So I married an NRA member
I know, I know. You just shit yourself.
But I really did. I married one. And he’s not the evil, homicidal, gun-strapped monster you now believe him to be. In fact, he’s a quiet, thoughtful, intelligent, warm, kind person. Quiet — unless you get him on the topic of the NRA, the Second Amendment and gun ownership, and he’ll roar like the Leo that he is.
I knew Joe’s position on these things, and married him anyway. Because I love him, I had to try and understand how it’s possible that he could hold opinions completely counter to my own. I had a choice: try to understand or run away like my hair was on fire; dedicate patient thought to the situation or react with mindless hysteria. I’ve spent half an hour deciding which toothbrush to buy. I figured Joe was more valuable than a toothbrush. So, I did a novel thing. I decided to truly listen, even though initially, every word stung like rock salt flung into an open wound.
It’s not easy to shut your mouth and listen, digest it all, and ever-so-slowly pry your fingers from beliefs you’ve clung to your whole life. But an amazing thing happened. When I stopped formulating rebuttals in my head and instead actually listened, I realized that he had some valid points. No, I don’t agree with all of them. But I understand them. And I don’t stamp “EVIL” on his forehead just because of them. Why yes, we do disagree on some things, and I love him with all my heart. But I’ve also changed my mind about a few things too.
Oh, the things that can happen if you just shut up and listen.
Joe is a native Pennsylvanian, you see. Native Pennsylvanians are not the same animal as native Californians. Pound for pound, more Pennsylvanians are multi-generational hunters, and they’ve been steeped in that whole “Original 13 Colonies, Revolutionary War” vibe. Revolutionary War symbolism in Pennsylvania is as commonplace as palm trees and sunshine and organically grown GMO-free fair trade pet kibble in California. The first time I visited Joe’s house, I was stunned to see Minuteman wallpaper in his bathroom, with light fixtures that looked like Paul Revere could have held them on his nighttime gallop to announce that the British were coming. That’s some weird, wacky stuff to a Californian. But not to a Pennsylvanian.
Growing up in an area where the Constitution is held sacred raises the level of importance you place upon it. Yes, it’s a Big Fucking Deal there. If you’re also a gun owner and an NRA member, the Second Amendment is the Holiest of the Holies. Consider that many “13 Colonies” folks are descendants of people who died to break free of governmental oppression and establish a new country based upon guarantees of personal freedom. That’s the heart of the Second Amendment: Personal freedom. Not the desire to murder schoolchildren.
Enter the NRA, which seeks almost exclusively to protect that Second Amendment. In my opinion (Joe disagrees vehemently), the hyper-vigilance of that goal borders on the paranoid. Yes, NRA members really do fear losing their gun rights. But they don’t think every lunatic should have all the guns he wants, as many liberals profess. The NRA is all about following laws, in particular, the Second Amendment. Those who shoot up schools and theaters are not. I searched and searched, and was unable to find an instance where an NRA member committed a mass shooting.
If you talk to an NRA member (you really can, they won’t bite your head off — unless you start the conversation with “you’re an asshole”), you’ll discover that they don’t like people disobeying gun laws. Lawbreakers make it harder for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights. They do NOT approve of gun violence, from single street gang shootings to mass shootings of innocent people such as the San Bernardino slaughter.
So, where’s the disconnect?
Silence. Silence is the issue.
The NRA’s PR strategy is utterly boneheaded. Their standard operating procedure in responding to gun violence is not to respond at all. No empathy, no response. They won’t validate the perceived correlation between the NRA and gun violence by participating in the discussion. THEY know what they’re about. THEY don’t support gun violence. THEY don’t condone mass shootings in any form. But the problem is that non-NRA members believe they do, because silence is endorsement. Period.
Following each and every mass shootings, you’d think the NRA president would be grabbing every microphone and bellowing that his organization absolutely, thoroughly condemns gun violence in all forms, abhors the slaughter of innocent people, and offers financial support to prosecute the lawbreakers. But no. Their frontman, Wayne LaPierre, just mouths the liturgy of the Constitutional right to bear arms, and shows zero empathy for the victims and, moreover, zero outrage that guns were used illegally and violently. It’d be so easy to just despise that soulless douchebag and leave it at that, but in the end, he’s doing the NRA’s bidding: “Don’t respond to accusations.”
NRA, you shoot yourself in the foot (ha!) by refusing to acknowledge the carnage and pain, and condemn the violence. You must contribute to the conversation. Your silence fuels the flames of anger and misunderstanding, and ironcially weakens the very gun laws you cherish.
But, NRA opponents, you have to contribute to the conversation too. Conversation requires speaking and listening. You’re too busy screaming to hear anything. Your outrage hardens the ice of steely resolve and freezes any hope of cooperation.
Cooperation, people. We must cooperate to end gun violence. Like a quote I read the other day, we’re on opposite sides of the table, screaming at each other about The Problem. We must come to realize that we’re all on the same side of the table, looking at The Problem together. Before we can do that, however, we must communicate. Speak and listen. And, we must begin the conversation with “Tell me how you feel” rather than “You’re an asshole and I’m going to tell you why.”
I had to learn to do that, patiently, because I love Joe. Love and patience are a better approach to communication than anger, hatred and condemnation. If We the People are to have any hope of ending gun violence, we must be allies. Not enemies. We the People are on the same side. It’s time we started acting like it.