Intentionally Unreasonable: Guns, words, and Edgar Allen Beem

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On my first day as a newspaper columnist, I was given a piece of advice from a wise editor friend of mine: Never read the anonymous comments that follow most online columns because they’re most often written by trolls, sad people, folks with their own agenda, folks who are sad trolls, and an entire universe of people living under clouds of darkness.

It should be noted that this harsh, but true, assessment only applies to the “anonymous” crowd hiding behind their Dumpsters of despair, from where they hurl their insults in desperate attempts to infuse credibility into what is mostly petty rage or puny thinking.

For those who choose to weigh in, online or in print, with names attached and attributed, I say bravo, let your voice – be it biting with dissent or a sweet chorus of harmonious agreement – be heard.

Which leads me to a column two weeks ago by a colleague in The Forecaster, Edgar Allen Beem, on the subject of guns here in Maine. Without repeating his column in its entirety, the general theme was, we have a gun problem, so let’s discuss and implement reasonable gun laws that respect the Second Amendment, while at the same time applying common sense to the crisis.

In short, I agree with Beem and I thought his column was thoughtful and, (pardon the pun), on target.

The online response to Beem’s column was enormous. As of last Friday morning it had been shared nearly 350 times, “liked” 340 times on Facebook, received 99 thumbs down, and elicited nearly 170 comments.

While several people included names with their comments, most were anonymous and many appear to be part of an organized, out-of-state campaign.

Here are just a few examples of their comments:

“Any woman who would marry this kind of self-emasculated male should be aware that he will not protect you in a life-threatening situation. He would timidly cower and weep while you are raped and murdered rather than perform the most basic function of manhood: protecting his wife and children.” (This comment received 19 positive clicks, no negative clicks.)

“Let’s drop the pseudo-philosophical posing, pal. WE have guns. YOU want to take them away. Think about what that’s likely to look like, with 100 million gun owners in America. If confiscation is 97% peaceful, (wildly optimistic, I know) that will come up to three million shootings between otherwise law-abiding citizens, and your beloved State. Let me help you with the math. That will likely be something like 10 million deaths. Your move.” (This comment generated 12 positive clicks.)

“Just another liberal, feminine male, who voted for the worst president and watches ‘The View’ shouting, ‘you go girls!’ Certainly not a lover of the Truth.” (Fourteen positive clicks.)

While some comments supported Beem’s column, the majority were of the same vitriolic tone and tenor as these.

How did we get to the point where a newspaper columnist can’t share his opinion on an important, topical subject without being digitally abused?

The week after dozens of comment writers attacked Beem for his suggestion that we need better and more effective gun policy, a 22-year-old woman was shot and killed, apparently by her fiance, during a gun sale taking place in the parking lot of a Bath supermarket. The fiance was selling a 9mm pistol to another guy outside the couple’s vehicle when the gun went off accidentally.

Yes, accidents of all types occur, but given the compelling statistics surrounding America’s gun glut and the thousands of deaths attributed to it, shouldn’t we at least discuss possible policy changes to make things safer? Are the thousands and thousands of needless deaths that occur each year attributed to guns worth considering, or are all of those lives just statistics lost in the debate?

How did we get to this point? How can we find our way to a better point? I’m not a liberal. I’m not a conservative. And, I don’t want to take away anyone’s guns, as long as they’re qualified (age, mental health, no criminal record, etc.) to own and operate their gun safely.

I just want the chance to engage in a reasonable discussion on this serious subject without being comment-bombed by folks too blind to see the problem and too deaf to hear reason.

(Please send any and all comments about this column to Edgar Allen Beem. He has quite a collection.)

Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLOB-AM 1310.

  • EABeem

    Stevoe, thanks you for the support, but feel free to keep any comments you get. I’ve got plenty enough. Unfortunately, whenever you write about gun control, you have to be prepared to deal with such irrational nastiness.

