Monday, February 4, 2013

I unwittingly enter a gun control debate feeding frenzy

I've written a few pieces for the Huffington Post, which is a privilege I pretty much feel unqualified for.  But they let me in and I've said some things.  Most of the posts have attracted minimal attention - some have languished in obscurity.

You see, the drill is: you just submit the post and then they decide where to and whether or not to feature it. Sometimes it'll be on the front of the parenting page, other times it'll only appear if someone searches for your name.  

The most recent post I wrote compared the simplistic good guy/bad guy worldview espoused by those who justify owning semi-automatic weapons (you know, the "all we need is armed good guys to stop mass shootings" defense of gun ownership), to that of my 4 year old son. Here's my main point:

It's a storyline he (my son) enjoys because it makes the world easier to understand, less confusing and unpredictable. You talk to good guys, and you stay away from the bad guys. You befriend the good guys and you fight the bad guys. 
Sophisticated adults understand that there are people, most of whom are flawed and some of whom make horrible choices, who cannot be neatly divided into such distinct categories, one to be armed and the other to be defended against. No one in the history of time has done this effectively. It's a fairy tale. You can only hope that fallible humans don't have their mistakes turn into tragedies by getting hold of easy instruments of death.
The post appeared on the front page of the Huffington Post.  

When I found that out and watched the comments on the piece climb to numbers I had never seen before in my quiet corner of the Internet, I swallowed hard and steeled myself for some serious abuse by the pro-gun camp. And I got it.  Some choice quotes:

"Sounds like your son is smarter than you." (sometimes, true)

"The author clearly doesn't understand a thing about fire arms" (thank goodness)

"Perhaps when he is older, your son will join the military and have an even deeper appreciation for why it is so important that the 'good guys save the day.' Then he can explain it to his mother so she will understand what freedom really means." (Oh, I get what freedom means. And I know it's more than a catchphrase for proving allegiance to conservative ideals. Oh, and the idea that US military exists to liberate people from tyranny instead of protect our national interests is a fiction completely at odds with the facts.  .... But, calm down Kim.  Don't engage.  Don't engage...

But, this being the Huffington Post, I got a lot more support than criticism.  And, anyway, most people who saw fit to leave a comment were busy hurling invective at each other and didn't even address my main point.  They used it as an opportunity to recycle irrelevant arguments like "Cars kill more people than guns, but you don't want to ban those!" and to debate the finer details of how long it takes to convert a semi-automatic to an automatic weapon.  

More than anything what I'm taking away from my unexpected role as platform for gun control debate arguing is how polarized our country has become.  Maybe using the comment section of a largely political rag is not the best barometer of national sentiment.  But, this aside, it does seem that gun control is the new abortion, with both sides talking past one another.

If someone is going to brand me and my camp "a liberal freedom-hater" (without a trace of irony) and we dismiss gun owners as "gun nuts" there's little room for any sensible policy discussion.

It seems America is not happy with the status quo of 11,000 gun deaths per year, and Sandy Hook has thrown a spotlight on that.  The question is what to do about it.  And I just hope we can answer that question without having to pander to entrenched ideological positions, but can find a way to see this as a public health and safety issue.  I hope we will be unafraid to look beyond our borders at what similar countries have done to curb their own gun deaths, while allowing hunters and responsible gun owners to carry on.

In 1996 Australia suffered a mass shooting and responded by radically reforming it's gun laws.  They instituted a massive buy back program, prohibited private sales and required gun owners to provide a justification for purchase (excluding self defense). "Responsible" gun owners and hunters carried on, and homicides from firearms plummeted 60% with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides (I guess guns do kill people).  There has not been a single mass shooting since.

Point is, there's room for some kind of a positive step.  I just hope we'll get past the name calling and on to a better future.


30 comments:

  1. *sigh* When I posted about "this" in my (tiny, tiny!) corner of Facebook, I got called a radical and an idiot and all sorts of other choice things. I'll cop most of them but surely the person who wants kids not to get shot by assault rifles ain't the radical.
    The thing that stands out the most is how STUPID gun-rights advocates look to the rest of the world - but do they care? I mean it's just a virtually indefensible position.
    Anyway, this isn't the place to reopen the whole can so I'll just say WHOO HUFF POST 230 COMMENTS! :) xx

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    1. Do they care? They pride themselves on looking anomolous to the rest of the world! I just don't get why making any ANY changes to gun laws to try and curb needless deaths is met with such strong opposition. *sigh* and *SIGH* : (

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  2. The gun debate is just one of those things I stay away from, and so I can imagine how you feel being the center of a debate like that! I think I would die.
    Haha.

