Civic Reasons for Gun Safety
Most people do what they think is right, considering the world they think they live in. This seems true in many cases, and the defeat of the expansion of gun registration in the US Senate seems to be one of them. So if we want to understand these senators, we need to understand the world they think they live in, and if we think they make a mistake, then we need to understand what’s wrong with their world-view.
Whether one resists or promotes change, one usually uses one of three strategies: persuasion, incentives, or regulation. In this case, the proposed change was regulation. Good laws, however, seldom gain adherence by themselves. People need to believe they will help or perhaps that they are simply the right thing to do. With 90 percent of those polled supporting such regulation, it would appear that casting a yes vote would have been fairly simple. After all, why would one shoot down gun safety?
It turns out persuasion was not strong enough to outweigh the third strategy for maintaining or changing systems: incentives. In the world of many senators, they had nothing to gain by voting for gun safety and a lot to loose. It seems reasonable for senators not to support the legislation if the negative rating by the National Rifle Association would have a more negative impact on their political future than the positive feeling of those who support gun safety. If that was the case, then we can conclude that they operated in a political world of bargains and exchanges—a kind of commercial politics—rather than in a world of disagreement and deliberation—a civic politics.
In commercial politics, elected officials follow the preferences and interests of their constituency, and use them for determining the right position on different issues. Sounds like democracy, if one sees democracy as bargaining. What if democracy is not about the exchange of ideas, but about the generation of ideas; not about consumer preferences, but about citizen’s beliefs, not about agreeing, but rather about disagreeing, with the strongest?
When politics is based on the civic, persuasion will have more force than incentives. At the same time, as long as we stay in the world of what we have—property relations—instead of who we are—civic relations—it is doubtful if we will generate the kind of empathy and solidarity that makes persuasion persuasive in politics.