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What the Debates over Gun Control & Abortion May Teach Us

I’ve been thinking about the points and counterpoints of the gun debate and have noticed some interesting similarities to the abortion debate.

The debate over gun control has heated up again in the wake of the Colorado theatre shootings. Each side of this issue has been making their predictable points on cable news and talk radio programs, opinion pages of newspapers, blog posts, and Facebook status updates.

Advocates of gun control argue that restricting access to firearms, especially to weapons like assault rifles, will reduce the opportunity for individuals with ill intent to take the lives of others. Opponents of gun control counter with an appeal to the Second Amendment arguing the right of citizens to bear arms.

I’ve been thinking about the points and counterpoints of the gun debate and have noticed some interesting similarities to the abortion debate. In the abortion debate, one side advocates for abortion control arguing that restricting access to abortion will reduce the number of abortions. The other side counters with an appeal to rights that a Supreme Court ruling declared are implied in the Constitution.

Of particular fascination (and frustration) to me is the fact that generally those arguing for legal restrictions with respect to the one issue directly counter that very argument with respect to the other issue. And conversely, those arguing for rights with respect to the one issue directly counter that very argument with respect to the other issue. In other words, what is considered perfectly good rationale for making a conclusion with regard to legal restrictions vs. rights in one matter is considered illogical for making a conclusion with regard to legal restrictions vs. rights in another matter. So what determines the logic that is used is not whether the logic is actually logical but rather whether it appears to support an ideological position that has been staked out in advance.

Those on the right, who generally would be opposed to gun control yet be in favor of abortion control, will use rhetoric like “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” They argue that even if gun control laws are enacted there will still be gun violence. Those on the left, who generally would be in favor of gun control yet opposed to abortion control, call this a red herring. Yet they turn around and use nearly the same argument with respect to laws restricting access to abortion—“making abortion illegal won’t stop abortions; women will just go have back alley abortions.” Of course, those on the right who used this line of reasoning to oppose gun control call it a red herring while they push for abortion control. And around the circle we go.

Except for a small extremist minority to either side of the spectrum, it seems to me that most who are either pro-gun ownership or pro-choice are moderately so. They seem to be pro-“whatever” with a caveat. Unfortunately, many of the more widely heard voices on these issues are not from those who hold nuanced, moderate positions on the matter but rather from the more extreme edges. In the cacophony of polarized, uncompromising talking points, those who lean a bit left or right of center seem to get pulled toward the pole on their respective side of the issue. The result is the inability for our society to at least get to a reasonable resolution on the most obvious places of common ground.

When asked generally if they favor or oppose gun control, those who are pro-gun ownership on the right will largely answer unhesitatingly “opposed.” Talk about specifics, and that changes. Many who are pro-gun ownership question why anyone, other than while serving in a military uniform, would need or should have an assault rifle. But those who represent the most extreme position on pro-gun ownership (who unsurprisingly have a significant financial interest in such a position—namely the NRA and gun and ammunition manufacturers) are setting and dominating the agenda. Consequently, it is nearly impossible to get into place an assault rifle ban, even though there would be significant common ground (left and right) to do so.

Turn to the abortion issue and a similar dynamic is in play. When asked generally if they favor or oppose laws restricting a woman from choosing an abortion, those who are pro-choice on the left will largely answer unhesitatingly “opposed.” Talk about specifics, and again that changes things. Many who are pro-choice are not pro-abortion. In fact, many who hold a pro-choice view believe that it is a desirable goal to reduce the number of abortions. Further, many who are pro-choice question why someone would need or should have a mid or late term abortion. But those who represent the most extreme pro-choice position (again, who unsurprisingly have a significant financial interest in such a position—namely Planned Parenthood and abortion providers) are setting and dominating the agenda. Consequently, it is very challenging to effect even the most reasonable of controls on abortion, even though there would be significant common ground (right and left) to do so.

Unfortunately, we’ll never eliminate all abortions or gun deaths. (I think everyone, left and right, would agree with that.)  Yet, overwhelming majorities, consisting of conservatives and liberals, would agree that we should do whatever we can to reduce the number of abortions and the number of gun deaths as much as we reasonably can. To reach those goals, it is unacceptable to simply say that we should have no restrictions simply because some will still do what we’re trying to prevent. And it is unacceptable to simply say that there is no limitation that may be placed upon what we deem to be a right.

