Karpatkin’s Letter Maintains Hypocrisies, False Accusations

In recent weeks, the Review has published numerous pieces regarding gun control in the wake of the murder of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, by Nikolas Cruz. Initially, we published “Founding Fathers Would Approve of AR-15 Sales,” (The Oberlin Review, March 2, 2018) by Jacob Britton. Briefly, his piece argues that the AR-15, used in the Parkland, Sandy Hook, and Santa Barbara mass shootings, among others, would have been right at home in the 18th century when there were “guns even more dangerous around.”

Unsurprisingly, this argument elicited several responses, including “Current Gun Control Debates Give Inadequate, Ineffective Solutions” (The Oberlin Review, March 9, 2018) by Jonathan Karpatkin.

His piece was one of three printed in response to Britton’s, and apparently this was very dissatisfactory, as subsequently, Karpatkin followed up on his initial article with a letter published last week, (“Publication of Numerous Articles Attempts to Censor Conversation,” The Oberlin Review, March 30, 2018). In it, he concludes: “By publishing … three emphatic responses to [Britton’s] … letter, … [The Oberlin Review] demonstrate[s] a haughty derision for Mr. Britton’s contribution to the conversation.”

As the Managing Editor of this publication, I would like to offer the contrasting view that Karpatkin has utterly no idea what he is talking about.

First, while Karpatkin believes that we have effectively filtered the debate on gun control in our pages, we have done quite the opposite. If we wanted to control the debate, why publish Britton’s response in the first place? I can definitively say that the majority of our staff disagrees with Britton’s view on AR-15s; we published his letter anyway.

Further, his letter betrays a grave, if understandable, misconception about the Review’s publication process. We made no attempt to control the gun debate in terms of the number of responses we published to Britton’s letter. In fact, we published every response we received. This is consistent with our Opinions section more generally — we rarely reject pieces, despite the editorial discretion that would allow us to do so.

With that said, we could have rejected some pieces to address Karpatkin’s concerns. In this scenario, we could have not published his piece, but I doubt that would be a satisfying result. Otherwise, we would have had to reject one of the other two responses, which would have censored the debate just as Karpatkin wrongly accuses us of doing.

It would then seem that Karpatkin would prefer his response be the only one printed, something that would require us to filter the discussion as he inaccurately accuses us of doing.

We have not doled out “punishment for holding dissenting opinions,” as Karpatkin states. We have merely served as a medium — literally, a member of the news media — for Oberlin community members to express their views. If those views overwhelmingly reject Britton’s opinion, perhaps Karpatkin should consider the possibility that Britton’s opinion is thoroughly ridiculous and deserves to be shown for the total sham that it is. For what it’s worth, I have no problem with submissions intended to shame Mr. Britton. When you submit your opinion for publication in a media outlet, others have every right to condemn you if your opinion values weapons of war over human liveArs.

The responses to Britton’s piece , argument quality notwithstanding , clearly show the state of the opinion of the Oberlin community, which is that most people don’t agree with the idea that the framers of the constitution would have approved of AR-15 sales to civilians. In representing this by publishing them, we have done our job. Just because the dialogue between writers didn’t go the way Karpatkin would have preferred doesn’t mean that the Review made any attempt to stifle discussion — and people say that liberal supporters of gun control are snowflakes?

The rest of Mr. Karpatkin’s argument, too, is a mess of “interpretive jiggery-pokery,” to quote the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, none other than the favorite son of the gun rights movement. At one point, Karpatkin states, “I disagree that the Constitution is contradictory.” Why the need for a panel of nine judges to sort it out, then? If the Constitution is so clear and free of contradictions, why the need for District of Columbia v. Heller to overturn decades of historical understanding and precedent that the Second Amendment does not guarantee an individual right to bear arms? For someone who throws around statements about constitutional interpretation by the court, this comment seems to indicate a shocking ignorance of the document and the history of the body.

Karpatkin also unfairly criticizes my colleagues, Julia Peterson and Roman Broszkowski, for questioning what “arms” are permitted under the Second Amendment. To do so, they use grenades as an example. Although it is true that the District of Columbia v. Heller opinion does not include an individual right to bear grenades, this line of argument alone is unconvincing. As Karpatkin states, “There was no weapon in existence during the American Revolution or shortly after that compares to modern sporting rifles such as the AR-15 in form or function.” The point that was made is that the framers could not have predicted these weapons in their drafting of the Bill of Rights, and that there is no compelling self-defense need for an AR-15 in the same way that there is no compelling self-defense need for a grenade. Why allow one but not the other? Perhaps grenades are not the most apt example, but the question of what weapons of war are appropriate for civilian possession has to be on the table. Also, for what it’s worth, Karpatkin is wrong that they have not been used frequently in mass violence: This past November, seven people were killed in a grenade attack in the Central African Republic.

What’s more, Karpatkin has the gall to argue that Philando Castile’s murder is proof of his point that the “Second Amendment exists in many ways as a check against [racism]. Gun control has historically been used not as a defense against mass violence, but as a means to disarm the Black population.” This is downright shameful. Mr. Karpatkin has absolutely no place to argue that the systematic murder of Black folks could be checked by gun rights. After all, he points out in the very next sentence that Castile was “a licensed, legal gun owner who did everything right.” He was still murdered. Exactly how do gun rights fix this? Police officers who murder unarmed Black men claim time and time again that they thought their victims had guns. So, absurdly, he suggests that Second Amendment protections will help counteract police violence, instead of playing to the officers’ advantages. Laughable.

Overall, Karpatkin’s letter is rife with falsehoods, mischaracterizations, and poor argumentation he accuses other writers of using, and I am tickled by the fact that someone could make such an absurdly wrong and hypocritical argument with an air of calm, cool, “clearly I am the only one who knows logic”-ism. He asserts “The Review has a responsibility to publish factual, sound arguments, but of course not every argument is perfect.” Frankly, by his own standard, we should never have published his letter in the first place. Oh well.