“Obama on Gun Control” was a speech made by President Barack Obama to address the issue of gun control after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and 6 adults dead as a direct result of automatic weapons fire (Paulson, 1). The wording of the speech goes directly towards the issue of gun control and how the current state of laws limiting the sale and distribution of fire arms are insufficient to address issues related to firearms ending up in the wrong hands.
Presently, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the world with well over 9,000 deaths per year on average due to firearm related deaths (i.e. murders, suicides and accidental discharges). The sheer amount of deaths has created numerous debates surrounding the accessibility of firearms within the country and how more stringent measures need to be implemented in order to address such an issue.
Unfortunately, such measures have often been stalled due to numerous pundits citing the Second Amendment and the supposed need for firearms as a method of self-defense due to most criminals being armed. The speech “Obama on Gun Control” attempts to persuade people on the basis of ethos that stricter methods of gun control need to be implemented so as to reduce the amount of violence connected to firearms.
Appeal to Ethos
The concept of ethos can be described as a form of guiding beliefs that are an inherent part of a community or nations character. It is used as guide that influences a person’s behavior to such an extent that by examining the ethos behind a culture you can determine how they will react based on a given situation.
It due to this that concepts behind any form of ethos must first be subjected to intense examination before it is shown to have been constructed under a proper ethical and moral framework. In the case of the speech “Obama on Gun Control”, it attempts to appeal to two particular aspects of the American ethos, namely: freedom and civil liberties.
The main point of the argument presented is that while American’s enjoy numerous freedoms and civil liberties as an inherent right (i.e. the right to bear arms) such rights must be tempered to a certain degree with discipline. The reason behind this is connected to the potential for abuse and how such actions could have a resoundingly negative impact on others within society.
Rhetorical Strategy Used: Appeal Utilizing Ethos
What must be understood is that Ethos can also refer to the way in which a person portrays themselves in an argument, in a sense that it is a method in which persuaders present an “image” to people that they are attempting to persuade. This particular “image” refers to a persuader’s “character” in the sense that a person is attempting to persuade another person of the righteousness of their statements based on their inherent character.
In the case of the speech “Obama on Gun Control” this takes the form of the President attempting to convince the American public of the righteousness of his cause on the basis of the image that he is portraying, namely, as an individual in power that understands the problem with gun control who has also actively attempted to resolve such an issue.
It is this argument on the basis of a projected image that is a cause for concern since basing it on a person’s knowledge and experience alone does not justify the action itself.
For example, a person may argue for the righteousness of a cause on the basis of their knowledge of the event yet this attempt at persuasion may in itself be self-serving for the person that is attempting to persuade other individuals. This can be seen in the case of the President’s speech since prior to the events at Sandy Hook there has been no solid evidence that the he has actively attempted to resolve issues related to gun violence within the U.S.
Not only that, when examining several aspects of Obama’s speech it can clearly be seen that there are thinly veiled jabs to the current Republican majority Congress who, based on his speech, have not done enough or are even unwilling to act based on the actions of special interest groups (i.e. the gun lobbyists).
In the case of the President’s use of ethos, what must be understood is that it is “artifice”, meaning that is created, manufactured, made, constructed etc.
It can be considered a type of surface image which may in fact have an entirely fictitious relationship to what is actually true. For example, a teacher could show up in class one day wearing cowboy boots, a ten gallon hat and long sleeved t-shirt with a large image of a cactus on the front, the next day he can wear an average suit and tie while the day after that he could wear a Scottish kilt, bagpipes and one of those patterned hats.
The reason I mention this is due to the fact that despite the different outfits he wears the person and the ideas that are being presented have not changed at all however what is changed is the perception of the audience regarding the idea being presented.
The same can be said for ethos wherein the method in which the idea is “packaged” drastically changes the perception of the audience towards accepting the idea itself or the validity of its statements. In the case of the speech and gun control it can be seen that when boiled down to its very essence it is merely a statement which says the following: “follow what I say when it comes to gun control”.
It is in the way that it is packaged and presented to the public that changes the perception of the public to the idea that is being presented. What the President did was appeal directly to the American public based on the fresh sympathy from the Sandy Hook incident and utilized the ethos of freedom and liberties that are tempered by discipline as the main crux of his argument.
However, what most people fail to realize was that the President did not have any true passion to address the issue of gun control prior to Sandy Hook as evidenced by his presidency that was more concerned with other issues related to health care, economic reform and various foreign policy isues. Thus, the passion and resolve showed in the speech can very likely be nothing more than a manufactured ethos meant to appeal to the public for the sake of a political victory.
The speech “Obama on Gun Control” attempts to persuade people on the basis of ethos that stricter methods of gun control need to be implemented so as to reduce the amount of violence connected to firearms.
Overall, the speech can be considered as resoundingly effective in that it does not state that it would impinge on freedoms nor take them away, rather, it focuses on implementing more discipline so as to avoid tragedies such as what occurred at Sandy Hook.
As it was stated earlier, ethos is not something that is inherent but rather something that has been created and manufactured with a surface image in order to fulfill a particular purpose.
It is often utilized as a method of convincing people or justifying a particular set of actions and as such it is crafted in such a way so as to be convincing, believable and thus adaptable. For example when order someone to go into battle you do not tell them that the possibility of them dying is high rather you tell them to fight for national pride, democracy, freedom etc., even though the fact of the matter is that person will most likely die.
Such a process can clearly be seen in the case of President Obama and his speech wherein his use of ethos as a means of justifying his point of view is inextricably connected to the way in which he balances the concepts of freedoms and civil liberties with the tragedy that occurred at the elementary school.
In a sense, the ethos utilized as an argumentative device by the president can be considered as a means of manipulating public perception regarding truth in such a way that it promotes a particular idea on the basis of the common good but in fact it was created in order to carry out a particular action (i.e. political victory against the Republicans).
Paulson, Scott. ” Obama’s speech on gun control and gun violence in America.” Examiner.com. Examiner, 13 Jan 2013. Web.