Sunday, December 23, 2012


    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.

1 comment:

  1. I like the post, but there are some issues that are not addressed. First, and most important, one separates something like a school shooting from the gang violence. The people who take part in both are very different, and while guns are used in both cases, the makeup of the shooter is very different.

    Second, much of the gang violence centers around prohibition of drugs. Nearly a century ago, we had gun violence due to gangs fighting for territory in which to sell alcoholic beverages, which were prohibited by law. Today, we do not have the same kind of violence tied to the sale and distribution of alcohol.

    Drug prohibition also has spawned a huge industry of police violence (which also is "gun violence") that I NEVER have seen discussed in the mainstream press. There are 70,000 SWAT raids a year, most of them invasions of places where people are using drugs, with the potential for violence growing exponentially because we are arming police with military gear and then encouraging them to be violent.

    My guess is that the editor was referring to the violence associated with the prohibition of prostitution and drug use and sales, not the "attendant violence." As I noted before, there was "attendant violence" with sale and distribution of alcohol during the 1920s; there is none today. Likewise, the "attendant violence" tied to drugs and prostitution comes with their prohibition, not the activity itself.

    One does not have to like prostitution or drug use to understand why violence accompanies prohibition of these things. Nor do I believe it is necessarily "racist" to question prohibition; in fact, our prisons today are full of African-Americans arrested and convicted of drug crimes, and I would hope one day that we actually find a way to discuss that fact, as opposed to just decrying the racial makeup of prisons, as bad as that situation is and as much as I agree that the racial makeup is wrong in and of itself.

    (The "Progressive" approach to this problem is not to deal with the underlying issues, but rather to demand that more whites be arrested and imprisoned. That is not a solution, but nonetheless is makes Progressives feel good about themselves.)

    School shootings are part of a larger pattern in which spree shooters pick the "gun-free" zones in which law-abiding people are unarmed. Now, I have no desire to carry a gun anywhere, least of all a school or a shopping mall or theater, and I would prefer not to do so.

    However, spree shooters are the type of people who want to prey on others that they perceive to be helpless or defenseless. Many spree shooters have been bullied themselves and are just getting back at others, or they simply have gone to the nihilistic dark side and just don't care.

    They do know, however, that they are at a huge advantage and they love that fact. Now, whether or not this means we should scrap the whole "gun-free" zones approach or not is beyond my scope of suggestions. I'm just laying out the facts, and if Americans want to believe that a law against gun possession by civilians in certain areas means that everyone will obey that law, that is their business.

    Unfortunately, what we are seeing is a clash of agendas and the attempt for more feel-good legislation. Outlawing the Bushmaster will not result in fewer shootings, but it will make the editors of the Chattanooga Times feel good about things. (They like to feel good about Progressive causes like abortion on demand.)

    There is no "dialogue," only a series of monologues.