I have some catching up to do. I’ve been hard at work on a writing project, and my normal administrative and teaching duties, so I’ve neglected my advocacy work, or at least the advocacy work that pertains to blog writing. Teaching critical reading and rhetoric in freshman English has become a type of advocacy work in itself, especially with its new information literacy focus, as illustrated in the example below (from class this week):
I told my students to bring in an article or political cartoon on either side of the gun control debate, and then I asked them to identify a claim and check the info to make sure it was legit.
I said again, as I always do, that the classroom is a safe place for a variety of viewpoints, so they can argue whatever they choose, but they must make sure that they’re making a responsible argument based on fact.
One student, who I happen to like very much (great contributor in class discussion and always walks me back to my office from class) brought in a political cartoon with an image of President Obama using an “executive action” pen to sign into law an assault weapons ban, and insisted that the President did this. When he went to find proof, he pulled up this “factual statement” on an NRA member’s blog.
I explained that he needed to go to whitehouse.gov and read the actual speech, as the primary source.
He was shocked. “Huh!,” he said, “but I did find something on the Internet saying ‘the executive action against assault weapons’ thing was true . . .”
Me: “Dude: you can buy unicorn blood on the Internet.” [see above]
Teaching day: successful.
Blog writing (as a form of advocacy via the Internet) is important too, though, since the entire world, it seems, sometimes needs a lesson in critical reading, rhetorical analysis and information literary. To that end, here are the top five anti-gun control arguments I’ve come across the past two weeks that are despicable, sad and just plain wrong:
5. (in order of least to most despicable): Thomas Sowell’s “Gun-Control Ignorance” published in National Review.
I’ve used articles from National Review before, when I teach current issues, because the articles are for the most part well-written. In this particular piece, though, Sowell makes a number of irresponsible and misleading claims, such as:
(a) his insistence that there are “many factual studies” suggesting that gun control laws do not decrease gun violence, despite the fact that he only mentions one: the Washington DC handgun ban which was largely ineffective, because it worked on a state rather than federal level (i.e. people unable to buy handguns in DC simply crossed over to Maryland and Virginia — we have increased handgun sales records to prove this);
(b) his attempt to draw direct links, such as: “The rate of gun ownership is higher in rural areas than in urban areas, but the murder rate is higher in urban areas.” Dear Mr. Sowell: perhaps the murder rate is higher in urban areas . . . because there are more people. He tries to draw other direct links between race and gun violence, which ignores socioeconomic status, and crime in Britain vs. the US, rather than gun deaths in Britain vs. the US (sorry but I’m more concerned with mass shootings than theft);
(c) his use of the trite “Guns are not the problem. People are the problem,” to which he adds, “including people who are determined to push gun-control laws, either in ignorance of the facts or in defiance of the facts.” Dear Mr. Sowell: here are a few examples of you ignoring or defying the facts in this particular piece . . . you move into a vague discussion of murder rates in a few other countries (Mexico is one) with stricter gun control laws than the US without considering how well those gun control laws are enforced . . . nor that Mexico (to continue with that example) is in the middle of a drug war. So, Mr. Sowell, you may find a (questionable) exception or two, but as Max Fisher says, “[M]ake no mistake: For a rich, developed country, the U.S. gun-related homicide rate is very, very high.” We’ve already tried the “more guns” solution; let’s try the less.
4. The guns and hammers meme: This meme, which suggests more people have been killed by hammers than assault rifles, was highlighted on several of my more conservative friends’ Facebook pages, and it tries really, really hard to be credible (e.g. “FBI 2011 crime reports verify the numbers“).
This ad is persuasive, maybe, until you actually click on the link to the FBI 2011 crime report statistics. The 323 gun deaths are lower than hammers, because there are *so* many firearm deaths that the FBI breaks the statistic into subcategories (i.e. types of guns): handguns, rifles (which the # above indicates), shotguns, and even “other guns or type not stated” (which, no doubt, also includes rifles). The total number of gun deaths according to the FBI source is 8,583: way more than hammers.
3. The guns and abortion meme: I’ve seen at least two different versions of this, one that claims abortion is the leading cause of death in the U.S.A. and another that features what claims to be a 12 week old fetus that is instead a sculpture, since (among other things) a 12 week old fetus does not have the same skin tone as we do (i.e. a 12 week old fetus does not look like your newborn, only in miniature).
