After every school shooting, TheOnion.com reruns an article titled “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” This rueful repetition is a tragic reminder of just how mired in routine the nation has become whenever gun violence rears its ugly head.
The Florida murders have prompted yet another rerun of the kabuki theatre ritual where one side screams “do something” and the other side screams “out of my cold dead hands.” Both sides distrust each other so deeply and fundamentally that there is never any danger that actual communication could take place between the two. The echo chambers get increasingly louder, but they all have soundproof walls.
So here’s a place to start – it would help if both sides would accept that those who disagree about what the solutions ought to be could recognize the basic decency of the human beings on the other side. For the most part, card-carrying NRA members are as appalled by the death and destruction as those who want a fully-armed military to go house to house and gather up your guns.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but if there are ever to be productive conversations on this issue, they will need to start with both sides willing to meet the other in good faith. When you demonize all Democrats as being pinko commies when they propose even the mildest possible regulations one firearms, you make dialogue all but impossible. And if you’re screaming “Do something!” at Republican lawmakers, you can’t very well expect them to do anything at all if you’re simultaneously screaming “There’s blood on your hands!”
There are also three hard realities that ought to be recognized before any discussion begins. These should be stipulated as statements of fact, not opinion. They are not open to debate.
Fact #1: There are more privately owned guns in America than people
With over 350 million privately owned guns in the United States, more than one for every American man, woman, and child, it is neither likely or feasible that any measure will ban and/or eliminate all weapons from private ownership. That needs to be remembered both by those who either advocate or fear such an outcome.
Fact #2: The Second Amendment is not absolute, we have some gun control
Just as the First Amendment does not allow you to falsely scream “Fire!” in a crowded theatre without governmental consequence, the Second Amendment does not guarantee a complete absence of any regulation on firearm ownership. Fully automatic weapons, for instance, have been almost entirely illegal since the Firearms Act of 1934, which comes as a surprise to those who believe that machine guns are synonymous with semi-automatic weapons status. Whether or not you accept that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to firearms or just the right to a “well-regulated militia,” there’s no denying that the words “well-regulated” are part of the amendment’s language.
Fact #3: Good intentions don’t do anyone any good
There is a great deal of well-intentioned gun legislation that has, at best, accomplished nothing and, at worst, exacerbated the problem it is supposed to solve. It is not a coincidence, for instance, that so many mass shootings have taken place in areas labeled “gun-free zones,” where killers know that there isn’t going to be anyone there to shoot back. Inner cities with the highest levels of gun violence in the country also correlate with some of the strictest gun control laws on the books. Cries of “do something!” often reward good intentions with politically expedient gestures that make many feel better in the short term but don’t actually keep people from getting shot.
Understanding these realities, and avoiding ad hominem nonsense, will help to create a productive conversation on this subject. Heaven knows we need one. What we don’t need is another reason for The Onion to run their piece one more time.
(Photo of the 2013 March on Washington for Gun Control via Wikipedia)