06 June 2013

Guns and Anger, Part 2

So: More on that anger (continued from Part 1).

Less than two weeks before my kids were locked inside their school during a gun threat, Sarah Palin, addressing the NRA convention in Houston, accused President Obama and other politicians of using “the politics of emotion” following the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, CT, to raise support for anti-gun violence measures. She said:

“Emotion is a good and necessary thing. Who among us didn’t feel despair, sadness, and that anger, absolute anger, after Newtown, and Columbine. We could use a bit more emotion, by the way, about what goes on every single day on the streets of cities like Chicago and New York. But here is the thing that Nancy Pelosi and Feinstein and Boxer, what those gals won’t tell you: emotion won’t make anybody safer. Emotion won’t protect the good guys’ rights. And emotion is not leadership. The politics of emotion, it’s the opposite of leadership. It’s the manipulation of the people by the politicians for their own political ends. And it’s not just self-serving, it’s destructive, and it must stop.”

I am surprised to hear that Palin now cares about what happens on the streets of Chicago and New York, and while part of me is itching to unpack the racial implications contained in that sentence (“It’s those ghetto black people who cause gun violence, not the white ‘good guys’ like us!”—sorry, just slipped out), I’m going to try to stay on task and focus on the use of the word “emotion.” Robin Abcarian noted in the L.A. Times that the NRA seemed to have highlighted the word in their talking points for the conference.

I have certainly said things in anger that I regret. For me, the image of saying something in anger brings to mind a preschooler screaming, “I hate you!” And the proper response is not to say, “What?!? How can you hate your own mother?!?” but to sigh and say, “You sound really angry.” I know as a mother that my daughter doesn’t hate me, but what she is saying isn’t exactly wrong or untrue. She just doesn’t have the words yet at age five to articulate precisely the quality and degree of her anger towards me. Instead, she uses what she has.

When I’m angry, I express my thoughts and feelings in a way that is less delicate and more barbed than I would during a time when I’m calm. (Right, honey?) Issues that I have submerged can bubble over in a torrential release of grievances. Yet the actual things I argue over are not phantom complaints: finances, inequality in housekeeping or child care, miscommunications.

And no one can argue that gun violence in the U.S. is a phantom threat.

I detect in the way the NRA and other gun enthusiasts dismiss angry, “emotional” responses to gun violence a soupçon—or a ladleful—of sexism. In her speech, Palin named Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer, but not Michael Bloomberg, and termed them “those gals.” (The best way to deflect the accusation of sexism? Have Palin deliver the message.) The words the NRA and their minions use—“emotional,” “hysteria”—are those typically deployed against women to discount or silence them. If stronger evidence is needed, any casual look at the comments to articles about Gabby Giffords will find the predictable invective: mannequin, whore, pet monkey, ugly, bitch.

Since writing my open letter on Facebook, I have joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. I can only imagine that we are exactly what the NRA expects in a gun-control organization. And yet, as advocates for universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity magazine clips, and HR 2005, which would mandate personalized technology for handguns, we are not making an emotional plea, but rather putting forth the only solutions that have been scientifically proven to work. (Of course, I could strengthen this argument if the NRA didn’t block research on gun violence.) So sure, we’re angry, but not based solely on emotions, Sarah—based on the evidence.

So, who is employing “the politics of emotion” as defined by Palin?



(Tomorrow's post will be a coda: my huntin’ cousins, political barriers to change in gun laws, and thoughts on activism.)

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