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WASHINGTON — It is one of the dirty habits of our political discourse that so many people use thermonuclear rhetorical weapons as a first resort.

It is not enough for defenders of gun rights to be wrong; they must be complicit in murder. It is not enough for gun-control advocates to be mistaken; they must be jack-booted thugs laying the groundwork for tyranny.

These competing apocalypses, paradoxically, make politics appear smaller — the realm of unbalanced partisans and professional hyperventilators. But more destructively, this type of argument makes incremental change — the kind that our system of government encourages — more difficult.

This is a particular shame on the issue of gun violence. The maximal solutions — broad restrictions on gun ownership or fixing the mental-health system — are so difficult or unlikely that they have become obstacles to action. They are something like, on the issue of global warming, recommending that the earth be moved farther from the sun.

But on guns, there is hope in focus. While overall gun violence in America has gone down dramatically in the last few decades, the use of guns in suicides (constituting about two-thirds of gun-related deaths) and in mass killings have spiked. Gun use in domestic violence and gang-related activity present particular challenges. No single policy will solve all these problems. But in each discrete area, good policy would make a difference.

When it comes to mass killings, we know what the perpetrators generally look like: Disappointed loners, motivated by grudges, seeking fame and planning their violence carefully.

So here is an answerable public-policy question: What can we do to identify these dangerous malcontents and keep military-grade weaponry out of their hands? We should be considering: special police task forces that actively identify and track prospective killers instead of passively responding to warnings. Higher age restrictions on gun access. Broader application of gun-violence protective orders that forbid gun ownership to people exhibiting warning signs. Better education on those warning signs among adults who deal with young men. Media norms against using the names of mass killers, which only encourages their deadly performance art.

Surely there are other focused, proactive responses as well. Yet on the left, such ideas are sometimes dismissed as unambitious. And on the right, these proposals reveal a durable division.

When it comes to American gun culture, the issue of motivation matters a great deal. If you defend access to guns for sport and self-defense, there is no logical reason to reject reasonable restrictions on firepower and access. Some compromise — focused on keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous and unstable people — is within the realm of possibility. But if you view the ultimate purpose of gun ownership as resistance to a future (or present) tyrannical government, then restrictions on firepower and access are exactly the things a tyrannical government would want. Since the goal of an oppressive state is to have a monopoly on sophisticated weaponry, any incremental movement toward that goal is unacceptable.

This argument — summarized by David French as “the concept of an armed citizenry as a final, emergency bulwark against tyranny” — is perhaps understandable in a country born of revolutionary violence. But more than two centuries removed from the revolution, the concept seems, well, frightening.

When I look at many of the people holding the guns, I don’t really view them as legitimate protectors of my rights, or as qualified to make choices about the employment of violence in politics. I don’t view America as halfway to tyranny. And I am grateful that Americans such as Martin Luther King Jr. — who suffered actual oppression by government — made a principled commitment to nonviolent political change.

It is one thing when Thomas Jefferson said “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” It is another thing entirely when your well-armed neighbor says the same.

I have no idea how much this attitude infects the right. But the fever can be measured in talk of a “deep state” coup against the president, in sympathy for Cliven Bundy in his armed standoff with federal agents, in support of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott when he ordered the State Guard to monitor the Jade Helm Navy SEAL/Green Beret joint training exercise. All destructive madness.

It is not just apocalyptic language but apocalyptic thinking that paralyzes our political system on gun violence. And it is difficult to see how incremental progress can be made unless that mindset is marginalized.

Michael Gerson’s email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

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(23) comments

Cassandra2

Chippy needs to be swatted.

Buggs Raplin

Unfortunately you're not capable of doing the swatting.

awol2009

More conspiracy mania from Buggs, who was never taught the moral code and values found in Aesop's Fables. "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", in this case, "The Batshi+ Crazy Buggs Raplin Who Cries Conspiracy", regardless of the truth, and just does it for attention. Oh my, such a"shock and awe" fantasyland you live in, Buggs. Truly certifiable. Our 2nd Amendment was written in the time of single shot muskets for each state to have a well regulated militia ( original Sentry's of our National Guard). A well regulated militia doesn't murder our law-abiding citizenry in our churches, schools, or public plazas. You want to exercise your 2nd Amendment Rights? Go get a single load musket, some gunpowder, melt some lead for bullets and there you go. Our forefathers must be rolling in their graves at how the NRA and alt-Right has taken our 2ndAmmendment and perversely bastardized it. A civilized society doesn't allow crazed maniacs access to weaponry of mass murder to continue year after year. Something has to change.

Buggs Raplin

The 2nd Amendment is there to protect us from government tyranny.

Cassandra2

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Tell us, Chippy, where it says anything in there about government tyranny.

Cassandra2

Crickets, as expected. Chip DeNure is a pathetic loser.

awol2009

Buggs proves once again his paranoid, delusional conspiracy diatribes. Attacking the Tribune for intentionally taking down a column because he commented on it....... SUCH a conspiracy!!!! The truth is, Buggs, you are technically (and mentally) challenged with web-based news services. They did not remove Jerome's column. It is still there, as is every other article or column ever posted on their web site as it is archived. The pages are refreshed daily, hourly, even by the minute,to make room for the latest breaking news. I just found your article. It is not a conspiracy, as you daily accuse them of in some comment section. I'm surprised they haven't banned you for your daily defamation or at least tried to offer you some help to find the "article SEARCH" feature at the top of their page. Your daily "bith" against them is laughable as you continue to make a fool of yourself. Maybe the webmasters get their daily chuckles off your conspiracy rants. I don't know, but you're really out of touch with reality, man, almost certifiable.
Here's your article: Jerome Christenson: We know the common denominator http://lacrossetribune.com/news/local/article_be02e6a9-ebf7-51b3-8927-8d1ff9c56da3.html
Geeze Buggs, get some mental health care or at least some computer literacy help from someone.

