Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gun Dialogue, not Debate

Recently, I stopped by Walgreens after work. As I was checking out, I noticed a man standing outside the door, arms crossed, a pissed-off look on his face, a holster with a pistol on his belt. I have a massive phobia of guns, so my heart started to race, my palms started to sweat, and I started looking around for a place to dive should he come inside shooting. 

Then I spoke to the clerk. I said, “Um, so there’s a guy with a gun outside the door.”

She said, “Is he pointing it at us?”

“No,” I replied, “but I just don’t like the idea of walking past a guy with a gun to get to my car.”

“Well, it’s his right,” she said, fire in her eyes. “I’ve got guns in my house, and I’ll fight to keep them.” She was pissed. At me.

“I totally support your right to have guns at home,” I told her, “but seeing them out and about makes me feel like I’m in the Middle East.”

“I don’t go anywhere without my gun,” she said, the color rising in her cheeks. “My husband doesn’t either.”

At this point, I was mad, too. I just wanted to buy some Smartfood. I really wasn’t in the mood for a debate.

I countered by saying I hope nobody’s guns go off accidentally (something I read about often). She retorted that they don’t if you get trained, which her 8 year old already was. She then actually bordered on shouting as she said to me, “What’s the first thing you’ll think of if someone breaks into your home?”

“The fact that many people die by their own guns during a home invasion,” I told her, walking out the door. At this point, I was ready to take my chances with Open Carry Joe than Angry Walgreens Wendy.

This was just a couple of days before the UCSD shooting. It’s been a week of prodding as far as my gun phobia is concerned.

But it got me thinking. Neither of us was going to change each other’s mind during that debate. Why? Because we were angry. Angry at each other, rather than angry at a situation. Trying so hard to be right rather than trying so hard to find common ground.

When a tragedy like UCSD occurs, my instinct is to blame. To blame all the folks who value the 2nd amendment more than I ever will. To want to shake them until I see things the way I do. But this is America. It just doesn’t work that way here. And that is a great thing.
I come from a family where almost everyone has a different political view than I. I work with people who are almost exclusively Conservative. And yet, I respect, value, and understand where they’re coming from on many issues. We know each other as people, so we can’t just pigeonhole each other as ignorant or heartless or whatever.

So, when these tragedies occur, I turn my mind instead to how every mother in America – Republican, Democrat, Independent, whatever – is scared to death this will happen to her baby. Fathers are worried about their families. People are worried about their spouses or parents or siblings or friends. We are all worried. None of us wants this.

My political allies and I are afraid that our society will become more and more violent. We worry that automatic weapons will obliterate our loved ones in the blink of an eye. We worry that anyone who wants a firearm can get one – despite age or insanity or prior records. We worry that we’ll become a shoot-em-out culture of doom.

My political opponents are afraid that the 2nd amendment will disappear.  They worry that they won’t be able to protect their families and their homes. They worry they won’t be able to hunt or shoot guns recreationally. They worry that our society will become socialist or totalitarian or something other than free.

All of our fears are real. All of our concerns are real. And for the most part, we are just good people who want a good life.

So, let’s stop debating and start dialoguing. Listen to each other. Stop fearing or polarizing or ridiculing each other. We both fear the extreme. And guess what – a lot of people stand to make a lot of profit when we fear. People consume when they worry – buy more weapons, buy an alarm system, buy a guard dog, buy a big bucket of chicken wings to eat to take my mind off of this. Let’s stop feeding people our money and start listening.

When I was a kid, there was no seat belt law. When one was proposed, it was the end of the world. The government was meddling in everyone’s business. This wasn’t America anymore. And now look at us – we’re still America. We’re still free. We just have a lot less fatalities per year from car wrecks.

That’s how I see it with guns. My students get a lot of joy and focus from hunting; I’d never want to take that away from them. Many people, including my best friend from college, feel secure by arming their homes; I’d never want that to be taken away from them. But this doesn’t mean than people with dangerous mental instabilities or police records should get guns. It doesn’t mean that we should have magazines of ammunition that can wipe out entire classrooms of first graders in moments. It doesn’t mean that the 2nd amendment means unlimited access.

But that’s my take. I’m interested in what you have to say. But I’m not interested in anger. Or blame. Or ignorance. We’ve already got way too much of that.

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