For those of you who don’t know, I spent the better part of two decades working in email marketing. I think Scott Adams described marketing best: “we don’t screw the customer; we hold them down while the salespeople screw them.” That being said, I did (mostly) enjoy my time as a marketer, and I became more than a little familiar with a little company named Salesforce. If you’ve never heard of them that’s not surprising; they’re what’s referred to as a B2B company (that’s “business to business”), and their products are used to manage and run e-commerce across the nation.
Why that’s particularly relevant is because of a recent change in their acceptable use policy. Salesforce is now in the business of driving social policy as well as sales. While I might personally disagree with their stance, I want to get out in front and applaud them for making this move. I would love to see more companies, particularly big companies, making moves like this, for a few different reasons.
First it appeals to my libertarian desire for private action over government action. Yes, I have come around to accepting that not all government is bad, but I still believe that government should be the answer of last resort, not the first thing we try and then we turn to private solutions only after every possible governmental approach has been tried and failed. Also, there are a few common misconceptions that need to be addressed regarding private actors versus government action.
The big one that bothers me the most is the idea that somehow private actors can violate your right to free speech. Let’s take a look at the text of the First Amendment, shall we? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Yes, I can see pretty clearly in there were it says that “Facebook shall not delete your posts because reasons.” The government cannot legally censor you (aside from a few exceptions). Private actors are not required to provide you with a platform for your crazy. In fact, that would be a violation of the First Amendment (freedom of association).
How does that apply in the case of Salesforce and their terms of service? By doing business with Salesforce, you are voluntarily associating with them, and vice versa. Their terms of service are, quite literally, the terms under which they are willing to associate with you. Don’t like it? Fine. Don’t do business with them. Nobody is forcing you to. It’s a free market. So long as Salesforce doesn’t use their market dominance in an anti-competitive way there is no issue (and by the way, that has nothing to do with the First Amendment, that’s standard antitrust stuff, which last I checked is justified under the commerce clause; but I could be wrong). And let’s not even try to drag the Second Amendment into it. I don’t care if they prohibit you from selling guns or gardenias using their software, the point is the same: they are not the government, and nobody is forcing you to do business with them.
That’s not to say there aren’t any First Amendment issues to be concerned with here, it’s just that nobody seems to be focusing on the relevant party, by which I mean Salesforce. Anybody remember a little case known as Citizens United? Yes, I know liberals love to hate on that case, but every dark cloud and so on. In this instance, it’s relevant because Salesforce as a legal entity has rights. The right to free speech. The right to free association. The right to not be compelled to provide a service to someone who will use it in a way that they deem inappropriate. Note that this last point is ethically in line with the baker who refused to serve the gay couple in Colorado. Whether liberal or conservative, you don’t get to pick and choose who gets to express their moral beliefs through their business just because you happen to agree with them. The law applies to everyone equally or it is worthless (which says more about the law de facto than de jure).
In a recent campaign ad for governor of the state of Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp loads a shotgun and points it at a young man who (in the ad) is “interested in one of my daughters”. He then proceeds to grill “Jake” on why Mr. Kemp is running for governor and what qualities are essential in a young man who will be dating one of his daughters. Naturally, those would be “respect and a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment, sir.”
Where do I begin?
As someone who has often stated my support for the Second Amendment and the personal right to own firearms, as well as a satirist in my own right, the casual reader might expect me to fully support this ad. After all it’s just in good sport, right? A little poking fun, ribbing the liberals, maybe the casual allusion to the classic “Southern dad with a shotgun” motif? There’s at least a few things wrong with that.
The first thing is that it’s not “just in good sport”. There are a two rules in comedy that are getting violated here. The first, and one that is getting a lot of play these days, is that you punch up, not down. Who exactly is Mr. Kemp punching up at? Gun control advocates? Liberals? Jake? It’s not clear, but like many other politicians these days, he is in a position of power already, and he is using that position to take cheap shots (pun intended) at those who oppose him.
The second rule in comedy that is being violated is that the secret to good comedy is timing. As the editors of The Onion once pointed out, the closer a joke is to the tragedy it’s making fun of, the funnier it needs to be. If you’re going to riff on a tragedy the day after it happened, that better be the funniest joke I ever heard. Given the proximity to the Parkland shooting (along with any number of other teen shootings in America, which may not have gotten the same level of publicity but are just as heartfelt to the victims), I just don’t think this one makes the cut.
The second problem I have with this commercial is that it’s not about liberals versus conservatives, it’s about responsible gun use versus careless or outright unlawful gun use. The first rule of gun safety, always, is to treat every weapon as if it is live, loaded, and ready to fire. A logical extension of this rule that all responsible gun users follow is “don’t point a weapon at anything or anyone you don’t intend to shoot”. I don’t know if it’s because he’s trying to intimidate Jake into voting for him, scare him away from his daughters, or he just doesn’t like his actors, but none of those is a sufficient reason to point a gun at someone. Well okay, maybe because he’s an actor. (See? That’s comedy.)