At some level most all of us agree in principle (as evidenced by liberal arguments for gun control and by conservative arguments for abortion control) that rights have their limitations. Could it be that the left and the right have more agreement than they actually realize?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sam Smith July 28, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Interesting, thank you. I think it makes to me that there are people who value the potential of the helpless unborn over the reality of the formed adult (ergo anti-abortion, for gun access) and there are those who value the developed human individual over the early mass of cells (prochoice and anti gun access). I guess people feel that one matters more than the other.
Jonathan Gerard July 28, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Excellent essay. We need a Purple Party (P for "practical"?) that absorbs a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans, eschews ideology, and seeks common-sense centrist solutions to our major problems. The reason it won't happen, and the reason this fine essay won't be heeded, is that humans are dysfunctionally susceptible to ideology. Evolutionary forces have molded us to follow the herd for safety. So we stick to our positions rather than disagree with our friends or assimilate new facts.
WILFREDO G. SALCEDO, Sr. July 28, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Nice try, Mr. Weidman. Unfortunately, any solution to these problems will never come to the fore considering the utterly polarized political system prevailing in this country. And as alluded to, the debate boils down to who eventually ends up with the most dollar; the NRA or Planned Parenthood, for instance.
Wayne Schissler July 29, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Isn't this comparing apples and oranges, gun control with abortion? A gun is an inanimate object, a noun, abortion is an action, a verb. Manufacturing, selling, owning, or shooting a gun responsibly is not illegal, immoral, or wrong except for a minority that will confuse the existence of the gun with the action of the irresponsible gun use. Abortion is an action, an action that ends a life. The issue with abortion is never confused with owning the surgical instruments that preform the abortion. Pro-life people never try to restrict ownership of scalpels. Nobody is in favor of a gun deaths but that is what you are really comparing to abortion as evidenced in the first line of your 9th paragraph. As for the comment about a party that "eschews ideology", I could not disagree with that strong enough. Ideology is not a dirty word. You cannot have principles without an ideology behind those principles. The "practical" party spoken of needs to have an under-girding ideology, otherwise it becomes the utilitarian party willing to do anything for "what ever works". These become tools for demagogues.
Douglas Scheirer July 29, 2012 at 04:31 AM
Thank you for posting this thoughtful essay. Would you please consider submitting it to the Morning Call for its "Your View" column? More people need to read this.
Daryl Nerl (Editor) July 29, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Mr. Scheirer, Did you know that you can share this blog with your friends using Facebook and Twitter? We'd love it if you would spread the word about the great content you find here on Patch!
Rich Piotrowski July 30, 2012 at 09:50 AM
Wayne is dead on right. While I would call myself pro-choice on abortion. I'm conflicted on it because it's not a black and white issue. I can fully understand people thinking it's wrong, and I can fully understand women saying it's their right to chose. With gun - any type of gun - there is no such conflict. I have an absolute right to own anything I want. What I don't have an absolute right to is to use it. For example, I have a right to own a book, but I don't not have the right to throw it at your head. To anyone who is for outlawing guns, would that same law apply to the Government? I know you would say of course not! But ask yourself this, how could it not? Isn't the Government us? So how can they say we can own these but you can't? If you say it's because they are not us, but the are our "leaders" well maybe we should let these kings own land and us not, that they should have food and us not. Where does it end in your mind? We are either a self governing nation or we are not. So which are we?
Jane Rivera July 30, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Thank you for opening up a discussion instead of a debate. The continual name calling and nastiness of extreme conservatives and extreme liberals generally causes me to shut down and dismiss them both. It's refreshing to read an essay that invites discourse and requires the ability to listen as well as speak. Be slow to anger, slow to speak, quick to listen is good advice, and is the key to understanding and rational discussion with others. Well written, makes sense.
Jonathan Gerard July 30, 2012 at 03:28 PM
You say: I have an absolute right to own anything I want. What I don't have an absolute right to is to use it. Thus you make an excellent argument for allowing for the unlimited sale of guns, but for the total banning of the sale of ammunition.
Rich Piotrowski July 30, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Jonathan, I also have an absolute right to own ammo too! lol I don't have the right to shoot anyone. Even the right to do it in self defense is not absolute. For example, you can't use excess force beyond what is reasonable to defend yourself.
Al Bernotas July 30, 2012 at 03:58 PM
I think any argument from anyone who would allow the killing of babies, is moot, and a waste of time, including Pastor Craig Weidman! Purchasing an inanimate object is much less objectionable that allowing a baby to be killed!
