America needs more fruitful dialogue about gun violence

Credit: Anisha Jain/ Credit: Anisha Jain/
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Yet again, America finds itself in a heated debate over gun violence. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) summarized the right's general consensus on gun control by stating that increasing gun control regulations would be ineffective because someone who wants to commit shootings "will find a way to get the gun to do it.” Conversely, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) demanded "smart gun safety laws" and for us to "[not] tolerate a society and live in a country with any level of pride when our babies are being slaughtered."

No sensible person would look at a tragedy like the one in Parkland, FL and wish for such an incident to happen again. People on both ends of the gun control debate generally hold their respective views because they genuinely believe that the way to lessen gun violence is through their respective beliefs. Although this core intention may be similar across the spectrum, it often gets lost in the pathos-driven "debates" we see. We still have far to go in terms of initiating fruitful dialogue, listening, and creating solutions.

Already, there are attempts to change policies in wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Alabama has already introduced legislation allowing educators to carry firearms. State Representative Will Ainsworth echoed Rubio's sentiment, saying "more gun control will not stop someone who is intent upon inflicting harm in our schools, but someone who is properly trained and armed with the right equipment certainly can." Educators in the state had requested he introduce such a bill, showing that he is not alone in believing that increasing arms within schools will prevent another school shooting. Meanwhile, the left is clamoring and demanding tighter gun regulations, so much that political commentator Tomi Lahren tweeted "Can the Left let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda?... This isn't about a gun it's about another lunatic." However, she has yet to make such a statement towards Ainsworth and his use of the shooting to "push his pro-gunowner agenda." This kind of shutdown of dialogue to project one's own opinion further polarizes the two sides, making the chance of actually striking a solution even smaller.

Another common facet of the argument about gun violence is the "mental health" versus "gun control" mentality people seem to have. President Donald Trump, in response to the Sutherland Springs, TX church shooting in 2017, said that the problem "isn't a guns situation...[it's] a mental health problem at the highest level." On the other end of the spectrum, we find voices shifting the blame solely to gun regulation. This kind of mentality treats the problem of gun violence as if there can only be one cause. A need for reform in gun regulations is not mutually exclusive to a need for a reform in how America handles mental health, yet saying the problem lies in one area or another implies just that. Of course, there are people in the middle who think that the problem lies in between these two poles, or some new pole altogether. However, the prominent voices appear to be these two ends. If we want to get any closer to finding a solution to the prevalence of gun violence in America, we have to recognize all — meaning anywhere from one to infinity — factors that contribute.

Finally, we need to stop believing in this sentiment: "numbers don't lie." Quantifiable data can effectively strengthen ethos in one's argument, but we must consider the context in which we draw the numbers from. For instance, when pro-gun regulators bring up countries such as South Korea and their respective statistics to support their gun-regulation thesis, what the statistics fail to mention is that South Korea does not have the "gun culture," if you will, that exists in America. America is founded so heavily on the notion that gun ownership is a right, in no small part thanks to the Second Amendment and the reinforcement of the belief that guns are important to everyday people. Furthermore, guns are almost integrated into American culture; we live in a country in which a man in Decatur, AL can legally promote his roofing company by offering a free gun per roof and where a man can legally carry his AR-15 and walk into the terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport — the busiest airport in the world — with no legal consequences. However, none of this would be fathomable in countries such as South Korea. Hearing someone owns a gun would raise a few eyebrows there; in America, not so much. Thus, simply installing Korea's gun laws into America would not work. People in Korea have their optimal strategy: "given hardly anybody has a gun, I don't need one either." America lacks this given statement, thus our optimal strategy looks more like this: "given anyone around me probably has a gun, I might need one."

Alternatively, those who claim that guns don't make a society deadlier and bring up numbers to support this claim also fall guilty of believing "numbers don't lie." Conservative political commentator Steven Crowder has been a consistent opponent of gun regulations and throws in numbers to support his claims. However, about half of his sources for his video "'Common Sense' Gun Control Debunked! (Man-On-Street)!" were biased, leaning against gun regulation. Concepts such as p-hacking, where researchers select data that will provide them the results that they desire, are no stranger to the natural sciences, never mind the social sciences. Although Crowder did put two government websites, an overwhelming portion of his information came from less credible sources. Furthermore, the right bringing up countries such as Switzerland, which has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world, to argue America doesn't have a gun problem is also naive at best. Switzerland takes gun ownership more seriously than America does. Whereas guns are often handed down in the US or given as gifts, the people in Switzerland are cognizant of the responsibility owning a gun entails. Qualities such as discipline, mandatory military service, awareness of the gravity of gun ownership, and more accessible healthcare all contribute; simply installing their gun ownership statistics to America without considering other cultural aspects would not work.

I understand such controversial topics such as gun control will not have a clean solution. Regardless of whatever is enacted, there will be many people disappointed. However, the fact that we cannot satisfy everyone — or even the majority of America — should not discourage us from having these difficult discussions. Although we should not detach from emotions altogether, we need to learn to have these discussions without making others feel as though they are attacked or allowing ourselves to feel attacked.