Finally, the trope of the “Southern dad with a shotgun” is tired, played out, and insulting. Speaking as someone who has both been “threatened” by a father with a shotgun on multiple occasions as a teenager, as well as someone who has actually once been held at gunpoint for real, I can say with authority this shit needs to stop. You are sending one of two messages: either you are a homicidal lunatic who doesn’t understand how to participate in civilized society; or you prefer to use threats, bullying, and intimidation and don’t understand how to participate in civilized society. Neither is something that we should be modeling in the media as something to aspire toward, and certainly not something we should look for in our elected officials.
In the wake of the awful shootings in Connecticut and Oregon, the debate is raging once again over the appropriateness of allowing common citizens to own and carry firearms. Both sides are falling back on the same tired arguments, none of which are likely to sway anyone, nor do I think they are meant to, except in the most deluded cases of those who truly believe that their cause is so righteous that only the willfully blind could ignore it, and all it would take is the proper spin on a terrible enough tragedy to get them to see.
The fact is that both sides of the debate are using each of these atrocities, and every one that precedes them, and each one that follows, as yet another piece of ammunition in their ongoing war (and yes, I chose those words quite deliberately). They have abandoned reason and logic to fall back on fallacies and emotion. These are emotional situations, and rightly so, but the discussion at hand is not. It is one of how we order a just society, and letting that be ruled by emotion always will lead to short-sighted decision making and partisan sniping at best; at worst, I do not even want to contemplate what it could lead to, for fear of being accused of making an argument ad hitlerum myself.
First, allow me to address the “right to bear arms” crowd. As an acknowledged supporter of the Second Amendment myself, I hope that you will not see it as an attack when I say: STFU. Please. Just for five minutes. If I hear one more person say how this was a tragedy about people and not guns, or some other such bullshit, I am going to scream. This was a tragedy involving guns, just like every other school shooting, mall shooting, celebrity shooting, and every other shooting you have to get out in front of in an attempt to defend the vast majority of responsible gun owners. Notice how I tossed you a bone at the end there? There’s a reason for that. I get it. I agree. I’ll even repeat it: the vast majority of gun owners are responsible, law-abiding people. That still doesn’t do a damn thing to bring back a single one of the lost and wasted lives, or repair the shattered lives of those who are left behind. Repeat it like a mantra all you want. It. Does. Not. Change. A. Thing.
Here is the reality we have to live with: if we allow people to own guns, then the possibility of something like this happening again approaches a near certainty. That much has become obvious, and we need to accept that and stop running from it. We, as a society, have to be aware of it, and while we can do everything in our power to minimize it, it is almost impossible to prevent someone who is determined enough from getting their hands on a gun and killing people. That is a fact, and it is unavoidable.
Now, having put all that on the floor, let me speak to the gun control advocates. If I hear one more person make un unfalsifiable claim about how those kids would still be alive if we had better gun control, I will be violently ill. Aside from taking shameless advantage of a terrible situation, you’re also full of shit. Here’s an example of someone using a knife to attack school kids. Now think: do you know anyone who knows how to make dynamite? If the answer is no, come on by and I’ll introduce you to some rednecks I know. It’s not very difficult, and if you can walk into a school with an assault rifle, you can walk in with several sticks of dynamite hidden about your person. My point is not how easy it is to hurt people, my point is that a determined person will find a way, and simply waving a hand and screaming “GUN CONTROL!!!!!” doesn’t change that.
Here is the reality we have to live with: every day in this country, citizens protect themselves, their families (including young children), and their neighbors against violent offenders with lawfully purchased and licensed firearms. Handguns, shotguns, and yes, even “assault rifles”. If you take them away, you leave people vulnerable. Don’t try to claim the police will fill the gap, because the Supreme Court has made it very clear that the police have no duty whatsoever to prevent crime, only to prosecute it (and in some neighborhoods it seems, not even that). We, as a society, have to be aware of this fact, and if we take away people’s right to defend themselves, we are leaving them vulnerable. While we can do everything in our power to minimize it, we have already proven we are not willing to invest the resources even in the best of our communities to protect people against all crimes (even if we could, and we cannot); in our worst neighborhoods we would be leaving them utterly at the whims of the criminals. That is a fact, and it is unavoidable.
These, then, are the costs as I see them. I am not trying to stifle debate, I am trying to start it. Real debate, not simple sloganeering and screaming of worn-out catchphrases from both sides. It is time that everyone admit that there is no good answer, there is no simple, cost-free solution where we all live happily ever after. Maybe then we can decide which costs we are willing to shoulder, admit that we have to pay them, and move on.
And one more thing. I think it’s time we call out the real villains in all of this, and for that I’m turning over the floor to My Not So Humble Mother:
When did a discussion over the necessity of gun control become news? The shooting at the school was a tragedy, no doubt; but using the rapt attention of folks who live off these tragedies as an audience for gun control is not reporting. It’s the worst sort of soapbox scare tactics I’ve ever seen!
