The problem with selectively using the ‘bad apples’ argument.

Conservatives sure love to argue that a few “bad apples” shouldn’t ruin it for the rest of ‘em — but only when it’s convenient.


During President Obama’s recent “Guns in America” town hall, Taya Kyle, wife of the late “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, had the opportunity to ask the president a question. While I wholeheartedly disagree with her view on the issue, I found one bit of her dialogue with President Obama fascinating.

“I understand that background checks aren’t necessarily going to stop me from getting a gun, but I also know that they wouldn’t have stopped any of the people here in this room from killing. And so it seems like almost a false sense of hope. So why not celebrate where we are? … Celebrate that we’re good people and 99.9% of us are never going to kill anyone.

It’s that last line that caught my attention. After all, if “99.9%” of gun owners are never going to kill anyone, why should they have to undergo background checks? Should we really let the 0.01% of people who will potentially go on a murderous rampage ruin it for the other 99.9?

Now, of course, the whole point of a background check is that it tries to weed out the 0.01% from the other 99.9%, and aside from petulant whining of “But I want my gun nowwwwww,” I haven’t heard a reason to actually oppose background checks — it’s an interesting view held by many conservatives. “Why subject us all to background checks? Can’t you tell I’m a ‘good guy?’ (White) Focus on stopping the ‘bad guys.’ (Brown people).”

But still, the idea that a few potential bad apples shouldn’t be used as justification to hurt the larger group is certainly not without its merits.

Where that makes me scratch my head is when it comes to how conservatives argue about other issues.

And perhaps nowhere is that juxtaposition of views more stark than when it comes to how many conservatives talk about refugees.

Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio have all voiced the same concern over letting Syrian refugees into the country: what if some of them are secretly “bad guys?”

If it seems like a complete 180 from the argument about guns, that’s because it is.

But here’s where it gets even more ridiculous…

We know some people who purchase guns will kill; we don’t know that any Syrian refugees will be terrorists. That is, we’re looking at a situation where we know that by not having background checks in place we’re letting some people who shouldn’t have guns get guns. If we just opened up our borders to refugees no questions asked, we don’t 100% know there’ll be terrorists in the mix.

This is some major cognitive dissonance, and it’s not limited to just refugees, either.

Another area many conservatives apply the logic that because there may be a “bad apple” we need to issue a blanket ban is when it comes to transgender people and public restrooms.

In that case, the argument is that by allowing transgender women (people who were assigned male at birth but now live and identify as female) use women’s restrooms, you open the door to the possibility that a predator will use the rules to assault or otherwise perv on women in restrooms.

It’s not that they’re arguing that all (or even many) trans women are predators, just that letting trans women use public restrooms (which, btw, trans women have been using public restrooms for… well… ever without incident — with the exception of them being the victims of assault) may lead to a few “bad apples” exploiting laws for… uh… well, the logic there isn’t completely clear.

Now, of course, this argument had zero basis in fact. No, people are not using these equal rights laws to commit crimes (voyeurism and assault are still illegal, obviously).

Yet we err on the side of caution (by denying an entire group of people safe access to something so fundamental) out of concern for safety. But wait…

Liberty for me, but not for thee.

Let’s say, for the moment, folks like Taya Kyle are 100% in the right on their background check argument. Why is it that they can see the flaws in punishing an entire group of people for the potential actions of a minute few in this case, but not in the cases of refugees or trans people? Because it’s different when it happens to you.

And to be clear, if the argument Kyle was making was that 99.9% of people should have the right to have a gun, I’d be on her side on this. Yes, if you’re going to be safe, you should be able to have a gun. The issue I take is that she frames “having to undergo a background check” as being a punishment when it’s simply existing law.

I hope everybody out there who was nodding along with Taya Kyle when she pointed to the 99.9% can take a moment to ask themselves why they don’t — if, in fact, they don’t — support the same line of thinking when it comes to groups that they aren’t a part of.

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