21st Century Politics: America Divided by a Common Language

Paul Evans

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about guns. It received some interesting comments - some supporting various elements of the proposal, a few against the proposal.

Since that time America has continued forward. There have been a few more shootings and rumors of shootings; at least one standoff that lasted days.

There have been some raucous hearings held on Capitol Hill with the respective interests retiring to their corners with vague claims of victory – even if pyrrhic.

If the mainstream media are to be taken seriously, We the People are no closer to common ground on gun policies than we were in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre.

Americans want safe communities, Americans want secure schools. Oregon has a tradition of seeking out pragmatic, realistic policies to enhance safety and security. As a people we all want less gun violence and we want our governments to work together in order to facilitate a nation free from random acts of gun violence – especially violence against our children.

We the People know what we want, and We the People are frustrated with the intransigence of the empowered interests aligned against common ground.

Much of the fight over gun policy drags on, like the Battle of Verdun throughout the hilltops and valleys of Congress. The fortified trenches of the battle produce mounting casualties and little else.

“Washington” is no longer a place of slow cooked sausage: it is become a stage for 21st Century version of Kabuki Theater.

It will remain an imitation of governance as long as we continue to pursue policies through tired, worn rhetorical constructs that sustain dialogue in support of an irresolvable conflict.

Like it or not, the phrase “Gun Control” is empty, hollow, and valueless. It incites resentment from those comfortable with and supportive of responsible gun ownership; it has evolved into a short-hand representation of a panacea for those that disfavor guns – whatever the disposition of their owners.

Within this phraseology the term “control” is a wet blanket draped across all gun-owners, regardless of their likelihood to violence. It establishes a false, forced dilemma that does nothing but perpetuate the schism between the respective “camps.”

What other policy area so casually affirms the assumed power of a majority to limit the property rights on another without due process? Even criminals must be proven guilty prior to the forfeiture of rights.

For those invested in gun culture, ownership is a responsibility as well as right. Challenging the one, invokes a challenge to the other. It is a matter of face. And for the millions of law-abiding gun owners in America that have not, will not commit a violent act with their firearms – phraseology asserting their failure to “control” their weapon is an enduring, offensive, personal attack.

For many of those seeking to end violence from guns, the “right” to own a gun is understood as either a mistaken interpretation of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, or a flexible guideline (less of a right than privacy, suffrage, or the press) that many self-identified “smart people” accept as such.

In a nation of laws, all rights are equal – or none are equal. We cannot long maintain a society where citizens advocate a lifetime for protection of only the rights they “like.” We are better than this, and we have an opportunity to prove it.

If we are to ever find consensus, we must accept that our language – even when not intended – often prevents us from discovering resolution on the vast majority of behavior and policy adjustments that we all accept as necessary.

To that end we must recognize that shouting our opinions is not an effective tool for teaching or training people why we are “right” and they are “wrong.” America is a place where reason can still rule, so long as our passions are not enflamed, so long as our identities are not being devalued.

It is past time for people to stop saying, “nobody ‘needs’ an assault weapon…” What people think or do not think about another’s need is largely irrelevant. The fact is that nobody outside of military service should need an assault weapon (or more accurately – a weapon produced for modern warfare).

But then again, private citizens should not, and do not need vehicles that travel in excess of 70 miles an hour: speed limits are law too, and they should be obeyed – and yet millions of Americans purchase increasingly more powerful automobiles with a clear intent to violate the law – at least occasionally.

Few Americans need an iPhone 5, or the Droid alternatives. Cellular phones do not need to carry as much technology as they do – but consumers the world over “want” irrational things because they want them. What private citizen needs an airplane, a boat, or a “second home?”

Most people would never dream of asking a neighbor why they “needed” the 70 inch television set or the newest toy – and yet, some believe it is acceptable to ask why others need a particular type of weapon they may not even understand.

Let us be absolutely clear: guns do not kill people. People using guns for violence kill people. Untrained people with access to unsecured guns kill people. Bullets tear into flesh; violence begets violence. Absent a willing hand, a secured gun is nothing less or more than an odd shaped paperweight.

Instead of fighting over who “needs” what, and why – perhaps it is time to reconsider our circumstances.

Rather than trying to “educate” the uneducated about the rightness or wrongness of who needs to own a particular type of firearm – or ammunition – and losing an opportunity to make our neighborhoods safer, just imagine what could happen if we focused instead upon an approach that provided for legal, registered weapons under the watchful eyes of state and local law enforcement.

Registration of all weapons is wholly congruent with even the most ideological interpretation of the 2nd Amendment - ask Scalia. And for those that would dare to make the argument: militias kept records of where the houses were with the arms – so they could call them into action when needed. So even during the age of the Founders – government knew where the weapons were.

For good or ill, the US Government already knows who purchases weapons from manufacturers – we have registration in our nation in everything but name. And this does not lead to an inevitable raid by “zombie jack-booted thugs” or to the holocaust – contrary to some of the more exaggerated interpretations of history.

Instead of gridlock over “Gun Control,” just imagine what could happen if we found common ground on how to control gun violence – in our homes, schools, and work environments. Imagine the kind of program we could implement with all sides accepting minor frustrations as the bearable price of an enduring, transformational common approach.

Gun-Violence Control could justify an integrated, universal background check in all instances.

Gun-Violence Control could justify per purchase adjustments to ammunition sales.

Gun-Violence Control could justify scientific study into the causes, indicators, and potential intervention strategies associated with mass casualty tragedies.

Gun-Violence Control could justify a tailored convergence of mental health capabilities, increased awareness of the relative “private weapons inventory” within a given area, and provide state and local law enforcement agencies with the authority to intervene prior to a likely tragedy.

Gun-Violence Control could justify subsidized education, familiarity courses, and formal training for those interested in learning the rules of safely using weapons for skeet or sport.

Gun-Violence Control could justify a weapons security requirement for purchases ensuring safes and/or trigger locks with fines for instances when safety hasn’t been prioritized.

And Gun-Violence Control could justify a new chapter in our approach to understanding what a gun means to the folks we agree with, and the folks we don’t agree with.

Fear has too long been the prime motivator for the discussion of guns in America: both camps use fear as a motivator for political advantage, financial benefit, and relevance. Our past does not need to continue in our present, or future.

All of us must accept that Americans do not need small arsenals of weapons (and the magazines associated with them) for war; whatever concerns about quartering troops and/or a ready militia that formed the context for the 2nd Amendment has long since passed.

And all of us must accept that Americans do not need most of the things we interpret to be our “right.”

We must find a reasonable, responsible path towards balancing our needs and wants.

Over two-hundred years ago the Founders established a nation of laws: they cast aside the notion of Divine Right and replaced it with the competing ideals of freedom, justice, and liberty.

We can, and must find a way for lawful ownership as well as significantly increased safety and security for ourselves and our posterity. But we will not do anything worthwhile as long as we grasp onto language that devalues and threatens through constructed notions that compel perpetual conflict.

We can do these things if we demand it. But we will only do these things if we demand it together.

Together we can realign our world, one small victory at a time.

Let us start here, in our Oregon, this Legislative Session.

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