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Is it hot in here? Or is it just us?
By Lynn Hoffman
Monday, December 03, 2007
Rated "G" by the Author.
How will we ever solve the gun violence problem if we don't listen to each other?
The annual number of gun deaths in America is now over 30,000, and the gun debate has been getting pretty shrill. That’s shrill as in ‘sharply unpleasant’ and ‘tough on the ears’. In fact, the word ‘debate’ as in a discussion of ideas, hardly applies anymore. Somehow, the talk of guns has evoked such profound fears that we are reduced to childish screaming and name-calling.
From where I sit, it looks like this: Gun owners say that gun control people are unpatriotic, hysterical wimps and maybe even communistic. Gun-control advocates hint that gun-owners are narcissistic neanderthals with sexual-inadequacy problems that they cover up with guns. One side warns of creeping tyranny, another brandishes pictures of bright-eyed children killed by gunfire. If you think I’m exaggerating the heat that this question evokes, do an internet search for ‘gun control’ or ‘gun violence’. The anger that you see doesn’t create much of a background for solving a problem. The confict is about what people need to feel secure and so the emotions are wild and high. It’s safe to say that there is more contact, both casual and constructive, between Israelis and Arabs than there is between the sides in the American gun debate.
All this has the makings of tragedy, of a situation where two sides are equally sure of, and in a sense entitled to their own sense of being right, moral and visionary. In tragic conflicts, no one gives way and everybody loses.
It’s tempting to think that we might just let this issue work itself out in fifty separate state legislatures and in the courts. After all, the abortion debate is just as hot, just as divisive and rancorous and while it’s not settled, we seem to be surviving as a nation in spite of it.
Maybe a clue to an eventual solution lies in the nature of some of our other national debates.
Abortion, for all its heat, is an issue that inevitably sheds a bit of light. Everyone who advocates free access to abortion recognizes that there is an awful sadness involved in it. Everyone who works to restrict the availability of abortion knows someone who has had one. Our antagonisms on the issue draw at least some of the people on either side together because we can empathize with the other side’s sadness.
The future of health care also gets people hot under the collar. To some it’s obvious that access to health care is a basic human right. For others, it’s just as obvious that government shouldn’t be in the health care business. For both sides, their opinion is on the side of the angels. But even here, there’s some common ground. Hardly anyone would want to see children go untreated and no one wants the government taking choice out of one’s personal health care.
So let’s try for a bit of common ground in the gun debate. First, let’s imagine that it’s possible for good and honest people to hold opinions different from our own How about starting with the language we use. I’ll promise to stop referring to ‘gun nuts’ if you’ll agree to give up on the ‘gun-control crowd’. After we stop the name-calling, maybe we can begin to recognize that the other side has some concerns that ought to be addressed.
Maybe we can ask ourselves some questions.
A question for the gun rights people: What steps can we take to prevent the needless gun deaths of innocent people?
A question for the gun control people: How can we reassure law-abiding gun-owners that keeping our streets safe doesn’t mean confiscating their guns?
I wonder if a bit of serious thought about the other side’s concerns might slow us all down enough to see that there are real people on the other side of the issue. I wonder if seeing each other for the first time might bring us a little bit closer to a solution to a grave national problem. Or shall we wait until another 30,000 people die and then start acting like grown-ups?
--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and
the novel bang BANG, a romantic thriller about sex, death and gun violence.
Site: Lynn Hoffman, author of bang BANG
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|Reviewed by C. McKee
This has always been a sore spot for me. What can't people just present their side without name-calling and mud-slinging? Besides the fact that people seem to be stuck in grade school mode, I believe it also has to do with faith in their own cause. They don't have enough faith, so they resort to demonizing in order to make them look good.
|Reviewed by John Cooley
|Perhaps the best way would be to use the scientific method: pick two towns equal in all reasonable respects, and allow Handgun Control write the gun laws for one, the NRA the gun laws for the other, then sit back for 10 years and record the statistics.
The incentive to the towns might be a hefty government grant to each at the conclusion of the experiment. Come to think of it, a lot of similar questions might be settled by the same technique.