Spencer and Nugent: Peas of a Pod

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Spencer and Nugent: Peas of a Pod

by Ari Armstrong, April 21, 2005

Jim Spencer's columns usually aren't very good, but nevertheless he has found something worthy to complain about. However, he botched the complaint, as he seems unable to grasp what constitutes a logical argument or relevant evidence.

As an advocate of the right to own a gun, I am irritated that the NRA handed to my intellectual adversaries juicy material that totally misrepresents the typical gun owner and the arguments in favor of gun ownership. The problem is that the NRA invited Ted Nugent to address its convention. The reason for the invitation is obvious: Nugent is a famous rock star, and, well, it's cool to hang out with famous rock stars. I understand that, but, given Nugent's flamboyant manner and history of over-the-top rhetoric, the NRA should have invited Nugent for all the rocking but not the talking. (Nugent is a member of the NRA Board of Directors, but surely his fellow board members could have encouraged him not to speak.)

Once in a while, Nugent has something interesting to say. For instance, he appeared on an episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit, and for the most part he sounded sane. But that has not always been the case. In 2003, Nugent appeared on the local Lewis and Floorwax show. Westword describes, "After tossing out the words 'Japs' and 'gooks' in reference to guitars manufactured in Japan, Nugent 'told us a story where he used the N-word probably three or four times,' Lewis says. 'He was trying to prove a point... The story he told was about someone telling him he played guitar like a black guy -- except he used the N-word'..." Westword reports that Nugent also said of Hillary Clinton, "The bitch is nothing but a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro." Finally, Westword reports, Nugent said, "Should a kid going to a Grateful Dead concert who's caught with sugar-cube-encrusted LSD go to prison for life with no parole? Of course not. But should that guy get caned? Yeah. And should he go to prison in an overcrowded cell where a huge, unclean black man will fuck him in the ass every night? Yeah." That last comment is particularly disgusting, especially considering that Nugent purports to respect the Second Amendment but apparently has little interest in other articles of the Bill of Rights.

So it should have come as no surprise to the NRA when Nugent said at the NRA's convention, "Remember the Alamo! Shoot 'em! To show you how radical I am, I want carjackers dead. I want rapists dead. I want burglars dead. I want child molesters dead. I want the bad guys dead. No court case. No parole. No early release. I want 'em dead. Get a gun, and when they attack you, shoot 'em."

If anything is stupider than the NRA inviting Nugent to speak at its convention, it's disarmament activists treating Nugent's comments as though they should be taken seriously. Which brings us to Spencer's April 20 column for the Denver Post. Those who pick out Nugent's comments attack a straw man, but the NRA gift-wrapped the bails and twine.

I've already explained why both Nugent and his anti-gun critics are wrong in a lengthy treatment of the issue and a description of defensive gun use. Defensive gun use almost always entails brandishing a gun only, not firing it. You can't legally shoot somebody who has surrendered. In the minority of cases that a gun used in self-defense is fired, the shot rarely kills the attacker. Nugent might be excused from knowing the facts, because, in Spencer's words, he is merely a "violence-mongering simpleton" and a "burned-out rocker and gun nut." So what's Spencer's excuse for not researching the facts?

Firing a gun at an attacker is properly a last resort only when one's life is in danger. If Spencer would bother to learn what the hell he's talking about, he would discover that NRA-affiliated gun classes (I'm judging by the one in Grand Junction, with which I'm familiar) advise people to surrender their property if possible rather than get into a violent confrontation. Now, there is a grain of truth in Nugent's rantings: if a criminal is physically attacking you, and you cannot escape, then you have a right, and I believe a moral responsibility, to use reasonable force to stop the attack. But you can't, morally or legally, shoot a guy on the street, say, a petty thief, who poses no immediate physical threat. What struck me about the NRA course is that much of its focus is on how not to use a gun: the course advises people in detail about ways to behave intelligently such as to reduce the likelihood of violent confrontation.

Indeed, the NRA's The Basics of Personal Protection includes an entire section titled, "Avoiding criminal attack." Another section states, "The use of a firearm is not the only or final means of self-protection, but if a gun must be used, the armed citizen should understand the ramifications of using a firearm before, during and after the confrontation. The criterion for self-defense and use of deadly force is to employ that amount of force necessary to meet and overcome the force being used against you. Your goal is to stop and control a life-threatening situation." The NRA's book continues, "Hopefully, you will never face a life-threatening situation wherein you are forced to make the 'ultimate decision.' If an attacker, heedless of your warnings that the police are coming and that you are armed, enters the room and presents a reasonable threat of deadly danger to you or your family, you will be in such a situation."

