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On Second Thought, I was Right

11 January 2013 3 Comments

How to start a rational discussion on gun control.

Few of us will ever forget the events that transpired in Newtown, CT on Friday, December 14, 2012.  That it will remain etched in our collective memories speaks to the better nature of our humanity.  However, these events typically have another effect; a call to a more primitive center of our being that cries out in desperation amidst juxtaposed feelings of rage and helplessness.  In this state, reason is obscured; logic is quashed, and sensibilities banished.  It is a very dangerous condition; a path wrought with pitfalls and peril.  Action is demanded but choices are blurred.  It is the stuff that lynch mobs are made of.

So as Saturday inescapably followed, I received a reminder for the Coffee Party’s Blogtalk Radio Show, Politics Done Right, hosted by Egberto Willies.  Then I saw the title:  Another massacre — Can America stand up to its gun lobby? At that point, I began to brace myself against the ferocity of the inevitable storm.  As the show began, Egberto thundered away like a preacher from a fiery pulpit, filled with righteous and rightful indignation (it’s a great listen that can be found at http://blogtalk.vo.llnwd.net/o23/show/4/026/show_4026629.mp3).  The first several callers echoed his angst.  Then, twenty six minutes into the show, Egberto opened my mike and asked for my opinion.  It was at this point that I took the conversation in a much different direction.  I asserted that this was not the proper time to have this discussion.  That instead, there should be a cooling off period, just as there should be a cooling off period before buying a gun.  I alleged that emotions were running too high for rational conversation; and that most certainly, additional information would be revealed over the ensuing days that would likely change the conversation.  I felt my assertion to be lucid; and days later at least part of it was vindicated as the discovery of mental illness shifted the focus somewhat.  Regardless,  many callers would spend the next hour-and-a-half bludgeoning it.  One caller characterized my plea as, “ridiculous talk because now is the time to talk about it because it is hot.”  Later on the show I would acquiesce, bowing to the will of the vast majority.  However, upon further reflection, I was wrong to do so.

In the days that followed, virtually every politically-oriented blog was strewn with gun-related posts followed by angry comments suggesting solutions ranging from a ban on assault rifles and large clips to an embargo on guns altogether.  Grief and outrage skewed arguments, which were replete with logical fallacies such as the constant use of ad hominem in dismissing anything the NRA dared say (attacking the person making the argument, not the argument itself).  But the pro-gun positions were no more rational.  Unreasonable rants abounded.  “You want my guns?  You’ll have to pry’em out of my cold dead hands.” and, “The Second Amendment exists so that I can protect myself against the government.  So if I want to own an RPG or a Sherman Tank, that’s my right!”  All I could think was, wow!  Who in their right mind would reasonably conclude that this type of discourse could possibly gain even the smallest amount of traction? But to my point, how many of us were actually in our right minds at that time? I felt vindicated, yet empty.

Weeks later, somewhat distanced from the Sandy Hook aftershock, I came across yet another article calling for rational gun control discourse.  However, this article referenced the second anniversary of the Arizona shooting incident that seriously wounded U.S. Senator Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords.  This post evoked a much different emotional response, and in that response I found my confirmation.  I had been right.  Twenty-four hours after the Sandy Hook massacre, those mentioning Adam Lanza by name were greeted with expletives like, “THAT G-D A**HOLE.  THERE’S A SPECIAL PLACE IN HELL FOR M-F’S LIKE THAT AND I HOPE HE’S BURNING IN IT RIGHT NOW!”  In sharp contrast, alluding to the Gabby Giffords shooting evoked a reaction of “Oh yes.  I remember that.  Horrible business.”

So please allow me to pose a question:  Which mindset provides the more fertile ground for a constructive conversation?   If you’re still inclined to answer , “Waiting is wrong Dan!  The time is now!”, I implore you to consider what happened just after 9-11 when collectively, as a nation, we were emotionally laid waste.

Joined in the heat of battle and spurred on by catchphrases such as, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” and “We will hunt you down and we will bring you to justice”, our nation was transformed into a bloodthirsty mob bent on revenge.  And where, pray tell, did that get us?  Hatred ran rampant.    Stereotyping and profiling became as natural as breathing.  Innocent people were brutally beaten and even killed just for having the wrong shade of skin or wearing the wrong clothes.  Neighbor turned against neighbor in distrust.  And while we were lost in a haze of hostility, our elected officials seized the opportunity to ratchet down our civil liberties in the name of “protection”.  The abomination that is The Patriot Act passed in a landslide.  Congress expanded the War Powers Resolution to include the “use of all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons”.  Where previously the President was limited to authorizing the use of military force against specific nations, now he could mobilize forces against any individual or individuals simply “suspected of committing or aiding in the commission of terrorist acts” without the consent of Congress.   And we actually thought that was a good thing!  Why? Becuase we were so enraged that we only envisioned these expanded powers being used to bring those who felled the towers to justice. Like a bull coerced by the Matador, we charged blindly at the red cape, failing to see the sword grasped skillfully behind it, ready to strike.  The next thing you know, we’re bombing Baghdad.  And Washington was just warming up. Fast forward to this past December when, while we were all sitting around our Holiday tables with friends and family, pondering the cataclysmic downsides of the Fiscal Cliff, Congress overwhelmingly passed and the President signed into law NDAA 2012 and the FISA extension, further encroaching on our freedoms. And all of this was made possible by The People’s engorged emotional state.

So yes, venting is great.  For many (yours truly included) it is a necessity.  However, after emotionally raising the roof and then setting it on fire, we must allow enough time for sanity to return.   We must afford ourselves the somber solitude and peace of mind necessary for quiet reflection; to contemplate free flows of complex ideas and scenarios and ultimately, to envisage positive transformation.  We must seek to attain that state of being which leaves us open to civil discussion and, at least potentially, to compromise.   And it is of the utmost importance that we recognize that this mindset cannot be reached in the throes of madness or the depths of heartbreak — which is exactly where we all were the day after tragedy stuck Newton.

Please believe me.  There is no danger in allowing for this.  No one is going to simply forget Newton, or Aurora, or Columbine, or Phoenix, or Dan Brady.  There will always be more than enough painful memories to advance gun control dialog.  But just as we hold those tragedies close to our hearts, we must similarly pledge to remember and honor the pain and heartache of Doctor Susan Gratia-Hupp who, on an October 16, 1991 witnessed a madman exit the truck he had just driven through the front window of a Luby’s Cafeteria in Kileen, TX, before proceeding to remorselessly gun down 23 people including her mother and father.  But her nightmare was made exponentially worse by the fact that her .22 caliber pistol — the smallest of handguns that a friend had given her for protection was sitting in the glove compartment of her car, not two blocks away because the state of Texas had stripped her of her right to carry it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sEYGcXSmpQ).  And finally, we must never forget that our great nation was born of the belief that every man (and woman) is endowed with three inalienable rights, bestowed on us not by our founders but by the highest powers in the universe, and that the first of these — the most important of these is “life”.  As such to deny people the right to protect their lives altogether is simply not an option.

Somewhere within the boundaries defined by these circumstances lies the stuff that democracy is made of.  And so it is our duty to contemplate; to deliberate; to debate civilly, and to ultimately reach a conclusion that both sides can point to and say, “We were heard.  We were respected, and we achieved balance.”  If we as Americans have a hire calling, I for one, do not know what it is.

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