Monday, May 6, 2013

Guns: Who is in Control?

            One of the largest issues open for debate in government policy now is gun control and gun rights. Almost daily, arguments and rhetoric can be heard from both sides of the issue trying to prove what path of acting or proceeding needs to be taken in order to stop, reduce or control the amount of gun violence we have in America. Since the election of Barack Obama in November 2008 and again in 2012, right wing Republicans, the National Rifle Association and gun lobbyists have continuously spread panicked information about how this will be the final frontier for the right of Americans to keep and own guns. Wayne LaPierre is the Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association. LaPierre is in charge of the NRA’s 76 member board of directors and oversees the organization’s policy. He is considered to be an outspoken hardliner on gun control rights and is no stranger to extreme rhetoric to promote his cause according to the National Rifle Association’s own website under their title of “Who is the NRA’s Leadership?” He is the man in charge of organizing others against Democratic politicians, making contacts with the public through the use of articles, the NRA website, or appearances on television. LaPierre is the public voice being used and creating the outspoken opinion of gun freedom.

            In an article entitled “Stand and Fight” from the NRA website, Wayne LaPierre uses this persuasion for the reader in brief, clear, non-misleading language that it is time to take action in the American fight for guns. Many feel his rhetoric is extreme. However, it follows the guidelines of the plain style by using a basic approach, specifying and considering who the reader is, where it will be used, and for what reason. His audience is an identified group and his articles are clearly created for them. Because of this, he can focus on what is important for these people in this cause. He knows what to use as top information and the questions or opinions of the readers to focus on. In one way, he does not have to be inclusive to everyone because he already has his key demographic. Examples of LaPierre identifying his audience are throughout the article. He begins with the statement “Before I tell you how the NRA and our members are going to stand and fight,” immediately shows the plain style tactic of addressing the audience and inserting personal pronouns. When a personal pronoun such as “you” is used, the reader may feel he or she is being directly addressed and is then more likely to understand what their personal responsibility is to the cause. LaPierre recognizes and relates to his audience throughout his article with the words “good Americans, good citizens, decent people, law abiding Americans, fabric of America, NRA members, Army of freedom, gun owners, shooters and freedom lovers” and finishes with a call to “freedom loving NRA patriots.”

Others statements make allusions to contrast the good citizens of the NRA against the criminal element he feels the need to stand and fight against. Claims for good Americans to be ready “for lawful protection against violent criminals who prey” or the president who “flagrantly defies” construction of protective walls around the Mexican border. He also includes radical statements to contrast against the identified ideal reader so they know the importance of action. “After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia. Looters ran wild in Brooklyn. There was no food, water or electricity. And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark, or you might not get home at all.” He cries Obama is “leading” the country to financial ruin and at some point we will all be forced to either protect ourselves or pay for protection from others. Much of his article is dedicated to alarming the reader about how close we are to a full on political and cultural collapse of everything we know and as “good Americans” we must “buy firearms, anticipate a confrontation” and “withstand the siege that is coming.”

This introduces his next use of plain style rhetoric. Wayne LaPierre writes his articles with active verbs and active voice. The active voice emphasizes the doer of the action. It makes his arguments briefer, more concise, clearer and more empathetic than if it were written passively. Statements written in active voice fill his article. Some examples are “tens of millions of Americans are always preparing, prudently getting ready to protect themselves.” They are “lining up in front of gun stores, exercising their freedom” or “demonstrating they have a mass determination to buy, own and use firearms.” He contrasts these thoughts by using the active voice for the other side of the gun control argument saying “the enemies of freedom demonize gun owners and portray them as social lepers.” He states and restates the importance of acting now before the others get a chance to take away the freedom of owning a gun. He writes to his readers “We must meet that challenge,” because there is “no doubt” the federal courts will “become worse and worse” until anti-gun laws are enacted in most states helped along by “the national media, with its slanted and inaccurate “news” coverage of the gun issue.” Strong messages from the NRA continuously pour out reusing the fear that Pres. Obama will definitely take the guns away. LaPierre even feels the news coverage of the gun issue has given the gun banning groups the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars in free advertising every year.

