I have been working on the issue of gathering a national conversation about gun violence since January of 2011 when Congresswoman Giffords was gunned down at a Tucson Congressional Meet and Greet. Since that day this country has had 12 events that meet the FBI definition of mass shooting – four victims [not including the shooter]. Of those, EIGHT were with variations of the AK-47 or AR-15, civilian semi-automatic versions of either the Russian military AK-47 or the M16/M4 that the US military and police use. In those 12 mass shootings 99 people were killed and another 102 were wounded.
Since that time I have actively engaged in conversation, from obviously liberal gun control fora to, on the other side many of the gun fora that populate the internet. I have done so for a couple of reasons…first, to glean the opinions and “pulse” of the various groups, second to enter the conversations and have constructive, often hard open dialog with the participants and third, to enter the idea that, for a realistic solution that both fully addresses the proliferating gun violence but also respects the rights of the 99% of gun owners who are not part of the problem compromise will be required. In all cases on various fora I introduced a very simple cut and pasted suggestion [written January 12, 2011] so that I would insure that my intent was clear.
What is it going to take for the national debate to begin in earnest to address gun violence that is permeating our culture? Is it going to take the rising middle of America, those neither wed to the hard-line dogma of the two opposing sides – those demanding absolute gun control or libertarian freedom from all regulation – to shape this argument? And what event will it take to trigger that middle to demand change? An assassination? Another Columbine type school shooting? Another Luby’s Cafeteria or McDonalds restaurant shooting? A disrupted sporting event?
The two sides of the debate have to be willing to come together, to compromise to a 21st Century solution that is constrained by violence on one side and an 18th Century philosophy on ownership on the other. If they don’t the middle of the bell curve, that very wide middle made up of non-committed Americans will force the politicians to act. THEY will write the solution, not those with vested interest.
It seemed simple enough…it seemed to lack offense, it seemed to be neutral in the questions that it asked. Boy, was I wrong. From this simple opening I have been called a Socialist, socialist, communist, gun-grabber, gun nut, murderer, libtard, moron, and assailed by both sides with “you can’t fix STUPID”. Yes, both sides used the exact same phrase, including capitalization as a response to defense of that paragraph.
With just one exception I was either banned from the forum, asked to leave, defriended, blocked, told that I was a troll, edited or simply assaulted with a Tourette’s level of juvenile obscenity laced vitriol from the members – without a single instance of the forum moderator asking their majority opined members to “tone it down”. The irony of being banned from a firearms forum, attempting to void my 1st Amendment rights in order to protect their 2nd Amendment rights was not only humorous but has provided a oft used example of the irrational lengths folks will go to defend dogma.
BUT, I sure got my answer. From both sides I saw a complete intractability to changing their position, willingness to compromise, to even hearing views that did not dovetail exactly with theirs. Even more scary I saw many forum members articulate the common observation “[fill in the blank group] morons don’t have a clue as to what they are talking about.” In other words, their opinion was valid, had merit and backed by overwhelming evidence and the opposition was dumber than a box of rocks. And by “their opinion” I mean both sides. Both gun control liberals and pro gun conservatives.
So, besides having a set of disparate causes to gun violence, whether it is mental health issues, bullying issues, video games, violent TV or job stress or domestic strife all tied together by access to guns we have to look at extreme polarization in the national conversation. More to the point…how do two sides come to the table when both think those on the other side are F’ing Morons™?
To add to the list of causes of gun violence…let’s add extreme obstinance…the unwillingness to even consider the opposite view of a problem. This problem will never go away as long as the two fringe positions refuse to act like responsible adults.
The lesson I learned from this…shooting off in an echo chamber is deafening. But I also learned much of how to frame the national conversation on gun violence. Unfortunately it involves ignoring the fringes and looking to pissed off Middle America that is tired of their workplaces, restaurants, malls, streetcorners, theaters, churches and schools being places of violence. They come from the conservative, moderate and liberal pools. They will define the parameters of the issues and they will push the politicians past their lobbyists toward a package of solutions.
And maybe that’s not so bad.