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    1. I should probably stay away too. But what are blogs for if not to rant? ; )

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  3. Thank you for writing this post. It perfectly captured why I both love and hate politics, why I think politics are both the most important thing in the world and why they are a complete waste of time, and why my engagement in politics and political discussions ebbs and flows, or perhaps peaks and dips like a hundred-humped camel. . . I have in my mind to write a similar post to this. . . I'm not sure if reading this is going to push me to write it, or deter me. And, I mean that as a compliment. . . thank you!

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    1. Thanks Jared. I know! It's so easy to quickly become disenchanted with political discourse and at the same time dream of something rational and thoughtful. Hopefully we're creeping closer to that ideal and not farther away.

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  4. The rest of the world thinks that we have lost our ever-loving minds. There are so many other countries that have responded to mass shootings with well reasoned gun laws, and have had virtually no problems since. But in this country we can't get past the screaming and the fighting to even have any kind of rational conversation about it. It's astonishing and so very, very sad.

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    1. Could not agree more. I wish those who are being inflexible about any change to our gun laws even cared what the rest of the world thought. But it's easy to tune out people who disagree with you, I guess.

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  5. Really thoughtful piece, Kim. It's hard to argue with the results other countries have seen after gun law reform...but unfortunately some people still will.

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    1. I know! I don't get what's so threatening about looking at how other countries have tried to curb violence. But there's a lot I don't get...

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  6. I just clicked over to read your post - I loved it! 243 comments -wow! Many were positive and that is encouraging but you are right - if we can't even discuss this without degenerating to name calling how do we move forward? Thank you for writing it though and for having thick enough skin to deal with the abuse. It needs to be said.

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    1. Thanks Jody! I've developed much thicker skin since I started blogging. And I kind of braced myself this time. ; )

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  7. Wow. The statistics from Australia are really interesting, and this piece is very well-written.

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  8. Can I be the wierdo with opposite views but who agrees we need to stopname calling? And congrats for writting for huffpo....it is a nerdy wish of mine lol.

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    1. Yes!! Please!! Be that wierdo. We need more of you...

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  9. Not going to comment on gun laws, not going to comment on gun laws, not going to comment on gun laws... ok, now that my tongue is bleeding from biting it so hard, congrats on getting a piece on the front page!

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    1. Thanks TriGirl! Sometimes a bleeding tongue is better than hours sunk arguing with people who already have their minds made up anyway...

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  10. I can't even read internet comments sections on gun articles right now, it's maddening. I'm going to come right out and say that the divide on this issue is split between those who have an education, and those who do not. Opps! I don't think I'm supposed to say that but oh well. I find that those making irrational pro-gun arguments a) didn't go to college b) haven't traveled to other countries c) listen to alot of right-wing propaganda. It's really difficult to have a sensible debate about something when a person's foundation of knowledge is not sound. Ok, I'm going to go slink back to my corner of the internet and pretend to be "nice" about this issue again :)

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    1. You're funny! Thanks for giving me a laugh this morning!

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  11. Assuming I wrote anything worth publishing at HuffPost, I just wouldn't have thick enough skin for the comments. Kudos to you!

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  12. Congrats on your HuffPo post! And I ran into a similar issue when I made a post on our local Patch.com site about gun control. I responded to two of 76 comments, then gave up when the crazies descended. Same thing happened when I posted about supporting gay marriage. Sigh...

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  13. This post is fantastic! I can't imagine what it'd be like to be the author of a widely read lightning rod post. I get nasty emails about political posts from time to time and, as much as I hate to admit it, they rattle me. You're very to be able to handle this with such grace.

    I think you're right about the entrenched nature of both sides of the gun control issue, too. You bring up a very good point about the overly simplistic nature of good guys v. bad guys but delving into human nature and it's implications for public policy requires a level of calm and detachment that's hard to come by in the current climate. We really need to something meaningful to curb our ridiculously high gun death rate but right now we're all just yelling past each other.

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  14. I think your point that it's not a simple conversation is a good one. It isn't just a black and white issue and we can't argue about it as if that was the case. There are steps we can take and we should take. I wish I knew how to change the conversation.

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  15. I haven't seen your article yet, but your style in this post is so reasonable I think I want to. I have it opened in a new window and will be over reading it as soon as I make it through the Yeah Write grid.

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  16. I'm intrigued by the situation in Australia. I wasn't aware of that. Thanks for sharing!

    And huge congrats on the Huff Post. Wow!

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  17. I always steel myself when posting something to the Huffpo, you get comments from both extremes and once in a while, something from the middle. I do believe that something must be done about gun control, because it is out of control. Congratulations on being featured on the front page.

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  18. Whew, way to brave the crazies of widespread readership and speak your piece! Shouldn't we all be able to have a grown-up discussion?? Sigh, apparently not.

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  19. Bravo. Well. WELL. said. It's amazing that we have such difficulty in this country instituting policies that have been successfully instituted elsewhere. Freedom and policy making for the health and safety of society (public healthcare, gun control) are not mutually exclusive. Thank you for providing some very valuable insight into the subject.

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