Buggs Raplin

The Tribune took Jerome's column off screen because of my comment on it. Yes, it's still there in the ether, but it's off screen as the Tribune desired to hide the truth.. Parkland was a false flag attack with multiple gunmen according to eyewitnesses. Cruz- FBI knew wanted to be a school shooter.-Yet there were no FBI investigations of this young man. None. The FBI could care less, it seems. And you cannot chalk it up to incompetence on the part of the FBI. You don't get to be an FBI agent as an incompetent. This was a false flag with FBI compliance to blame the NRA and destroy our 2nd amendment to leave the people defenseless when the chaos of the coming economic collapse occurs. And it is coming. It is coming-an economic collapse that will shake the foundations of this country much worse than 1929. Much worse. That's the impetus for gum control. They want us defenseless, without weapons like the AR-15, when that happens. That's the reason for government black ops, like Newtown, the Batman theater killings, and the Boston Marathon false flag. And Parkland. The evidence is there, but the corrupt mainstream media won't report it. I understand why. It would disturb the official narratives if all the false flags, and would lead people to the truth-something feared by the propaganda media.-Chip DeNure

Buggs Raplin

A false flag; multiple gunmen, the FBI doing nothing; the sheriff's department standing down; a false flag

Cassandra2

Everybody in the world is wrong and only Chippy is right. Everybody's out to get Chippy. That's the sum of Chip DeNure's entire political philosophy. What a pathetic loser.

Cassandra2

Gee, the Tribune doesn't have news of Trump's inauguration on the front page any more. It must be a conspiracy. Chippy is a pathetic loser.

Buggs Raplin

The Tribune's gullible liberal columnist Jerome Christensen writes a column today favoring gun control. I attack it immediately on-line and the Tribune then takes it off screen. Hey, Jerome, must be nice to have your stupidity and ignorance so easily done away with on-line. But then you've been a faithful employee in the propaganda system known as the mainstream media. Yeah, enjoy your retirement, but know you've contributed very little to the truth in your columns over the years..-Chip DeNure aka Buggs Raplin

Buggs Raplin

I see the Tribune took Jerome's column off screen after I commented on it early this morning. It's not up as I type this.The Tribune? Just a propaganda cog trying to protect the official version of this tragedy, which is in tatters. Only a fool would believe it.-Chip DeNure

johnnybragatti

too funny,
and how you can"t fix stupidity,
when teamed with dementia and Alhzeimers.
Bugs is good for a laugh !!!
Must be a drag?

Buggs Raplin

No coherence at all, johnny; even oldhomey won't defend your stuff. And that says a lot.

Buggs Raplin

If you go by the evidence and the circumstances, Parkland was a false flag designed to demonize the NRA, guns, and destroy the 2nd Amendment. If you want to assign blame, at least in terms of the official fantasy version, which does not include credible reports of multiple gunmen, the blame goes directly to the FBI. Tell me, Mr. Gerson, why wasn't there any FBI investigation whatsoever of a young man saying on social media that he desired to become a school shooter?

PhysicsIsFun

The fact that the Tribune hasn't blocked the garbage that you post on here on a nearly daily basis is testament to their belief in free speech. If I owned the paper I would have blocked your use of these comments long ago. Not because they threaten me, or I feel challenged, but because they give some credence to fringe ridiculous ideas. You just might inflame some other lunatic to do some overtly violent act. If you have half a brain (which I doubt) you should just shut up, but self awareness is not part of your forte. You will keep quoting Alex Jones, Jeff Rense, Mike Adams, and other conspiracy nut cases until the day you drop. Your credibility is in the toilet with reasonable people. All you do is stir up others who lack a grip on reality.

Buggs Raplin

Spoken like a true advocate of the propaganda system known as the mainstream media, where factual evidence plays no role, but illusions are paramount.

PhysicsIsFun

The very last person to know that they are crazy is the crazy person themselves. You need help. Get some, before something unforeseen happens.

Cassandra2

Chippy gets sucked into supporting the "propaganda system known as the mainstream media" every single day. They reap a financial benefit every time he clicks on a page. And yet he'll continue to play the martyr and rage against the machine that is clearly out to get him. What a pathetic loser.

kingman10

couldn't of said it better myself. Give it up buggs!

Cassandra2

Chip DeNure, please provide a SINGLE link to prove your ridiculous and dangerous theory. We're still waiting for you to provide links to support your outrageous claim about the Vegas Strip being "raked by gunfire."
You are a liar and a fraud and are a danger to civil society. You should be in a mental institution.

kingman10

funny how crank and holmenpackerfan sit still while their pal buggs posts more inflammatory rhetoric than anyone. Nary a peep out of them to call their fellow conservative to task. I guess its alright as long as you are on the right side of the isle, you can say anything crazy and wacko. But heaven help you if you are on the other side of the isle. Then they jump up and yell the sky is falling when they disagree with a progressive's post. And they think I'm inflammatory!

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