My teenage son told me about the Sutherland Springs shooting yesterday. I was in the kitchen, making queso for the Seahawks game when he came in. “Did you hear about the shooting in Texas?” “Another one?” I asked. His voice was casual and so was mine.
I’ve written many times before about gun violence. As a writer in 2017, it’s almost impossible to avoid the topic. There isn’t a month that goes by without a mass shooting in the U.S. Some months, it seems like there’s one every week. I used to get angry at our inability to act in the face of tragedy, but it’s hard to muster up the same outrage week after week, month after month. It’s hard to believe anything will change.
Two weeks ago, ParentMap staff met to discuss our values. To help us put that discussion into perspective, we chose an example issue to discuss: hunting. It was only a couple of weeks after the Las Vegas shooting, and mass shootings weren’t far from anyone’s mind. But as we sat around that table, all lifestyles and perspectives were represented. Some members of our team are vegetarians who have never shot a gun; some were raised in hunting families and have shot and killed their own food. All of us were concerned about gun violence, but gun safety looked very different to different people around the table.
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I’ve never shot a gun and I wouldn’t care if they all disappeared off the face of the Earth tomorrow. But my teenage sons have both shot guns with friends: one on a hunting trip and another simply for the fun of it. I have a hard time believing that their friends and their friends' families with guns want something very different than I do. We all want to feel safe. We all want our kids to feel safe.
But that’s not what happens. After every mass shooting, we dig in our heels in predictable ways. Republicans refuse to discuss common-sense gun control; Democrats demonize gun owners. No one here or in Washington, D.C. steps up to the plate to acknowledge our differences and to look for ways to bridge the gaps.
We all want to feel safe. We all want our kids to feel safe.
I put this theory to the test recently when one of my son’s friends came to visit. Dan owns a small arsenal of guns, and he leans conservative. He is concerned about Democrats' attempts to enact gun control. We sat in my living room making small talk until the news came up. He brought up the then-most recent mass shooting, and we began to discuss what could be done to solve the problem.
It took us about 20 minutes to come to an agreement we were both happy with. Neither of us had a problem with enacting stricter licensing and gun training requirements; neither of us were concerned by closing the gun-show loophole. He explained to me that silencers aren’t “like the movies” and they don’t make gunshots very quiet, so I was willing to give on that issue. While we didn’t discuss it that day, I doubt he would have a problem with restricting the sale of guns to domestic abusers either.
In less than an hour, we did something our legislators have been unable to do. And I have to believe that’s not accidental.
My son’s teenage friend and I aren’t gun experts. We’re certainly not better equipped at governing than our own government. But what struck me about our exchange was how calm and free from hyperbole it was. We didn’t fall back into party lines. We listened to each other and were willing to compromise.
Only one group wins when gun reform is made a divisive, party-line issue: the gun lobby and the politicians getting rich off their back-room deals. And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of children dying to pad the pockets of the gun lobby.
I’m tired of children dying to pad the pockets of the gun lobby.
It’s easy to fall back on black-and-white thinking in 2017. We’ve been setup to believe that we’re too different to find common ground, and that the only way to prevail is through brute force. But I’ve watched people sit around a table and talk about their experiences, and I’ve listened to a teenager whose perspective is completely different from mine compromise his beliefs for the sake of a safer world.
Compromise isn’t sexy. It certainly doesn’t trend on Twitter. But if we want things to change — really change — it’s the only path forward.