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Where are we going with the gun debate

| Friday, April 6, 2018

Last Tuesday, I glanced at my phone and saw a report of an active shooter at a Maryland school. Deep sadness tugged at my heart. There’s a sense of hopelessness to these shootings that seem to happen weekly. When will it end? This one lasted about a minute. The pathetic kid who decided he should shoot other kids was neutralized by a courageous law enforcement officer.

This story is much different than Florida. In Florida, the incompetent sheriff’s deputy stationed at school cowered in the face of a very clear and present threat. The incompetent sheriff’s department, headed by a supremely arrogant (not to mention incompetent) sheriff, ignored countless warnings about the shooter’s instability. This situation was exponentially more “preventable” than Maryland, yet it ended much more tragically.

There is something to be said for the forces that we can’t control. We can make all the laws we want, but at the end of the day, the argument stands that someone hell-bent on killing others will, indeed, be able to kill. That at the end of the day, it’s up to the people on the ground to make decisions with clarity and courage. It’s a sad reality that is hard to accept and far away from my instinctive idealism.

It is not to say we should take no action on the issue of gun violence, but it is to offer perspective.

Perspective is important because our view of the big picture shapes how we discuss an issue. How we discuss an issue, in turn, will determine how sound our response is. An influential element in shaping how we discuss is the media. As the past two years have instructed with great clarity, it matters what information we get and how it’s presented.

How much, then, does bad information, or a focus on the wrong kinds of information, hurt public debate?

After observing the recent developments of the gun debate, it can, easily and to a great extent. The gun debate in the public square is at a hysterical level –– not the good or funny kind of hysterical. Caught in hysteria is more accurate. It is focused on the wrong things.

By things, I mean this kid, David Hogg. To be sure, kids are the ones in schools and the ones most directly affected by the issue of gun violence in schools. It would be wrong to discount their contributions. Often in public debate, kids offer good insight, an idealistic tendency from which we can all benefit, and an important degree of accountability for the adults, who do want to help the kids of this nation.

Unfortunately, Hogg’s appearances have not offered this value. This interview is disgusting. It is impossible to see the nuances of the issue from Mr. Hogg’s fiercely one-sided perspective, profanity and utter arrogance. It is impossible to explore those nuances from the media outlets that exploit his participation, and the public intellectuals –– who are much older than David Hogg and possess real sway over the public debate –– that spend valuable time writing columns that tear him apart.

My point is to caution against getting caught up in this distraction.

We must be wary of the idea that those who experience something bad have not only unique insight into the problem, but also unquestionable authority on the solution.

David Hogg demands certain gun policies, but the mere fact of his position as a student affected by the issue does not mean we must charge thoughtlessly in support of his proposals or his attitude of zero good will towards the opposing side.

A sound response requires the willingness to see the issue fully as it is. It is not simply a gun access problem, but also an issue of how we care for those exhibiting dangerous and potentially harmful behaviors, and a cultural issue that reflects a devaluation of human life, a tendency away from instead of an inclination towards personal responsibility, and more. It is also an issue of how we treat self-defense, which in practice can help protect you, your family, and your community.

David French offers this kind of response while emphasizing that there is no single solution. Whether “the Right” or the extremely difficult nature of the problems (more likely) is the biggest obstacle to any response, those on the Left should take French’s proposal very seriously.

Most importantly, neither side should get caught up in the hysteria of the past couple weeks. We need to reassess the debate, with good will towards the other side, so that we can reach a minimal level of consensus.

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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