A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
To My Friends In The N. R. A.
And Folks Reading This Essay In Starbucks
As I write, there’s more news about the shooting in Dallas. Which blends into the news of the shooting in Orlando. Which blurs into the news of the shooting from – where? The shooting at that church? The shooting at the mall?
There is a tragic sameness to it all. There’s a mass shooting. Then there’s outrage. Folks call for gun control. The N. R. A. blocks all consideration of all measures. Congress gives in, as do state and local politicians. Then there’s a mass shooting …
Can this cycle end? The simple answer is, “Yes.”
The National Rifle Association is by no means a monolith. It does give significant donations to key legislators. But the real political genius of the N. R. A. lies in its strategy, a strategy both simple and effective. Intransigence. No matter what is proposed, the answer is always, “No!” It has a certain political brilliance. There is no need to research, educate, compromise, conjecture or question. Members show up at the [fill in the blank, congressional hearing, county council meeting, state legislature and so forth], and do one thing. Say “No!” It doesn’t matter what the proposal is. Say “No!.” Simple as that.
But the National Rifle Association has a problem. It seems monolithic. But it isn’t. It only has five million members. Starbucks will have 60 million customers this week. And a tipping point is coming. People are getting tired of gun violence. Will Dallas be a tipping point? It’s hard to say. The nation thought that fifty dead folks in Orlando would be a tipping point. Remember Sandy Hook? But a tipping point is coming. Some form of gun control will be implemented. And the N. R. A. will either contribute or be pushed aside. Why?
Because one counter to the “No” is the “Yes”. Politics is sometimes driven by extremes. It is entirely possible that the American public will simply grow weary of guns, that it will reach that tipping point, and say to Congress, “Yes. Ban them all.” The United Kingdom did it. So have other countries. “Yes” is as simple as “No”.
But a friend of mine, an N. R. A. member, would say, “It’s one thing to ban rifles in downtown St. Louis. But what if you live in rural Wyoming?” And he’s right.
We need to craft sensible, intelligent and complex legislation. And that legislation will result from a complex dialogue. Thus do we need the opinions of everyone — the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the National Rifle Association, experts in firearms, those who would radically restrict guns, and all other interested parties right and left and center.
Without dialogue, the risk is that we go from one extreme to the other. To avoid that, a dialogue about guns needs to begin, and it needs to begin with certain presumptions.
The first is to recognize the humanity of folks on all sides. This sounds simple, because it is simple. It’s as simple as saying that someone who wants to ban guns is a “Libtard”. Or that the N. R. A. member is a mindless “gun thug”. That’s simple. But here’s another simple thought: There are good folks on all sides of this issue. We start not with “libtard” or “gun thug”. We start with another simple word. Neighbor.
Secondly, we must recognize the validity of the commitment, both emotional and rational, that folks on all sides have to their position. We recognize that position as valid for one and only one reason – that someone has it. It is a perfectly valid position for someone to say, “It’s a scary world, and I want a gun to protect my family.” It is also perfectly valid to say, “The world is friendly, and no one needs an assault rifle.”
The third step follows. Listening. Suspending our own presumptions, and listening. As Martin Buber puts it, “All real living is meeting.” It is in this listening that we begin to heal. But these wounds we heal not by attending to ourselves. The nation becomes whole when each of us attends to the wounds of our neighbor.
We dialogue or die. It has come to this. Saying “No” to everything is easy. Saying “Yes” to everything is easy. But crafting complex legislation that hears and honors the concerns of our neighbors, from rural Alaska to downtown Atlanta, that process takes time. But these are the demands of our time. We dialogue or die.
Copyright 2016 John Samuel Tieman