In the aftermath of the latest school massacre in America, can we have a common-sense, non-partisan, practical discussion about guns, gun control and gun violence? Can we move beyond our knee-jerk reactions and work as a team to save lives?
Although I'm a strong conservative, I'm not a gun owner, and guns have never played a major role in my life. I was born in New York City; my dad was a liberal Jewish lawyer (the senior law assistant in the New York Supreme Court); and I have fired guns twice in my life.
At the same time, many of my friends are gun owners (including one of my sons-in-law), many are members of the NRA, some of my local colleagues have conceal and carry permits and I have no interest in giving the government more power over our personal lives.
In short, I don't have a dog in this fight, and my viewpoint doesn't fit into a traditional conservative or liberal box. My only goal is to put some propositions on the table and see if we can all agree.
Let's start here. Can we agree that we have a problem with gun violence in America, especially with mass shootings?
Again, I'm not ascribing cause. I'm simply asking if we can agree that we have a problem, from school shootings in Columbine and Sandy Hook and Parkland, to church shootings in Charleston and Sutherland Springs, to the massacres at a theater in Colorado and a concert in Las Vegas.
Whatever the cause, something is terribly wrong. Can we agree?
Can we also agree that it is wrong to politicize these terrible tragedies? Can we agree that this almost guarantees that we make no real progress?
In my view, it was dead wrong for liberals to attack President Trump after the Parkland killings, as if he were the cause of the shooting. This is without justification, let alone being rational. At the same time, it was very wrong for the president to tweet about Russia and the FBI in the aftermath of Parkland, thereby politicizing and personalizing the massacre for his purposes.
We already know what CNN will say and what Fox will say after the latest shooting, with both sides largely talking past each other.
My appeal is simple: In memory of the slain and in recognition of the wounded, can we talk to each other rather than past each other? Is this such a radical idea?
Advocates of greater gun control laws point to a country like Japan, "which has strict laws for obtaining firearms" but "seldom has more than 10 shooting deaths a year in a population of 127 million people."
Why is this? Well, "If Japanese people want to own a gun, they must attend an all-day class, pass a written test and achieve at least 95 percent accuracy during a shooting-range test.
"Then they have to pass a mental-health evaluation at a hospital, as well as a background check, in which the government digs into any criminal records or ties and interviews friends and family members.
"Finally, they can buy only shotguns and air rifles—no handguns—and must retake the class and the initial exam every three years."
In response, others will say, "Look, we have a 10-day waiting period in California, and that hasn't reduced gun violence. And in the cities with the strictest gun controls laws, like Chicago, we have the most shootings."
The problem, again, is that both sides seem more intent on making their point than finding a way to address the problem. And all the while, our hallways and classrooms are stained with blood.
Someone mentioned on my Facebook page that when she was in school in the 1950s, boys would bring rifles to school before going out hunting. She also said that there was a marksmanship class, and the guns were locked up at the school. Yet there was never a problem with gun violence, reinforcing the fact that people, not guns, kill people.
Unfortunately, America today is not America of the 1950s, and we simply have to deal with that reality.
Is the exponential increase in gun violence and mass shootings due to our larger culture of violence (from movies to video games to the celebration of criminality)? Is it due to mental health issues? Is it due to the breakdown in the home and the epidemic of fatherless youth? Is it simply the fault of a non-functioning bureaucracy, where our current laws are not enforced?
Whatever the causes might be, we do have a problem right now. And while we discuss all these other, critically important, life-or-death questions about causality, we need to find immediate solutions to the problem at hand.
I posted a poll on Facebook and Twitter, asking, "As a non-gun-person myself, I'm interested to hear how all of you gun owners feel about this. Would you be willing to potentially wait a few more days to purchase a gun if more comprehensive background checks were required in order to keep guns out of the wrong people's hands?"
On Facebook, where I could only give two choices, 81 percent responded "Of course" and 19 percent "No way." On Twitter, it broke down to 80 percent "Of course," 10 percent "No way," and 10 percent "Not sure."
For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would say "No way."
Remember: The premise of my question was if more comprehensive background checks could keep guns out of the wrong people's hands, would you be willing to wait a few more days to accommodate this.
I didn't ask whether more background checks are needed. I simply asked if someone would be willing to wait a few days if such checks could keep guns out of the wrong people's hands. I see no justification for those who would refuse to be inconvenienced a little if it would potentially save lives.
On the flip side, I can't understand why others refuse to entertain the idea of having trained teachers (or others) armed at every school.
Since we know that the vast majority of these horrific shootings take place in gun-free zones, if we really care about saving lives, why not take immediate, concrete action—or at the least, consider it?
The bottom line is that people are dying and families are grieving. Our country needs us to put down our agendas, lay aside our pride and sit down together to listen and talk.
Is there any hope for this? A few days ago, it was announced that, "President Donald Trump has said he will meet with high school students who survived last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people."
Yes, the president "plans to host a 'listening session' with students and teachers from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Thursday.
"The discussion is expected to be followed by a meeting with state and local officials to discuss school safety."
I hope and pray that this will be a good step in the right direction. Can we do the same in our life settings, learning to listen and understand and empathize before we can respond?
I surely hope so. After all, we all want the bloodshed to stop.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Evangelicals at the Crossroads: Will We Pass the Trump Test? Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter, or YouTube.
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