Monday, June 13, 2016

Middle Ground

Every time there is another mass shooting in America I feel compelled to write.  Most of the time I give up before the post does more than cycle around in my head for a day or two.  I am frustrated.  I am stuck.  And I am on a loop because we never come to an end to these stories.

There is always a new one, always the same useless responses on all sides, and always inaction.  Gun people circle the wagons and deflect to tangential issues, gun control people ramp up rhetoric that further alienates the gun people, random people change their Facebook statuses and post sympathetic preprocessed words to make themselves feel like they've done something, when in fact they are more likely removing themselves further from being productive due to the false sense of involvement.  The discussion goes nowhere.  Nothing changes.  And we wait for the next news story and start all over again.  I've stopped feeling like my words contribute anything to this morbid dance.

This weekend I had to tell my kids about the shootings in Orlando.  I kept it simple: At least 50 dead that we know of and there is no reason "why" that will make any sense.  This is what happens in our country.  This is what we allow to happen in our country, and I'm not sure what the reason "why" is for that either.

However, today I am writing because maybe in this case I do have something to offer.  I'm in a position to write about this dispassionately, because I am not absorbing this tragedy.  I can't do that right now.  Sandy Hook about ruined me.  That story made me physically ill and continues to tear at me if I let it in.  I think as caring human beings we have to exercise our empathy with important stories that aren't our own when we can.  We should feel devastated by accounts of the Holocaust, and slavery, and child abuse, and 9/11, and any number of other horrors that people seem compelled to commit upon one another for reasons I can't fathom.

But we can't live there all the time.  We have to live our own stories and create good to balance the horror or what is the point?  I could choose at any time to wallow in the sadness of past or present.  It's easy to go there.  If feels virtuous at times to go there.  But it is not usually productive to go there, so today I will not.  My knowing details from Orlando will not change it.  My tears will not make it better.

But maybe some clear thinking will.  Media--social and otherwise--is nothing but emotion on all sides from what I can glean today while trying not to absorb much news.  I am setting myself apart from this deliberately for my own sanity.  Here are my thoughts.


The problem with discussing gun issues in this country is there is no middle ground.  For the most part there are people who see the sheer number of guns in this country as a problem, and other people who view them as a solution or merely as symptoms of other problems when they are misused.  The presence of guns makes me feel unsafe.  I know people for who the absence of guns makes them feel unsafe.  There is no middle ground there.

So let's talk about compromise.  Because we have to do something.  What's happening now cannot continue, so we must do something different.  Compromise, almost by definition, means neither side will be happy, so I am going to make suggestions many won't like, including myself.

Gun control people have to stop talking about confiscating firearms and dismissing the concerns of people who are frightened without them.  It's callous to suggest people's fears for their personal safety and that of their families isn't relevant.  It is life and death about the things that matter to all of us most.  If someone believes they function better and more confidently in the world when armed, I have to accept it even if I don't feel the same.  But we need to stop making people who feel vulnerable enough that they want to arm themselves feel even more threatened.  That helps nothing.

Personally, I want the guns all gone.  Melt them down.  I would repeal the second amendment if we can't be bothered to interpret it reasonably.  Guns should be limited to the military and certain levels of law enforcement.  I don't see any purpose in individuals owning guns in urban areas, and I think people who use them for hunting should have to keep them in special lockers provided by the DNR near hunting grounds, not in their homes.  I can understand there are circumstances in rural areas where law enforcement or animal control is too far away to be effective and owning a gun kept at home is a reasonable precaution, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

This is how insanely far left I am on this issue.  I don't ever expect to be remotely happy with where we end up on gun control in this country.  I also don't think my pushing for such an agenda would get us anywhere, so I'm willing to concede almost all of it for any progress at all.

The insanely far right appears to want everyone armed with no oversight and no regulation.  And not because they really feel that there aren't people who should not be trusted with firearms, but because on the slippery slope of arguing about rights and principles they would rather err on the side of arming people than unfairly deny someone a gun.

Can we at least agree that there should be a middle ground between all or nothing?  Please?  I'm going to assume a certain level of common sense here and move ahead with the idea that people should be able to at least accept that premise.

Now, I have a few Facebook friends who are vocally pro-gun.  I have tried on various levels and at different times to engage them in discussion to try and understand them better.  These are people I have things in common with and whom I find intelligent and interesting.  I honestly try hard to put myself in their shoes and attempt to see what they see but there are unnerving similarities to how all of them react to my questions or my comments.  I know we're not hearing each other well.  They often respond to me in ways that are knee jerk reactions rather than giving me the honest thoughtful answers I'm looking for.  I'm sure my interpretation of their motives will be dismissed here, but I'm doing the best I can with the information I've got, but I know it's incomplete.

So let's talk "information."  It's vital.  We can't have a decent discussion or make effective laws or do anything about guns in this country unless we have facts to work with.  Yet we are actively denied this.

