Examining the bone fragments in the gun debate dirt
I’m feeling stressed and depressed, Mercury’s going retrograde — what better time to wade into the gun control debate.
Before everyone launches into full-on 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 nor 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 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 Number One: 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 an asshole!” “No, YOU’RE a asshole!”, which solves nothing. Let’s all just take a breath and dial it back a little. All NRA members are not assholes. All people who oppose the NRA are not assholes.
That said, some NRA members are huge assholes. Ditto for some who oppose it.
Bone Number Two: 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 survive 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. Ever. Period. The Second Amendment doesn’t imply that everyone should have a gun in all cases. It says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed upon. The rights of criminals and the mentally ill are often infringed upon. It’s not “all or nothing.” One size doesn’t fit all. So, we have to do the hard work and use our brains and make a rational choice. We must realize that 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 (ha), 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 thing: We want laws (or Second Amendments) and we want people to obey them.
Bone Number Three: Stop thinking about the NRA as an organization. It’s not 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’ Pentacostals.
Go try to convince a Pentacostal that s/he doesn’t need 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!”
Religious fundamentalists, whether God-loving or gun-toting, are fear-driven. The devil’s gonna get ’em, so they protect themselves with the Bible. The government’s gonna get ’em, so they protect themselves with the Second Amendment. And guns. Lots of guns. They aren’t bad. They’re afraid. You don’t calm a fearful person down by shrieking at him/her and screaming “Asshole!” in her/his face.
Bottom line: You can’t change a fearful 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 towards 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.
As for mass shootings, they have one thing in common: mental illness. 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 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, ever. 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. Having laws that make sure people are mature enough to drink or drive a car don’t mean you’re anti-beer or anti-car, nor does having comparable laws for gun ownership mean you’re anti-gun.
So, my suggestions 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.