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In 1994 President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into law in hopes of protecting victims of domestic abuse (Lynch). Originally introduced as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act the VAWA wanted to bring attention to issues of domestic assault, sex trafficking, and dating violence (Lynch). Though it has been 25 years since its original passing, several women’s rights groups have advocated for its reauthorization in addition to introducing new protections each time. So far the VAWA has been reauthorized three times (in 2000, 2005, and 2013) and was recently up for reauthorization again. This time the VAWA was facing opposition from the right and more specifically the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA argued that the new protections listed in the VAWA were too vague and were simply attempting to take away the second amendment rights of men who were “accused” of committing crimes they believe are not violent. Many right-wing media outlets agree with this mentality including Reason.com, a self-proclaimed libertarian news source who published an article written by Jacob Sullum titled, The NRA is Right About the Violence Against Women Act. This article demonstrates a clear right-wing bias and paints a picture that the Democrats pushing the reauthorization of the VAWA are promoting an agenda to take away second amendment rights.
Starting with the title of the article a clear bias is demonstrated, the readers can clearly see that the article is going to swing in favor of the NRA’s view of the issue. In doing this, Jacob Sullum is framing the issue in a way that those in favor of reauthorizing the VAWA are wrong and do not know what they are talking about. This idea is scattered throughout the article but is clearly demonstrated in the second paragraph following Sullum quoting Democrat Amy Klobuchar. Following the quote in which Klobuchar claims the NRA does not care about violence against women Sullum calls her, “an authoritarian demagogue who equates concern about civil liberties with indifference to crime,” (Sullum). In making this statement Sullum is basically calling Klobuchar an idiot, saying that she is using an emotional appeal because she knows the reality that the NRA is actually right. This attempt to tear down Klobuchar is used to demonstrate that those in favor of the VAWA are pushing their own agenda and have no way of logically backing up their argument.
Further into the article, Sullum steers away from assassinating the character of the Democrats pushing the VAWA forward and turns to the actual words within the act. This is where he really focuses on demonstrating the reasons why the NRA have publicly opposed it and why the readers should support this position. He goes into detail about the attempt to close the “boyfriend loophole” this is the term used to describe the way that boyfriends cannot be prosecuted under VAWA unless they have cohabitated an environment with or have a child with the victim (Sullum). Sullum acknowledges that this “loophole” does not make sense but that the way the Democrats are going about closing it is not exactly right either. He attempts to show readers the new provisions included in the VAWA and in doing so it turns into a way of undermining the violence and trauma that it is targeting.
This is particularly clear in his explanation of stalking, which under the VAWA would be grounds to take away and prohibit that person from further purchasing guns. He defines stalking as, “A crime that does not need to involve violence, threats, or even a victim the offender knows,” (Sullum). This description is meant to prove to the reader that stalking is not a valid reason why a person’s constitutional rights should be taken from them. This is not Sullums only attempt at discrediting victims of stalkers, he also does so by talking about the way that the laws over what constitutes stalking differ from state to state. This difference is grounds for why a federal regulation over the consequences of stalking does not make sense. He claims that stalking is not a violent crime and because of this those who are accused of stalking should not have their rights taken away forever. The point of this is to get the reader to agree with the right-wing opposition to the VAWA by making it out to be unconstitutional. Similar to the argument that Zack Beauchamp makes about the way the President Trump talks in the article, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, and the chilling power of sexual violence, in which he says, “casting the man she’s accused of assaulting her, Brett Kavanaugh, as the real victim, a target of a Democratic plot that Ford is presumably in on,” (Beauchamp). Sullum discrediting these people and their valid opinion is used to deny victims of their power. While at the same time claiming that women are overreaching with their own power in trying to take away guns from men who may or may not have done anything wrong.
This attempt is sort of unnecessary as Reason.com has a tendency to pander to the right wing pro-gun ideology. The website has published several articles also pushing the idea that a lot of the left’s legislation is used to take away the right to bear arms rather than to help people. These articles represent the viewpoint of the right and because many people have a tendency to seek out information that confirms their biases, their target audience is those in favor of the NRA and ideology that protects their guns. In writing this article, reason.com and Jacob Sullum are trying to push those already skeptical of the left’s agenda to publicly stand against the reauthorization of the VAWA. This is using the idea of outrage culture to their advantage. Outrage culture refers to when people use a false sense of moral authority in order to hold people accountable by publicly shaming them. This is often seen in cases where people are calling for change to gun laws, the NRA stands up and says that someone is going after second amendment rights and floods of people gather to denounce that person. This article is attempting to use this outrage to the advantage of the right to stop the VAWA from being reauthorized.
