“They’re digging in the wrong place,” Sallah and Indy said, noting that even though the Nazis have all the equipment and manpower they need to find the ark of the covenant, because they don’t know the actual location, they’d never find it no matter how much they dug.
I believe that’s exactly where we now stand with the issue of gun violence in America.
Yes, I know the statistics about guns; homicides, suicides, and accidents involving firearms dwarf incidents of self-defense. Yes, I am moved by the heroic testimony of Gabby Giffords on Capitol Hill and the touching words of Mark and Jackie Barden, parents of Sandy Hook victim Daniel. Yes, I am disgusted by the intransigence, bullying, and hypocrisy of Wayne LaPierre. Indeed, I was a part of this very debate back in the 1990s, working on the international ramifications of America’s lax gun laws.
Yet while I am heartened that we are mining our collective souls once again now that the oft buried costs of an armed society have been so savagely exhumed, I am more convinced than ever that we are digging in the wrong place.
What convinced me of this fact was the irony of back-to-back memes that popped up on my Facebook news feed seemingly arguing with each other despite the fact that these two friends of mine aren’t at all acquainted:
To me, these two pictures paint a clear picture as to the problem—the two sides of the debate are simply, once again, talking past each other. Indeed, Vice President Biden’s meeting with the gun lobby was by all accounts a perfunctory one at best—an honest drawing of the battle lines now that the front had shifted so suddenly, so tragically, in the direction of gun control advocates.
As one who spent 20 years lobbying and organizing on issues such as this one, I understand the temptation to press an advantage when it arises. Spikes in gas prices help make the point for better fuel economy. Attacks on U.S. soldiers by enemies armed with U.S. weapons make the point for a Code of Conduct on international arms sales. Been there, done that.
But here’s the problem that my two friends’ memes demonstrate so well. While the majority of Americans are now in favor of sensible gun control laws (including many NRA members) the majority of Americans are also in favor of placing armed security at schools (including many who don’t own guns). And so the rhetorical and policy battle becomes not a discussion on common ground, but the two sides staking out positions that have public support, but not the support of the other side. By focusing simply on their perception of what is right, both sides doom us to more division, more failure, and more partisanship.
In Conflict Partnership terms, this is classic “Power Over.” You find the position of which you are at greatest advantage and attempt to leverage it to the hilt. In electoral circumstances, I understand the need to focus on that strategy as there really is a winner and loser and the loser goes home. But when you are trying to make real change, Power Over tends to create at best short-term gains with long-lasting negative ramifications. Indeed it has been just this “I just need to convince enough people I’m right to shove those I believe wrong out of the way” philosophy that has Congress polling below cockroaches in popularity.
Perhaps gun control advocates are able to push their way into a significant enough majority to finally get some common-sense gun laws on the books, but I’m dubious. What makes me far more upset, however, is that the fight we are having does nothing to bridge the gap that when you strip away lobbyists and policy makers, may not really be much of a gap at all. Perhaps it’s really that we’re just having the wrong argument.
To make a real change, I believe President Obama should look to his past—his nerdy, nerdy past. As we know, the President’s all-time favorite Super Hero is Spider Man (something we share other than going to Occidental College). And Peter Parker’s guiding philosophy came to him from his Uncle Ben:
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
There is very little I can think of that this axiom applies to more than guns. But the conversation we have over and over again is about “rights vs. responsibilities.” Instead, perhaps what we need is to talk about “rights and responsibilities.”
This, to me is where we could begin our conversation anew, and actually begin it with the topic that got it started in the first place—keeping our children safe. And it could start exactly where the NRA has its power, on security in schools. For if the right to bear arms needs to be balanced with the responsibility we have to our children, then, yes, I find myself with the majority that say increased security is a good idea.
I also believe that if we begin digging there, where the NRA put the big, red “X”, we just might be able to begin having a very different conversation about guns in our society. It’s one that both sides of the debate may be a little more uncomfortable with. But in this case, uncomfortable is good. I’ll explain about what I mean in my next post.