Gun debate must be handled with respect, understanding

Credit: Anisha Jain/ Credit: Anisha Jain/
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Three weeks ago, I wrote an editorial advocating for increased or altered gun control. My argument was only one perspective on the issue, and it was meant to inspire conversation with those holding different perspectives than me. However, as this debate focuses on a nuanced, emotional issue, all sides of the argument must be ready to respond with respect and an open mind. Solutions that only take one side into account will never be appropriate, and real answers will only come from dialogue and understanding.

In his response to my article, Carnegie Mellon and Tartan alumnus David Hunt frames my argument as an attempt to aid state efforts in rounding up the essential, lifesaving weapons of vulnerable citizens. While completely untrue, this claim is also dangerously reductive, and effectively obscures the real argument at hand — that all people deserve the right to live freely and safely, and that the gun control debate, which is nuanced and complex, cannot immediately disregard certain solutions simply because they offend people with a different perspective.

Full disclosure: I personally am, by and large, against guns of any kind, though I recognize that this stance is largely a product of my time and upbringing. To me, guns give rise to a unique culture of violence. I started kindergarten in 2002, three years after Columbine — I’ve never had the luxury of walking into a school where lockdown drills and emergency evacuation plans weren’t at least distantly on a teacher’s mind, where doors didn’t lock from the inside and students didn’t look curiously at the closets as they entered a classroom, wondering how many of us could cram inside if the unspeakable should occur. When I go see a movie in the theater, my mother reminds me to sit near the exits, be constantly aware, and be ready to run.

I haven’t seen many guns in my life, except on television where firearms are the tool of choice in devastating news stories and dramatized police procedural shows alike. Others have undoubtedly grown up amid far more violence than I could even imagine, making them even more wary of firearms. And there are undoubtedly those who were raised differently around guns, who know them to be tools with functions far beyond the unnecessary violence I associate with them.

That is why the solution will never be to completely ban guns, and why I would never — even in my previous article, which focused more on the government's frustrating reluctance to do something than on any specific plan I can prove might change things — advocate for that kind of broad, simplistic response.

At the same time, I do not think we should become complacent with the level of violence we’ve been left to expect and endure without shock or desire to change in our country today.

In a perfect world, no one would die in mass shootings. No one would die because of gang violence. No one would die from suicide, or from being shot while on duty, or from being shot by an officer on duty. Of course, this isn’t a perfect world, and I know that we can’t save everyone. But by better regulating the tools a small number people use to cause such harm, perhaps we could save some, and that would be something. Shouldn’t that at least be a goal we strive for?

Hunt’s primary counterargument may seem like a logical one: in the future, we may need to defend ourselves. As he says, it’s happened in other countries before. But that won’t matter if our future is taken away now. Ultimately what I want is for steps to be taken to reduce the violence that happens every day. Whether those steps involve better background checks, a longer waiting period when buying guns, better education for gun owners, limiting the number of rounds someone can buy, or even taking steps to address the mental heath conditions, chronic loneliness, and lack of intimacy in many Americans, particularly men, is not solely up to me, or to any of us — but those options should all be a viable part of the conversation.

The chance that a shooting will happen to you, or to me, is negligibly small, but the chance that one will happen in the near future is almost guaranteed. Instead of thinking “it will never happen to me,” remember that right now everyone — your niece in elementary school, your cousin at a concert — is at risk. It does not seem unreasonable to me to want to stop certain people — not everyone, but those who would perpetrate such violence — from getting hold of tools that would make their goals so much easier. There is no easy solution, and there might not be a perfect solution. But I want to find something better than what we have now.

One thing is for sure: if all discussions are shut down before they can start to open up solutions in the middle ground — ones that work to accommodate everyone who has a stake in the argument — the problem will never be solved, and lives will continue to be lost without real consequence. We cannot resort to buzz words and character attacks every time someone brings up the Second Amendment in this debate. We cannot rule out a solution until we have looked at it from many sides, and made absolutely sure that the cons outweigh the pros in the long run.

At the same time, we cannot jump to a solution in anger and fear and frustration, because we don’t want to settle for a plan that will not work for all. But to not do anything is to say that this violence is acceptable, or inevitable, and I do not believe that either is true.

Each person in this country has the right to exist freely and peacefully, regardless of party or race or religion or where they fall in this debate. It is time to take steps to make sure everyone is heard, and that we are reaching toward constructive solutions that give everyone the respect, and security, they deserve. That goal should never be lost amid pointing fingers and condescension, because these make us lose sight of what truly matters: the right to live.