Charles C.W. Cooke argues that CNN’s ‘Stand Up’ Town Hall Was a Disaster for Our Discourse
Last night’s CNN Town Hall is being touted this morning as an “extraordinary moment,” a “conversation,” and a “debate.” In truth, it was none of those things. Rather, it was a disaster for American discourse, the ripples of which will be felt for years to come. One of the students who survived the shooting described it cynically as a “Comedy Central Roast of the NRA and the coming out party for my ADHD.” This, though, isn’t quite right. It was televised catharsis. And it was supposed to be.
Catharsis is good and necessary. So is grief. Anger can be, too. But the these things are not the same as debate or conversation, and, in some cases, they serve as brutally effective prophylactics against deep and constructive engagement. By encouraging legitimately distraught and enraged citizens to shout at politicians, CNN ensured that we could continue to conduct this dispute on a faulty and toxic premise: Namely, that the root problem here is that some among us simply refuse acknowledge that school shootings are an abomination. But that, as ever, is not the root problem. Indeed, contrary to the implications we heard last night, we are not having an argument about whether the victims of tragedy are really grieving, or about whether the footage taken from within the school is harrowing, or about whether these events should be stopped. We are having an argument over precisely what we can — and should — do. Those with considered opinions on that subject are not going to change them in the face of untrammeled distress, because they had already factored that distress into their thinking. Just as protesters against the Iraq War or the Patriot Act would not have changed their minds if they had been forced to watch footage of 9/11 or to meet repeatedly with the openly grieving families, those skeptical of gun control are not going to change their minds when confronted by tormented victims. That’s not what we’re arguing about.
Likewise, the public chanting of “do something!” will change no minds, because, in practice, “do something!” means “do what I want,” and we’re already arguing about that. As has been made obvious by the reaction to President Trump’s newfound enthusiasm for arming teachers, those shouting “do something” are just as capable of casting certain reactions as unhelpful and insane as are those on the other side whom they have deemed to be terminally recalcitrant. And so we’re back to square one.
Or, actually, we’re probably now even further back than that. A lot of Americans watched last night as a room full of people cheered for banning all semi-automatic weapons, and as a number of speakers cast their political opponents as murderers. What do we think the likely result of this will be? A newfound political harmony? Or a surge in NRA membership, a deepening of the culture war, an increase in gun sales, and a growing belief that “the other side” really does hate you? I daresay that lots of people who dislike firearms enjoyed watching Marco Rubio being berated. Indeed, if Twitter is any indication, they really, really did. But Marco Rubio’s views on this issue are not unpopular in Florida, and they are not unpopular in the country at large. I imagine that those cheering along with the castigations imagined that they were the person doing the berating. Millions, though, imagined they were Rubio. And they’ll proceed from there in future.
John Podhoretz writes
Here’s the thing, my gun-restricting friends (and I have many). Those 35 percent of American households [who own a firearm] are geographically distributed in such a way that you’ll never secure your objective if you cannot engage the people who own guns in a conversation that begins with the proposition that you are better than they are.
Because they don’t think you are better than they are. They think they are just fine.
If they’re hunters, they do not believe hunting is evil. They think hunting is a noble sport, a proud tradition and a way of living off the land.
If they’re gun owners out of a sense of a need for protection, they believe what they are doing is providing security for themselves, their families and their property. They think they are being self-reliant, and the virtue of self-reliance is one of the most deeply ingrained American notions. Just ask Ralph Waldo Emerson.
And if they want guns just to want guns, they believe that is no different from wanting a Louboutin or a Birkin bag. They’re not demanding you stop wearing your fancy shoes, why should you control what it is they wish to purchase?
What you have to understand is that while you believe you have all the moral force on your side, you cannot make a gun owner believe that he is the Parkland shooter. Because he isn’t. And let’s face it — somewhere, deep in your heart, you think he is.
So if you genuinely want to alter the trajectory of America’s gun culture, stop thinking of yourself as a moral paragon and the people whose rights you are seeking to curtail as potential mass murderers and start thinking of them as fellow citizens you have to convince.
Heather Wilhelm writes that our willingness to listen to each other is rapidly vanishing.
But a televised political town hall dedicated to gun violence, held just days after a horrific high-school mass shooting — and populated by grieving parents and students — could only serve as a recipe for misery.
If you did watch it, however, you may have noticed something odd, creeping out from behind the obviously distressing subject matter. Our political dialogue, it seems, has become increasingly Twitterized…
Here’s the thing: In the wake of mass shootings — in the wake of that horrifying, sinking “not again” gut feeling shared by almost every single person across the nation — I understand why people want to ban certain guns. I disagree with the idea, but I understand it.
But here’s my worry: In our increasingly Twitterized nation, that relatively simple concept — “I disagree with the idea, but I understand it” — seems to be an increasingly endangered thought process. Political insults, of course, are nothing new. But just last week, New York Times columnist David Brooks earned widespread scorn and evisceration for a rather mild column suggesting that all Americans, including law-abiding gun owners, are worthy of respect. Yikes.
This is disappointing, because there are concrete steps we can take to try to tackle gun violence — and perhaps even some that could be accepted on both sides of the aisle. Here at National Review, for instance, David French has offered a substantial proposal for gun-violence restraining orders, which would stop people like Nikolas Cruz from getting weapons in the first place. Could we discuss it without yelling or booing or heckling or immediately dismissing it out of hand, in the grand style of Twitter dot com?
Here’s Jonah Goldberg:
When you turn the volume to ten on everything, you shouldn’t be surprised when your opponents invent an even louder eleven. But I am disgusted by the entire spectacle, and I feel sorry for a country that thinks any of this remotely normal.
David Harsanyi writes that at the very least it was a clarifying moment:
The kids were indeed earnest, even if they were generally uneducated about gun laws, legal process, and the underpinning of the Second Amendment — which is to be expected. Those who use them as political shields, on the other hand, are cynical. Those who put them on TV to participate in a national Airing of Grievances are cynical. Those who point to the bodies of victims and argue with every American who refuses to accept the Left’s framing of the issue are the ones who deserve contempt.
What we’ve learned from the events of the past few days is that most liberals are uninterested in a holistic answer to school shootings — a unique problem detached from general violent crime, rates of gun ownership, region, or age. While there is no cure-all, a mix of improved background checks, a better reporting system, better law-enforcement reaction to threats, more community involvement, and mental-health reform could lower the number of shootings. Pulling back from the massive wall-to-wall coverage, which probably helps glorify these shooters for the next madman, might also help.
Yet as far as I can tell, banning or inhibiting gun ownership seems to be the only answer for the Left.
For instance, while we can never truly quantify how many shooters are dissuaded by new laws or restrictions, we do know some mass shooters can be stopped by armed Americans. It happens all the time. Why shouldn’t teachers and others who have a constitutional right to protect their homes and families do the same for their students? The dismissive, sneering reaction to that idea by most of the media and Democrats was telling. Now, I understand some Americans don’t want to send their kids to schools with armed teachers. That should be their choice. But the idea that a trained concealed-carry permit holder or guard couldn’t possibly stop or mitigate the damage done by a mass shooter defies reality.
So a real divide exists in America, not between those who want to “do something” and those who don’t, but between those who believe there is a natural right to own and defend oneself with a weapon — preferably a semi-automatic weapon — and those who do not. The latter position seemed to be prevalent among the young people at the town hall, and certainly among their cheering section. While I feel great sorrow for these kids and worry about my own, I have no moral duty to be on their side politically.
More immediately, events like the CNN town hall go a long way in convincing gun owners that gun-control advocates do have a desire to confiscate their weapons.