Humility in the Gun Talk


It’s time to go through the motions of a classic American ritual. It’s time for the gun talk.

Americans find themselves in the pit of this “gun talk” every couple of months. For a few weeks after an unspeakable tragedy, citizens and legislators alike put aside what they are doing and come together. And they yell.

The left pins the tragedy on structural problems and gun proliferation. The right blames the massacre on radicalized religion and a lack of firearms.

Voices on the left call for universal background checks, registries, and bans. The right says America needs mental health reform and prayer.

The right admonishes the left for capitalizing on tragedy. The left is infuriated by the right’s inaction.

There are conflicting think pieces in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, warring opinions from the talking boxes of CNN and Fox, and anger and resentment across family members’ Facebook pages and, more broadly, the country.

And nothing changes.

I’ve never shot a gun before. Most of my firearm knowledge comes from nerf wars, Call of Duty, and high school debate. I don’t know much.

What I do know, however, is twitter, and twitter has more than a few opinions that guide me. This week, I (and a million others) saw a flood of 140 (and a few 280) character hot takes presenting the panacea for the epidemic of gun violence. One of them really clicked with me. When Hillary Clinton sent her best wishes to the victims of the Las Vegas massacre, she reminded her followers that “the crowd fled at the sound of gunshots,“ and asked them to “imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get,” I followed orders. It made sense in my head. Silencers silence guns. If the gunman in Las Vegas had attached a silencer to one of his guns, people wouldn’t have heard it fire and more people would have died. Silencers would have led to more deaths in Las Vegas, as well as in the next American massacre.

Or, maybe not. As Politico sums up, “it’s highly unlikely a silencer would have made the Las Vegas shooting even more deadly.” Hillary Clinton’s Truth-O-Meter is a hard false on this one. Silencers (or maybe more aptly called compressors) only lower the sound of gunfire 10-15 decibels on the receiving end, so, as a friend of mine at the Naval Academy explained to me, “if someone were to shoot a silenced gun near you, instead of sounding like a gunshot, it would sound roughly like you were lying on the ground facedown and someone slammed a bunch of textbooks right next to your ear.” After hunting for youtube videos and studies for proof, I slowly came to accept that my knowledge of guns, rooted in James Bond and video games, had failed me. I was wrong.

A quick search of “Clinton” and “take our guns” on twitter shows that many Americans believe there are hidden intentions behind that error.  However, my preconceptions of guns aren’t a part of some ploy to disarm America. Hillary Clinton’s aren’t either. We just haven’t shot many guns. We don’t totally know what we are talking about. In this chaotic, repetitive, overwhelming gun debate, not many people do.

Far too often in this American gun debate, opposing sides fail in understanding the foundations of one another. They call each other murderers and oppressors and assume only they hold the nation’s best interest at heart, cutting off dialogue and hope of compromise.

They are wrong. American citizens aren’t that different. Those against regulation don’t want people to die. They want to make sure that anyone who wants to can protect and do what they love. Those for regulation don’t want people to die either. They want to make sure that no one has an illogically large capacity for violence that could destroy all that another loves. By bearing witness to their shared love of country, freedom, and life, the factions in the gun debate could come to the table and begin to have dialogue for a better America.

None of this is to say that justice rests in the middle. The truth lies somewhere, and people ought to learn as much as they can, think hard, form, and stand by their principled positions. I don’t know where the answer lies, but I know Americans need more effective dialogue to find it.

Failure to find and accept the unknown has driven America here, to a point of no progress and seemingly no chance for reconciliation. Humility–both in recognizing that personal preconceptions may be flawed as well as in fairly assessing the understandings of other Americans–is absolutely necessary for any kind of progress in this complex American gun talk.

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