Author, liberal and gun owner Dan Baum wrote a book (“Gun Guys: A Road Trip”) about the conflict of his gun ownership and his otherwise liberal politics. The Atlantic has published an interview with Baum, which I am going to dissect below.
Why am I going to dissect it? Quite simply: his beliefs are for the most part mutually exclusive. He has to engage in some elaborate rhetorical dancing, and employ pretzel logic, in order to truly accept both beliefs. And at some point he will have to jump one way or the other from the fence he is sitting on.
Full disclosure: I verbally sparred with Baum a few times in the comments sections of gun blogs. While our exchanges were not abusive, he is stubbornly liberal, while clinging to some distinctly non-liberal views and attitudes (and I am not referring exclusively to “good” non-liberal traits). He took particular exception to the common (and accurate) practice of referring to liberal gun grabbers as “gun grabbers”, so much so that he quit participating on one blog over the issue.
My issue is not with Baum personally (although his ever-present hat is kind of pretentious, LOL), but rather with the erratic logic which he uses to make his arguments as well as the inconsistencies in his beliefs.
First, let’s look at the things Baum says in the interview that make sense (with my commentary afterward):
“I’m not a conservative. At the same time, often I’d be around my “tribe” — the liberals — and they’d say these terrible things about gun people. “Gun nut,” “penis envy,” all this stuff. I’d keep my mouth shut. I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with either group. That’s why I always wanted to do this book.”
Sounds like an honest admission.
“But then you start wondering — what is my responsibility here? It’s really complicated. Say you’re in a shopping mall and somebody starts shooting. What do you do? If you run away, are you like a doctor who doesn’t respond when someone starts choking in a restaurant? If you’re wearing a gun, do you have an obligation to run towards the sound of the guns?”
Alright, on this point Baum seems to understand the attitude of mental preparedness that responsible gun owners grow into.
“After the Aurora movie theater happened, the New York Times and others sneered at the idea that an armed citizen would have made a difference. They said, “Then there would have been two people shooting in the theater, which would’ve been worse.” I’m thinking, “What could possibly be worse?”…
You go in a shopping mall, there’s a guy with a gun. Obviously, what we’re hoping is that there will be a gunfight, that there will be two people shooting, in the event that something bad happens. But we can’t put armed guards and policemen everywhere. So to me, armed citizens make sense. But it really looks like my fellow liberals have an aversion to the thought of the individual citizen being of service with a gun in a situation like that”
A pretty reasonable analysis of deterrence there. And Baum isn’t ambiguous about it either.
“In Mexico, no one gets to carry a gun. Which is kind of crazy, given what’s going on down there. That’s a good example — you’ve got innocents being slaughtered down there, but they can’t defend themselves. It’s always the people who live in nice neighborhoods who want gun control”
Another pointed observation that gun owners try to make.
“We’re talking about really dangerous things, and you have to teach people the rules. But if you follow them, you’ll be safe. If I take somebody shooting, I stand behind them. I have my hand up at about their shoulder, so if they start to turn, which they often do, you can catch their arm. It’s serious business.”
Ok, he has no irrational fear of guns either. When asked about the passage of less-restrictive gun laws in Florida in the 80’s, Baum said:
“At the time, I thought, “Oh, this is going to be a bloodbath.” And it wasn’t. The late ’80s were a very violent time in the U.S. The crack cocaine thing was in full flower. Then Florida did this, and most liberals thought it was crazy. But crime dropped. A lot. Crime there is now half of what it was before then.
There are people who argue that it’s cause and effect. Good guys carry guns, and crime drops because the bad guys are afraid to commit crimes. I think there are all kinds of reasons why crime dropped. But clearly, it didn’t go up. Clearly, what we thought was going to happen — that every fender-bender was going to be a gunfight — did not happen. Now that I’ve carried a gun, I know why. It was a huge turning point in gun control history because it was the first time the gun rights movement went on offense.”
That’s quite an admission from a liberal.
“Joe Nocera at the Times runs a daily tally of gun killings. He’s not running a daily tally of how many people defend themselves with guns. For one thing we don’t know about it most of the time. David Hemenway at Harvard is very pro gun-control and he thinks it happens about 80,000 times a year. If that’s true, that means that guns are saving 10 times as many people as they’re killing.
I call for my fellow liberals to approach gun owners with respect. These are the people who understand guns, these are the people who can help us figure out how to be safer around guns. Instead, you drive them into a defensive crouch by calling gun culture the problem.”
Imagine that, a liberal who admits the deterrent effect of guns!
“Given the kind of country we are and the freedoms we enjoy, there’s a certain amount of bad shit we have to put up with. But that’s really antithetical to the American character.
I was writing a piece in West Berlin in 1979 and a guy said to me, “You’re an American. You think every problem has to have a solution.” We have this impulse in the U.S. to do something. We have no national church, so the only way we can express our public morality is to say there ought to be a law. It’s antithetical to the American can-do character to say there are certain things we just can’t do much about.
I still don’t really belong in either camp. If you watch the reaction to the book when it comes out, you will see that. I’m no less a Democrat than I was, but I am more attuned to the gun guy complaint — “I am over-managed and I am under-respected as a citizen and a human being.” I think the right has a point there. We need to stop fearing capable, empowered, independent-thinking individuals.”
Pretty informed perspective, right? Someone that can be reasoned with, is what those quotes would say to most gun people.
But then there’s the other parts of the interview…
“This is one of the things I was trying to figure out — why a fondness for firearms, these beautiful mechanical devices that are so fun to shoot, always seems to be found on the same chromosome as political conservatism.”