The underlying issue demonstrated by this article is the way that power is distributed in this country. As we have previously discussed in class there has been a history of protecting women and policing men in this country. This is the idea that women are helpless victims and men must be policed in order to protect them. While normally this dynamic would push for the reauthorization of the VAWA. In this article, they are trying to establish the opposite, that men do not need to be policed and that the VAWA is attempting to regulate men when they do not need to be. By citing the statements made by Democrats as exaggerations, Sullum establishes that Democrats are wrongfully comparing regular men to women beaters. Which can be seen in the article when Sullum says, “But instead of making the case for such a broad exclusion, the bill’s backers suggest that questioning it is tantamount to siding with wife beaters and girlfriend murderers,” (Sullum). Sullum is making a point that men are the victims in this situation, it calls for a shift in ideology and acts as though power in this country is now in the hands of women.
This change in power is similar in some ways to the arguments that Michel Foucault makes in, part five of The History of Sexuality. While often power is thought of as top-down, where the most powerful people are those at the top (the rich, political leaders, etc.) and the least powerful are those at the bottom Foucault believes everyone has power and uses it differently. When applying Foucault to the reauthorization of the VAWA it can be said that both parties exercise their power in making the statements they do. As Sullum tells his readers that the Democrats are endangering men he is exercising his power and demonstrating the power of the NRA and its influence over society. While at the same time the opinions of Democrats that he sprinkles into his article are also demonstrating power in coercing society to see the opposition of the VAWA as violent women beaters. This conflict in power can be explained by the statement, “Wars are no longer waged the name of a sovereign who must be defended; they are waged on behalf of the existence of everyone,” (Foucault, pg. 137). This situation may not be a literal war but the statement Foucault makes about war applies here in several different ways. One of which being that most political actions are seen in terms of how they affect the majority of the people in the country. The magnitude of political actions is the reason why Sullum takes such a direct stance against the VAWA. In writing this article Sullum is demonstrating that the greater good, and therefore the existence of everyone in our society, would be at stake if the VAWA were to be reauthorized.
While the issue of protecting women has always been a topic of concern in public discourse, the controversy over many of the current administration’s leaders has lead to even more public concern. It seems many women are on high alert regarding the rise of the #MeToo movement and Judge Kavanagh’s placement in the supreme court. The public opinion tends to sway with the idea that women are “in danger” and the media reflect that. With the media reflecting this opinion much of the discourse surrounding the reauthorization of the VAWA fell in line with the idea that any opposition to it was pro-domestic abusers. Jacob Sullum’s article aimed to tear down that idea, and in doing so promoted the NRA’s opinion. The problem with promoting this agenda is that it strikes the entirety of the VAWA.
The VAWA is not the only thing at stake in this situation, because the NRA has publicly opposed it, it relates back to the mentality that guns are more important than actual people. The problem with this is that in promoting the “protection of second amendment rights” real victims of violence and abuse are left helpless. The article clearly disregards the safety of these victims in order to establish that the guns of abusers are more important. In making this statement the article shows that the agenda’s of both the NRA and the right are trying to chip away at the public’s mentality that more protections should be put in place to protect women. As we have seen throughout this class and in the news, a lot of the political conversation going on right now has to do with women’s rights and autonomy, this article is pushing forward the agenda of the right in saying that the right to bear arms is more important. Politically speaking the article pandering to the right shows the fact that despite the opinion that the media is all left-wing nonsense right-wing opinions are spreading. The spread of this right-wing ideology is significant as the current administration can make changes based on this ideology since it is so widespread.
- Beauchamp, Zack. “Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, and the Chilling Power of Sexual Violence.” Vox, Vox, 3 Oct. 2018, www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/10/3/17915872/brett-kavanaugh-news-trump-defense-philosophy.
- Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1, Penguin, 2008
- Lynch, Ami. “Violence Against Women Act.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 Dec. 2018, www.britannica.com/event/Violence-Against-Women-Act.
- Sullum, Jacob. “The NRA Is Right About the Violence Against Women Act.” Reason.com, Reason, 10 Apr. 2019, reason.com/2019/04/10/the-nra-is-right-about-the-violence-agai/.
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