The Blogora: The Rhetoric Society of America


Is "Concealed Carry" a Rhetorical Problem

Submitted by syntaxfactory on November 2, 2011 - 8:32am

Wisconsin passed a Concealed Carry law this week. 400,000 visits to the permit website and 83,000 applications downloaded later, I guess it's a success.


I am indifferent to the ownership of guns; own as many as you like. I am bothered by the concealed carry of guns, because I tend to imagine that most human beings are no more lethal than I am in everyday conversation. I can't help but wonder, in a concealed carry context, whether I should be rethinking what constitutes "civil" discourse on a daily basis, or whether the safe, not necessarily civil, thing is just to keep my mouth shut. Who wants to complain about being jostled if the jostler might be packing heat?

In a certain sense, I can't help but imagine that the way we measure public dialogue on any topic might change if we knew that everyone at the town hall might have a gun. Open hand of rhetoric, closed fist of dialectic, and smoking gun of concealed carry?

Is the second amendment a rhetorical problem in the way I am describing?

Submitted by Scott Stroud (not verified) on November 2, 2011 - 5:20pm.

...a "rhetorical problem" and how does it differ from just a problem? Or, why isn't this simply an ethical problem, public safety/policy problem, etc? Does dropping the "R" bomb mean it's an ethical problem that somewhere concerns speaking?

Submitted by Cable (not verified) on February 2, 2012 - 2:51am.

Although Supreme Court decisions and cases are pretty self explanatory, as is the Constitution itself, many politicians still do not understand that the 2nd Amendment is an Individual Right. Take Anthony Portantino for example, who keeps trying to pass more "Gun Control" laws in the state of California.

Submitted by Jim Aune on February 2, 2012 - 11:36am.

A plain textual reading of the 2nd Amendment requires that one read the first clause as modifying the second clause. The "right" is tied to state militias and "people" can be read as a collective or individual right. There is a vast legal/constitutional history debate here that is not easily settled by Scalia's potted originalism in DC v. Heller. In any case, just as the free speech clause has never been treated as absolute in terms of national security or time, place, and manner, so too even a strong reading as an individual right does not require that assault weapons be freely available to people like Jared Loughner. The NRA has blood on its hands.

Submitted by syntaxfactory on November 2, 2011 - 10:14pm.

Major Premise:
The shape, scope, and norms of civic discourse vary with the participants. For example, When women are excluded, civic discourse assumes one shape.

Minor Premise:
When participants are armed, their participation changes.

The shape, scope and norms of civic discourse change changes with the passage of concealed carry laws.

Therefore: Changes in concealed carry laws constitute a rhetorical problem?

Submitted by Jim Aune on November 3, 2011 - 7:20pm.

Overview: I don't think we need to expect Analytic rigor for Blog postings designed to provoke discussion. (Memo to Scott Stroud: I still think Perelman/Olbrechts-Tyteca were right in viewing "philosophy" as a highly elaborated form of epideictic rhetoric--even and ESPECIALLY analytic philosophy--but that is a discussion for another time.)

How the question is "rhetorical":

1. If a large sector (rural, Southern) of the US does not believe that the State has a monopoly on violence (see Max Weber) and wants to break with the social contract observed in ALL the Western democracies except the US that the State should enforce criminal laws, what are the implications for how we talk to each other?

2. If the South (and the rural areas in the Midwest that increasingly identify with the South--there were no country/western bars where I grew up, but now in MN and WI there are plenty of them) believes, based on its Celtic heritage (see Grady McWhiney and, briefly, Pinker's new book on the decline of violence) that private grievances should be dealt with through private violence, what are the historical roots of that belief and how should we deal with them at present?

3. Since rhetoricians (and I'm a very traditional one, remember) study the dynamics of elite opinion interacting with popular discourse, how did we get sold the bill of goods that the 2nd Amendment is relevant to current politics, when it has the same historical status as the 3rd Amendment? Even an alleged textualist like Scalia should recognize that the first part of the 2nd Amendment modifies restrictively the second part? Why did the NRA and Ronald Reagan support gun control for Negroes in the 1960's but then evolved to their current absolutist stance? See DC v. Heller for a historical narrative that cries out for rhetorical criticism.

4. What inventional possibilities are there for moderates and liberals to persuade people that: a) we're not coming for their hunting rifles, and b) they are batshit crazy?

Submitted by Scott Stroud (not verified) on November 5, 2011 - 8:31am.

next time I request "analytic rigor"--or some specificity from a overly general claim--from a blog posting. Discussion--esp on blogs not designed to be group-confirming or an echo chamber--in my mind means challenging such things, but I guess others will disagree. I do find it funny how in rhetoric the terms of "analytic philosophy" and "analytic rigor" are bad things, devil terms. Us pragmatists run those teams, you know! (I'm being ironic here, for anyone that knows anything about mainstream Anglo-american philosophy). But, since this is a "rhetorical problem," I'll quiet my demurs and wait by my TV to see how many experts in rhetoric are interviewed on it. :>

Submitted by Scott Stroud (not verified) on November 3, 2011 - 10:31am.

you've got 2 conclusions there--the second requires some premise mention of "rhetorical problem" to follow. I think what's being assumed is the premise "problems with civic discourse are rhetorical problems". This means Scanlon, others who write on first amendment/free speech issues are doing rhetoric, although they'd deny that. I'm just ruminating aloud about our defining of rhetoric so broadly, but it can get a lot of issues up in here. Perhaps we should talk about the rhetorical implications of CC, but not essentialize the problem to the purview of rhetoricians and their expertise.

Submitted by Will Duffy (not verified) on November 2, 2011 - 1:44pm.

protect--not promote.

Submitted by Will Duffy (not verified) on November 2, 2011 - 1:43pm.

I cannot help but view the idea of a concealed weapon as a kind of perennial aggression. When you add in discussion of the second amendment and warrants about the feeling of safety I see a continuum emerging. On one end are the little signs people put in there front yards that display to all who grace the property that the owners have a security system (a pretty non-aggressive act meant to promote personal property/safety). There might be a gun in the house. There might be dog. There might nothing dangerous. There might not even be a security system. The sign is meant to passively deter would-be aggressors. But on the other end of this continuum is the one who gets a concealed weapon permit and carries a gun with them. There is no rhetorical act, at least not in the public sense, because one presumably would not advertise that he/she has a concealed weapon (the rouse would be up). But it is a kind of rhetorical act in the personal sense, a way for me to be reminded that certain folks better not f-ck with me. So I don't buy the argument that a concealed gun makes one feel safer. How could it? A gun serves one purpose: to shoot things. I can't imagine that folks with concealed guns ever forget they are carrying, and if you are carrying a gun that means you are preparing yourself for some kind of violent encounter.

So all this is to say, yes I agree with you:
"I can't help but wonder, in a concealed carry context, whether I should be rethinking what constitutes "civil" discourse on a daily basis, or whether the safe, not necessarily civil, thing is just to keep my mouth shut. Who wants to complain about being jostled if the jostler might be packing heat?"

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