The Old Gun Control Preference Laundry is Breaking Down

old laundry

“What smart people are supposed to think” dictates a lot of what’s acceptable. In “elite” circles, it defines what is normalized vs. what is stigmatized. So if you’re interested in normalizing (or stigmatizing) guns, then you need to pay attention to what smart people are told they’re supposed to think.

In recent history, for guns this has gone through the public health system in an impressively-executed example of what we call preference laundering.

There are two ways to think of gun research. The first is what you think of when you think of research. Have a hypothesis, go learn and measure, and then see if you were right or wrong. The second is preference laundering. Take a preexisting belief and launder it into science.

The power of preference laundering is that it turns personal beliefs into the “official” answer for what smart people are supposed to think. It’s hard to run “I think guns are bad” as straight news in the NYT. But it’s easy to run “Scientists say guns are harmful”. People are busy and don’t have time to look at the details of gun nerd stuff. They know they’re busy and lack context on details, so they’re smart enough to not take some random political opinion as fact. Preference laundering is a hack around that defense, because it presents as expert consensus, not political opinion.

Pre-internet, the pro-gun-control view could be preference laundered undetectably through the small handful of media outlets that people got their news from. The big three networks, the major newspapers, and a handful of magazines. After a few decades of that, the gun control catechesis of the elites was complete. It was no longer acceptable to publicly value gun rights. Lip service to hunting, sporting, and some limited self-defense applications was fine, but “widespread ownership of weapons qua weapons is good actually” was outside the Overton window.

A preference laundering machine is powerful, but it’s also fragile. Because it hinges on monopolizing “this is what smart people are supposed to think”, it’s vulnerable to any hint that it is in fact built on a foundation of basic mistakes — it’s embarrassing to be seen believing something that’s been poked full of holes. But for decades, there was no scalable way to poke holes in core fallacies.

Today the internet pokes holes instantly for anyone to see. Everyone’s on a level playing field. Increasingly it doesn’t matter who the message is coming from. Only the content matters. So people are learning that the only clear outcome of the history and empirical reality of gun control is that it increases police power; that gun rights have been getting steadily more popular for 30 years; that silencers are pretty great; that racial minorities outpaced any other group in the 2020 gun buying surge; and that the statistical dogmas we’ve grown up with are, well, wrong.

The surgeon general’s declaration last week that “firearm violence is a public health crisis in America” is a good example. Thirty years ago, the surgeon general could have built an orchestrated PR push around this crisis framing. The cover of Time, a segment on 60 Minutes, the whole bit.

Today the push didn’t stand up to a few minutes of Twitter replies.

— Open Source Defense in Catechizing the Elites


5 Responses

  1. This phenomenon was also very true in Second Amendment law.

    For decades, although polls showed the overwhelming majority of Americans believed the Second Amendment protected an individual right to own guns, “polite society” of elite legal academia (and thus the appellate judiciary) viewed this as crazy talk, not meriting even serious consideration and marking you as a nut if you even mentioned it. Most constitutional law textbooks either ignored the Second Amendment completely, or relegated it to a footnote dismissing it as mere window dressing.

    It took a couple of groundbreaking legal articles in the 1980’s by Don Kates and especially by Sanford Levinson (both regarded as very serious scholars who could not be dismissed as kooks or NRA shills) to make discussing the issue respectable. Levinson’s article (The Embarrassing Second Amendment, published in the Yale Law Journal) really opened the floodgates, leading to the avalanche of 2A legal scholarship in the 1990’s that eventually led to Heller, then MacDonald, and finally Bruen.

    The details (plus a bonus interview with Sanford Levinson the day after Bruen dropped) can be found here:

    1. “polite society” of elite legal academia (and thus the appellate judiciary) viewed this as crazy talk

      I wonder if ignoring the 2A led them to eventually get lazy about standing up for other rights.

  2. Over the weekend NPR played several segments complaining of this very thing. Of course it was in the opposite direction but they were sure to remind their audience that while everybody does it the right is really bad for doing it and when the left does it it doesn’t affect really important things.

    It was this evil tactic that the evil gun lobby used to manipulate the SCOTUS into rejecting the bump stock ban.
    There’s even this new evil extremist org known as the FPC they informed listeners about. NPR says the FPC makes the NRA look moderate. I was like: Whaaaaa??!?!?!?!?

    1. Unless you’re a right winger that supports the major left wing things like ACA and open borders, then you’re FAR RIGHT. This is the case throughout the West. McCain was far right when he was running for president. Later in life, the media accepted him as merely right wing because he supported Democrats. In France, you’re FAR RIGHT if you support the National Rally party because you’re for crazy, fringe things like borders, law and order, and not allowing immigrants to get preference in benefits over French citizens.

      I used to listen to NPR. The change I noticed was they began pushing constant white on black racism/white supremacy theories after the 2016 election. I ditched it, along with CNN, after watching them lose their minds.

  3. The Third Reich is really instructive. The Soviet Revolution is as well, though less well documented and everything happened far more quickly (my great-grandmother was a White Russian who escaped in 1917).

    Some people saw it for what it was right away. Most of them left Germany as that was the only workable option. That feeling of recognizing what is wrong, yet having no power to stop it, should seem very familiar. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to go in 2024. So we laager in place.

    Some people didn’t see it until the annexations. Some, the invasion of the Low Countries and France. Some, when Hitler attacked their powerful ally, Russia, Some, when the Allies entered Germany. And, yes, some didn’t get it until a gun was pointed in their face held by a man yelling in a language he or she didn’t understand.

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