How Open Conversation Leads to Understanding
Ah, the Book of Face. That open social platform of instant communication that has taken the place of actual interpersonal interaction. The place where you can share pictures of your kid without being obligated to look at another person’s shitty pictures of their shitty kids (we look at them anyway, mostly out of guilt – we even comment with “Awww, what a cutie” or a string of emoji-speak instead of actual words, but at least we still have the freedom to say out loud how we really feel about their shitty kids). You can share how that new recipe for tater tot casserole came out for you, or how your latest home improvement renovation is coming along. And you don’t have to actually see or speak to anybody if you don’t want to.
Lately, however, and perhaps because of the current political landscape of our nation, the Book of Face has become a sort of moral sounding board for many people, including myself. People share their opinions, or post links to their shitty blogs (yep, I get the irony), and other people comment. Discussions are sometimes had, but usually they devolve into name calling and claims of “You don’t get it, you fucking idiot!”, and every now and again, long-time friends realize that they really don’t have a damn thing in common.
But, sometimes those discussions remain civil. Sometimes those discussions stay respectful. Sometimes, two people who are fairly well-informed about a subject and hold opposing viewpoints can discuss those viewpoints, point out flaws in each other’s logic, adjust their own viewpoints to correct flaws in their own logic, and all parties walk away better people, more open-minded and better prepared for conversation with others the next time the subject comes up. This is the story of one such occasion.
In talking with people, we often get so deeply locked into our own mindset that anything opposing it is instantly written off as wrong, and the person with the opposing viewpoint is automatically a moron. An easy trap to fall into, and I certainly have been guilty of it. However, to be truly enlightened, or at least strive for enlightenment, and to truly progress to a state of society where the needs and desires of all people are given equal credence, we must be able to look at things from a viewpoint that we might not agree with. We must be able to understand where our opponent’s logic is coming from. And we must admit when we are wrong. (Caveat: This is only applicable when all parties are approaching the discussion with a tone respectful of each other, and when all parties are fairly well-informed, or at the very least willing to research their own information as well as the opposing side’s).
So, I was wrong. I posted a blog after the Orlando shooting admonishing gun owners who refused to budge on the constitutionality of owning AR-15s and the like. I had a few certain ideas, and I put it into writing. Since then, several conversations that I have had, as well as personal research into the subject, have shifted my view somewhat. Not completely, mind you, but enough that I felt it necessary to pen this as a sort of partial retraction.
Now, I still am pretty far left on the matter of gun control. In fact, I still don’t think that an outright ban on guns in America would be an awful idea, but I am also not naïve enough to think that this is actually a viable option. And knowing this also means that I have to make certain concessions. The conversations that I had on the Book of Face brought me to a point where I know that it is possible for both sides to come to agreement on certain things. The problem we have is that there are two extreme factions – one that is calling for and working towards an outright ban on all guns, or at least a majority of them, and the other that clings desperately to a 240 year old document as a reason to have completely unlimited and unrestricted access to firearms of all kinds. Most reasonable people understand that there is a common ground we can reach, but those two extremes dig in and refuse to budge an inch in the direction of their opponents to the point that our legislators will never agree on the common sense gun reform that our nation desperately needs.
It began with a post from an old high school friend that stated her disbelief on how she actually liked what one Mr. Bill O’Reilly had to say about gun legislation reform in an appearance he made on Late Night with Steven Colbert. I had not seen it, but had just finished my blog entry, and linked it to the comments section of her status update. Before too much longer, a conversation began with another of our old school mates, one that proved to be very enlightening for me.
Though we grew up in Southeastern Virginia, Tommy now lives in Connecticut. He is a sports fan, a Game of Thrones fan, and a gun enthusiast. A well-educated gun enthusiast, not only on the functionality and performance of firearms, but also on the legislation
surrounding them. Not a “gun nut” by any means, and he can admit that those underinformed people that I call “gun nuts”, people who simply cling to their guns because ‘Murica, do in fact exist.
I should point out that in his first response, Tommy said,“I have been a long time advocate of federal minimum mandatory sentences for gun crimes. I think it’s a great idea that will get little if any resistance from the NRA and responsible gun owners. I read your blog and you make some excellent points, but I do have to take issue with you on a few things.” He continued at length with those things.
In my follow-up response, I made sure to be very clear in showing my appreciation for his knowledge and his willingness to share that knowledge, and to continue the respectful tone of the conversation, saying “Valid points all around, and thank you for educating me further on the more delicate details of the language surrounding the issue. As is my duty, I looked up much of what you talked about here (not so much to fact-check your statement, but to be better informed myself). I found some things that were interesting to say the least, and certainly seem to back up your statement.”
That is how you have a discussion, folks. That is how we become better informed about things that we feel passionately about. That is how we can make progress on this problem,
not by yelling at each other across the table and refusing to bridge the gap with
compromise that works towards the greater common good. You know, the way Congress does.
Our conversation continued over a couple of days, and over a couple of different posts. Articles were shared, questions were posed, thoughts were thunk, and ideas were discussed. Other friends chimed in here and there, offering their own points of view and some valuable insight, but the majority of the discussion was between Tommy and myself. I won’t bore you with the entirety of it, it is well over 5700 words, and I am hoping this post will be much shorter than that. (Anybody who really wants to see the conversation in it’s entirety, I can share it with you, though it is lengthy).
