I’m a member of a professional email list serve for lawyers to help each other and share ideas. Like any other professional list serve, there are some rules. One of them is: no politics and no lobbying.
Yet, within hours of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, a debate broke out between gun rights advocates and gun control advocates. The list serve host reiterated the rules and noted that there were other places to post editorials (say, for instance, a newspaper).
Sadly, these people did not have the self-control to stop. The debate ran its predictable course. The death of 20 innocent children became a mere sidebar issue.
At first, the “dueling” positions were somewhat politely, if forcefully made. The commentary quickly turned demeaning. Never were the words heard: “Well, you have made a valid point, even if I disagree.”
I was raised in Cleveland Ohio and we didn’t own guns in my family. We associated guns with handguns and thugs who rob people in the bad parts of town. I tend to see the gun debate a bit differently than some of my neighbors, many of whom grew up with guns used for hunting, target shooting and collecting.
I am not saying that the only reason people have differing views on whether gun access should be limited is that they were raised differently. Some people feel that the right to bear arms, like the right to free speech, is what keeps us from being slaves to the power of the mighty and untrustworthy government, or, for that matter, from the power of the neighbor with bad intentions. To them, when the government can start restricting guns, it becomes a “slippery slope,” creating a society where the state slowly takes away all individual rights and freedoms.
My dad is 84 and would be proud to call himself a liberal. To him, anyone who opposes a ban on assault weapons is simply nuts.
“Sure,” he says. “I’ve heard the argument that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. I’ve heard the argument that there will always be nuts and just plain bad people out there. A crazy person running around with a knife, even through a school, is not likely to kill a bunch of kids. It is crazy to give people access to technology that allows someone to kill dozens of people in a couple of minutes.”
When I brought up that the second amendment and that the ability to possess guns makes make people feel safer, my dad’s voice started to rise in anger.
“I thought you were smarter than that, son,” he shouted. “Assault rifles make us safer? Go tell that to a group of school kids!”
I raised other arguments. Some were practical, some political and some even philosophical. Didn’t matter. He wasn’t buying.
I can talk a decent game, but deep down, the “pro-gun” position on assault weapons doesn’t resonate with me. But I can see both sides, anyway.
At its core, I think it comes down to this: There is constant tension between security and safety on the one hand, and unfettered freedom on the other. A tragedy like Newtown makes people think—what are we willing to give up to be a little safer?
I see myself as in the middle, but I just don’t think assault weapons are that much to give up to make kids and parents a little safer.
There are folks who don’t see it my way. On the list serve a lawyer wrote “The problem is that we don’t have enough guns in society.” He pointed out that teachers are armed in Israel and Israel has never had mass shootings in their schools. The same guy argued that the Trolley Square shootings that occurred in Salt Lake City happened, in part, because the mall had several “no weapons” sign displayed prominently on the premises.
And the idea of arming teachers?
I don’t want to live in a world where second grade teachers have to pack heat.
But that is just me and I’m a city kid from Cleveland.
The neuropsychologists say they have figured out why human brains are wired so that it is so “unnatural” for us to see the “other side” of our neighbor’s argument. I sure hope that some day, we’ll get over that flaw and start understanding each other better. Maybe even respecting arguments, and the people who make them, that we strongly disagree with. Because it seems to me that until we stop “dissing and pissing” on the “other side”, there is no way we get big problems solved.