Relax. I’m not going to try to convince you of anything.
Because the fact is, I haven’t even convinced myself where I stand on gun control. So, rather than read this column with your fists up, forming a rebuttal with each sentence, or shaking your pompoms in wild agreement, let’s put our fists and pompoms down, and talk. You can pick them back up at the end.
Although I’ve tumbled the gun control issue over and over in my head, I keep arriving at the same ugly conclusion: Mean people are the real problem. The solution? Short of sending all mean people to the moon, who knows. That’d be my preference.
I’ve been rather silent on the gun control debate, watching conflicting passions erode friendships. Sadly, everyone has essentially the same argument: “I’m right, and you’re an idiot.” The gun control debate brings out everyone’s inner fundamentalist. Fundamentalists aren’t interested in an exchange of ideas. They’re only interested in defending their own viewpoints and attacking all opposing ones. When it comes to guns, we’ve become a nation of fundamentalists, and we can’t — won’t — agree.
Thing is, we do agree. But we’re so busy arguing, we don’t realize it. We all want the same thing: to feel safe. And we don’t. We’re all afraid. The conflict is really about how to deal with our fear.
For the purposes of this argument, I’m tossing out all the folks who get excited over the Second Amendment and obsess about the big bad government taking all their guns away so they can’t defend themselves when the government comes to take all their guns away. I just can’t include this level of paranoia in a rational discussion. It’s this simple: No matter how many weapons you’ve stockpiled, you’re no match for the U.S. military. If you think you are, you’re delusional. Besides, we already have the only weapon we need to fight the government: the ballot box.
I want to focus on the other gun rights advocates. The sane ones. Besides hunters (and put that hamburger down before you criticize hunters, because the meat industry is entirely more brutal than hunting), most gun owners simply fear for the safety of themselves and their families.
Well, pistol-whip me with the irony. It’s the same thing the gun control advocates fear for.
However, gun rights advocates don’t believe the government will protect them from mean people and gun control advocates believe it will, if we just have the right laws in place.
Because that works so well with rape laws.
Much as I loathe conceding this, the NRA is correct: Laws only work on people who respect the law, and little effect on people who don’t. Maybe if the penalty was severe enough, it’d get their attention. If not, at least they’d be off the streets. Let’s make it a felony to possess a gun not registered to you. Automatic five years in prison. Ten years if the gun’s stolen. Fifteen if you’re caught stealing it. No plea deals, no defense attorney shenanigans, no wiggle room. An ironclad prison term.
Second, all guns must be registered. Period. Just like cars. We register our cars now, and nobody obsesses about an evil government plot to take away our cars. Buy all the guns you want. Pile them to the rafters. But they must all be registered. And by the way — an unregistered gun is still a gun not registered to you. See ironclad penalty, above.
However, that still won’t prevent people with no documented history of mental illness or violence — yet — from buying guns legally, and doing mean things. We can’t predict that. And, the harsh reality of the Sandy Hook massacre is that all the background checks and tighter gun laws in the world wouldn’t have prevented that horror because the gunman took the weapons from the legal, registered owner: his mother.
No matter what legislation we enact regarding gun control, the mentally ill population will always be a wild card. Our best hope to diminish the chances that they become violent is to address the factors that compel them to harm others.
Maybe free mental health services are made available in every community. Maybe teachers, maybe all of us, are trained to spot loners or those being bullied, and reach out to them and connect them to mental health professionals.
Likewise, we can chip away at the factors that contribute to gun violence. Maybe we legalize street drugs, and remove the incentive to sell them on the street and fight or kill for them. Kinda stupid to bother with a drive-by shooting if you can get your crack at Walmart.
Maybe we strip all tax benefits to companies that outsource more than 50 percent of their workforce, and double the benefits for building factories and creating jobs in economically distressed areas. Maybe if people can earn their own money, they’ll be less likely to rob or kill to get some. Maybe they won’t be so darn mean.
Maybe we reexamine the Second Amendment and update the Constitution. We did that with slavery and voting rights for women. Maybe the time has come for guns. Maybe we do need to restrict which guns we can own and which ones we can’t. Moreover, maybe we need to vote on that, and see what the majority of We the People want. That’s true democracy — not gun ownership.
But in order to even consider these and other options, we have to have conversations that are more meaningful than “I’m right and you’re an idiot.” We have to recognize that we all fear the same thing: not just guns, but people who use them to hurt others — mean people. We all want the same thing. We all just want to feel safe.
Take a breath folks. We agree. We’re more alike than not.
So, I’m done. You can put your fists back up or grab your pompoms now. Or not.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com