How Good is Your Social Justice Argument if it Capitalizes on Marginalizing Others?

So I came across this image on twitter

John Fugelsang gun control quote

It reads,

The only way background checks take away your Second Amendment rights are, my friends, if you’re a criminal, a terrorist or insane. And if you’re all three, you’re probably already a lobbyist for the NRA

Full disclosure, I am a Canadian, we don’t have a constitutional equivalent to the second amendment. I am generally flummoxed by the United States and its obsession with guns. In the end my main concern is not with gun control, it is how the speaker, comedian John Fugelsang obviously views common sense gun control as a social justice issue and that he is willing to capitalize on existing stigma around mental illness to further his progressive agenda.

While as an outsider to America’s debate about gun control, I support restrictions on obtaining guns because I have seen the horrors guns wreak particularly in the United States.

I however strongly object to the casual connection of criminals, terrorists and people with psychiatric disabilities (mad people, psychiatric consumer/survivors). Not least of my reasons being that people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it. That does not mean, that I disregard the fact that some of them can be violent and that people should be protected from that violence.

The quote further suggests that mental illness is connected to making decisions that are unpopular, like being a lobbyist for the NRA. This suggests that all opinions, decisions or actions that lead to violence are based in irrational thought patterns that can only be explained by illness.

Considering that people with mental illness are more often victims than perpetrators, it can be easily assumed that the vast majority of people committing violence are not sick. Unfortunately there are far to many people in the human race who are wiling to do others harm whether we agree with their reasons or not is not a good estimation of their mental health.

The problem is that people who experience mental illness are deeply stigmatized and the continued willingness for society to connect them to violence or general negativity only fuels that stigma even when it is done in the context of a joke. Particularly when that joke simply reinforces, rather than challenges that stigma.

It is made worse when that stigma is used to further what is otherwise in mu opinion a positive position. Any progressive movement which is willing to throw a marginalized group under the bus to further its aims is a problematic one.

There are many arguments for gun control that can be made without stigmatizing mental illness.

There were over 11000 gun related deaths in the US in 2013

Gun control laws enacted in other countries when properly administered are really effective (like Australia)

When I saw the above image on twitter, I responded with a simple desire to see social justice movements stop stigmatizing marginalized people unfairly to further their agenda.

I can’t link you to the conversation because the original poster blocked me and I no longer have access to it.

While I was unhappy to see pushback to a rather simple concept, I didn’t feel like getting into a big twitter argument but the original source of the image kept responding and insulting me, calling me a pedant. I was unaware that believing that social justice movements should not succeed at the expense of others was an overly academic and complicated position to hold.

I only responded after they claimed that the social stigma of mental illness was an old issue that shouldn’t overshadow the argument for gun control. To which I simply responded

“I reject the idea that one human rights movement must be thrown under the bus to support another”

The bigger issue isn’t even that John Fugelsang made the original quip. It is how quotable it is and how easy it was to make into a meme that is easily shareable allowing for the uncritical mass proliferation of the basic negative feelings around mental illness which give the idea power and credibility it does not deserve.

Fear should only be used against things that merit it. Generally speaking a group of people that are completely unconnected to one another other than a general type of medical diagnosis does not merit that fear.

3 thoughts on “How Good is Your Social Justice Argument if it Capitalizes on Marginalizing Others?

  1. I have a big issue with the way people talk about mental illness with regards to gun laws in the US. There are a number of restriction currently that specifically block people with mental illnesses from being able to get guns (for example I believe that if one has ever been involuntarily hospitalized you are not able to get a gun.)
    A lot of it stems from mass shootings where it was discovered that the shooter had previously known about mental illness, and so people blame that. Of course, those shooters also had a history of violence against women in common too- yet for some reason we think “oh no, we need to be do something to protect us from mentally ill people!” instead of “hey, maybe if we treated violence against women more seriously instead of brushing it aside as if it’s not real violence if only women are the target, we could help prevent assailants from going on to commit even greater acts of violence!” I also remember seeing a poll (I think it was just a newsstation poll) where more people (by quite a bit) favored gun laws that restrict people with mental illnesses from owning guns, that that restrict people who have been convicted of domestic violence from owning guns.
    We are more afraid of people with mental illnesses, despite the fact that as you note they are more likely to be victims of violence, than we are of people who rape and abuse women.


    1. yeah the rationale is all wrong but then I also don’t know how effective background checks are because even if you can accurately claim mental illness is a factor in mass shooting and it’s often conjecture because the shooter dies in the incident. Mass shooting while shocking and horrible don’t account for anywhere near the majority of gun violence cases. Also in one of the few cases where the shooter did survive Anders Breivik (not American true) was found to be sane despite killing over 70 people. Often after shooting you hear that the gun was bought lawfully with a background check. It’s obviously a flawed system that requires more checks and balances that ultimately results in fewer people with guns.


  2. For you future reference, I have come across some people who use ‘pedant’ or ‘pedantic’ to shut down arguments from people with ASD the same way some people use ’emotional’ to shut down women’s arguments.


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