There were many points of discussion. We talked about the semantics of current legislation, expired legislation, and failed proposals. This might seem pedantic to some, but any politician or attorney will tell you that the way a law or regulation is written and the language used is very important to how that law is interpreted and upheld or rejected in court. We discussed the functionality of certain firearms, and their usefulness in real-world situations. And, probably most importantly, we discussed the misinformation that politicians and the media use in effort to get people on their side. The most important aspect of that part of the discussion was the understanding that both sides do this. And as long as that is happening on both sides, there will never be any real common sense gun legislation that is truly an actual compromise that benefits both sides. We realized that we agree that there is a problem, but the way to solve that problem (or get as close to solving it as possible) is to find that common ground that can make us safer as a nation and ultimately save some lives while still honoring the constitutional rights of our citizens.
After linking an article I found on another friend’s post and asking his opinion on it, Tommy told me that he had come to an important realization, saying “You know, this whole thing has really gotten me thinking. Whenever this subject comes to the forefront I generally just get annoyed and frustrated by the amount of disinformation in the general
media. I think it’s time for that to stop. I’m starting to see that the responsibility lies with informed, responsible gun owners, like myself and this writer, to help educate others as to the intricacies of modern firearms instead of allowing the NRA to speak for us. I have no delusions of convincing everyone to agree with me, but if we can start to help people see we are not all just ‘gun nuts’ and help those with a platform speak intelligently on a serious issue, that is certainly a huge step in the right direction.”
As a result of that article, my discussion with Tommy and others, and my own research and critical thinking, I am now less an advocate for “gun control” and more for “shooter control”. Yes, I still don’t like guns, and yes, I still think that an outright ban wouldn’t be a horrible idea. I mean, honestly, the NRA and their corporate media mouthpieces and bought-and-paid-for politicians like to say things like “Don’t blame the guns, blame the people! It’s a mental health issue!” while striking down any potential legislation that
would possibly help the overall mental health of our nation through proper diagnosis and treatment. But realistically, doesn’t anybody else think it’s weird that mental health issues are worldwide, but mental health rarely massacres people in countries with strong legislation or outright firearm bans (terrorism notwithstanding, obviously)? However, as I said, I am also realistic enough to know that this is not possible in our country, and, frankly, with the way our political landscape is shaping lately, I completely understand the basis of the 2nd Amendment.
I found a blog post that was written in late 2015 by a Navy veteran, and gun owner, that actually took a real-world common sense approach to gun legislation – a “shooter control” stance vs. a “gun control” stance. I shared this with Tommy and asked his opinion on it.
“Overall I love the concept. It’s basically an even more in depth version of what we have here in Connecticut (which I have stated before I am in favor of.)” Our discussion continued along those lines, with the understanding that the author also realized and stated that there were issues with the constitutionality of his proposal, and the ability of it to be actually carried out. Tommy also wanted to make a point of acknowledging something interesting in the article – “Total side note here, but I also have to mention that I LOVE how the writer of this article put ‘accidentally’ in quotations. I learned very early, there is no such thing as an ‘accidental’ discharge, only negligent ones.”
I also took issue with part of the author’s proposal. Another friend, who I worked under more than a decade ago, mentioned the ability of the government to restrict licensing for any reason, citing the many people with suspended driver’s licenses whose privileges were restricted due to violations that had absolutely nothing to do with driving. “It’s a constitutional right that is not supposed to be infringed upon,” Daris said of the 2nd Amendment. “The concept in theory is a good one, but giving power to the government for oversight is exactly why the 2nd Amendment was written – keeping our government at bay.”
Fair enough, I thought, responding, “Even sane gun owners understand that we have a problem that needs to be addressed. They see and understand that there is a problem with the ease of access to guns, particularly for those mentally unstable individuals who are perpetrating these mass shootings. I agree with you on the ability of the government to restrict licensing for reasons that have nothing to do with actual driving violations. The same could potentially happen with a gun owner’s license. My particular issue with the author’s proposal was the restriction of anybody who has ever been convicted of Domestic Violence – while the majority of those convictions are most likely legitimate, enough people have been falsely accused of such, and thus falsely convicted, that I couldn’t in good faith support that restriction. Point being that, sure this proposal is flawed, but in my opinion, it is the closest thing I have seen thus far that is common sense reform of gun legislation, which is something that our nation desperately needs.”
Much to my chagrin, yesterday, just days after this conversation, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that says exactly that – any person convicted of Domestic Violence will not be permitted to purchase or own firearms. I understand the concept behind this. It does absolutely make sense in a world where people don’t falsely accuse other people of such things. But, that shit happens, and people do get wrongly convicted. I don’t agree with the SCOTUS decision, and, no, that doesn’t mean that I am in favor of wife-beaters.
It stinks of something. It smells much like the same thing as the sit-in orchestrated by House Democrats that want to show the people how they are on our side in the middle of an election year where enough people are pissed off about business-as-usual politics that every single one of their seats are in jeopardy. It seems like a little bit more smoke, disguised as “progressive change for the betterment of society”, being blown up the collective ass of the American public. But, if you had asked me a couple of weeks ago, I would have lauded it as a fantastic idea, and a major step in the right direction.
The point of this long-winded blog post is that real change comes from within. If we sit in our bubble with arms crossed, refusing to even try to understand the other side’s viewpoint, and being stubborn until we get what we think we want, what we actually get is not really even what we think we want. We get some nonsense, unpassable pseudo-reform bill, where one side can say “We tried, but they won’t let us! They are unreasonable!” and the other side can say “You see what they are trying to do? We stopped them! They are unreasonable!” We get a created situation where both sides can prey on the fears of their voter base and keep us divided, instead of addressing the fears of the opposing side and bringing people together. Unless our ideas and our understanding of the issues can evolve beyond our own stubbornness, we will forever be locked into this game of tug-of-war, where the most extreme are on the very ends of the rope and the rest of us sane individuals are stuck in the middle, constantly being pulled back and forth until someone crosses a line.