AirTalk for January 31, 2013

The power of persuasion in the politics of guns

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, pauses while speaking during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill January 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearings to discuss possible solutions to gun violence in the United States.

Are the emotional arguments in the gun control debate effective? In the wake of the Newtown school shooting, the U.S. push for gun safety reform has sparked passionate, emotional arguments from both sides of the debate. Testimony from grieving parents and frightened children has been cited in political discourse. President Obama read from the letters of schoolchildren in his speech about upcoming gun control legislation. Gun advocates have also approached the issue emotionally, with remembrances of heroic moments and elaborate stories about what could have happened differently if there were more armed “good guys.”

Perhaps the most stirring voice is that of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during a political rally in Arizona in 2011. Yesterday, Giffords’ Senate testimony called for immediate gun reform, and packed a heavy emotional punch. Are the impassioned pleas an effective part of the gun control debate? Politicians on both sides continue to discuss legislation, economics, and constitutional rights, but the slow-going nature of policy reform leaves plenty of room for interim theatrics. Sentimental arguments for and against gun control have been thrust into the limelight.

Are you persuaded by emotional arguments for or against gun control? Is sentiment an effective part of policy, or should the focus be on logic? Do personal stories sensationalize the issue, or are they crucial to understanding it?

Guest:
Tom Hollihan, Professor of Communication, University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. Hollihan publishes in the areas of argumentation, political campaign communication, contemporary rhetorical criticism, and the impact of globalization on public deliberation. He is the author of several books including “Uncivil Wars: Political Campaigns in a Media Age, Arguments and Arguing: The Products and Process of Human Decision Making” (with Kevin Baaske)

Nancy Snow, Professor of Communications, California State University, Fullerton; adjunct professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She is known for her work in the area of propaganda and public diplomacy studies. Snow is the author or editor of seven books, including “Persuader-in-Chief: Global Opinion and Public Diplomacy in the Age of Obama.” “American Propaganda” (LSU Press)


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