The debate over gun control and 2nd Amendment rights is stuck in an us vs them mentality
I’ve got a friend who’s a gun-nut.
OK. Obviously that’s an unfair, charged statement designed to spark an emotional response. But that’s the point. In today’s “us vs. them” politically charged environment people read “gun-nut” and tend to have one of two responses. If you aren’t part of the gun-culture you might imagine an ultra-right-wing, NRA-fundamentalist with a gun rack on the back of his F-150 and a confederate flag on his porch. If you’re a gun-enthusiast you might find the term “gun-nut” offensive and assume that the author who used that term is a free-wheeling, over-educated liberal elitist who would happily tax you to death to give free meals and healthcare to unmarried welfare queens.
Where public discourse is concerned, there does not seem to be a lot of middle ground when it comes to gun usage, ownership and the 2nd amendment.
In my friend’s defense, he is good natured enough not to take offense to the phrase “gun-nut”, but he would agree that “gun-enthusiast” might be a better choice of words. By way of a little background, he is a retired Navy SEAL. He spends his retirement blacksmithing, writing fiction and gaming with his wife and friends (this is how I know him). But his chief passion is investigating and debunking people who make false claims of valor (claiming bronze stars, purple hearts, SEAL membership on a curriculum vitae, etc.). He is an honorable man and one of the most intelligent people you could ever know. He loves his children, dotes on his wife and is a fiercely loyal friend.
And he’s a gun-nut.
He lives in remote southern Missouri, out of sight from the rest of the world, in the middle of vast acreage. On the political spectrum he’ll tell you that he believes all politicians are crooks, but he comes down especially hard in the “Obama-is-the-spawn-of-Satan” camp. On Facebook he regularly shares pro-gun-culture articles, literature and cartoons. He sees any attempt at regulation as an infringement on his constitutional rights and regularly rages against what he sees as an ever encroaching government restriction on his liberties. Essentially he’s a “you can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hand” sort of guy… and he means it. He freely admits to carrying a concealed weapon at all times, whether around the house or at the grocery store. He sees the world as a dangerous place with dangerous people in it, and the only way to stay safe is to be at least as dangerous as the people who would harm you. From his perspective more guns are better, so long as those weapons are safe in the hands of the people who are carrying them.
That is precisely the frame of mind that makes people on my side of the spectrum very nervous. I am not part of the gun-culture.
I live in a stereotypically liberal, elitist, educated, progressive part of the country. If people are carrying weapons they keep it to themselves. In the social circles I travel, to openly admit to gun enthusiasm is to invite mistrust and judgment. People in my world tend to share on their facebook walls the meme that says self-righteously “Guns make you safer the same way plastic surgery makes you more beautiful – only in your head. The rest of us just assume you have self-esteem issues.” Although I and most of the people I associate with appreciate the right to bear arms, and indeed don’t want that right taken away, we choose NOT to carry weapons, and feel more comfortable if we knew that nobody else in the room were carrying either. We would be happy in a world with no guns.
In stark contrast to my friend, the world I live in is an inherently safe place because most people are following the rules. We’re all trusting each other to do the right thing, and that’s how we stay safe. The only reason to carry a weapon is if you don’t trust your community, and that threatens the harmony.
My friend’s world is in balance because everyone is pointing a gun at everyone else. My world is in balance because the people in it trust each other not to hold a gun. His balance is threatened when he can’t defend himself with a weapon from an aggressor. My balance is threatened when someone becomes an aggressor with a weapon. He would call my world naïve. I would call his paranoid. He would tell you that lightning could strike at any time, and you’d better be prepared. I’d tell you that you can’t shoot lightning. He would point to the Constitution citing gun ownership as necessary for maintaining a militia. I would point out the passage that mentions a “well regulated” militia. He would make the case that gun ownership is the last defense against a tyrannical government. I would point out that his home arsenal won’t make a difference, when the government comes with drones, artillery and tanks, to which he would respond “Let ‘em come. I’ll put up a hell of a fight.”
Even if I can’t relate to his position on guns, I certainly can understands why he thinks the way he does. He is a Navy SEAL. He has trained himself to the highest levels of his profession. He has been in situations and seen parts of the world that most of humanity is happy to pretend doesn’t exist. He is trained to instinctively assess potential threats and vulnerabilities in any situation, foreign or domestic, urban or rural, and have a plan to safely (and aggressively if necessary) navigate those threats. The level of training required to reach the ranks of the Navy SEAL’s does not leave you when your service is over. It becomes part of your tapestry. It is who you are and always will be. We asked him to see the world this way so that the world we lived in could carry on in blissful ignorance.
In short, my world would not be possible without his protecting it. But it’s also worth pointing out that his world would not be possible without mine to protect. These world-views are the competing extremes in the gun debate spectrum. So where then is the actual reality? Which is right? The only certainty is that the two extremes are talking right past one another without making any attempt to listen and understand. If the question is “a world with guns” vs. “a world with no guns”, there can be no compromise. It’s one or the other. Most rational people would acknowledge that the truth lies somewhere in between.
If the objective is to find a compromise, then the first step is for both sides to try to understand one another. Thus far I have been unable to find anything worth citing where the anti-gun-culture tried to make its case to the gun-culture in a way that didn’t come across as haughty and condescending. But Dan Baum was recently interviewed for The Atlantic where he made a very interesting case trying to make the gun-culture understandable to non-gun-enthusiasts in a way that goes beyond 2-dimentional stereotypes. It’s worth a read. ((http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/03/what-liberals-need-to-understand-about-gun-guys/273736/ ))
Ultimately, I’ve got children of my own that I’ve got to raise, and values of my own to pass along to them. I’ve got to raise them to function in the world as I see it. I look at the world my friend lives in and think, given his experiences, it has no more or less credibility than mine. As my view of the world is focused through the lens of raising my children, the chief and most relevant difference that I can see between my friend’s gun-world and un-gun-world is that in my world there are far fewer bullets.
—photo by Vincepal/Flickr