I couldn’t have put it better myself. (Now you know where I get it from. Well, half of it at any rate.)
Here is the reality we have to live with: So long as “if it bleeds, it leads” is the mantra that drives “news” reporting, then the message that is being sent is “if you want to be famous, kill people”. So long as editorializing (on both sides of the aisle) replaces honest discussion of the issues, we will never have a meaningful debate, nor will we ever come to a place where we can have any sort of comity in our neighborhoods, in our malls, or in our schools. That is a fact, and it is unavoidable.
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
What is it with those Founding Fathers? Once again, we have a set of words and clauses that obscure as much as they illuminate. I know, I know, some people look at this and say that it’s perfectly clear what it means. Unfortunately, I’ve had as many people tell me it clearly means one thing as I have had tell me it clearly means something diametrically opposed that the only thing I can say with certainty is that there is no “clear” meaning.
So here’s what I think this means, and I know this is not the most popular definition, but I’m going to put it out there: people have a right to defend themselves, from any and all comers. This includes state actors, foreign and domestic. Keep in mind that it was not so long before the drafting of the Constitution that a war was fought by the people, using their own weapons, to fend off an oppressive government. As the old saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, national rebellion.”
For those who believe the purpose of this amendment was to establish a militia for national defense, and we don’t need that since we have a standing army or the National Guard or whatever else, allow me to point out that at the time this was written the people of this country already had plenty of experience with their government having a standing army. If you don’t believe me, check the Third Amendment. It exists specifically because of past experiences with the British army back when they were British citizens. However, we don’t need to restrict ourselves to the intent of the past; we can look to the present to consider what our best course of action is.
Consider the Arab Spring that so much has been made of, and Egypt in particular. So many people were elated when Hosni Mubarak was deposed, and they anticipated the rise of democracy. But a funny thing happened rather quickly. Turned out that it wasn’t really Mubarak who was in charge after all, it was the military. The guys with the guns. And they aren’t giving up so easily. The protesters might have won a major battle, but there’s a long war left to go.
This isn’t to say that the U.S. is the same as Egypt, not even close. But there were a lot of people who got very upset at the Patriot Act, and that’s not the only restriction on freedom we’ve seen in the last twenty years. What happens if this trend continues for another twenty years? What about if the protesters who occupied parks across the country feel they aren’t being listened to? What if they start to riot and get thrown in jail, and emergency powers are enacted to deal with the problem?
These aren’t likely scenarios, but they are possible ones, and they aren’t the only ones. They are simply a few of the ways that a government that has nothing to fear from the people can start to tighten its grip on the people it is supposed to protect, often with the best of intentions (and we all know everyone in government has the best of intentions, don’t we Messrs. McCarthy and Nixon?) And governments should be afraid of their people. Every day, in every way, governments should rule with a very light hand because they understand the price of choosing wrong.
Gun control advocates will try to claim there is a public interest in limiting the number and availability of guns, but why? How does that help? This is like any other sort of prohibition, in that the more you do it the more you drive the market underground, and the more you give profits to criminals.
The worst part is when good people start to use the exact rhetoric for gun control their opponents use in other circumstances without even batting an eyelash at the irony: “Register your guns; if you’re innocent you have nothing to worry about.” Sure. While we’re at it, let’s just go ahead and get fingerprints and DNA from everyone in the country as well. Same logic applies, right? Makes it easier to find the bad guy when a crime is committed. More accurately, too.
I’m not going to say something silly like “guns don’t kill people.” Of course guns can kill people. So can cars, knives, rocks, televisions, glass bottles, and (if you eat enough of it) my mother’s cooking. That doesn’t mean we try to ban those other things (although if anyone wants to try to ban mom’s cooking, sign me up.) We acknowledge the risks, and we do what we do in any situation: we enforce the laws we already have. If you hurt someone with a gun, you committed a crime and you should go to jail. Simple. That doesn’t mean that owning a gun should be a crime all by itself.
ADDENDUM: I originally wrote this post before the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. First, I would like to say my heart goes out to those who lost friends and family that day. To those who wonder if this changes my position on gun ownership, I regretfully have to answer no. This is a black swan event. I do not believe that extreme cases such as this make a good and justifiable case for any sort of gun control, as they are an example of the sort of individual I spoke of above who will find a way to hurt other no matter what, and punishing the vast majority of law-abiding citizens in an unreasoning attempt to protect us is specious and wrong-headed. However, in the name of fairness, I would like to direct anyone who is interested to this post by Jason Alexander, which represents the opposing view (h/t to R.L. Mirabal). While I do not agree with everything he has to say, I do believe he has some salient points to make and his post is well worth reading. If nothing else, he at least seems open to rational discussion, rather than simple finger-pointing and blindly clinging to one position. In times like these, more rationality and less blind ideology would be a nice change of pace from all of us.