I recently had the good fortune to appear on Connections with Evan Dawson from WXXI News radio out of Rochester, New York. We discussed my recent New York Times op-ed on the anti-democratic ethos behind the threats of violence that came in the wake of Beto O’Rourke’s proposal of a mandatory buyback program for certain semi-automatic assault rifles. It was a great conversation, and I encourage you to listen.
After our phone interview, Evan hosted two in-studio guests to talk about the gun-control debate. It was a model of open, civil, democratic policy discussion. As it went on, Evan mentioned as an aside (beginning about 37:35) that he had tried to get some advocates for bans on the ownership of certain guns on the show, but he wasn’t able to. Why not? Here’s what he said:
There are a lot of people on that [pro-gun control] side — maybe a dozen we talked to in the last 24, 48 hours — who decided not to come on the show because they feel like if they are seen as even having a conversation about confiscation, it will spook the gun rights side into thinking they’re all confiscationists. Couldn’t even talk about it. That’s how much heat there is about this. That’s sort of a bummer. But there’s a real fear of being painted as a certain thing or a certain way.
Bummer, indeed. When I heard this, I cringed. It works. The threats work. Here we had an exemplary policy discussion on an important public forum, yet a crucial perspective was missing from the conversation because gun control advocates sympathetic to Rep. O’Rourke’s proposal were worried that appearing on local public radio could … what? Evan was being gentle, but it sounds like the dozen or so people he asked to appear on his show were worried about becoming a target for harassment (or worse) from gun rights activist. That’s a travesty.
Forget “cancel culture.” Forget the “PC speech police.” This is indisputable speech-chilling incivility — a genuine threat to the free and open expression of political opinion that democratic policy-making requires. That’s why the kind of threats I talked about in my column really are a serious threat to our democratic freedom and cannot be tolerated in a liberal society.