What can we say about the children massacre? “OK, Jay, do something,” says Melinda, a college English instructor in Colorado. “You’re the argument man….Every religious right idiot is posting cliched sayings on TEE SHIRTS for goodness sakes that this terrible tragedy occurred because we have taken prayer (and therefore God) out of public schools. I know there’s a fallacy there.”
There is, Melinda. More than one, actually. (Post hoc ergo propter hoc and Straw Man lead my list). But remember, pointing out fallacies generally fails to persuade.
Besides, this is more of a framing issue than a mere argument. You want to redefine the terms and focus the issue to achieve your goal.
What goal? I have one: Make it harder to pour bullets into small children. That’s something a majority of Americans should agree on, right? In practical terms, that means restoring the laws that expired under the Bush presidency—laws that banned assault weapons and large-capacity bullet clips.
So let’s talk about how to frame the issue, getting Congress to restore the ban on assault weapons and large clips.
- Don’t call it a tragedy. “Tragedy” implies an act of the gods, something terribly sad but inevitable. Instead, call it a massacre. A massacre is the most violent kind of crimes, and it implies that more than one person was involved. (We’ll get to that in a bit.)
- Keep the focus on the children. This was a massacre of children. Gundamentalists will try to focus on the shooter. That allows them to make a reasonable-sounding case for school prayer: As our morals deteriorate, more sick people will do horrible things. Frame the issue around making it harder to massacre children. You can’t pray away legally acquired assault weapons and large-capacity ammo clips.
- Demonize the NRA. I like Robert Shrum’s label, the National Rampage Association. There’s more than one culprit in this massacre. While the NRA didn’t specifically set out to massacre children, they did work with brutal efficiency to allow the massacre to happen.
- Make the wafflers sound weak. Obama wiped a tear away while reading careful language avoiding direct talk of gun control. Demand that the President, and leaders in general, stand up to the NRA. It’s the ultimate classroom bully—a bully that allowed every small terrified child in a first grade to be killed with legally acquired assault weapons.
- When the Second Amendment gets mentioned, bring the focus back to the children. The Second Amendment calls for a “well regulated militia” to protect the “security of a free state.” Ask what the security of a free state has to do with massacring children. Laws that make it easy to massacre children arguably violate the Second Amendment. Eleven bullets into a small child: Security?
- Be the moderate in the debate. Ultimately, the more moderate-sounding argument wins. As long as the issue stays focused on the children and not on the shooter, on the children instead of “freedom,” then the issue comes down to this: Are you for or against the massacre of children?
It’s all about the children. As long as the issue focuses on them, their deaths—their criminal massacre—won’t be entirely meaningless.