  • Kafir911

    Over time I’ve observed that hurling epithets and writing vindictive ad hominem attacks has been a trademark tactic of Mr. Beem’s, many of his supporters as well as the Left in general. I also find it a bit odd why you feel compelled to come to his defense in the first place. Go back to almost any previous article of his when he talks about Bush, conservatives or TEA Party folks. He gets very animated and vitriolic.
    His article this week was rational and reasonable even though I thought he was off base with his comment, “There is no religious justification for violence”. Unfortunately, Islamic doctrine and jihad is EXACTLY the problem despite the rhetoric from the apologists, particularly the president.
    Lastly, because I don’t use my real name, I don’t think I’m a “sad troll or live under a cloud of darkness” nor am I exhibiting “petty rage or puny thinking”. In fact, you are guilty of doing exactly what you’re defending Beem against. Besides, I’m a happy troll. : )

    • yathink2011

      Very well said. As evidenced by recent left driven actions across the Country, if you disagree with their views, you will most likely pay a price, if they know who you are.

      • James Post

        Even if we believe that using a pseudonym is justifiable, Mr Beem uses his own name and picture, which is to his credit, whether you agree with him or not.

        There is no doubt that some people on the left can be very vitriolic, on some issues. The “irrational nastiness: to which Mr. Beem refers below is not limited to one side of the ideological spectrum.

        It would appear however, that the right wing nuts are more likely to go beyond words, as we can see by the deaths of abortion providers, among other areas. This in no way justifies any violence from any side.

        On the other hand, what we are seeing on some campuses to limit offensive speech, is unhealthy. That seems to come mostly from the left.

        We could all use some “holier than thou” repellent.

        • yathink2011

          I agree with most of what you write. One difference is Mr Beem is paid to write his view, without fear of retribution from his employer. If you own a business these days, you typically aren’t afforded the same insulation. If a customer disagrees with your view it can put you out of business. I am surprised that some of the businesses that advertise in the paper that Mr Beem writes for don’t object to his views, and advertise elsewhere, but that emphasizes my point. I also think more of the left has a tendency for retribution if you don’t agree with their view than those on the right. And one of the religions you write about certainly has the worst track record when it comes to acting out and punishing those that don’t agree with their views. There is free speech in America. It just depends on what you have to say. We all saw what happened to Mitt Romney when he stated the truth about what percentage of Americans don’t pay any taxes.

          • James Post

            Mitt Romney was talking about the % of Americans not paying any federal income taxes. Virtually everyone pays some form of taxes, sales, payroll, etc.

            It is interesting what you say about getting put out of business for expressing a point of view if you are a business owner. Recently a newspaper quoted several restaurant owners on the impact of minimum wage increases on their businesses. I think it was a NY area newspaper I read online.

            They all were in favor of the increases. In light of the tendency to politicize things, and the dangers of a boycott, no business owner in his/her right mind who thought the minimum wage increase would be bad, would dare to state this publicly. The boycott would be on immediately, and there goes the business. Not much tolerance there, I guess.

            Remember that free speech is protected, but the consequences of your speech are not protected. People have the right to boycott a business for any reason.

            When government officials try to prevent a business from opening a branch in their community because they don’t like the owner’s political views, we are in big trouble. Chick fil a has faced these issues. Progressives should be out in front in opposing this type of government action.


          • figs

            “One of the religions…” I assume that you mean Christianity?

  • Chew H Bird

    Actually, as a moderator (and now administrator) of a major message board, with more than 25 years in IT, regular users are always encouraged to use a pseudonym as the first most basic (entry level) version of protecting their personal identity. Paid columnists are different as they are professionals and their work often depends on their visibility. When I have written columns in national trade journals I always use my full name but as a user of this comment system I utilize a pseudonym that is easy to figure out by anyone making even a minimal effort.

    Classifying (by assumption) that posters with pseudonyms are trolls (or agenda driven) is extremely poor policy and I learned the error of this through trial and error many years ago.

  • Ted…oh what the hell…Markow

    Good article, Steve, and I agree in large part.

    I’m not sure which part of your piece is more important – the issue of hiding behind anonymity, or the dog pack mentality that arises whenever someone has the temerity to hint at controlling gun violence. Now, to be clear, I am not calling the individuals dogs, but I certainly am equating pack mentality to their behavior when they swarm to any article that even dares to question current gun laws. I am certain that the word goes out near and far whenever there is an article anywhere about guns.

    As far as anonymity, that’s a tough nut. Years ago, when the Internet was still young, I belonged to a local BBS (bulletin board system). At that point, I used to use my whole name. The discussions ranged widely, including politics and social commentary. I posted my own views under my whole name….until I received a personal email from someone who opposed my views and who then went on to say that he knew where I lived. That tends to have a chilling effect on full disclosure. Exactly as the perpetrator intended. Similarly, that is what the dog pack mentality tries to do.

