There's No False Equivalency on Guns

National Journal

In the fast-expanding and narrow-minded world of partisan commentators, there's a term that describes the act of considering both sides of a policy debate. It’s hurled at anybody with the temerity to hold all parties accountable, even if not always equally so. “False equivalency.”

You’d think it was my middle name. It’s a slur leveled at politically agnostic journalists who attempt to cut through the clutter of spin, lies, and process, inflicting discomfort across the spectrum -- from Bernie Sanders to Rush Limbaugh.

The job is made easier by the fact that there are few debates in Washington (or in life) involving circumstances so black and white that one side's case is virtually inexplicable. But we seem to have one now, with guns, and it’s a problem for the Republican Party.

To the long-term detriment of a just cause—protecting the Second Amendment—the NRA and its puppets in Congress are botching their fight with Obama. They are factually wrong more often, far more likely to demagogue, and further from mainstream America on policy than the White House.

There is no equivalency.

First, polls show that Americans favor efforts to keep guns from criminals and the mentally unstable. Expanding background checks and increasing penalties for trafficking are supported by nine of 10 Americans. Narrower majorities back curbs on assault weapons and ammunition.

Should lawmakers reflexively bow to polls? Not necessarily, but a party that bucks public opinion risks irrelevancy, especially when its primary strategic weapon is distortion. The level of dishonesty on the right is mind-boggling. PolitiFact.org has actually counted. Of the 58 gun claims the group determined to be mostly false or completely bogus, 45 came from the pro-gun side.

Among the claims in conservative circles:

“Gun bans lead to more violence.” Wrong.

“Obama is pushing doctors to ask patients if there are guns in their homes.” Wrong.

“Parents may face prison sentences for giving their child his or her first hunting rifle.” Wrong.

“Republican Reps. Eric Cantor and Scott Rigell support Obama’s gun plan.” Wrong.

“A background check is unconstitutional.” Wrong. (Democrats wants to expand the current background check, which has not been overturned.)

“Obama’s plan will lead to a registry of guns.” Wrong. (No measure under serious consideration includes a registry, and even gun-control advocates concede this is a cultural divide that can't be crossed.)

“Obama’s plan will lead to confiscation of handguns.” Wrong. (A ban is not under consideration because it's not practical or politically sustainable.)

The list goes on. You can find plenty more examples and documentation at PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org and the The Fact Checker blog at the Washington Post.

At the risk of engaging in false equivalency, it should be pointed out that Democrats bend the truth, too. For example, Obama and his allies like to say that 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check. That figure relies on a study nearly 20 years old that used a relatively small sample.

But the GOP is wrong far more often and with bigger whoppers than Democrats. 

These tactics undermine reasonable efforts to protect gun rights, a constitutional and cultural imperative. It is understandable that many Americans don’t trust the federal government, especially when the White House is controlled by a Democrat. Some members of Obama’s party are virulently antigun.

But rather than serve pro-gun Americans, the gun lobby and its GOP co-conspirators are exploiting their fears. If they overreach and lose credibility with the public, their actions today may be more threatening to the Second Amendment than anything Democrats want to do.

Limbaugh should deplore the equivalency.

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