Reading Comprehension And The Fight For Gun Rights


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Reading Comprehension And The Fight For Gun Rights

Fayetteville, AR – -( Gun control advocates have an easy time arriving at their position. They see violence committed with firearms, feel an appropriate desire to reduce such incidents, and leap to the conclusion that bans or restrictions on gun ownership and use are the answer.

Note that in the above paragraph, I made a statement regarding the motivations and choices of a particular group of people—a group to which I do not belong. That would seem to be clear, but perhaps it is the relative simplicity of the sentences that allow that clarity. It seems that when I indulge in the use of dashes, however, some readers lose track of what I'm trying to say.

Consider the following: “Over and over I’ll be told that what I suggest—the above along with better access to education and healthcare, reductions in income inequality, and ending the war on drugs—are good, but we also need gun control.” This comes from my latest article on the subject of mass shootings. It should be clear that “I'll be told” implies that I am quoting the statements of others, not saying something that is my own position. But some readers apparently got the impression that I was calling for new restrictions on gun rights.

I could take this as just the all too common reality of the Internet in which many readers skim through a piece, looking for something to react to, rather than seeking to comprehend the author's points. If all we're trying to do is be argumentative, that's good enough. But if we are trying to have an honest debate, it is necessary to understand what others actually mean.

Two fallacies are prominent here. One is the straw man, a case in which one person mischaracterizes the argument of another. Not paying attention can lead to this and be the result of not caring, but in other times, a straw man is a deliberate attempt to distort an opponent's position so as to avoid having to make a valid counterargument.

The other fallacy is that of the No True Scotsman, in which a group of people is defined—often from outside—in an invalid way, and when a member of that group claims to be an exception, someone will say that no true member of the group would fail to fit the assigned definition. I have distressed several readers here by identifying with the left of American politics, and I suspect that this is what has led to the confusion. Surely no true leftist can support gun rights, a reader might argue—fallaciously.

Again, I am writing in the voice of someone else in the previous sentence.

Why does this matter? Yes, it's disappointing to find that what I thought was clear writing was misunderstood—deliberately or otherwise. But as I said above, if we want to form effective arguments, if we want to convince others to accept our positions, we have to know what exactly it is that we are arguing against. This is especially true when we are working to defend rights that many in this country would like to see curtailed.

Hitting the target is as important in language as it is in shooting, and my aim is to defend gun rights. I'll work with allies in this fight, no matter how much we may disagree on other matters.

About Greg CampGreg Camp

Greg Camp has taught English composition and literature since 1998 and is the author of six books, including a western, The Willing Spirit, and Each One, Teach One, with Ranjit Singh on gun politics in America. His books can be found on Amazon. He tweets @gregcampnc.

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