Opinion: Emotion replaced productive dialogue at gun violence assembly

Recently, the Ransom Everglades community commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As a collective, we grieved the loss of 17 innocent lives that were taken from the world in the most brutal fashion.

RE Students Against Gun Violence successfully arranged for an assembly speaker named Fred Guttenberg, the father of the late Jaime Guttenberg, who was killed in the shooting. In addition to being the father of a Parkland victim, Mr. Guttenberg is an active gun control advocate. It seemed fitting that RE students, as an active and empathetic community, should be reminded of our influence in the political process.

However, Mr. Guttenberg took advantage of this tragic experience by appealing to students’ emotions in order to advance his political agenda.

The way he honored his daughter’s life and the organization created in her memory nearly brought me to tears. I still have an orange ribbon from that assembly on my bedside table as a constant reminder of Jaime’s life. While his presentation was emotionally moving, however, his positions on gun violence were severely misleading because they relied so heavily on mournful sentiment. Political commentary should always depend on facts and evidence, rather than emotion alone.

Mr. Guttenberg began the assembly by asking, “Who wants to get shot?” The intent of this question was to imply, hyperbolically, that all of us were at a legitimate risk of getting shot — that gun violence was ready to strike the student body anywhere and at any time.

Later, he asked the student body whether we would stand up for the “right to not be shot” and the “right to walk home safely.” These questions were merely attempts at fear-mongering. Obviously no one who was in his audience wants to be killed, and everyone wants to be able to walk home safely.

But we are all legally protected against murder already. There are standards in place by which when people commit murder, they face severe legal repercussions. Our “rights to safety” already exist, but this does not necessarily prevent the aimless loss of death that Mr. Guttenberg knows through the loss of his daughter.

Mr. Guttenberg’s commentary was much like the current quality of political rhetoric in today’s polarized climate, where talking points replace actual facts. As someone with a platform as influential as his own, he has a responsibility to provide serious — not intellectually lazy and hyperbolic — analysis. Instead, he sowed the seeds of fear without utilizing any evidence in the process.

Productive debate on how to properly enforce our laws is necessary. Not once in the entire presentation, however, did Mr. Guttenberg quote any sort of statistics that related to his demands for civil change. And his demonization of the gun lobby oversimplified the reality of American gun culture.

Respect is important in political discourse, but so, too, is objectivity. In this era of subjective reality, the quality of argument and debate has been severely degraded. We must all remain aware of the importance of objective facts in political debate, and not submit to our emotions, stooping down to the level of unruly opponents.”

— Justin Lopez '19

There was no reference to the true rate of school shootings, no examination of the frequency of gun violence in gun-free zones, no real demands against specific weapons, no inspection of vast support for the National Rifle Association, and no laying out of a detailed method of enforcing the laws he wanted.

Another argument that Mr. Guttenberg used was to insist that his common-sense gun reform was “so simple.” He claimed that people who wanted to kill others should have their guns taken away. At first glance, this proposal is understandable. But this realm of policy is not simple at all. Unless Americans are supposed to support the sort of authoritarian policing on display in “Minority Report,” a dystopian sci-fi film in which rights are revoked from those predicted to commit a crime before they actually break any laws, his proposal would violate the Constitutional entitlements granted to all citizens.

The American public has a Second Amendment right to bear arms. How are the government and law enforcement supposed to decipher who wants to kill and who does not? If the nation follows this path of further government intervention, Americans will be thrust onto a slippery slope.

The original intent of the Second Amendment was not primarily to allow Americans to hunt, or even to allow for self-defense on a daily basis. The Founding Fathers, recently liberated from a repressive monarchy, feared the real threat of government tyranny and believed that once guns were confiscated from the people, they would be easily and inevitably dominated by an oppressive regime (as was later seen in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Venezuela, and Cuba, for example). Once Americans allow the government to truly and irreversibly interfere with one of our most important and sacrosanct rights to self-determination, it could dramatically impact the security of the American people.

Rights are not privileges. They are inalienable, and therefore meant to be nearly untouchable by the government. Today, the Second Amendment has been reinterpreted so many times that its vague and unspecific language has been manipulated to allow for regulation that disregards the real intent of the Founding Fathers. At the very least, this entire debate over gun control is a complex one.

Once the government can delve further into the mental health history of an individual — beyond the mental health standards of competency required by current gun laws — it is hard to draw the line according to which someone is unfit to own a firearm. Someone that is depressed at one point could be viewed by the FBI as a potential threat to the public for the rest of his or her life. It is of the utmost importance that the Second Amendment, and all other rights in this era of censorship, remain fully intact to prevent government tyranny from happening.

In an effort to understand other students’ reactions to this assembly, I asked Abby Aldrich ’20, President of Students Against Gun Violence, to offer her own views on Mr. Guttenberg’s talk.

“It was a very valuable experience,” she said. “Mr. Guttenberg has gone through immense tragedy, and it’s empowering to see that he is using his tragedy in order to better the United States and fight for gun reform. I admire his courage to fight for what he knows is right and not give up, no matter how much opposition he faces.”

While Aldrich’s opinion illustrates views of many RE students and young Americans today, Tommy Graglia ’19 held a very different perspective.

“I firmly believe that this entire presentation completely misrepresented the arguments on both sides, and Mr. Guttenberg is part of the reason it’s so hard to have a legitimate political discussion in 2019,” he said. “Possibly the worst part is the de facto silencing of opposing opinions to his presentation due to the sensitivity of the topic in his presentation. While there was time during the assembly to ask him questions, there was no real way to dispute what he said without seeming insensitive to his daughter’s death.”

When asked about how he deals with opposition, Mr. Guttenberg said that “if he was treated with respect,” he would return the courtesy. However, if not treated properly, “that’s another story.” In a democratic republic built on political discourse, it is irresponsible and even somewhat anarchic for an individual to assume, as his sole prerogative, the ability to determine what is or is not respectful — which conversations can be had and which cannot.

Respect is important in political discourse, but so, too, is objectivity.  In this era of subjective reality, the quality of argument and debate has been severely degraded. We must all remain aware of the importance of objective facts in political debate, and not submit to our emotions, stooping down to the level of unruly opponents.