In advance of Joe Scarborough’s prime-time MSNBC interview with former president Bill Clinton, the network has released a snippet of the conversation focusing on violent crime and gun control that features Clinton’s attempt to “solve” the gun control debate.
The former president’s main takeaway is that constituents and voters on both sides of the argument need to talk to each other to find common ground at the polls: “Neighbors have to talk to neighbors,” Clinton said.
“A big problem with gun owners is they say, ‘Well, you know, what these people wanna do sounds reasonable, but it’s a slippery slope. How do I know what will be limited?’ And I argue that we outta just put it all up for referendums, let people vote on it,” Clinton said, citing some of the pro-choice successes seen in Michigan and elsewhere after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. “Then neighbors have to talk to neighbors, they have to treat each other like people.”
I honestly haven’t heard many gun owners worry about a slippery slope these days; not when Democrats are advancing bills that criminalize the ownership of the most commonly-sold rifles in the country, jacking up the cost of obtaining a concealed carry license and imposing a host of “sensitive places” where carrying is a crime, and are openly admitting they want to keep residents in high-crime cities from being able to defend themselves and their families. The slippery slope is already here.
And what about gun control advocates? Do they not need to treat gun owners as people? This is, after all, the same group that routinely declares that we care more about our firearms than our children; even those who will forever grieve the murder of one of their own kids. The dehumanization and demonization of Second Amendment supporters by anti-gun activists is one of their most important tactics, especially given their inability to pass a gun ban at the federal level and the defeats they’ve suffered in the judicial system.
But the former president added that he also sees room for improvement on his side of the aisle; those for and against gun reform aren’t seeing each other as part of the same fight.
“On my side, there are too many people who favor a lot of these gun measures who don’t know any of these country people and they don’t understand that, you know, most of ‘em you would be glad to have as neighbors if your house caught on fire because they’d come over, take your kids to safety and come back and help you put the fire out,” Clinton said. “But this whole thing has come to stand for something that’s not what it’s about. It’s crazy. And we need to start asking each other for help on this.”
You’ve gotta be kidding me.
I don’t disagree with Clinton’s description of gun-owning “country people” as salt-of-the-earth types who’ll gladly lend a hand in times of trouble. As a former suburbanite who moved to the country a decade ago, I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of that kind of support. It’s what being a good neighbor is all about.
But gun ownership isn’t confined to “country people” in the United States. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll, while gun ownership may be more prevalent in rural areas, there are plenty of suburban residents and city dwellers exercising their Second Amendment rights.
Across all regions, gun ownership varies considerably between those who live in rural and urban areas, with rural dwellers far more likely than those who live in urban areas to say they own a gun. Overall, 46% of Americans who live in rural parts of the country own a gun, compared with 28% of those who live in the suburbs and 19% of those in urban areas.
The number of urban and suburban gun owners has only gone up since then, especially with the Great Gun Run of 2020 adding millions of new gun owners across the country. It sounds to me like he needs to get out of his own bubble and start talking to some folks himself, because he’s completely out of touch with who gun owners are. Yes, there are still plenty of big-bearded guys wearing ballcaps living out in the sticks who are staunch supporters of our right to keep and bear arms, but we’re not the only ones exercising our Second Amendment rights or advocating for them.
As for Clinton’s broader belief that there’s common ground to be found on “gun reform” if we just need to talk to one another, the former president is ignoring the fact that the gun control lobby’s ultimate aims are antithetical to those of Second Amendment supporters. Yes, both sides may want a safer society, but we have fundamental disagreements about how to get there. The gun control lobby’s fundamental premise is that more guns equals more crime, so we must substantially reduce the number of firearms, even those possessed by peaceable people.
I’m happy to talk with any gun control activist who’ll sit down for a conversation with me, but I’m never going to buy in to their belief system. We live in a country with 400-million firearms, 100-million gun owners, and the constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms. A supply-side “solution” that requires us to give up our guns (or have them taken from us) is going to create far more problems than it will solve, and honestly would rip this country apart at the seams. Reducing the demand for firearms among those who use them for nefarious or criminal purposes is a more realistic approach that not only respects our right to keep and bear arms but actually delivers results. From focused deterrence tactics to violence intervention programs like Operation Ceasefire, there are plenty of substantive steps that we can take that will be far more effective than criminalizing a fundamental right exercised by a healthy portion of the population.
Sitting down and talking with those we disagree with isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not going to be as productive as Clinton thinks it is. Both sides may want a safer society, but as long as one side believes the only way to get their is to eradicate the Second Amendment as we know it then there’s not much common ground to be found.