The gun law debate typifies the very worst of our system. Gridlock. Misinformation. Murder and fear. The debate has been shamelessly exploited and distorted by both sides of the issue. Neither side has made progress to a better way. And as the gridlock continues, people die. Our first move to address gun violence has to be compromise by both sides of the argument from their current positions. Until then, nothing will change.
I’m a gun owner and a victim of gun violence. I see both sides of the gun argument in America. I’ve also travelled the world and seen how gun laws work and don’t work from Tanzania to Toronto. I believe there is a better way. This is not it.
The gun lobby has stonewalled. Their doctrine seems to be one of rigidity rather than progression. I’m a gun owner, former military, from a family of gun owners and NRA members. I’m here to tell you that the gun lobby’s lack of willingness to adapt has contributed to the “plight” of the American gun owner and likely even contributed to the proliferation of gun violence. At a minimum the gun lobby’s position hasn’t helped build a constructive future for lawful firearms owners. Instead it has made the divide between NRA and the gun-control lobby wider. That position can’t be sustained. The gun-control lobby has a very well defined target to come after in the current, non-progressive, non-adaptive gun rights lobby.
The gun control lobby is no better. Championed by a vocal populace they have, like the pro-gun crowd, distorted statistics to bolster their argument to such a degree that neither side can be believed. The gun control lobby stonewalls also, believing a finite set of specific new (old?) gun laws will eventually stem the proliferation of gun violence. They might be right. They might not. And abridging current laws is an amputation. Amputations aren’t preventative medicine. The crowd that espouses background checks, mental health checks, “assault” weapon bans and other a la carte legislation are hitting the drive-thru at the fast food legislation restaurant. It’s a shiny, conspicuous quick “fix” that soothes the conscience. As I say, it may work. A little. But to suggest any part of the gun violence problem is dependent on any one factor is foolhardy and short sighted. And to press the agenda of conspicuous legislation against certain classes of weapons and certain purchase processes is equally short sighted.
An editorial in the The New Yorker framed the debate perfectly, albeit unintentionally. Writer Nick Traverse said, “despite popular support” the Senate voted down every gun control measure being considered. He went on to say the two largest publicly traded gun manufacturers in the United States had increased their market capitalization by “552%” since President Obama took office. So, if the majority of Americans support gun control, who bought so many guns that the big gun companies are worth 5.5 times as much as they were our current President was first elected?
What is the solution?
First, we need to move toward middle ground.
The gun lobby would do well to acknowledge that, when the bulk of our current gun ownership rights were drafted it was illegal for women to vote and legal to keep slaves. In almost every other area of legislation that governs social conduct there has been progression and adaptation. Except gun ownership. Despite the fact that society and weapons technology has changed massively from when the bulk of current gun ownership laws were drafted we haven’t evolved the laws that govern either. If the gun lobby had been more progressive and proactive about safeguarding weapons ownership and society at large, they wouldn’t be in the legislative bull’s-eye right now. For the gun lobby, acknowledging there is a need for adaptation of gun regulation is a start.
The gun control lobby needs to refocus on being a violence control lobby and not be so “scope-locked” on pushing through ineffectual legislation that only addresses the most sensational and conspicuous aspects of gun violence. When the focus changes from being gun-control/magazine capacity control/assault weapon control/background check control to a more omnipotent review of mental health, education, public safety and law enforcement reform then they will make meaningful progress toward reducing gun violence. Until then they aren’t even grabbing low hanging fruit, they are picking up the rotten fruit that fell from the tree years ago and wasn’t that good then.
There is a lot to gain from being the first group to vault the stone wall. If the NRA proposed changes to legislation that addressed the hotpoints like background checks and mental health verification they would be seen as being progressive and pro-active instead of inflexible and puritanical. If the gun control lobby backed off the agenda of regulating conspicuously sensational weapons in the belief that will somehow have meaningful impact on the bulk of gun violence they would not only appear to be wiser- they would be. If both things happened the acceleration toward a middle ground would begin, and our collective futures, gun owner or not, would become safer.
I don’t pretend to offer the full list of solutions, only a thematic direction. That theme is to adopt change to reduce violence. It took a long time for the problem to become this significant. It is like a complex social cancer that has metastasized a little into every cell. It won’t be cured with an amputation or series of amputations, but by a cooperative, adaptive and regenerative approach with a concern for society rather than specific agendas.
For both the gun control and gun ownership lobby there is one certainty: Neither side can afford to do nothing