Guns and the Courtier’s Reply
One of the most annoying things that happens post-massacre is the gun nuts who can’t even wait until the bodies are cold to seize on this opportunity to do their very favoritest thing in the world: wank on endlessly about about the various features of their favorite killing machines in excruciating detail, hoping you’re impressed by what manly man men they are. They flood every available comments section and right wing blog, even going so far as to strut about how the killer’s gun was baby stuff. (Leading us to wonder if they’re trying to imply they could mow down twice as many 6-year-olds in 10 minutes, and why they think that’s supposed to impress.) The rationale for this is their claim that this information is necessary to discuss gun control, but of course, it’s actually done in an effort to shut down productive conversation.
We should be very wary of the argument that people who have a lot of experience with guns have some kind of greater moral claim to a voice in this debate (and we should also be wary, as Elsbeth Reeve writes, of coastal urbanite conservatives claiming to speak for “real America” about guns). Yes, having everyone get their facts straight is important. But every one of us is potentially affected by guns, whether we ever bother to pick one up or not. That’s kind of the whole point. You don’t have to know how to disassemble and clean a Glock to want your kid not to be shot by one.
He does go on to say we need specific information about guns to write legislation restricting them, which no one doubts, I hope. (Abortion restrictions notoriously display little understanding of what actually happens in doctors’ offices, so not all actual legislation is smart this way.) But that’s true of most legislation, and yet most debates about passing it don’t generally get into the exquisitely specific details that gun nuts insist on discussing. You don’t need to know absolutely everything about internal insurance billings or the practice of medicine to support health care reform. You don’t need to know everything about the molecular structure of drugs in order to support FDA regulation of them. We hire experts to do this stuff and give them general parameters to work with. That’s how regulation works.
So when gun nuts go off like this, it’s for two reasons. 1) They’re showing off, and it’s gross. 2) It’s the Courtier’s Reply. The Courtier’s Reply is a red herring that believers throw up in response to atheists, and it’s only purpose is to silence the opposition by claiming they don’t understand enough to criticize. It’s horseshit, and PZ Myers explained why:
I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.
Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.
Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.
Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.
The situation is a little different: People who are using this technique to defend religion are essentially arguing that complex made-up stuff is somehow less made-up than simplistic made-up stuff. But it’s the same idea. By endlessly discussing the boring mechanics of their penis substitutes, gun lovers hope to distract you from the fact that they’re all designed to kill and the only questions left are how necessary that level of firepower is and who are we going to let have this awesome power? They do not want you ask those questions, so they dither and try to talk about anything else, but don’t be fooled.
Again, as I said yesterday, I don’t really think that gun nuts are even the issue. They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do: Be callous, be more worried about their toys than the lives of children, dither endlessly about their fetish objects. It’s time to go around them. They’re not interested in a grown-up discussion, and they’re not relevant anyway, since the real question is the people who make an absolute fortune blanketing this country with weapons and turning it into a place where there’s a constant humming fear that a nut with a gun will decide to kill you and a bunch of other people for the hell of it. I just wanted to single out this particular strategy as more evidence that this is a conversation we need to conduct as if they and their meaningless garbage wasn’t even there. They have nothing to add; time to start treating them that way.