Approaching politics with an open mind is something in which liberals rightly take pride. Listening, respecting opposing views, attempting to understand different cultures - these are fundamental tenets of the liberal identity. This is both a gift and a curse, though, and in the war over gun policy, liberals' reflexive tolerance and apologetic tone is lending respectability to a violent and reprehensible culture and way of life. It is time to stop respecting "gun culture" and ignore the fatuous bullies who demand that we do so.
Dan Baum, author of the book Gun Guys: A Road Trip, has emerged as the leading voice in this inane chorus commanding increased "respect" for gun owners and their culture. Baum appeared on Chris Hayes's MSNBC show on Wednesday night. In an amazing moment, Baum actually said that though he agreed with his host "on the merits" of gun policy, the notoriously polite Hayes would be well-advised to get off his "soapbox" and drop the "highly disrespectful tone," which, we are warned, risks offending legions of sensitive "gun guys" who might otherwise join us on the right side of this issue.
Hayes's opening editorial, which Baum referred to as "angry," was painstakingly polite and respectful toward this "culture." It seems that any commentary that is not effusive in its praise and admiration for gun owners and their culture risks offending the apparently quite delicate sensibilities of these people.
Baum then sat down for an interview with Joe Nocera, published in The New York Times, and again lamented the imaginary "vilification" of gun owners, lecturing Nocera for his "rhetoric," which, it goes without saying, was entirely innocuous.
This vacuous hectoring serves no purpose except to implicitly defend this deranged "culture" that produces tragedies like the one that just happened in Kentucky. Gun violence is a social epidemic without equal, one that is destroying families and killing tens of thousands of our fellow citizens every year. This is not just a policy war. It's also another battle in the culture war and liberals should not stand in denial of this reality. Nothing could be less important right now than the feelings of people who support, even tangentially, the perpetuation of this vicious plague.
This is not to deny that the support of gun owners is imperative to changing the policy atmosphere around guns. It most certainly is. Fortunately, though, polling has shown solid majority support for the regulations most commonly proposed. Senators who voted against the recent legislation expanding background checks have seen their poll numbers sink. Public support is there for what needs to be done. Baum and others who obsess over "respect" are solving a problem that doesn't exist. The problem isn't gun owners and their allegedly hurt feelings. The problem is this culture, which has bred a murderous institution known as the National Rifle Association, which has accumulated enough political power to fully capture one of our two major parties (and a not inconsiderable chunk of the other one).
Sure, gun owners should be respected, as all human beings should. Gun culture, though, should not. Liberals are waging this fight with one hand tied behind their backs if they allow themselves to be bullied into thinking that "respecting" this culture - or, rather, pretending to respect it - is anything more than an intellectually vacant attempt to set back the cause of reining in the plague of gun violence. Baum claims to be a "liberal." Don't believe him. A liberal would not spend more time agonizing over the feelings of gun owners than advocating for the tens of thousands of victims of this insanity.
Do conservatives worry about "respecting" gay culture when they go to war over marriage equality? When have they been forced to "respect" secularism, or environmentalism, or other hallmarks of liberal culture? This is not to suggest that liberals should adopt the contemptuous and intolerant approach of conservatives to culture issues. But the right knows how to recognize a political war when it sees one and and wage it with ruthlessness. Calls to "respect" liberal culture in the middle of such a war would elicit nothing more than laughter and amusement at CPAC or any other conservative gathering.
It's time for liberals to stop endlessly stipulating how much they respect gun culture and start questioning the motive of anyone who obsesses over this nonsense. Now is the time to express unequivocal opposition to this twisted culture and the violence it breeds, and state, without apology, that it has no place in a modern, progressive society.
(Originally posted at www.justindoolittle.net)