Over at Common Gunsense, our host has taken unkindly to being called a “Bigot.” My American Heritage dictionary defines the word thusly, “AÂ personÂ whoÂ isÂ utterlyÂ intolerantÂ ofÂ anyÂ differingÂ creed,Â belief,Â or opinion.” In the modern American vernacular, we’ve largely forgotten about the latter two objects and concentrate almost exclusively on the first. In terms of the literal definition, we have all certainly met gun control advocates who fit it, by displaying a wildly condescending and contemptuous view of those who exercise their rights. I will leave it to readers to decide whether the proprietor of Common Gunsense fits that definition, but it’s not my purpose in this post to weigh into that particular debate. My purpose is to point out that I think Ms. Peterson has a point about the “pot calling the kettle black” in terms of some of our folks having bigoted attitudes towards people who merely disagree with us about the role of arms in American society.
Most of the tossing around I’ve seen of the word “bigot” seems to germinate from a belief that because these individuals are advocating against an enumerated civil right, that they aren’t any different than those that advocated against civil rights for blacks and other racial or ethnic minorities. I’ve said before that I think there has to be a distinction, morally, between hatred of someone because of immutable characteristics, and hatred of someone because you abhor a behavior of theirs, even if that behavior is constitutionally protected.
You can draw First Amendment analogies here, since speech is characteristically a behavior rather than an immutable quality, and speech, like firearms ownership, is constitutionally protected. I don’t necessarily consider someone advocating for a law preventing Fred Phelps and others like him from picketing a funeral to be an intolerant bigot. Misguided, yes, but not necessarily a bigot. Reasonable people can disagree about the nature and scope of the First Amendment, especially weighted against protecting the privacy and dignity of the families of service members who have been killed in action.
Advocacy of a position only really descends into bigotry when it’s based on an intolerant contempt for the individual or individuals who are engaging in a behavior, or holding a contrary opinion. It wouldn’t, for instance, be bigotry for someone to suggest “I really believe that jury verdicts shouldn’t need to be unanimous, because it costs taxpayers a lot of money for new trials, and often lets the guilty go free.” You could express the exact same opinion in a Â bigoted way, however, by saying, “I really believe that jury verdicts shouldn’t need to be unanimous, because your average working class rube, too stupid to get out of jury duty, is too ignorant in judgement to be trusted with the outcome of a verdict.” The latter expression of the same idea displays a bigoted attitude towards average, working class individuals. Both attitudes are treading into the territory of weakening a traditional civil right, but only one displays any evidence of the opinion having a bigoted origin for the opinion.
In our issue, someone saying “I believe in banning handguns, machine guns and assault weapons, because they are dangerous to society, and no one except the police and military should be allowed to have them,” is not displaying any hint of bigotry. The same person saying “I believe in banning handguns, machine guns and assault weapons because anyone who could possibly want to use one is certainly a homicidal manic out to mow down kindergartners,” is a bigoted viewpoint. It might be a surprise to many who support gun control, but when you call people of good will and character dangerous, mentally deficient, sexually dysfunctional, or insane, only because they engage in a behavior or have an interest you disapprove of or don’t understand, they tend to take that quite personally, and will lash back with insults of their own.
If there’s to be any dialog, even if that dialog only results in having to agree to disagree, both sides need to come to terms with exactly who the other side is. Gun owners who believe in a very strong, broad, and robust Second Amendment are not evil, dangerous, sexually challenged, or mentally deranged people just because the hold that opinion. They aren’t scary, wild eyed beasts out to cause mayhem. And by the same token, those that advocate for a narrow or inconsequential Second Amendment are not necessarily that either, nor are they the modern day equivalent of the KKK.
I think both sides owe the other more than that. We may end up doing nasty and underhanded things to each other as we struggle against each other in the court of public opinion, but we should be cognizant of keeping the political struggle separated from personal ones. It is fine to be dogged, unrelenting and aggressive in the political space. The personal space is something else, and from what I’ve seen I don’t think either side has a monopoly on nastiness in that arena.