In debate and rhetoric, it's called the straw man argument. Accuse your opponent of thinking or doing or saying something he never thought, did or said, then rip him good over it.
A recent exchange of op-eds in the Desert News, read together with a follow-up article in The Salt Lake Tribune, provide a stark example of how tempting it can be to put words in your rival's mouth, so as to make it easier to attack what you want other people to think he said.
Leading off was Layton Police Chief Terry Keefe who, in a D-News column published April 23, thanked Gov. Gary Herbert for his veto of HB76. That was the bill that would have allowed adults in Utah to carry concealed firearms without having to go through the process a class and a background check to obtain a concealed weapons permit.
Keefe, like Herbert, argues that the existing permit process strikes a reasonable balance between those who wish to exercise their Second Amendment rights and those who as is the case in every civilized community since Wyatt Earp left Dodge City are made uncomfortable by the sight of anyone other than a law enforcement officer toting a piece.
More people carrying more weapons is worrisome to police officers everywhere. That's because: 1) Police officers are the ones most likely to be shot by people who don't have the mental stability to handle guns. 2) Officers called to the scene of a shooting have a hard enough time figuring out which one is the bad guy without a parking lot full of James Bond wannabes suddenly pitching in to "help."
A week later, state Sen. Allen Christensen responded in another D-News op-ed. He criticized Keefe's piece by raising two huge straw men.
First, he accused the chief of not understanding that allowing a permit-free right to carry a gun did not change the permit process that police officers and the governor favor. Which is like saying that if the Legislature had made it legal to drive without a driver license, without explicitly putting the DMV out of business, it would not have fundamentally changed the nature of operating motor vehicles in the state.
He also said Chief Keefe was misleading when he said that HB76 would allow unlicensed folks to carry a concealed "loaded" firearm. Well, as Bill Clinton might say, that depends on what the meaning of "loaded" is.
Keefe, like most people, calls a gun "loaded" when it has bullets in it. Christensen and his allies prefer another definition, which has a basis in law but not in common sense, which is that a weapon is "loaded" only when there is a bullet in the chamber.
What's the difference? Your friendly neighborhood psychotic or your perfectly sane but frightened roommate can shoot you in two seconds instead of one.
That was followed by another "the sky is falling because they say the sky is falling" screed from some other Second Amendment fundamentalists. Rep. Curt Oda told the Trib's Derek Jensen that Keefe was "full of damn lies" for telling people that HB76 and similar legislation would mean "the streets are going to run red with blood."
Keefe, at least in his published column, said no such thing, either directly or by implication. It is Oda who is being misleading, whether intentionally or by believing his own overheated rhetoric about what he thinks someone said.
In the process, Oda sadly makes a straw man out of himself and his side of the argument. He becomes just the kind of paranoid caricature who makes gun laws popular, makes permits a good idea and makes real peace officers very nervous.
George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, is an expert in straw men, ad hominems, slippery slopes and reductios ad absurdum. And he don't need no stinkin' permit.