry of unparalleled hyperviolence and savagery that the rest of the world gasps at in horror.
But there I go, arguing with a crazy person.
Featured image by Alan Cleaver/CC BY 2.0