The Leftward Lean of Academia Is Not a Conspiracy (Part III)

APU
5 min readSep 22, 2020
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By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University

This is the third of a four-part series examining the popular notion that colleges and universities are staffed preponderantly by liberals.

Disclaimer: The below discussion makes some generalizations regarding political affiliations and views among majorities for higher education employees and other demographics in American society. While these generalizations are supported by data, obviously there are always exceptions, and as such nothing in this article is intended to cast labels on or make assumptions regarding the views of any particular individual. Furthermore, the thoughts below are not intended to be representative of American Public University System or any of its faculty or staff, beyond the named author of this article.

I previously explained how the leftward political tilt in academia in the United States is not a conspiracy of loyalty, but rather a product of critical thinking and scientific reasoning skills applied to modern social issues. In this installment, we’ll look how that manifests itself in the controversy over gun control.

Many conservatives oppose gun control and any restrictions on the freedom to purchase, own, carry, and use firearms. When asked about the basis for this opposition, the argument almost invariably turns to the U.S. Constitution and the Second Amendment.

And when suggestions are made about compromises over limitations like background checks or prohibition of fully automatic weapons, they are met with accusations that this is just the first step in a sneaky, conniving plot from the political left to slowly disarm the American people entirely. But most academics look at these arguments and see two things: arguments from authority and strawman attacks.

Arguments from Authority and Strawman Attacks Are Logical Reasoning Fallacies

An argument from authority is a logical reasoning fallacy that occurs when someone invokes an authority as a source of undeniable truth. The authority invoked could be a person, such as a religious or political leader, or a written record, such as the Bible or the Constitution.

In this case, conservatives who invoke the Second Amendment as justification for denying any and all gun control measures aren’t making an intelligent assessment of the facts and circumstances surrounding gun violence in America today. Instead, they’re pointing to a 233-year old document and insisting that it is a manifestation of perfect, inerrant and timeless wisdom. We need look no further. Gun control is wrong because the Second Amendment says so.

For the sake of this discussion, we’ll ignore the fact that the Bill of Rights was written by fallible human beings. We’ll also put aside the fact that the intent of the language in the Second Amendment is open to more than one legitimate interpretation. Even if we were to concede that it supports the right of the people to own all the guns they want, the founding fathers certainly didn’t write it with any clairvoyance about what guns — and gun violence — would evolve into in the 21st century.

There’s no denying that the Constitution was a brilliant leap forward in governmental genius compared to the alternatives at the time. And I’m even happy to grant that it still has value today.

But to suggest that we cannot reassess social issues and the laws in light of changes in our circumstances because the Constitution is infallible is not only shortsighted and foolish. It’s also a direct contradiction to the Constitution itself, which expressly included the idea that it might be amended over time as a “living, breathing document.” We have in fact amended it 26 times since it was written. Indeed, the Second Amendment right to bear arms was one of those amendments.

And the insinuation that leftist politicians — or any politicians for that matter — are trying to take all guns away from the American people is what logicians refer to as a strawman attack. Essentially, a strawman attack is when someone fabricates an extreme argument that is not even remotely reflective of the views of his opponent, and then attacks that argument to show his own position’s superiority and to convince others of it.

In this case, politicians on the left have been pushing for years for reasonable gun control measures that most Americans actually support. In order to defeat these arguments, many on the conservative side simply argue that that isn’t really what the left is after. Instead, they say the left wants to repeal the Second Amendment, take away all guns and then oppress everyone after we’ve forfeited our ability to fight back.

Never mind that the argument that people must be able to defend themselves against a tyrannical government with 18th-century flintlock pistols and long guns is now absurd in light of the fact that the militaries of the world — including those of tyrannical governments — have tanks, battleships, fighter jets, and perhaps even nuclear weapons. And never mind that no sitting Democratic lawmaker has ever called for the repeal of the Second Amendment. Ironically, the most prominent governmental figure recently to call for the repeal of the Second Amendment was the late Republican Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Applying Logical Reasoning to Gun Control

Academics trained in critical inquiry and reasoning can look at the circumstances and see a problem. Gun violence in America has gotten way out of control. We can also look to the rest of the world and compare notes.

We can look at differences in governmental policies on gun ownerships, analyze statistics about gun violence, identify and exclude outliers, adjust for differences in population, geography, demographics, and culture, and extrapolate meaningful conclusions. And in places where guns are far more tightly controlled, we must recognize that rates of gun violence are far lower.

This is not an opinion. It’s an acknowledgment of the factual evidence. And political policy should, in principle, be based on facts.

In the final installment of this series, I’ll extend an olive branch to my conservative friends and colleagues and offer a recommendation for how in the future we might all reach better consensus on some of these issues.

About the Author

Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.

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