The title of this advertisement—Stand and Fight—really demonstrates how a gun can recontextualize things. Stand and fight… is a stirring phrase when it’s followed by for what’s right or against injustice or for your right to party. It works for pretty much anything except with guns. The National Rifle Association is not suggesting that people use rifles to stand and fight, of course. They despise violence—unless it is met with more effective violence, which is why they insist that the President stop being a hypocrite and put armed guards in schools.
Multiple instances of Americans shooting strangers in public places over the holidays proved that this country has a problem, and it is the president. The dire voice-over puts it neatly:
Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools, when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security. Protection for their kids and gun free zones for ours.
That last fragment is supposed to be sadly descriptive, not imperative. First of all, can we please stop accusing the President of the United States of being an elitist? We elected him to lead us. “That president thinks he’s so big” embodies perhaps the worst aspect of democracy.
Also, kudos to the NRA for constructing this straw man and then shooting him in the chest and face dozens of times. The president’s policy on mass shootings is not “don’t put guards in schools;” it’s “make it harder to get guns.” Putting armed guards in schools is an extension of the NRA’s “do anything but make it harder to get guns” policy, and so it is both logical and a work of malevolent genius for them to recast any gun-control argument as anti-school security. It is, technically, an alternative to their weird alternative.
So on the one hand, clever use of straw man, you guys. On the other hand, the NRA seems to have underestimated the intelligence of the American people. I hope they have. The central contention of this advertisement reads like a multiple choice question on a test about logical fallacies. Besides refusing to assign Secret Service protection to your children, here are some other ways in which President Obama is a hypocrite:
- Obama tells his children he loves them. When was the last time he said he loved you?
- Obama’s children get to wrestle with him on the couch, but if you wrestle the president, a guy in sunglasses will break your arm.
- Malia Obama gets to have cute cornrows, but when you got cornrows, you looked stupid.
At the risk of explaining the obvious: Sasha and Malia Obama have armed guards because people want to hurt them specifically. Guys who take assault weapons to schools want to hurt whomever. That’s what makes random public shootings so scary.
Clearly, the NRA did not select this approach because it’s such a killer argument. It seems more likely that they went with it because it attacks the president, and in that way their selection is telling. This commercial could have been a heartfelt plea for better schools security. The NRA is a trade group—never forget—and gun sales would probably go up if we put armed guards in every classroom. A positive ad might have achieved all their goals, but instead they went with this tortured hypocrite/elitist argument.
That suggests that even the NRA does not take the idea of putting armed guards in school seriously. Politically, it is a stalking horse; no one is calling for it except as an alternative to gun control. The NRA’s response to the rash of shootings in the last two months has been to insist that we do nothing. That’s a difficult proposal to argue in any positive way, but it is the functional result of refuting any other argument. So they went negative.
I submit the following rule of thumb: when someone advances primarily negative arguments, they often have a vested interest in nothing happening. Corollary: an increasingly negative public discourse tends toward inaction. Maybe it’s regular declinism, but it sure seems like our present politics is more negative than those of the past. Could it be that certain groups benefit more than others from inaction, from a paralyzed American politics? And could it be that those groups are willing to muddy the waters to thwart the agreements that come from clarity? It’s a scary thought, but sometimes it’s worth asking who would benefit if we couldn’t talk about this at all?