Ah, the popular “Always” fallacy, a staple of spousal arguments since humans gained the power of speech. This use of the term is no less false and misleading than any other example.
In what universe is Beat-generation author (and gun enthusiast) William S. Burroughs a “conservative”? How about Garand-owner & CMP customer JFK? Or rapper/actor Ice-T?
How about self-described democrat and “New England Liberal” Justin Cronin, featured in a NYT op-ed extolling his love of guns in January 2013? Or similarly self-described Marin Cogan, featured in New York magazine just 2 days later?
Cogan’s op-ed is especially revealing, as it cites “a national Gallup poll from 2011 puts the number of Democrats who say they live in a home with a gun at 40 percent. Twenty-eight percent of those Democrats say they own guns personally.” Or is Gallup part of the right wing now?
Even if you exclude hypocritical gun owners who try to take guns away from other people (Diane Feinstein, Carl Rowan, etc.) there is no basis for Baum’s use of the descriptor “always”. But Baum has his preconceptions and he is determined to cling bitterly to them to help justify his fence-sitting.
“There’s a part of every gun guy that wants to carry a gun because you get to be with your gun all the time. I know that sounds weird, but not if you like guns, you like handling them. Most of the time you don’t get to. You take them out of the safe once or twice a year.”
I know a lot of shooters. And I don’t know of a single one of them that fits any part of this characterization that Baum is pushing. Not one. Enjoying shooting is not analogous to fetishizing guns.
“It was also a good way to camouflage myself. I don’t look like a gun guy, I don’t sound like a gun guy — I sound like just the opposite and I look like just the opposite. They can see me coming a mile away. But if I’m wearing a gun, I’m one of them.”
Baum unintentionally reveals something here: he sees gun enthusiasts as different than himself. And very clearly he means different in an inferior way.
“When you’re wearing a gun, you do not get upset if someone takes your parking space, or if someone cuts you in line. You have this quite noble sense of being the sheepdog, being the protector. And I liked that.”
I don’t know any experienced shooter who walks around thinking about that. A new guy, for a few months, might. But notice the patronizing tone that Baum is using. “Just give them a gun and it’s like a pacifier!”
“Our homicide rate is a quarter of Russia’s. We’re high compared to Western Europe. We’re high compared to Japan. But as I’m always trying to tell people — we’re not all Japanese in this country. We’re not all British.”
Obviously Baum didn’t do any homework on British crime or he would know that they are 4 times as violent as the USA. Baum also has a beef with the NRA:
“The only people giving them a voice is the NRA, who comes along whispering in their ears, “The liberals want to take away your guns.”
“I think we are all too cavalier with our guns. I fault both sides, really. The NRA and its handmaidens want us to believe that the whole problem is criminals, and they will not take responsibility.”
“And lawmakers need to stop thinking that the NRA represents gun owners, because only 4 percent of gun owners belong to the NRA.”
LOL. Does anyone reading this believe that the NRA whispers, or that they need “handmaidens”? It wasn’t whispering that tossed the Democrats out on their ear in 1994. It isn’t the threat of whispering that has the Democrats backpedaling on gun control now.
And I wonder what percentage of registered Democrats donate their personal money to the ACLU? 4%? Maybe less?
But then there’s the parts where Baum really let’s his bias show:
“If you want to carry a gun, you want to justify carrying the gun. You have a better justification if you convince yourself that crime is out of control. So the desire to carry a gun precedes the fear of crime.”
“The people who buy most of the guns are middle-aged white men who have not finished college. That demographic has been particularly screwed in this society in the past 30 years. They are losing ground economically, they are losing ground culturally, but in this country, to talk about your circumstances as part of a class is forbidden. So these guys have no vocabulary for discussing what has happened to them. All they know is, they’re pissed.”
“The gun is the one thing that makes these guys feel vital and useful and powerful and capable. They’re managing these incredibly dangerous weapons, not hurting anybody, maybe they’re wearing a gun and keeping people around them safe. They get a lot of pride and a lot of self-esteem from having these guns. This is not crazy, and this is not pitiable — this is real.”
“So this desire to believe that crime is out of control is a desire to justify having a gun. It all fits together.”
Did you follow Baum’s logic?
Are you swayed by Baum’s logic? I am not.
And at last we come to the true source of all of Dan Baum’s indecision & agony:
“Over and over, people I met on my trip would say, “I don’t get it. Democrats are the party of the working man. How can the Democrats do this?” They feel so alienated that they won’t listen to the Democrats on climate change or health care or immigration or anything else. As a Democrat, it broke my heart to hear this over and over and over again. These are our guys. These are our people, and they hate us”
That, folks, is the root of Baum’s problem. In his mind, the Democratic party is perfect. It has the purest motives, is always effective, and can do no wrong. Except that they aren’t compassionate towards gun owners.
And because of that, those mean gun owners won’t listen to the Democrats fraudulent claims of climate change, expensive scams for rationing healthcare or letting illegal aliens in the country without restriction. How dare those mean gun owners not obey the dictates of the party of slavery & segregation! The nerve of them!
Right now, Baum is stuck in between two worlds. But when push comes to shove, when he has to jump off the fence he is sitting on, make no mistake: he won’t be jumping onto the pro-gun side. He will snuggle right up the the Democrats and gladly believe any horsepuckey that they feed him as they load the gun owners onto cattle-cars.
Metaphorically-speaking, of course.