How Pro-Choice Activists Are Like Pro-Gun Activists, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A few readers flip the analogy around:

To this conversation I would also offer the corollary: Pro-Life Activists are very much like Gun Control Activists. As Jim Elliott correctly notes, with both issues you have camps opposed on first principles. In both cases you have camps that are unable to accomplish outright bans, due to a combination of constitutional barriers and public opposition.

Most regulations on abortion are arbitrary, simply meant to make the process as onerous as possible. Requiring abortion clinics to have admitting privileges is not meant to enhance patient safety. Mandatory ultrasounds, including those of the highly invasive trans-vaginal sort, are not intended to provide the doctor or the patient with important medical information. Since bans are presently not feasible, anti-abortion activists will take any restrictions they can get.

Much is the same with most gun control proposals. Proposals to ban so-called “assault weapons” are perhaps the best example of this. It is essentially the “partial birth abortion” of the gun control world.

They rely predominantly on public confusion and disgust to pass, even though they make no practical difference. But any ban, no matter how pointless or incremental, is welcomed.

Stuck in the middle all of this is the American public. People desperately want to believe that there is a way to preserve a broad 2nd Amendment right to gun ownership, while keeping the guns away from the bad people.  The two goals are almost certainly mutually exclusive, so what we end up with is a bunch of meaningless tinkering around the edges.

By “no practical difference,” our reader likely means that the percentage of homicides from assault weapons is very small—less than 3 percent—similar to the percentage of abortions that are “partial birth”—about 0.02 percent. (Those percentages translate to 322 deaths in 2012 from any kind of rifle, and about 2,600 deaths in 2006 from “partial birth abortion.”) Here’s Lois Beckett on the “assault weapon myth”:

In a poll [in December 2014], 59 percent of likely voters said they favor a ban. But in the 10 years since the previous [assault weapons] ban lapsed, even gun control advocates acknowledge a larger truth: The law that barred the sale of assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 made little difference. It turns out that big, scary military rifles don’t kill the vast majority of the 11,000 Americans murdered with guns each year. Little handguns do.

Another reader, like the one above, illustrates “How Pro-Life Activists Are Like Gun Control Activists”:

1. They seem to think degrading their opponents help their cause.

When a Pro-Life activist refers to a scared, young woman seeking an abortion as a “whore,” “slut,” or “baby-killer,” most people, even those who may hold a more moderate Pro-Life views, will be repulsed.  Said scared young woman is unlikely to be deterred; she will just become resentful towards those who verbally abused her, and this will probably drive her to resist their cause even more than she would have otherwise.

Gun Control activists do the same thing. “Ammosexual.” “Arsenalists and ‘tactical’ fetishists.” “Domestic Terrorist.” While most people would agree these terms are not nearly as harsh as the ones above, it is pretty clear that anyone who uses these terms hates the people who own firearms (or at least the “wrong” kind of firearms), and takes a certain amount of glee in denigrating them. This name-calling will make someone who values their right to own a firearm wary of anything a Gun Control advocate proposes, regardless of how reasonable it may be. In both cases, the insult says more about the one issuing it than the one receiving it.

2. The Constitution guarantees a right they don’t like, so they make it as difficult as possible to exercise that right.

Roe v. Wade established the right to an abortion. D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago confirmed the 2nd Amendment applied on an individual basis. Overturning either would require a Constitutional amendment that will not pass in the foreseeable future, so the tactic is to make exercising these rights as difficult as possible. From overly complicated requirements to get an abortion, to “may issue” concealed carry laws that require political connections to get a concealed carry license, both sides pass laws that do whatever they can to infringe upon rights they don’t agree with.

3. They sound like idiots to their opponents

As someone who leans conservative, I cringe a little bit whenever a geriatric Republican man starts talking about abortion, or women’s health in general.  I either laugh or shake my head in disbelief whenever a Gun Control activist starts talking.  From little things like misusing “bullets” and “clips” (when they really mean “cartridges” and “magazines”), to the now classic “the shoulder thing that goes up [see the embedded video above],” it’s hard to take someone seriously who clearly knows nothing about what they’re talking about.

4. Getting what they want will make the problem worse

If Pro-Life activists get what they want, women will go back to coat-hangers in back alleys. If Gun Control activists get what they want (and most of the more prominent activists want a complete ban, even if they do everything they can not to say it), the only people who will be disarmed are the ones you didn’t have to worry about in the first place. Both will create unfavorable situations.

5. They aren’t as popular as their opponents.

Two of the most popular organizations in the United States: Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association.

The email address is hello@theatlantic.com if you wanna join in.