Craig Weidman July 30, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Keep in mind that the article I've written is is not intended to argue the morality of abortion one way or the other. It is chiefly about the nature of how we tend to discuss/deliberate/debate/argue (take your pick of word) hot button issues, particularly as it relates to the nature of our logic and consistency of our rhetorical approach, whichever side of an issue we happen to be. I would also like to point out that readers of my article should not make an assumption one way or the other about my views on the issue of abortion. For me to have inserted my position on the issue into this article would have clouded the aims for why I've written it. In the same spirit, I would encourage readers to refrain from inserting what they assume is my position on abortion into this article. To do so, in my view, will cloud the ability of readers to see the aims for why I've written this piece.
Wayne Schissler July 30, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Hi Craig, I understand your attempt there... my point was that it's a really strained logic to be making analogies of banning or controlling an object with banning or regulating a procedure. Maybe a better one would be that lunatics should not have guns or scalpels? ;-) And it would be hard to write anything else on the subject without getting bogged down in the emotional controversies...
Wayne Schissler July 30, 2012 at 10:15 PM
"...the total banning of the sale of ammunition." Thank you, exactly what I was getting at. Let's eschew ideology and look for solutions. Ammo ain't arms to we can do an end run around the pesky bill of rights by following the letter and not the spirit of the law. We need solutions!!! So to restrict guns and/or ammo what do we need to do? Off the top of my head: Regulate all malleable metals that can be used as bullets. Regulate gunpowder, it's component ingredients, and any possible substitution ingredients Shut down gunsmiths, confiscate their tools Confiscate & make illegal reloading equipment Spot raids on machine shops It's the war on drugs times 1000! Of course we can just say that stubborn people will not assimilate "new facts". There, I feel better already. Wait,,, you were just kidding about a total ban on ammo, right?
Al Bernotas July 30, 2012 at 10:26 PM
It may not be your intention to argue the morality of abortion one way or the other, but since you compare the logic of an abortion decision with the logic of gun control, you simply step in it. You are long winded, and do not get to the point, both in your article and when you are before the podium at City Council. And without stating your position, you end up taking a position, seemingly neutral. When it come to abortion, that, in my estimation, is a wrong position for a man of God, a Pastor. Stick to homilies that do not compare abortion logic to gun control logic.
Jane Rivera July 31, 2012 at 05:22 AM
The point is that arrogance and rudeness have no place in a discussion, no matter what the topic is. With whom would a person sitting on the fence of either issue prefer to discuss it.....someone who is willing to listen to their point of view and questions, or someone who angrily shuts the conversation down by shouting so loud that no one can hear what they're saying?
Wayne Schissler July 31, 2012 at 10:17 AM
I'm sorry if my snarky warped humor comes across as arrogant and rude. But if you can't point out the flaws in a person's logic then what's the sense of having a discussion at all? Expecting everyone to make nice, compromise, and heap praise while accusing any voices of dissent of intolerance, anger, and rudeness --- I've always found that to be the greater offense. And insisting on compromise when someone would obviously consider such a compromise with error or outright evil (Yes, it is possible for someone to believe in right & wrong, evil, and sin!) a terrible wrong - is futile and an even greater wrong.
Jane Rivera July 31, 2012 at 11:33 AM
You didn't come across as snarky or rude Wayne...not at all. A little touchy maybe...(that was humor. :0)......there are some other comments here that definitely have an "I'm right and everyone else is wrong"tone to them. So much so that their missing of the point makes the auyhor's point for him.
Adrean Marie August 02, 2012 at 11:12 PM
@Al Bernotas: I really think your missing the whole point of the article here. The idea is to get people to think about things more deeply. It's not about him saying "This is my stance and this is how it should be." It's about looking at both sides of an issue and trying to open up peoples minds to try and work together rather than be in opposition of each other. When it comes to your comment "When it come to abortion, that, in my estimation, is a wrong position for a man of God, a Pastor.", what do you think his position is? He never came out and said "I support abortion." and I don't feel that he ever even implied that. Your comments seem to be more of an attack against him rather than a thoughtful repsonse to the article.
Al Bernotas August 03, 2012 at 05:10 AM
@ Adrean Marie: Sorry Adrean, I just think Pastor Weidman is a blowhard, ergo, it was difficult for me to pay attention to his pseudo intellectualism. But I will give him credit for publicly banging his head against the wall, shaking out all that logic about the extremists on both sides of the gun control and abortion arguments. Comparing gun control extremism to abortion extremism is goofy. I don’t mind openly sharing some of my positions. I am not in favor of gun control, and I am not in favor of abortion, and I am not in favor of politically correct commentary. I have always been in favor of telling it like it is. And I do not have to spend a lot of time thinking too deeply about my positions. They are what they are, and they are deeply held, and they do not need a lot of needless blowhard logical analysis. Pastor Weidman would better serve the community if he would save a few souls in his congregation, instead of contrasting abortion to gun control with his millimeter deep analysis. This is my final commentary about this inane analysis. I do not want to waste anymore breath.
Charlie Brooker December 16, 2012 at 04:58 PM
never had these problems with the mental cases whjen we were allowed to lock them away in insane asylums
Jake Ostler February 25, 2013 at 04:38 PM
So sad and such a shame when something like this happens. It makes it really tough for law abiding citizens like me to purchase <a href="http://sarcoinc.com">firearms in Easton Pa</a>

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