An obvious problem is, of course, that there are pro-gun control conservatives as well as liberals and pro-life liberals as well as conservatives. There is even a majority of conservative support (85% of Republicans) for closing the gun show loophole by requiring background checks.
And you know what else? There are pro-life Catholics who are advocating for gun control and against abortion at the same time. See Laura Goodstein’s “In Fight Over Life, A New Call by Catholics:”
“The March for Life in Washington on Friday renewed the annual impassioned call to end legalized abortion, 40 years after the Roe v. Wade decision. But this year, some Roman Catholic leaders and theologians are asking why so many of those who call themselves ‘pro-life’ have been silent, or even opposed, when it comes to controlling the guns that have been used to kill and injure millions of Americans . . .
‘We’re addressing life,’ said one of the signers, Thomas P. Melady, a Republican who served as ambassador to the Holy See under the first President George Bush. ‘I accept the Catholic teachings, which promote the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. And certainly the death of the 20 young kids and 6 adults in Newtown was not natural. Why can’t we take some steps with regards to these killings? These sophisticated weapons should be controlled.'”
2. The rock/glock advertisement in The Hartsville Messanger (a close-to-my-hometown paper). The advertisement reads: “By a rock and get a glock.”
Because, apparently, giving away glocks as an incentive to buy engagement rings is not sickening. I took this one especially hard, since I’m from the McBee/Hartsville area. Such promotion (of guns or the Wayne LaPierre version of the NRA) is, at this historical/cultural moment, insensitive at best and dangerous at worst. And — all around — despicable, sad and just plain wrong.
1. The Sandy Hook conspiracy video: I can’t bring myself to link this one, although it came across my Facebook newsfeed at least twice. I made myself watch it, because I wanted to be prepared if some of my students brought it up in class, but it took me several glasses of wine to get through it. The unknown conspiracy theorist builds his “argument” of Sandy Hook as government conspiracy on such flimsy “evidence” as the following: there were conflicting news reports (expected in breaking news updates, especially when the scene is so chaotic); some Sandy Hook parents smiled *gasp* when remembering their dead children; etc.
I think the thing that bothered me most as I was watching it was the realization that the victims’ families would most certainly hear about this and, God forbid, see it. “Don’t you know,” I told my husband, “that they wish to God this was a government conspiracy, that there were no bodies for them to see?” The theorist suggests the families weren’t able to see the bodies at all, instead of having to wait until the next day, after the bodies had been moved away from the crime scene.
Rather than listening to the victims’ families and their stories, some people choose to think of Sandy Hook as a conspiracy, because then they won’t feel compelled to change anything. Listening to the victims’ families is both painful (for everyone) and vitally important.
We need to hear about Emilie Parker’s younger sister, Madeline, who wanted to wear Emilie’s favorite dress when she met the President.
We need to hear about Catherine Hubbard’s 8-year old brother and their ancient Labrador, Samantha, euthanized after Christmas. Catherine had loved Samantha, and when her brother hugged Samantha goodbye, his mother overheard him whisper, “Tell her I said, ‘hi.'”
We need to hear about Veronica Pozner‘s decision not only to view her son’s body but also to insist on an open casket:
“Tiny Noah took 11 bullets. His mother, Veronique, insisted on an open coffin, Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Jewish Daily Forward.
You’ll probably remember Noah. He was a happy little guy with beautiful heavily lashed eyes and a cheerful smile. In his coffin, there was a cloth placed over the lower part of his face.
‘There was no mouth left,’ his mother told the Forward. ‘His jaw was blown away.’
She put a stone in his right hand, a ‘clear plastic rock with a white angel inside.’ She wanted to put a matching stone in his left hand but he had no left hand to speak of.
Parents of the dead children were advised to identify them from photographs, such was the carnage. But every parent reacts differently. Veronique Pozner did the most difficult thing. She asked to see the body. Zeveloff asked her why.
‘I owed it to him as his mother, the good, the bad and the ugly,’ she said. ‘. . . And as a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother. I had to bear it. I had to do it.’
When the governor of Connecticut arrived, she brought him to see Noah in the open casket. ‘If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.’ The governor wept.”
We should listen. We too should weep. And we should loudly demand change.