The complexities of creating comprehensive gun control become problematic just based on the difficulty and ability to explain the many parts or aspects needed to come together in order to build a policy to be accepted by a majority of people. Building gun control becomes so entangled with the rights, opinions and culture held by Americans making new legislation would definitely need complex, official style rhetoric. It is far easier for a character such as Wayne LaPierre to make plain style arguments promoting the opinion of the NRA. This is one final aspect of plain style rhetoric. It is easy to read, arrange an argument, organize, write and design while keeping the information flowing so it can be understood by the majority of the public and easily be passed on through conversation and lifestyle. Complex words, unnecessary qualifiers, multiple negatives and ambiguous words have all been avoided in order to create information more easily accessible to all. The article “Stand and Fight” has a Flesch-Kincaid ninth-grade reading level. This reading level is low enough for the vast majority to understand the argument being presented on this website. Plain style rhetoric relies on being short, concise, well laid out and designed for consumption. It is meant to be simple and direct with the goal of straightforward delivery of this information/opinion.

Gun lobbyists dispense these easy to explain pro-gun ownership arguments in newspapers, magazines, television appearances, and on websites through the use of plain prose style rhetoric but they are simplistic, one-sided, biased and seem to solely function in the one activity systems for which they were created. There is no substance to back this particular article “Stand and Fight.” It is a persuasion editorial for the opinions of the NRA and powerful gun lobbyists. These lobbyists have enough money behind them and enough power in the government system that it would take the most apparent and extreme actions to make any changes in the legislation around gun rights. The numbers for or against gun control are difficult to interpret because there are so many different ways to question the public about their feelings. Statistics can be used on either side of the debate with both sides remaining certain the country needs either more gun freedom or incredibly strict gun control. Because the statistics and the information can so quickly become biased in one direction or another, many people find it incredibly difficult to create an idea about how to fix a problem based in the activity systems of culture, politics, money, history and an idealized American identity. Only through a calm and educated discussion of all possible gun control pros and cons could the country arrive at any sort of comprehensive conclusion as to how to proceed with legislation.

Just recently, April 17, 2013; a gun control bill was voted down by the Senate despite the fact recent tragedies had the majority of the population of the United States in favor of laws limiting clip size and calling for background checks on gun purchases. A transcript from a speech given by Pres. Obama on April 17 in the Rose Garden of the White House helps to illustrate how a minority of not only the general population, but also a minority of Senate members were able to vote against a bill so many people wanted. Within moments of beginning to speak he refers to the failed bill as “common sense gun reforms,” according to Time Magazine’s transcript titled “President Obama’s Speech on Gun Control Bill Defeat.” He goes on to speak of about how 90% of Americans are in favor of stricter gun control, especially the support of a universal background check on gun purchasers. Many Americans already thought a background check was included before purchasing a weapon. “A few minutes ago, 90% of Democrats in the Senate just voted for that idea, but it’s not going to happen because 90% of Republicans in the Senate just voted against that idea.” The bill had been drafted by a Democrat and a Republican and was created in a way so as not to infringe on the Second Amendment right, but to only extend the responsibility of a background check to all purchases. It was intended to show respect for both victims of gun violence and gun owner rights. Wayne LaPierre himself used to support background checks. However, gun control has become a strongly contested bipartisan issue. The relations between Obama and Republican politicians have created strong party lines Republican members will not cross. Obama continues his speech with great information about the bias and lies that ruin this opportunity for change.

But instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of “big brother” gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite. This legislation, in fact, outlawed any registry. Plain and simple, right there in the text. But that didn’t matter. And unfortunately, this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose, because those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners, and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators.

The culture of Americans and guns are always going to be a challenging barrier for gun control. At the end of both arguments, the decisions over what to do about gun violence may just come down to the more important idea of humanities and how we learn how to handle each other in society. One side may always feel we need more guns and the other side will remain asking for fewer weapons and more rules, but none of this will change the amount of the firearms which are already out in the general public or stop someone from acquiring the weapon they want if they are really driven. I feel the time and the money could be spent better on education and equality instead of the never ending argument over who deserves firearms and who does not. Opinions on this matter will always be difficult to change. The rhetoric used by LaPierre and the NRA only creates a perception of fear that is believed to be true without valid knowledge and consideration for the entire societal system.

Keeley McConaughey

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