That's hardly the sort of inflamed rhetoric that Nugent offered, and that the media jumped all over, is it? But Spencer doesn't care about what the NRA actually teaches in its courses: he cares only about sensationalizing the debate and casting his opponents as demons (though, again, the NRA made it all too easy for him by inviting Nugent).

Spencer describes a women who "ended up in serious condition at Denver Health Medical Center on Saturday. She arrived after one man pulled a gun and opened fire on another who supposedly tried to steal his motorcycle. The alleged thief pulled his own piece and shot back, police say. The combatants fired a total of seven shots. None hit their intended targets. Instead, a slug slammed into Moreno's neck and put the lie to Nugent's rant."

I do not know the specifics of that shooting. If the first party seriously thought he was in mortal danger, then his shots might have been warranted. (Spencer does not indicate, and I do not know, which shooter was responsible for injuring the bystander.) However, if the first party merely saw the criminal try to steal the motorcycle, and there was never any risk of bodily injury, then the shots probably weren't justified. Indeed, the shots by both parties may have been criminal and/or actionable in the civil courts. (In Colorado, it's illegal to carry a concealed gun without a permit, though again the details of this case are unknown.) It depends on the specifics of the case, and it's a matter for prosecutors and the courts to work out.

Without any evidence, Spencer claims that Nugent "told a cheering assembly at the National Rifle Association convention what too many of them already believe." How does Spencer know that those present believe? Did he attend the event? Did he talk to those present? Did he do anything to actually learn about typical gun owners? The sort of attitude Spencer and Nugent describe is highly atypical of the gun owners I've met. The gun owners I've met are hyper-aware of safety issues, profoundly rational when it comes to the use of a gun, and determined to do everything in their power to avoid becoming the target of a criminal attack.

Nugent's comments were irresponsible, and the NRA was irresponsible in inviting Nugent so speak. Yet Nugent does not deserve the sort of smear made against him by Spencer: "Like Ted Nugent, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold believed in the liberating power of firearms." Spencer's ugly, vicious remark deserves no substantive reply, only censure.

Spencer incorrectly claims that the Columbine murderers "got one of the guns used in their killing spree via a legal loophole that made straw purchases of weapons easier." The alleged "loophole" pertained to background checks for private sales at gun shows, and the person who purchased the gun would have passed a background check. Two statistical studies failed to find any beneficial result of background checks in reducing crime. A more recent study specifically about gun shows indicates that "closing" the the so-called "loophole" didn't cut crime, and if anything may have increased it (John Lott, The Bias Against Guns, 207-11).

Spencer writes that the woman from the case he describes joins "the long list of innocent victims of America's guns-are-good culture." He writes, "Owning a gun for protection guarantees nothing." He then gives two examples: "Last month, a 9-year-old in Pueblo died after accidentally shooting herself with a handgun she found in her father's bedroom. In October, a shot from a front-yard altercation at a high school party tore through a wall and killed an unarmed 17-year-old inside a home in Wheat Ridge. She'd have been just as dead if she'd held an Uzi in each hand. The list goes on."

So, according to Spencer, because a gun would not have been useful for self-defense in some cases, and because some people die by unintentional gun shots, therefore guns are not useful for self-defense. Because in at least one case the use of a gun may or may not have been used for defensive purposes, and use of the gun either injured a bystander or provoked return fire that injured a bystander, therefore attempting to use a gun for self-defense is inappropriate.

Yet anyone with even the remotest knowledge of statistics or logic understands that Spencer's case is ridiculous. Hasn't Spencer ever heard of terms like "induction" or "hasty generalization?"

In fact, people use a gun for defensive purposes hundreds of thousands of times every year. In fact, many cases of successful defensive gun use have been documented. In fact, instances of defensive gun use rarely endanger either the user or bystanders.

Using Spencer's "logic," one could "prove" that anything whatsoever should be banned. For example, many cases of medical malpractice resulting in death are documented. Therefore, doctors should be banned. Many cases of automobile use result in death, including death of bystanders, therefore automobiles should be banned. Of course this is ridiculous -- precisely as ridiculous as Spencer's remarks about guns.

Though the politics of Spencer and Nugent diverge radically, the men are similar in that they spout inflamed, sensationalist rhetoric without regard for the facts or for common sense. They deserve each other, but the rest of us deserve better than the fake "debate" between them.

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