I would love to see, and hear, a national conversation about guns. I am afraid however it will take the pattern of most of our national conversations, which are not so much conversations but the staking out of positions and then stating, publishing, and screaming them at each other. This is exactly the way we have handled the Obama presidency, with its attendant situational conflicts, such as the fiscal cliff, homosexual marriage, religious rights when it comes to women’s health insurance, and now guns.
I suppose our conversations could begin with the understanding that not everyone in the conversation will agree with the other parties involved. I am not sure how one gets the other party to listen, except to go into a conversation committed to doing just that for oneself, and humbly asking the other party to try and do the same. I am afraid the conversation about guns will suffer from the same extreme position taking that has been evident with just about every other social issue in this last generation. It is something we have just got to change, or else every social and political issue becomes a matter of winners and losers in terms of ideology, but not necessarily in terms of society. Previously I have written about the gun violence that affects the inner city, about gangs, and how such violence is a national moral issue, not simply a racial or neighborhood problem. Recently I noticed an article in our daily paper, from what was the traditional Conservative side of the editorial page, which celebrated the fact that overall violence had gone down in our community at the same time that we had an alarming increase in shootings and murders in the inner city. This Libertarian editor suggested that we basically create a “red light zone” where things like drugs, prostitution, and the attendant violence of the inner city go on without bothering the rest of the city. This position I personally take to be immoral, even racist, and an abandonment of striving for the common good. Politics has ceased to be the art of the possible and become the art of the intransigent, waiting until the sentiment is swung so the other side can be buried and their voice no longer heard. Now I do believe that some things are right and some things are wrong, I usually try to hold my convictions out of conscience, and not opportunity. It seems to me that no one really believes anyone does that anymore, it is only leverage for power, only testing the wind to see which way it is blowing, waiting until personal ambition can be realized. It might be a good idea to start with the assumption that though there will always be opportunists, and those who seem to betray their own conscience, many people in positions of influence actually do have opinions of conscience. They are sincere, and even though in my opinion they are sincerely wrong, we get nowhere by simply ignoring them. I would add that we get nowhere by refusing to listen to their arguments or concerns. I think this is even more important once your side has power in their hands. Politicians are great at stating that we should put politics aside and do something for the good of America, and what they mean of course is that the other side should put politics aside and help our side, which knows better what is good for America, to get on with it. One would think crisis would push us towards listening, toward meaningful dialogue, toward a commitment not to leave the room until we have some solution. But no, our leaders have decided they don’t represent the American people, but their party, their constituency which they have helped to gerrymander so that the electorate they represent is actually their ideological base. They have failed to represent all of their people, they have failed to represent all of our country. Politics always represents great opportunity to do something good, if not great. It is especially important in a democracy to protect the poor and the helpless, to guard their rights. Did I read that right, as it flashed up on the television screen, that we lose ten thousand people a year to gun violence? How many of them are children? How many of them are folks gone to the other life by instant surprise who had nothing to do with the perpetrator? How much shock, grief, and mourning must there be from those who loved the victim? So what will we do, what can we do as a society? I say take your pre-conceived convictions and carry them to the table, and put them on the table, and listen to the other side, and agree that something meaningful will be decided before you leave the room. We will never completely agree with the other, I assume, but surely there is something in a national conversation about guns and violence with which we can agree. We just had a shooting in a school. Maybe we should have a very practical curriculum about guns and violence in schools. It might be a good thing to start talking to children in as many places as we can about the potential for harm, and death, from guns and a gun culture. Maybe we should have a national concern about violent video games, and kids who become isolated. Maybe we should have a conversation about how divorce and abandonment of children is creating a generation that seeks self-actualization through a false sense of security through the power of violence, with the illusory instant gratification of making believe one has a gun or actually using a gun. So much of this national scourge is simply due to the absence of fathers. Maybe we need to realize that trying to save money by closing down mental institutions has unleashed a wave of individuals who continue to demonize and terrorize their own families. Maybe we need to realize that guns in responsible hands can protect us from those with guns who have evil intent? Maybe we should realize that regulations about some guns, about some ways of buying them, about some of those who want to buy them but shouldn’t be allowed to, might be good for all of us? As someone who enjoys the freedom to own a weapon, as someone who has enjoyed using them, as someone who knows there are moments where they can be rightly and justly used, I think we need to have a talk, and we need to talk until we have some positive things we can agree on. Let me make it even plainer, if you are a member of the NRA, call your national office and tell them to shut up until they are willing to go have a meaningful conversation with our national leaders. Not abandoning their principles, but finding out where we can all agree and then doing something together.