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Gun Debate Incivility: No Excuse for Heckling Victims’ Families

Posted on the 29 January 2013 by Kzawadzki @kzawadzki

Gun debate incivility: No excuse for heckling victims’ families

The gun debate continues this week, and sure enough, some gun nuts just could not restrain themselves as hearings began in Connecticut over possible gun violence prevention and control measures. Families of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre were present to testify. Other residents of the small town of Newtown, Conn., were also on-hand to present, on either side of the gun debate.

Now, it’s one thing to applaud when one of your fellow advocates is done speaking and had a particularly strong point. That’s probably going to happen regardless and there’s nothing heinous about it.

But applause is different from heckling. And it’s very much different when the heckler stands to interrupt the grieving father of a slain 6-year-old boy during his time to speak.

According to the Connecticut Post, several gun rights advocates interrupted the testimony of Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse was among those killed in December, shouting “The Second Amendment!”

Frankly, it’s a very tired, old battle cry, and one that is not actually incompatible with reasonable gun control, anyway – but that’s beside the point. The man they were interrupting was discussing the loss of his son. Heslin’s cardinal sin, in these people’s eyes, was that he was questioning the sale of assault weapons like that used in the Sandy Hook shooting, and saying that things must change to prevent a repetition of such a tragedy.

A reasonable plea, reasonable questions – but not to gun nuts, and certainly not to the hecklers that felt it was right to try to silence anyone who disagreed with them by shouting them down. Ironically, perhaps, somewhat violating their First Amendment right to be able to speak up and have their say, too, even if it is in favor of gun control.

Note that when Mark Mattioli, who also lost a child, spoke (video link below) against further gun control and in favor of enforcing existing laws giving his tearful testimony, there was no heckling. Both spoke passionately and with the shared experience of that same heartbreak. But the one that didn’t speak in favor of more gun control laws got to say his piece without interruption, the one who suggested support of new laws got shouted at.

I don’t care what side you’re on in this gun debate. I don’t care if you believe the Second Amendment means that everyone should be able to own whatever weapon they find, or if you believe that there are limitations that are implied by that document. I don’t care if you’re a responsible, reasonable, sane and law-abiding gun owner or if you abhor the very thought of a gun. There is no excuse for behaving this way and trying to shout down the grieving families as they are given their time to speak up.

It’s disgusting and those hecklers should be ashamed of themselves.

Quite frankly, the National Rifle Association does not help matters. Rather than put its money where its mouth is and try to engage in dialogue to sort these tough matters out, the NRA has eschewed all reason and only encouraged gun extremists. It’s one thing for there to be radical morons on Twitter – but the NRA has actively embraced paranoia, fear and extremism and has engaged in the same vile behavior.

Thus, if the gun debate is a morality play, it’s the NRA and the gun extremists it endorses and validates that step up and volunteer to play the treacherous villain. Yes, that’s right, I said it. These people actively choose to act like borderline-insane assholes. And then they have the audacity to assume the victim role and snipe at alleged liberal media bias and slander by gun control advocates.

No, trust me, the gun nuts are doing a fine job making the whole gun lobby look bad – no help needed from anyone else. They are also doing the many reasonable, responsible gun owners and enthusiasts a huge disservice by behaving this way.

On the one hand, that’s because the more radical you are, the louder you’ll shout – and the sane people know they won’t get through to these clowns, anyway. But on the other hand, while I’ve seen those truly responsible and sane gun owners criticize and counter gun control proponents with relative easy, it’s a lot harder to find them criticizing the extremist whack-jobs in their own lobby.

To these moderates who ignore the excesses of their own side, I have a suggestion: clean the mess in your own house before you start picking apart someone else’s. It’s not enough to simply say “I don’t like being compared to extremists or racists, etc.” if you haven’t bothered to distance yourself from some of the statements made and actions taken by the radicals in your lobby.

To the extremists, I have a simple request: Stop being so crazy. Or, if you can’t do that, dispense with the bullshit of crying foul when someone dares call you out for it. Take responsibility for your own words, actions and behavior. If you choose to act like you have no decency, own it – and be ready to take responsibility for it and not be outraged when someone sees you for what you are.

And letting people speak, especially those grieving for their families, no matter what side of the debate they favor, without heckling or interrupting them is just a bare minimum of what should be expected of anyone. It’s the least the people at this hearing could do. That some of them couldn’t even manage that base level of respect and civility speaks volumes.


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