Tuesday, April 22, 2014
There is common ground in the gun debate
I'm writing this on a Tuesday in March. I don't know when I'll publish this, but I know that eventually, I will, because there will be the right news hook, another moment when suddenly, we're all talking about guns again, because someone has died or many people have died and the killer was someone with a gun. But maybe that means I should just go ahead and publish it now.
I've been thinking about guns and what we talk about when we talk about guns for a long time. It's one of those issues--like capital punishment, economic inequality, healthcare access--that have carved out for themselves a fair bit of mental real estate since I was in high school. Back in February, I posted on Facebook about this:
The conversations we tend to have about guns and the 2nd amendment drive me a little bit crazy, mostly because the two sides--and there are usually just two sides that are represented in the public debates--often don't share a language or a focus. I've been privately obsessed by this for a while now, and I know that a lot of people avoid these conversations because they're just too challenging, and too often it breaks down to a singular interpretation of the second amendment rights v. a point of view that suggests that guns have no place in a civilized society. Nevertheless, I don't believe we've lost the capacity to find common ground in the debate. After all, in its early days, the NRA was probably the biggest advocate of what we might today refer to as "gun control."
Not at all surprisingly, after a few people posted some "right on" type comments and some nuanced engagement in the conversation, it distilled down to two people shouting at each other.
On the left: "…if you think that we do not need much more serious gun control in this country you are either insane or an idiot…" and on the right, "Most gun statistics include 'criminal on criminal' and 'cop on criminal' interactions. Even with those inflated stats included, doctors kill more people than guns by far" and "More people are killed each year with knives than rifles. By a long shot. We should definitely outlaw knives"
This was part of the run up to an experimental panel we ran at The City Club of Cleveland seeking common ground in the gun conversation. I thought it very likely we would fail, but I think we actually found a small, fragile piece of common ground at the intersection of public health, public safety, and public finance.
Ned Hill of Cleveland State University pointed us in the direction first, noting that victims of gun violence who survive "tend to be uninsured, they tend to be young men, and they tend to have wounds which keep them unemployed for the rest of their lives." In other words, the public health issue of the hundreds of thousands of victims of gun violence becomes a public finance issue when the survivors require government assistance and publicly subsidized health care.
Hill was joined in conversation with Plain Dealer columnist Phillip Morris, who has often advocated for the Castle Doctrine, and Federal Public Defender for Ohio Dennis Terez. All three held fast to the goal of civil dialogue, despite a few moments where dialogue grew tense, particularly around the use of specific types of firearms. But there were other moments that revealed common ground--mandatory sentencing for gun-related crimes keeps people unemployed (another public finance argument); the negative impact of agreesive media coverage; and questions about the evolution of Stand Your Ground laws.
This forum didn't solve any problems, but it did help us change the conversation ever so slightly for a group of people here in Cleveland.
P.S. The other great thing about the forum was that City Club audience learned of a little known organization: <a href="http://jpfo.org/">Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership</a>.