The most important first step toward finding real middle ground is to stop being afraid of facts.  The CDC is banned from compiling information and doing studies on the impact of gun violence in our country.  That is unconscionable.  I don't care what grim scenario someone wants to concoct about the dangers of doing research in this area, there is no excuse to not want accurate information to go on.  Reasonable people can deal with facts.

For instance, statistically there seems to be no adverse effect on communities that implement concealed carry laws.  I hate those laws.  They make me feel less safe.  But I can accept that if my gut says one thing but the facts say another, I will concede the point.  People on the other side should be willing to do the same.  That's what reasonable people do.

Unfortunately, in my experience, when people who want their guns feel vulnerable without one, they default to their gut.  They tell me they need it, they like it, and whatever inconvenient facts I present are not going to change their minds.  People have dismissed what I say by declaring I am a statistic that hasn't happened yet.  I don't think good policy is made out of fear.  I think we are entitled to real information to work with.  I'm sorry, but that's an area where that side must compromise.  And they won't like it, but again, that's how compromise works.  Be willing to look at facts.

To find any middle ground I believe the pro-gun side has to get over the terror of a gun registry.  I hear this one again and again: That every precaution, every law, every safeguard is just a stepping stone toward the government having a record of where all the guns are.

Get over it.  In the first place, it's irrelevant.  The government has tanks.  My husband is in the Army, and based on even what little I learn through him about his training and the resources available to the government, whatever stockpile various individuals may have is just not even interesting.  And if it were of interest to the government, I have no doubt they have the means to compile that information with or without an official registry.  The gun registry fears are a paranoid obsession that we can no longer afford to cater to.  It's blocking progress.  Other than the suggestion of a fantasy about someone using a registry to confiscate guns, I see no argument against one.  Compromise is uncomfortable.  I will not try to take your gun.  You should brace up and be willing to go on record as having one.

A place I would like to believe we should be able to find some sort of middle ground is to agree that guns are not toys.  They are deadly weapons designed to kill efficiently.  This is not something to be taken lightly, and yet YouTube is filled with "funny" video compilations of people acting stupid with guns.  They make me sick to my stomach.  Accidents happen, and people make mistakes, but if you are drunk and wielding a weapon there should be a consequence.  It's not cute or amusing to be clumsy with a gun.  There is too much at stake to treat a gun with so little respect for what it can do.  If you demonstrate that you are careless or you have bad judgement in regards to your weapon, your license should be suspended or revoked.

This is usually where the second amendment arguments crop up, and I am told it's everyone's right.  I don't buy it.  At one time people decided it was a right, and they could un-decide it.  Remember, I think it's outdated and would have no problem repealing the entire amendment, so this is me compromising by agreeing it is a right for most people.  But just as there are reasonable limits to free speech, it makes sense that there be reasonable limits on gun ownership.  A license should mean something.  You should have training and an eye test and be required to renew your license periodically.  Pretty much everything across the board that we require of drivers I would require of gun owners.  Either we agree guns are serious or they are not.  They require respect or they don't.  I detest when people treat guns in a cavalier manner.  If they are important, treat them that way.  And don't let people who fail to show proper respect for safety continue to have the opportunity to harm to themselves or others.  Why is this point hard to agree on?

Because of the slippery slope.  Any law could lead to a ban!  The compromise is no ban, and being responsible.  That's the middle ground, to concede that most people can have a gun, but only responsible ones can keep them.  That sounds fair to me.  That should sound fair to anyone thinking logically and not simply going with their gut and worrying first about what they want for themselves.

My biggest pet peeve when talking about gun control is the maddening amount of deflection that happens.  There are many many problems caused by the sheer number of guns in this country.  Addressing one does not necessarily address another, and it becomes a game of whack-a-mole.

If the tragedy of the moment is yet another mass shooting, then someone will suggest (I think rightly) that automatic assault weapons should not be available to the public.  The response is then to talk about mental health/evil people/terrorism.  And usually that a person who is determined would find a way to harm others regardless of having access to guns.  Let's break this down logically.

First of all, aside from just "wanting it" or feeling "a right" to it, what is the need for this type of gun?  It makes little sense for personal protection, it seems unsporting for a hunter, and short of needing to for some reason kill many people quickly I can think of no reason for it.  Because we need to let go of "fun" as a reason.  Too many people are dying needlessly as a consequence of preserving the right to other's "fun."  It should be embarrassing for someone to insist that the rights of collectors or hobby shooters outweigh the tremendous damage those guns do.  I will concede that you can have a gun to protect yourself, even if I think it's a dangerous choice.  You should concede that just because you feel as if you are responsible enough to have an automatic weapon doesn't mean you actually need it, or that it's a good idea for just anyone to have such a thing.