  • figs

    Slightly related post:
    Over and over reporters play a policeman’s response to the murder of his fellow policeman in Colorado Springs, during which he says, after a careful but very brief pause, that his friend did not necessarily “support the abortion industry” (but did his job). The abortion…industry.
    Meanwhile, 3 people, including his friend, are dead, and half a dozen more are injured, because a wicked older white male with a history of being pissed off about various things was able to get guns.
    Meanwhile, a pregnant patient who was there for an ultrasound has been interviewed over and over, showing, among other things, that Planned Parenthood provides prenatal care, among many other services. But to this policeman, it is “the abortion industry.”
    And CNN and other news sources keep playing the sound bite of this man inciting further anger about PP.

  • truther

    I left a comment on this article last week but the Forecaster never published it. That’s oddly amusing, since my anonymous comment was fairly critical of your whole “ignore anonymous comments” theory. I guess you’d prefer a reverential echo chamber?

    In any event, in case this comment makes it past the editors I’ll simply say that you’re wrong to dismiss, out of hand, comments left under pseudonyms. A couple of the other posts give good reasons why. I’ve also found that people have a hard time separating a message from a messenger, and so any focus on the commenter’s name really does miss the point.

    • EABeem

      On the other hand, anonymity tends to encourage people to write things they would not say if people knew who they were. While I understand the desire some people have for remaining anonymous, I give more credence to comments from people who have the courage to identify themselves. If I had my way, the only way readers would be allowed to comment is if they used their own names, which is what some daily papers do. Bottom line: Comment sections let readers (and the few writers who deign to reply) blow off steam, but most of the comments are sound and fury…

      • Chew H Bird

        Many of us do use our own names on secure sites. I am an administrator at a large message board and use my own name. I also use my name on articles I have written that are published in the world of IT media.

        However this forum is not secure and transcends many different publishing entities. It is not secure. It is not safe. The primary purpose is data collection for resale and publication. Posters who comment “for free” in this type of forum should absolutely never utilize their real names.

        Also to be considered are people who would lose their job if their employer disliked their opinions (even posted on personal time). Employers do check many types of media on a regular and ongoing basis as a component of maintaining workplace standards.

        The only way I would use my real name here is if I were a paid writer for an entity using this service and I was required by contract to respond. Otherwise I would simply use a pen name for all of my work.

      • truther

        “On the other hand, anonymity tends to encourage people to write things they would not say if people knew who they were.”

        But that’s not always a bad thing. In fact sometimes it’s the point.

        Look, any sensible person knows that website comment sections can often be overwhelmed by nutters and other fringe types who wouldn’t know a civil conversation if it slapped them in the face. Yet some of the worst stuff I’ve read is from people all too proud to identify themselves. Indeed there are certain columnists for this paper whose published work is typically inferior to the informed, measured, and often anonymous comments it provokes.

        I simply don’t agree with Steveo’s premise that there’s any correlation between a comment’s quality and the identify of the author. Though perhaps I doth protest too much.

  • justanotherfakename

    I believe the general premise of Steve’s opinion piece is solid, that people misuse comments on line, that in person few would be so rude and utilize the ends justify the means style attacks. A dirty trick I’ve seen used against the Press Herald opinions, especially regards guns, is steeling another posters moniker and purposefully trying to confuse the other readers about the one who’s namesake they misappropriate. This new style troll actually somehow will steel the picture used by the one who’s identity they are steeling as well as the exact name. The only way to tell who is who is to click onto the moniker of the one who’s ID is being stolen, as the real poster usually won’t hide their posting history, where as a true troll always hides their history and leaves a message ‘deal with it,’ when you click on their moniker. If you click on my on line pseudo name ‘justanotherfakename’ you will note that I do not hide my posting history. But, I must assume that someone who could so thoroughly steel the on line ID used for others, that the identity theft victim’s picture is even misappropriated, may also be able to outright steel an ID for financial and other identity theft purposes. Thus…my fake name shall remain…fake. OK, I otherwise agree with the premise Steve presents to us. But due to identity theft will not use my real name, and if the total ID theft in comments persists, I assume on line comments may be curtailed totally for legal reasons. That is unfortunately what the trolls really want, to end speech in the name of speech. I am sorry that they may get their way.

  • Julie McDonald-Smith

    Gosh, I like the idea of us columnists supporting each other when the hate mail flows………