Difficulty of Starting a Gun Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

However, this is a common, recurrent theme that has been injected into the public sphere by private interests. As a result, it dominates a substantial amount of discourse in the public sphere, and even people like Griffin and Rostron, who believe that it is demoralizing and misleading and state those beliefs publicly, have had little success in challenging this misconception. Therefore, to have a real gun control debate in the public sphere, it is necessary to investigate whether proposed gun control laws would have had an impact on some of these crimes. In the instances of these massacre-shootings, over and over again it appears that the gunmen purchased their weapons and ammunition legally, rather than going to illegal sources for their weapons. They were not prevented from doing so by current gun-laws, but many of them had behavioral flags that may have led to gun-restrictions under more exacting laws. For example, several of the recent massacre-type gunmen had diagnosed and identifiable mental problems. A gun control law that required the removal of all weapons from a household pending a dispositional hearing once a person was diagnosed with a mental disorder that is linked with violence may have helped prevent those massacres. Injecting this idea into the public sphere and allowing real debate about its efficacy, rather than simply opting the idea that these massacres are unavoidable, would be one way to encourage gun control debate.

In fact, while ideas should not be policed in the public sphere, it would be beneficial if people were more discerning about the origination of ideas and gave more critical thought to the norms and theories that they espouse. This is general critique of the private sphere influence on the public sphere, but it is also a critique on the impact of the public authority on the public sphere. In many ways, policy-making is a top-down process. While the entire private sphere may have an opinion about a particular issue, only certain members will make the move to place their thoughts into the public sphere. This results in a very limited area of policy making, often referred to as the iron-triangle model. "In the iron-triangle model of policy-making, a close relationship exists among congressional committees, executive-branch agencies, and the interest groups in their policy sphere. This relationship tends to be mutually supportive when the executive agency is charged with distributing federal largesse. On the other hand, when the agency is charged with oversight and regulation, interest groups tend to try to co-opt the agency" (Goss, 2006). Therefore, when considering legislation and policies, those in authority are more influenced by the extremist special-interest groups than by the opinions of the majority of the private sphere, who have allowed the extremes to co-opt their voices in the public sphere.

However, the fact that public sphere debate is dominated by a small portion of the private sphere does not mean that the public sphere has failed or that it is no longer capable of mediating between the private sphere and public authority. Social media is having a dramatic impact on how individuals in the private sphere can make their voices known in the public sphere. Social media has been used several times, for example, throughout much of the Middle East during the Arab Spring, to organize people to confront corrupt governments. "As the communications landscape gets denser, more complex, and more participatory, the networked population is gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action" (Shirky, 2011). Therefore, the very fact that there are large social media sites, such as Facebook, where people can go to share their ideas in a public forum emphasizes the power of the public sphere. Facebook is not the only social media tool that provides a way of networking with large groups of people. The political action group MoveOn.org communicates using social media and has become a major player in policy formation, acting as a public sphere agent to bring the voices of unheard millions to those in authority.

While it is impossible to know how much power the public has gained through social media, anyone on a social media site has almost certainly witnessed the viral way that messages can spread on those websites. For example, when it was uncovered that Chick-Fil -- a restaurant was not only donating money to groups that opposed gay marriage in the United States, but had also contributed to groups advocating for the criminalization of homosexuality in other countries, the public discourse on Facebook was extreme. This discussion was only the first step in making a change. People took what they learned from the public sphere of debate and then used their buying power, which is the authority they have as members of the private sphere, to let the corporation know what they thought of their policies. After initial recalcitrance, eventually, this led to a change in the company's policies about which charities it chooses to support, though it did not lead the company to back away from its opposition to same-sex marriage.

Looking at how the gun control debate is framed in the modern public sphere, it may seem as if true debate is impossible. After all, it appears that those who are speaking out about gun control are coming from one of two fairly entrenched positions, which are oftentimes based in misinformation. While those private sphere organizations that oppose gun control intentionally promote misunderstanding of the Second Amendment's historic constitutional interpretation, those private sphere organizations that promote gun control promote the idea that a ban on assault weapons would lead to a significant reduction in gun violence, when statistics simply fail to support that assertion. Therefore, some might suggest that social media does not help encourage debate in the public sphere, but simply serves as a means for private actors to distribute propaganda. In some ways that is true. However, "the more promising way to think about social media is as long-term tools that can strengthen civil society and the public sphere. In contrast to the instrumental view of Internet freedom, this can be called the 'environmental' view. According to this conception, positive changes in the life of a country, including pro-democratic regime change, follow, rather than precede, the development of a strong public sphere" (Shirky, 2011). Building on this thought, one would anticipate that logical, reasoned debate about gun control in the public sphere would follow the development of a public sphere that discusses gun control.


In fact, if one looks carefully, one can see that this is already beginning to occur. While some people are simply sharing memes that they find in other locations, many people on social media sites are beginning to discuss what these memes mean. Instead of simply "liking" or "ignoring" what people have to say about the gun control issue, a growing number of people are challenging the misconceptions that fuel arguments on both sides of the aisle. At this point in time, these are small conversations. They do not form the majority of what is being said about gun control. Instead, the mainstream gun control debate continues to be dominated by talking points from either side. However, these smaller conversations are occurring in the public sphere, and they are taking up more room in the public sphere, pushing aside some of the more entrenched views. As a result, when asked to contemplate what it would take to start a debate about gun control in the public sphere in modern America, this author would have to reply, "We already have."


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