Light Over Heat #29: Just Say “I Don’t Know”

In this week’s “Light Over Heat” video, I reflect on the significance of a moment in my interview with CNN’s John Avlon for his show Reality Check in which he asked me a question and I answered, “I don’t know.” This part of our pre-recorded interview was included in what was eventually broadcast. At first, I thought it made me look bad, but in retrospect I realized it taught an important lesson: the power and importance of saying “I don’t know.”

I am reminded of Jon Meacham’s commencement address at Wake Forest University a few years ago when he said reason requires that you accept you may be wrong. Reason also requires you to admit when you don’t know something rather than pretending to know everything. Both requirements facilitate light over heat.

The specific question Avlon asked concerned whether there had ever been broad-scale gun confiscation in the US. Certainly, we have never seen anything on the scale of England, Australia, or New Zealand. But friends pointed out a couple of moments to me:

*The Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890: 7th Cavalry Col. James Forsyth confiscates weapons from Miniconjou Lakota. Although not surprising, this would not be an example of confiscation of guns from US citizens, of course, since Native Americans were not granted citizenship until 1924.

*The New Orleans police confiscated guns from civilians during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Some associate “extreme risk protection orders” (i.e., red flag laws) with gun confiscation, though provided that due process is upheld, I do not see this as confiscation. Similarly, if someone goes from being a lawful gun owner to a prohibited person (e.g., they are convicted of a felony or are adjudicated mentally ill), then they should be required to surrender any firearms they own.

Even if we include ERPOs and newly prohibited persons, all of these examples are quite different than the kind of gun confiscation we saw in other countries wherein broad categories of firearms were banned and then taken back from the population. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it can’t happen here. It does mean that it hasn’t happened here.

Whether firearm registration is a precursor to confiscation is a significant question. It’s not possible to confiscate or “buy back” firearms if you don’t know who has them, as has been the case with New Zealand’s “mandatory buyback” of now banned semi-automatic rifles. The failure of individuals in New York State to register ownership of “assault style weapons” is also notable in this regard.

But I digress. My main point here is that our great gun debate might be improved if people on all sides every now and then just said “I don’t know.”

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4 comments

  1. I was reminded early in my career as a graduate student that answering “I don’t know” is far more intellectually honest and likely to be respected, rather than attacked than to instead trying to bullshit one’s way through a question when it is obvious one is making stuff up. In fact, in answer to the last question of my doctoral qualifying exam, my answer was “I haven’t the foggiest idea”. We concluded and shortly afterwards, opened up the obligatory champagne.

    After all, speaking as a onetime scholar, If we knew all the answers, there would be no reason to keep us on a paycheck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not sure what happened to that sentence.

      …answering “I don’t know” is far more intellectually honest and likely to be respected, rather than attacked while instead trying to bullshit one’s way through a question when it is obvious one is making stuff up.

      Like

  2. In the commercial world dealing with customers on technical matters, I often said, “I don’t know – but I’ll find out.” And I always (or at least almost always), got back to them with the answer. You can never recapture your integrity after you BS your way through a situation. That’s why politicians are so universally distrusted – they frequently dance around or even lie to make a point or to explain away their behavior. Gun control advocates often fall into that same category.
    As far as gun confiscation goes, the confiscation or banning of guns or gun parts like standard capacity magazines sets an example to many that the ‘next step’ would be guns themselves, especially when advocates let slip that is their end game.
    And if such magazines are of no use in self defense, why are there exceptions for law enforcement personnel? They must find them useful in self defense, no? (reading the link Matt posted)
    Again, all of these laws do nothing to stop criminals and are punishing people who have done nothing to other people.

    Like

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