Can we change the dynamic of the gun debate? Can gun owner-activists and gun control supporters get together around a simple question, “How do we prevent the next child (birth-18 years) from getting killed by a person using a gun?”
It’s not that a child’s life is more sacred than anyone else’s, but if we can’t pause to think about kids, we may be more f—-d than we suspect.
We have had kids dying in suburban schools and movie theaters, in suburban houses of worship and enough child bodies in the big cities over the past 20 years to fill everyone of those suburban buildings to the roof.
“The 5,740 children and teens killed by guns in 2008 and 2009 would fill more than 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each. The total was greater than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan (5,013).”
The current debate does not appear to be getting us anywhere.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his anger and empathy recently pleaded for gang members in Chicago to stop hitting what gang gunmen in Boston call “mushrooms,” the kids who get caught in the middle of firefights. (At least that’s what the shooters called 12 year-old Darlene Tiffany Moore in 1988.) Some right-wing journalists who would egg the police into anything-goes policing snickered and hooted at Mr. Emanuel. What is significant is that the juvenile carnage and the dynamics of the current debate have called forth from one of the country’s sharpest, most hard-bitten public policy minds such a cri-de-coeur.
When we examine the record since 1968, we do not seem to need either side to make itself better heard. Each side calls the other abettors of murder so I don’t know that louder epithets will help now. We need statespeople from among the ranks of the pro-gun and gun violence prevention leaderships. (I personally believe that only police and military should be allowed to own and carry semi-automatic and automatic weapons but my belief could not be more irrelevant to this idea).
My hypothesis is two-part:
1. In a quieter environment thoughtful people on all sides can analyze the free flow of firearms into unauthorized hands in the cities and think about what to do about it. Instead of the paralytic debates such as how or whether to provide resources to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives/jack-booted storm troopers the people could reflect on the question, how do we prevent these machines from being used to kill children?
2. The highly-charged rhetoric in this polarized debate electrifies the twisted minds of the people on the psychological and/or political fringes. The people best positioned to cool this rhetoric and maybe slow down the potential domestic terrorists are the bona fide gun activists, in the NRA, Congress and other organizations in and out of government. They can reach the minds and hearts of these desperately ill and/or desperately alienated individuals who commit mass murder in the name of taking their country back. There is a prototype for this.
Years ago, pro-choice and right-to-life leaders in Massachusetts got together around the alarming attacks on people working in or using clinics that provided access to abortion services. A low point was John Salvi’s murdering clinic staffers in Brookline, MA and Norfolk, VA in 1994. Six leaders came together in 1995 for a quiet, private dialogue. Three came from the pro-choice side, three from the pro-life position. The talks remained confidential until the women published an extraordinary summary of their dialogue in the Boston Globe in 2001.
Everyone who participated was apprehensive at the start. They also were courageous enough to surrender to the talking.
“The two facilitators who would moderate all the meetings were also anxious. Laura Chasin, director of the Public Conversations Project, ”was afraid that talks might do more harm than good.” Susan Podziba, an independent public policy mediator from Brookline, recalls, ”The threat of violence was palpable. What if the wrong person found out about the dialogue?’
“Our talks would not aim for common ground or compromise. Instead, the goals of our conversations would be to communicate openly with our opponents, away from the polarizing spotlight of media coverage; to build relationships of mutual respect and understanding; to help deescalate the rhetoric of the abortion controversy; and, of course, to reduce the risk of future shootings.
In these and all of our discussions of differences, we strained to reach those on the other side who could not accept – or at times comprehend – our beliefs. We challenged each other to dig deeply, defining exactly what we believe, why we believe it, and what we still do not understand.
These conversations revealed a deep divide. We saw that our differences on abortion reflect two world views that are irreconcilable.
If this is true, then why do we continue to meet?
First, because when we face our opponent, we see her dignity and goodness. Embracing this apparent contradiction stretches us spiritually. We’ve experienced something radical and life-altering that we describe in nonpolitical terms: ”the mystery of love,” ”holy ground,” or simply, ”mysterious.”
We continue because we are stretched intellectually, as well. This has been a rare opportunity to engage in sustained, candid conversations about serious moral disagreements. It has made our thinking sharper and our language more precise.
We hope, too, that we have become wiser and more effective leaders. We are more knowledgeable about our political opponents. We have learned to avoid being overreactive and disparaging to the other side and to focus instead on affirming our respective causes.
Since that first fear-filled meeting, we have experienced a paradox. While learning to treat each other with dignity and respect, we all have become firmer in our views about abortion.
We hope this account of our experience will encourage people everywhere to consider engaging in dialogues about abortion and other protracted disputes. In this world of polarizing conflicts, we have glimpsed a new possibility: a way in which people can disagree frankly and passionately, become clearer in heart and mind about their activism, and, at the same time, contribute to a more civil and compassionate society.”