Is It Ok to Use Fear to Prevent Violence?

By Michael Baker

Against my better judgment, I caught the latter half of Pierce Morgan’s interview with filmmaker Michael Moore on Tuesday night.  It was basically what you’d expect in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado massacre – Moore promoting gun control and Morgan kissing his ass.  Not that I disagree with everything Moore has to say on the gun issue, I just think it’s a much more complicated question than he and most others give it credit for.

What struck me as interesting was the way that Michael Moore would talk about his position and his desire for tougher gun laws.  A typical paraphrase of Moore’s assessment of gun owners was this: they are primarily white suburbanites who are afraid of minorities and think that they have to arm themselves for protection (on a side note, I think that’s at least somewhat accurate).  Now, here’s his basic argument for tightening up our gun laws: if we don’t want to see more Auroras or Virginia Techs or Columbines, we need tougher gun laws.

Notice anything funny about those two statements?  I do – Moore seems to be criticizing people for owning guns because they’re afraid of being victims of violence, while at the same time using people’s fear of becoming victims of violence to push for gun control.

I guess this is less a criticism of Moore than simply an observation about the fact that fear is a useful human emotion – if you’re afraid of the right things, then it will lead you to avoid stuff that could actually harm you.  In this case, fear of another situation like what we saw unfold in Colorado last week might lead us to consider changes to our gun laws.  Depending on your thoughts on the Second Amendment (and mine are already on the record here, and have not changed because of the Aurora massacre), you might think that’s a good thing.

So the question is, if it’s wrong to exploit people’s fears to get them to do the wrong thing, is it ok to exploit those same fears to get them to do the right thing?  It seems like, given the right circumstances, it would be.  But then the real question is, what’s the right thing to get people to do?  In this particular debate, I’m lost completely on that one.

In any event, I have to disagree with those who say things like “Now is not the time to discuss changes to our gun laws,” as if it would be in poor taste to talk about gun restrictions in the wake of such violence.  Personally, I can’t think of a more appropriate time to have this debate.  Of course, our Presidential candidates and others who have actual legislative power seem to have an unspoken agreement not to discuss gun control on the campaign trail; so Moore, Morgan, and the rest of us will just have to keep on shooting blanks.