The necessity of dialogue

Today the front page news is once again pictures of shocked and grief stricken family members trying to cope with the loss of loved ones due to a mass shooting. It seems unlikely that anything meaningful is going to change to improve these situations. Sure, we pass referendums and watch our local school entrances get fortified, we can constantly be aware of our surroundings like Jason Bourne, and we can buy Kevlar inserts for our backpacks; but none of that may help at all. It seemed after Las Vegas that there was going to be an appetite in DC for regulating bump stocks but that fell by the wayside. Having a reasonable conversation about the first four words (a well regulated militia) of the second amendment seems to be a non-starter, the focus is always on the last 14 words (the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed). What bothers me most about this issue is how no real dialogue takes place. Imagine any other scenario resulting in thousands of senseless deaths each year with not even a conversation about options to mitigate it.

On the one side politicians are quick to decry the need for gun control and on the other side politicians are quick to say stop politicizing this. In my opinion, there is the problem. Our political system has become so fractured that having a reasonable and open dialogue about something is taboo unless it is with someone from your own political party. Sure, there are some exceptions to this but it is uncommon and those joint ventures have not secured additional support outside of a small group regardless of whether it is immigration reform, health care, or gun violence. For a brief moment this morning I wondered if the solution was simple, I wondered if the news media started treating mass shootings like they do women’s athletics or climate change if that would improve things. Is part of the appeal of the shooter knowing they will be the lead story and have their name everywhere and be talked about until the next mass shooting? I do not know, but maybe more focus on the victims and mitigations for the problem wouldn’t hurt because the reality is at the moment I could care a less about the piece of shit shooter and his troubled life.

The gridlock, inaction, and self-serving legislation seems to be at the core of many issues facing Americans today. Over the years there have been many clever pictures and calls for politicians to be like NASCAR drivers and wear their sponsors so everyone knows who bought and paid for them. I genuinely think this would help. It might not solve the fractured relationships immediately but it would give clearer insight in to what is happening behind the scenes and make open dialogues more likely. Imagine a senator wearing a large Nestle logo on their chest trying to influence the Forest Service to allow Nestle to keep pumping millions of gallons out of the San Bernardino National Forest for free despite the fact that their permit to extract water from the park expired in 1988. Imagine a politician with a big General Motors logo on his hat trying to pass legislation to not allow Tesla to sell vehicles directly to consumers in Michigan. Not only might it change the dialogue, it might change the mindset of sponsors who currently act with a certain amount of or sometimes complete anonymity. Being able to have a dialogue is the key and today, when it comes to complex issues like gun violence, climate change, health care, equality, immigration and more; the number of politicians on either side of the aisle willing to have a real discussion and have a willingness to compromise is too small.

Off topic: The 2nd amendment

There are a handful of issues that polarize our nation and become political issues which tend to divide party lines. Some examples are gay marriage, climate change, abortion, the death penalty, and healthcare. The second amendment is another example that is drawing a lot of attention due to the publicity of recent shootings. It states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

On the extremes there are those that think guns have no place in society and those that think everyone should carry a gun everywhere. Most people live in reality and land somewhere in the middle. Recently, my Facebook feed has had countless postings roll through about how making meth and heroine illegal has not taken them off the streets so it will not work for guns; how we do not blame cars for drunk drivers so why do we blame guns; and likened Obama to Hitler because neither want you to own guns. While these might all be cute posts to some, they dramatically oversimplify the issue and misconstrue the solutions being proposed.

Reflecting on the 2nd amendment, the right to bear arms is infringed upon with some exceptions today. We cannot carry weapons on to a commercial flight, in to courtrooms, nor countless other businesses and offices. In addition, documented gang members, those previously convicted of gun violence crimes, terrorists, the mentally ill, etc. are faced with restrictions. As an example, should a documented gang member be allowed to legally purchase a gun upon their release from prison where they spent time for murder and carry it on to a commercial flight? If you think yes, you might as well stop reading now. If you think no, then you agree that the second amendment is worthy of some exceptions and establishing the specific details around when and how to impose restrictions is the key.

At different points in time, the NRA and other organizations have painted a picture of how if any gun controls are passed, law enforcement would be breaking in to homes to confiscate high ammunition magazines, assault rifles, and more. In 1995, the NRA characterization of the ATF as jack booted thugs and Nazi’s led to the resignation of membership by George H. W. Bush and others. This characterization on what gun control would mean lives on today. In reality, polls show that what most Americans want is simple; to see the gun show loophole closed.

On any given weekend, anyone can go any of the dozens of gun shows happening throughout the US and buy as many guns as they want with no background check and no registration. Closing this loophole is what the parents of Sandy Hook sought for legislation, it is how most of the guns used in the Columbine shooting were obtained and it seems like a common sense approach which is gun friendly. There is paperwork involved in buying a pet from the humane society, there are background checks for volunteering with youth sports, but there is nothing to prevent the previously referenced recently released convicted gang member from buying lots of guns.

Locally, schools in my area are working to pass referendums to get funding via tax increases to rebuild school entrances and add safety precautions for improving lockdown abilities during emergencies. My kids’ schools routinely practice code red lockdowns and that is a sad reality of the world we live in. Some extremists would argue we should arm school staff or similar but that is not the answer and it brings forth countless complications. Even in the recent Oregon school shootings, there were conceal and carry members on campus who heard the shooting and opted not to engage for fear of the pending SWAT team arriving and being confused and shooting them.

In America, our gun murder rate per capita is twenty times the average of other developed nations and five times more than the next closest (Italy). In 2007 Missouri ended a background check and handgun licensing program that had been in place for decades only to see a 25% increase in firearm homicides follow while homicides committed by other means in the state remained consistent. In 1995 Connecticut created a handgun permit system and extended background checks to private sales and has seen a 40% decrease in gun murders.

Let’s admit that we have a problem and can do better. It is true that closing the gun show loophole will not mitigate every scenario but it is a common sense approach to improving an abused gap without restricting 2nd amendment rights.