Several days after our latest experiment in gun dialogue, I find myself both more hopeful and less hopeful. Fortunately, more hopeful is winning.
Last week I posed a few basic ideas that, just maybe, every person on every side of the gun debate could agree on. If we could agree, weâ€™d have some common ground, which often inspires at least the toleranceâ€”and sometimes the empathyâ€”required to explore thornier issues.
The ensuing dialogue (mostly on my Facebook feed) was robust, rarely on topic, and wildly fruitful. Here are some things that I heard, thought, was surprised by, etc.:
People listened to each other. There was some â€œYes I hear you but [more of my position here]â€ going onâ€”which doesnâ€™t qualify as listeningâ€”but many folks at least tried to take in the views from commenters on the other side.
The resulting exchanges were enlightening. At one point, two folks debated the definition of militia (a key word in the Second Amendment) and what relevance it might have for todayâ€™s United States. I honestly had never considered that issue in any depth.
At another point, a gun owner objected to last weekâ€™s attempts at legislation (defeated in the Senate) to inhibit sales of guns to people on government terrorist watch lists. Her objection was that the criteria for inclusion on these watch lists is not transparent. Another commenter, who favored the legislation, suggested adding a paragraph to make the criteria transparent. If these two folks could figure out a solution across their very significant divides, why couldnâ€™t the Senate?
There is a deep, widespread sense of fear among many people in the U.S. Millions of Americans believe that their government wants to confiscate their guns. Millions of Americans are now afraid of Muslims. It is very tempting, for those of us who gravitate toward the center or left of the political spectrum, to dismiss these leanings out of hand. I suggest we sit with them a while, listen to them more intently, see how we might address them.
This is notâ€”notâ€”to condone xenophobia. In the midst of the Facebook dialogue, I actually had to delete a post that advocated â€œbanning Muslimsâ€ instead of â€œbanning guns.â€ I will not have my Facebook feed associated with hatred.
But maybe thereâ€™s a distinction between fear and hatred thatâ€™s worth examining. I wonder if we can make space for people to explore and express their fears, groundless or not, while confronting the all-too-easy transition from fear to hostility to hatred. I wonder if that space might actually prevent the transition from occurring.
The problem of mass violence is much, much deeper than Iâ€™d thought. The more I read on this issue, the more I wonder whether any serious approach to reducing the number of mass shootings has to involve rethinking our society on a profound level. Maybe we have to, for instance, look at our very American propensity to violence. Maybe we have to consider how our long history of individualism has eroded the very community that might deter prospective shooters. Perhaps we have to ask why so many people feel so deeply alienated. And while I hate to sound grim, I don’t think U.S. societyâ€”or any societyâ€”is up to the task. Stillâ€¦
Maybe we can take steps anyway. God bless my friends: when I expressed my despair in the above paragraph, they were quick to remind me of some very basic truths. We canâ€™t change society, but we can change ourselves. Love is the answer. (Sound simplistic? If youâ€™ve ever tried to live it, you know itâ€™s not.) Maybe our task now is to imagine the baby steps we can take toward a more peaceful world.
This was, of course, one conversation on one blog/Facebook feed at one point in time. But if our little agglomeration of people can have this conversation, why not others? Why not people with the power to take the baby steps, and larger ones too? Why not?