Incrementalism is a tactic anti-gun groups have used to steadily increase restrictions on guns and simultaneously make the gun-rights community appear hysterical and extreme. In Part 1, we explored this tactic and how to distinguish it from the slippery slope fallacy. In this segment, we will address how to paralyze the common gun-control counterpoints used to strengthen and defend the incremental approach. Follow these steps to shut down this political strategy:
Step 1: Call It Out
As soon as you see that approach, identify it, address it and reject it. Be prepared for the argument that you are applying the slippery slope fallacy. Remember that it is not slippery slope if your opponent is explicitly trying to keep moving a legislative target toward more restrictions. State up front that the proposed restriction, though advertised as minimal, is unacceptable and that characterizing it as modest isn’t fooling anyone.
Step 2: Never Cede the Common-Sense High Ground
An adversary will try to describe the restriction as “common sense” and compare it to driver’s licenses or other similarly accepted restrictions. This is your opportunity to explain the difference between a right and a privilege. Better yet, ask him or her to explain the difference. Ask for an explanation as to why you need a license to drive, but not to vote or to write a book. The rights versus privileges discussion is a great opportunity to help expose just how far your opponent intends to go and to acknowledge that he or she doesn’t believe in any kind of gun rights.
Step 3: Address that Coming for Our Guns Does Not Always Mean a Dystopian Swat Team
There are hundreds of millions of guns in the U.S. Confiscating them would be a monumental task and a pragmatic nightmare, even if it had popular support. But it isn’t totally implausible. Heck, do you really think anything is all that implausible in the current political climate? The United Kingdom and Australia both enacted fairly extensive gun bans, which ultimately involved confiscation. New York and California have both conducted confiscation of banned items. They just usually do it in a boring, bureaucratic way instead of a kinetic way. In what is not conspiracy-theory, tinfoil-hat speak, here is what “coming for our guns” looks like in real terms:
They don’t have to kick down your door. They have to send you a stern letter, and most people — the law-abiding people — will obey the law. Yes, you can still buy some sort of gun in the state of New York, but most of the guns that are useful for defensive purposes fall under the ban of the NY SAFE Act. If a law-abiding person can’t buy a gun, he or she typically won’t. Thus, a ban on sales will ultimately reduce the guns in circulation as the older ones deteriorate and fail. So even without a possession ban, a sales ban is in very many ways tantamount to “coming for” guns, and you don’t even have to send in a SWAT team.
Rhetorically, the proverbial SWAT team imagery gives the gun-control advocates a pass and enables the incremental tactic. Any restriction short of that kicking-in-the-door scenario doesn’t seem to count as “coming for your guns,” whether or not the net effect is that private owners don’t get to keep and bear arms. Setting the threshold so high allows politicians to say they “support the Second Amendment, but…” with a straight face. After all, they are not literally coming for your guns. They are just advocating “common-sense, reasonable” safety measures in tiny little increments.
Shoot Straight, Cut the Bull
Both sides should be a little more careful about wording. If you don’t believe in the Second Amendment, just say so. It believes in you. If all you really want is universal background checks, say so, but understand that people like me see that as a step toward converting something we see as a very important right into just a privilege. If you mean planning to advance gun-restriction policies, maybe don’t say, “He (or she) is coming for our guns!” It lends weight to the narrative that you are an extremist. If you scoff and tell me, “So when did Obama come for your guns?,” I am probably going to tell you it was a figure of speech and that he, like many Democrats, worked hard to advance incremental gun-restriction policies to the extent it was politically feasible. If you are a pro-gun type and say “slippery slope” when you mean “incrementalism,” your fellow gun advocates should help you clarify your position so that you are not marginalized.
So “coming for” could mean some dystopian SWAT team, yes … but it usually doesn’t. In current terms, it means advancing incremental gun restrictions that the pro-gun crowd finds concerning. We can say that. Both sides can say that. And, if we do, we might be able to get somewhere without calling each other names.
Jim is a concerned citizen and gun-rights advocate. His opinions are his alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of his or any other agency. References and links to other gun-advocacy sites do not imply endorsement of those organizations. He can be reached at [email protected].