I will admit to ignorance about guns and their design, and don't want to get bogged down in what constitutes an automatic weapon.  Others can hash out technicalities, but I don't see why you shouldn't have to make a conscious decision to pull the trigger each time you fire a bullet.  Banning automatic weapons is not the same as banning all guns.  Don't equate the two.  You can't have a flame thrower either.  Self-defense does not mean having the maximum potential for inflicting mayhem at your disposal.  The ability to inflict death should be sufficient.

Mental health/responsibility/evil issues are indeed all important.  Can we stop everyone intent on committing mass harm from doing so?  No.  Can we make it harder for them by making access to guns more difficult?  Yes.  I don't understand why this point gets disputed.  Guns make killing people easier.  That is their whole purpose.  The kind of commitment or knowledge it takes to kill people in other ways is a deterrent.  Even if you don't believe that, can we try it?  Because more guns is not helping.

The worst part to me about this Wild West attitude of everyone being armed making us safer is that it is incredibly selfish.  There are members of society that are not capable of defending themselves.  The most vulnerable among us should not be denied protection as some sort of survival of the fittest exercise.  "Thinning the herd" is not an appropriate attitude toward making sure the elderly are safe and children are protected and that anyone who can't fire a weapon at a moment's notice becomes a target.  Even the most vigilant among us must at some point sleep or take a shower.  If we can create an environment that protects the vulnerable I don't see why we wouldn't want to extend that to society at large if possible.

That's getting into a space with no clear middle ground, though, so I will move on.

The real problem with the mental health angle on gun violence is that it distracts from more commonplace gun problems.  Yes we need to address mental health issues in our country.  To remove guns as a factor in that equation is ridiculous because in every case adding a gun escalates the cause for concern.  But when people extend the discussion of mental health to the disturbing statistics on suicide success when there is a gun in the home, that's not what people want to talk about.  They want to talk about the sensational cases of murder/suicide where prevention is difficult, therefore somehow not worth pursuing.  However, if we managed to only stem the flow of people going to the morgue due to suicide, that is still huge.  Whatever the one big crime of the moment is in the news should not limit the overall discussion.

No, we can't prevent every act of terrorism, but there are low level versions of such things on a domestic violence scale every day.  Those matter, too, but they are so commonplace they don't command anyone's attention except in a very local way anymore.  Don't let precautions that could help people be thwarted because they don't do enough or anything for a different segment of that group.  That's shortsighted, and it's deadly.

Background checks and loopholes.  This one gets presented as acceptable middle ground, and then gets derailed despite a majority of Americans in favor.  It starts off fine, then people point out the exceptions where it wouldn't help, as if that's enough to justify scuttling the whole process.  Everything I have read on this issue points to the fact that it has a positive impact to do consistent and reasonable background checks on people purchasing guns.

But then we are back to the fear of the registry again, and it all comes to a halt.  People have to let that go.  The imagined horror of what such a registry could do does not stand up against the actual calamities happening now.  We all must step out of our comfort zones enough to stop this trajectory we're on.

I believe there is middle ground to be found.  It's just not a comfortable place.  We have to be brave enough to go there anyway.  Let's please use our heads.  Let's be willing to figure out steps toward solutions and not give up because we can't solve everything.  Let's prove we value people's lives and not limit our sense of security only to guns.  We all deserve better.

8 comments:

  1. There are plenty of us in the middle, we are just drowned out by the extremists on both sides. What President Obama has been espousing and is still advocating for, along with most of the other opinions I have read, is banning assault weapons and keeping suspected terrorists from buying guns. That sounds like a middle ground to me - people can keep their ordinary weaponry, so long as they are not domestic abusers or terrorists or otherwise in trouble with the law, weaponry that is adequate for them to defend against a personal attack or home invasion. The NRA deliberately spins these suggestions to sound as if "the President is taking away your guns." It is all perfectly sensible regulation, that is not at all explicitly forbidden by the 2nd Amendment. I've seen the comments on Facebook - people just willfully ignore what is being said and take things to an extreme. The NRA itself approved of gun control, at least through the 1960's. This is a manufactured crisis by those who profit from weapons and those who profit from making people feel scared or threatened. And it is hurting our country.

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    1. I agree completely. There needs to be a sensible alternative to the NRA for people who truly are focused on gun safety and sport in the way I believe the organization was originally intended. Now everything is a scare tactic to boost gun sales after every tragedy. Responsible gun owners deserve better.

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  2. Oh gosh, yes!!! At the very least make sure that someone who has been investigated twice by the FBI in the past two years can't just walk in and *legally* buy a Glock and then walk into a busy nightclub carrying it and start shooting people! Geez.... this is a country of smart people... we should be able to do at least that much!!! [/end rant]

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    1. I don't understand why this is all so hard except that it is mixed together with a lot of money and power. It's immoral that this continues unabated year after year.

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  3. You've summed up my feelings on guns almost to the word. Thank you for this powerful, sensible post.

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    1. Thanks Jane. From a talented writer like yourself that is high praise.

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  5. Only the Onion can save us now:
    http://www.wired.com/2016/06/onion-can-save-us-now/

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