“No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men.
They do not grow wise. They grow careful.”
--Ernest Hemmingway, from A Farewell to Arms
Once again we are face to face with ourselves.
These last few days have brought on a combination of anger and exhaustion that I wouldn’t have thought possible, an irate numbness that refuses to fade. My wife has taken to turning off the news when I enter the room because she knows I just can’t take hearing it anymore. No matter how many talking heads speak, it’s all just words repeated, echoing metallically from broadcast to broadcast. The same questions fuel the same answers, all serving no purpose but to mask a self-supporting anomie that overwhelms us.
Newtown is Virginia Tech is Columbine is Clackamas is Oakland, with each Next Time arriving more quickly. Each Next Time, too, we find ourselves navigating the same straits with the same maps, the same compass, the same stars, until not long after we again run aground.
For those of us who care about gun control—especially those of us who are conservatives—it’s time to take action. We need new maps.
We have grown too careful in our responses and, consequently, unwise, No more should we participate in the same old conversations, accept the same old ridiculous objections. No more should we even engage with the same facts we’ve used so often before; they remain unlistened to, ignored. In order to defeat the obsessive arms addicts, we must, instead, agree with them.
Now, when someone tells me that they have a right to keep and bear arms, I nod my assent. The 2nd Amendment, I tell them, absolutely gives them that right. But which arms? Everyone—and I mean everyone, even the National Rifle Association—believes that the right to keep and bear arms should be regulated. We don’t allow anyone to purchase surface-to-air missiles at a gun show, for example. Nor can I, obviously, legally own a nuclear or chemical weapon of mass destruction—something even the NRA must concede. Given that truth, the question is this: Who gets to decide how we define “arms?” Legislation has always defined such terms; it’s done for nutrition, for what we will or won’t deem “natural,” and even for such simple terms as “zero.” We even legislate elements of the 1st Amendment regularly, moving the lines as time and culture allow. So it seems absolutely logical that how we define legally-owned arms can and should be a legislative function. The argument, I tell them isn’t about the principle. We all agree. It’s only about where the lines should be drawn.
I also refuse to engage in diversionary tactics, the bait-and-switch which has become so popular. In the past it’s been video games or Hollywood or parenting to blame, anything to deflect attention from the trigger being pulled. Now, with the Newtown incident, the inevitable red herring has shifted to mental health, about how the perpetrator was disturbed and didn’t get the help he needed. I agree. But I also ask this question: Why should it be one or the other? Why can we not address both issues, the disturbed mind who screams for help and the system that makes it so easy for him to acquire killing machines? There is no reason to accept the either/or argument of these diversionists. There is always a both/and worth talking about.
Finally, I no longer argue at all with extremists on either side. Those that believe all guns should disappear are living in a fantasy world of impracticality and cultural blindness, and those that believe that their rights and freedoms exist outside the social compact share the same sightlesness. These people will never be convinced, and those of us who want to engage in serious conversation will only be wasting our time. Instead, I look for those with open minds, those who do more than echo the pundits, parroting the silvered tongues of lesser lights. It’s these others—these rationals—I wish to speak with.
And they will hear.
I recently created and posted this meme:
I saw many of the usual responses, the usual arguments, even the latest diversions devised and mimed by those at the edges of the bell curve.
But I also saw this:
I've always been a defender of gun rights. This meme…made me stop and think again about my views. I still believe in private gun ownership but my outlook on the whole matter has softened a little.
and in response, this:
I feel the same way. And now I’m really conflicted about it.
I feel some of my anger and exhaustion slipping away.
There is an opportunity, a window opened through tragedy, but open still. Our job now is not to let the Newtown incident become just another entry on a lengthening list, but to use it to grow smarter, to engage differently, to make change happen.
To grow less careful and, perhaps, more wise.
[Note: an excellent post on this topic, from Mary Ann Reilly, includes links to organizations you may wish to contact about sane and serious arms control.]