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The President's Gun Control Proposals

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The President has issued his gun control proposals, summarized here by the NYT.  I have not fully assimilated them, so I don't want to take a position right now.  Offhand, it looks as if some are sound, while others overreach. 

My focus instead is on how the President presents them.  My views are summarized wonderfully by Peter Wehner in Commentary.  His piece begins:

Even when I agree in substance with the president, as I do in this instance, I find his combination of self-righteousness and demagoguery to be off-putting. In his remarks earlier today, for example, the president once again took to the task of demonizing his opponents, something he does more promiscuously than any president I can recall.

For Mr. Obama, it's never about honest differences over policies. His political opponents have to be painted as morally obtuse, cruel and motivated by the basest considerations. (The president, of course, is always portraying himself as hovering far above politics, a man of stainless integrity and motives that are pure as the driven snow. Which is quite a feat for a man who ran a billion-dollar campaign of unusual ruthlessness and dishonesty.)

In this instance, Mr. Obama posed the choices this way: Are members of Congress doing what it takes to "get an A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns? Or giving parents some piece of mind when they drop their child off to 1st grade?" It's not that his critics believe his proposals will be worthless or even wrong. No, their motivation is to "gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves."

The whole piece is very much worth your time.  I bring its opening to your attention because, among other things, it reminded me of how our opponents behave in the death penalty debate.  It's not that retentionists are mistaken.  It's that they're savage, barbarian and sadistic.  And that's on their good days.

This from the side that endlessly whines about the absence of civility.

11 Comments

I agree. It's nice how executionists don't suggest that their opponents are morally bankrupt. They don't call abolitionists apologists for murder, or suggest that their stances are due to their "love for murderers." They don't suggest that abolitionists are attempting to minimize the harm done by serious crimes, and they don't suggest that opposition to the death penalty is equivalent to wanting criminals out on the street.

It would be nice if abolitionists would just match the high bar of civility set by the executionists.

Do you deny that retentionists have been called savage, barbarian and sadistic?

Yes or no.

Have you publicly objected to those characterizations?

Yes or no.

As for civility, you can start by calling retentionists retentionists, rather than "executionists," a nice concoction I haven't seen before in years of debating capital punishment and one designed to suggest how grisly your opponents are.

I don't deny that. Nor, per my recollection at least, have I objected to it. I also don't think that I've objected to the lack of civility from executionists, nor did I in this thread. I've only objected to hypocrisy. (In general, I don't find calls for "civility" full stop very convincing. Each discussion has its appropriate level of civility, which depends on the substance of the positions.)

"Executionists" strikes me as a much more accurate word than "retentionists," unless the people you're trying to describe only support retaining the death penalty in those jurisdictions where it is currently employed. I know that that doesn't capture the position of this blog, and I can't think of any prominent figures who've expressed that position.

If you have another word that is as accurate as "executionists", I'd be happy to consider it. But I also don't see how it is, in any way, unfairly "grisly": the people the label is applied to support the application of execution as a punishment for various crimes. If there's moral outrage at that, it comes from the very thing that those individuals support. Arguing that an accurate term should be avoided in favor of an obfuscatory one in the name of civility is a perfect example of how calls for "civility" can go too far.

And let me close with a few questions of my own:

Do you deny that the rhetoric I referenced in my original comment has happened?

Have you publicly objected to it?

The position of this blog is that the Constitution leaves the states with the power to fix the sentences for crimes, with narrow Eighth Amendment exceptions. The sentencing choices made by Massachusetts and Virginia are protected and we have no desire to force either to change. Abolitionists don't play by those rules. An extra-constitutional Supreme Court ruling to abolish the death penalty is their highest goal.

You don't want to "force" Massachusetts and Virginia to change, or you don't want to encourage them to? If a bill came up in a state to reinstate the death penalty, I have no doubt that most of the writers on this blog would support it.

(Sorry, that should be 'you don't want to encourage Massachusetts to change'.)

A bit more precisely, the position noted in Mike's comment is the position of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. Our outside bloggers have their own positions, which may or may not be congruent with CJLF's on various points. (Though I believe Bill is in tune with CJLF on this point.)

There is a world of difference between advocating for a policy through the democratic process and trying to force one over the objection of the people by getting a court to misconstrue a constitutional provision to mean something that no one thought it meant at the time it was adopted.

Maybe when many abolitionists act more outraged at preventable murders being committed than the execution of criminals, those inconvenient facts won't be pointed out.

Kent, your biased and incorrect assessment of the court decisions aside, that difference does not account to making the term "retentionists" accurate.

"Federalist," thank you for admitting that the call for civility is actually biased, and no more than a poor proxy for the substantive disagreement.

1. Why is it inaccurate for those supporting retention of the death penalty to be called "retentionists"?

2. You have sought discussion of the merits, so let's proceed. Federalist calls for more outrage by abolitionists at preventable murders. A murder is preventable if the person who committed it had previously been executed. Exactly that circumstance came about in two well known cases, Clarence Ray Allen and Kenneth McDuff. (McDuff's incredible story is here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_McDuff).

Both men could legally have been executed but were not, owing to the efforts of those, like you, who oppose the death penalty. Each later killed again, multiple times.

These murders were preventable. Are you outraged by them? Do you want a legal system that can and will prevent future such outrages?

So I take it you're just going to ignore the reasonable questions I asked you? The same questions that, when you asked, I straightforwardly answered?

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