We are being conquered. The foundational safeguards that maintain our nation’s liberty are being chipped away by an evil force, and this evil now has the United States’ final defense against tyranny in its sights…
Gun debates are blazing the internet. On one side are the gun-grabbing zealots who want to ban everything that offends them. On the other side are the monsters who don’t care about dead children.
These caricatures don’t describe most people in reality, but this is the gun debate we’re having. We’re not having it with each other—we’re having it about each other, and these straw monsters have us so distracted that all of our political efforts are canceled out against each other. We have lost the power to impose pressure on authority through public discourse and an informed citizenry.
It’s rare to find an American who favors the direction our country is headed, but we aren’t addressing the issues we have the power to solve. Instead we debate the things we can’t agree on. Gun regulations are kept at bay by the NRA’s campaign contributions, but election campaign finance reform is not discussed. Our common problem remains shrouded behind the problems that cause more resistance, and thus more engagement.
Maybe you agree, and you’re saying, “Yes, our country’s being destroyed… by the Russians,” or the “multinational corporations,” or “multicultural Marxists,” or the Kochs or Soros or Trump or the alt-right, or anti-fascists. Instead, let me suggest a villain whose invisible hand has played us against each other since the dawn of civilization: our own brains.
When we receive information, we choose how to interpret it based on a series of shortcuts or cognitive biases. If it coincides with our pre-existing beliefs, it gets to bypass our rational mind and go straight to imprinting itself into our belief systems, and we even get a dopamine reward from the striatum, like a drug. On a compulsive level, our brains are built to cherry-pick information that confirms our beliefs.
If the information challenges our pre-existing beliefs, and pushes us to change our views, then we get the backfire effect. Our beliefs are still reinforced, but now to withstand a perceived attack. The resulting feeling is negative, like an injury. This is because changing our beliefs can also change our social standing. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s more important to have a popular view than a true or logical one.
These biases are inescapable. No amount of intelligence or self-awareness has any effect. Simply put, we can’t hold out hope to change each other’s minds. But we can reframe the conversation onto our common cause.
I know guns don’t just get up and kill people on their own, but they also don’t get up and save a democracy on their own, so if you think we need to protect democracy, how do I convince you to start?
I don’t want the government to have a monopoly on force either, but from experience, I can say it’s pretty hard to convince your city council the police don’t need a tank when they can show you dozens of incidents where it would have saved lives. Besides, apparently it’s just as easy to get guns on the black market, or were these patriots planning to pull off an armed resistance in a law-abiding fashion?
Wherever resistance to tyranny has been successful, it’s due to the mobilization of the masses. Freedom is never granted through the compassion of the powerful. It’s achieved and sustained through a united people, and through our division, it is destroyed.
That’s why I’m not talking about gun control, because if you don’t get it by now, you’re not going to. We have debated the issue and watched it go nowhere, and each time the clock continued to tick to the next mass murder.
Over and over again, we did what the gun rights advocates suggested. We filled our schools with cops and dug a deeper path for the prison pipeline. We armed our teachers and discovered they just meant the white teachers. We started after school programs and outreach programs, we volunteered, we became activists and advocates. Everybody is trying really hard to solve society’s deeper problems.
We tried it their way, now we do it our way.
We can’t win with facts. Common sense gun regulations will not pass if they depend on our ability to convince gun rights advocates to get on board. We can’t win over the opposition, but we can circumvent them. We can even invite them to join the fight against campaign finance reform. Let’s prove we don’t need guns to defend democracy by overcoming the NRA’s corrosive effect on our government through popular resistance.
But popular resistance is more than showing off our popular opinion. The NRA reminded us the value of popular opinion in today’s America when FCC chairman Ajit Pai was given the Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire award at the Conservative Political Action Conference for defying the opinion of the vast majority of Americans and repealing net neutrality.
The NRA has sent the message that if we want our voice to matter, we need to back it with action. Gun rights advocates would have you believe that only the threat of a violent uprising is that action.Let’s show them where our power really lies. Let’s start by taking down the NRA. Let’s start at the March for Our Lives on March 24. Let’s start there, but let’s not finish there.