I’m feeling stressed and depressed, Mercury’s going full-on retrograde — what better time to wade into the gun control debate.
Before everyone launches into shout-em-down Us vs. Them rebuttal mode, let me clarify that I am on neither side of the gun control issue. Yes, there’s a third side.
I know: Mind. Blown. Right? But it’s true. You don’t have to choose pro-gun or anti-gun sides. Just like ex-Republicans and ex-Democrats who get tired of drinking the partisan Kool-aid and reregister as “No Party Preference,” you can join the third side: pro-rationality.
So. Here we go.
If we’re going to make it all the way to the end of this column together, we have to agree to stick to the facts. Not hyperbole, not persuasion, not hysteria — just facts. We’re going to be forensic thinkers today, and examine the dry bone fragments in the choking dirt of the gun control debate, and talk about what we see, not what we wish was there.
Just the bones, ma’am.
Bone No. 1: The gun control issue will never end as long as each side vilifies the other. If the people we disagree with are “the enemy,” we’re fighting the wrong battle. We’re locked in an endless spiral of “You’re a jerk!” “No, you’re a jerk!”, which solves nothing. Let’s all just take a breath and dial it back a little. NRA members are not all jerks. People who oppose the NRA are not all jerks.
That said, some NRA members are huge jerks. Ditto for some who oppose it.
Bone No. 2: The gun debate isn’t the only one where all the energy is focused on vilifying the “enemy” rather than identifying and solving the underlying problem. It’s a lot like the abortion debate: Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. It’s so ironic that liberals who ridicule NRA members for wanting no restrictions on gun rights will turn right around and demand no restrictions on abortion rights. But abortion isn’t always acceptable. When the fetus is old enough to live outside the womb, yes, it’s murder. But — maybe the mother’s life is in peril. It’s not “all or nothing.” One size doesn’t fit all. We have to do the hard work and use our brains, and make a rational choice. We also must realize that the underlying problem isn’t the legality of abortion — it’s unwanted pregnancy. How do we prevent it?
As it pertains to gun control, all gun ownership isn’t right all the time. Criminals and the mentally ill shouldn’t have guns. The underyling issue isn’t the legality of guns — it’s unwanted killing. How do we prevent it?
And … the room goes silent. Turns out, gun control advocates and NRA members agree: nobody wants unwanted killing. The NRA doesn’t advocate taking assault rifles to schools and slaughtering children. It just doesn’t. In fact, I googled around and couldn’t find any mass shooting perpetrated by an NRA member.
Where the NRA shoots itself in the foot, however, is by responding to gun violence by parroting the Second Amendment, while everyone else stares in slack-jawed horror at the lack of compassion. If you pick under the surface, however, you discover that everyone’s saying the same things: We want laws (or Second Amendments) and we want people to obey them.
Bone No. 3: Stop thinking about the NRA as an organization. It’s a religion. It worships the Second Amendment. That’s their God. And stop thinking all NRA members are the same. They’re not. Some are easy-going Episcopalians and others are snake-charmin’ tongues-talkin’ Pentecostals.
Go try to convince a Pentecostal that there’s is no God. No matter how patient and rational you are or how much evidence you can provide, all you’ll get back is “Because, Jesus!” It’s the same trying to convince an NRA member about gun restrictions: “Because, Second Amendment!”
Fundamentalists, whether religious or gun-toting, are fear-driven. The devil’s gonna get ‘em, so they protect themselves with the Bible. The government is gonna get ‘em, so they protect themselves with the Second Amendment. And guns. Lots of guns.
Bottom line: You can’t change a fundamentalist’s mind. Arguing religion is folly, whether it’s God or guns. The best you can hope for is to live side by side in peace. You don’t have to like them. Just don’t hurt them.
We can work toward this by focusing on our common belief: Gun violence is bad. But will gun laws end gun violence? I’m skeptical. Murder is already against the law, and killers ignore that. Besides, weapons used in mass shootings are often either obtained illegally or stolen from law-abiding gun owners. In the end, laws only work on people who obey laws.
Behind those guns, however, are, without exception, mentally ill people. There’s no law that will prevent that. “Prevent that.” Ah — there’s the key. How about a law ensuring mental health treatment for all? How about a law mandating that schools to devote time to teaching social skills, like empathy and compassion, and respecting other people’s bodies and boundaries? How about laws providing funds for school counselors to help all kids feel safe, liked and accepted — especially the ones who aren’t pretty and popular? How about No Child’s Self Esteem Left Behind?
How about a law outlawing toy guns? The Second Amendment doesn’t protect those. I proposed that there be no such thing as a toy gun in this country. Only weapons. Children will be taught that guns aren’t playthings, they’re dangerous, and kids must never touch them.
How about taking guns as seriously as beer? Raise the legal age to own a gun to 21 too. And, before you can buy one, you have to get a license signifying your proficiency and knowledge of gun laws. Just like a car.
These things may not end gun violence, but they might put a dent in it. One thing’s for sure: They’ll do a lot more than everyone shouting each other down over the wrong issue.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com