If you never change your mind, why have one?

A guide to discussing gun control and other divisive topics.

In the wake of the recent Aurora, CO.,  Oak Creek, WI., and other mass shootings I’m sure your Facebook newsfeed and workplace watercooler conversations are saturated with both pro and anti-gun rhetoric. It is undoubtedly circular and and divisive, with each side nodding their heads sagely and thinking the other quite insane. Despite generally being a rational person, the subject drives you to a degree of utter inflexibility that no other can aside from perhaps abortion, religion, or Obama’s country of birth. Well, personally, I’ve rather had enough of all your choir-preaching and utter inability to concede on any point whatsoever or hold a logical, productive discussion.

So, in light of your continued and undying cyclical arguments, I present some observations and guidelines here in the vain hope of bringing some common ground. If you find any of them offensive, you’re probably too thin-skinned to even bother discussing the issue anyway.

For everyone

1. Broaden your perspective. Be critical and open-minded. Question and Factcheck. Don’t just read/listen to/watch the propaganda of your own party/group – pick up the newspapers and magazines of “the other side.” Maybe you have to secret yourself away in some dark corner of the basement in order to turn the pages of American Rifleman or Mother Jones but whatever it takes, read up. Know thy enemy, as they say.

2. Educate yourself. Bone up on history, politics, and law. And I don’t mean sit and watch the “History” Channel. Crack the spine of an actual book. There are these fantastic buildings called libraries which are full of them and staffed with wonderful people known as librarians who can help you find a title worthy of your time.

3. Discuss. Talk to friends, family, co-workers, strangers – about what you think and listen to what they have to say. Don’t go looking for an argument or make one yourself. Don’t discard other’s beliefs out-of-hand just because you think them “crazy.”

4. Be active. Don’t just bitch about how things are or aren’t or how the NRA is too powerful or the “Liberal Media” has brainwashed everyone. Vote. Write your Congress-person. Protest. Make a website or Youtube video. Whatever you need to do to get your word out and see what others are saying.

 For the anti-gunner/(non-gun-owning) Democrat/Liberal

You’re a latte-swilling, long-haired dirty hippie/commie/atheist tree-hugging vegan who – if you have a job at all – works at some liberal arts college. You like to whine, whine, whine!

You wouldn’t go to a foreign country without first learning at least a few phrases and checking up on the customs, right? In the language of firearms, right now you can’t even ask where the bathroom is. You are an outsider and you’ll have to make an effort to understand the culture before you can hope to have a conversation, nevermind negotiate a contract. What’s more is that a little book-learning doesn’t replace experiential knowledge. Just because you “know” something doesn’t make you “right,” so be wary of becoming too much like your opponent in this regard.

1. For the love of all that is holy, learn how firearms actually function. You may have a degree in English Lit, but when you talk about guns you sound like a moron. If you learned terms like “high-powered rifle” and “machine gun” from watching CNN and don’t know the difference between a magazine and a clip, get thee to some firearms education.

A. Ultimately, you should probably even find a competent instructor and take a basic course on firearms safety and handling, culminating in actually firing a gun.

B. Taking such steps is not only beneficial to bettering your own argument(s) but substantially improves your own safety and awareness should you encounter a firearm or (unthinkable as it may be) have need of one.

2. Understand why people own guns. There are as many reasons as there are guns – some more reasonable than others – but it is a very personal matter. Ignoring why someone does something or how much they care about it won’t win you any points in a debate, nor will it help you work out solutions.

3. Be calm. Do you find it frustrating how your conservative gun-toting opponent seems so smug and at ease, despite obviously being so WRONG? Aren’t liberals supposed to be the smug ones?! I hate to tell you this, but you do tend to be a bit excitable. They get a kick out of riling you up too (it’s so easy!).

4. Forget the statistics. Numbers are great, and I know how much you love to throw them around (X number people die from guns each year, etc.) but as Stalin is attributed to have said “The death of a single man is a tragedy – a million – a statistic.” Don’t talk about numbers and abstractions. Make it personal. How would a person feel if their husband/wife/son/daughter/friend were shot and killed? What would they do? They may deny that it would/could happen, but suppose it did?

5. Realize that you can’t just “ban guns.” Why not, you ask? A ban is fine, but I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” As tired as it may be, this is true. Let me ‘splain:

A. There are as many firearms in the US as there are adults. Something between 30-40% of persons own a gun or guns. Suppose they were banned tomorrow. How do you propose to collect them all? There is no existing record of exactly who has what (since private sales and hand-me-downs are unrecorded). Do you expect everyone to just quietly hand them over? Do you intend to go door to door with the Police and Military and conduct a Search and Seizure? Do you find this thought unsavory? (you should).

B. As Prohibition shows, banning something that people want just drives it underground. A black market for guns and ammo will undoubtedly be created, with attendant organized crime and – you guessed it – murder.

C. Assume for a moment you have a magical gun magnet that can suck every gun in the country out of stores and homes and cold, dead fingers. What then? Let me put it this way: Cocaine is illegal and yet every year upwards of a thousand TONS of it is smuggled into the United States. If we can’t stop drug-runners from bringing in multi-ton shipments, how are we going to stop gunrunners from bringing in guns?

6.  Realize that the raison d’être for the gun lobby’s incomprehensible aversion to even the most reasonable legislative measures is rooted in a fear of the domino effect. The idea that if one thing is banned their freedoms of ownership will quickly erode until it is impractical or impossible to have a gun at all. This is not a groundless fear as it has happened before their eyes in Britain and Australia. You may not have any problem with this thought, but you’ll never win your case or pass a bill unless you can figure out how to assuage that fear.

 For the gun-owner/Republican/Conservative

You’re a beer-swilling cowboy/redneck/hick who drives a pickup for Jesus and watches NASCAR when you’re not at Walmart. You like to say “Mine, mine, mine!”

You tend to be inflexible. When traveling you are easily discerned by your loud, obnoxious manner, swaggering gait, and bone-headed remarks on the superiority of your own nation. You make no effort to understand other cultures because you’re already written them off as inferior. You need to chill out, man. If your fear of not being seen as powerful and in charge was as tiring to yourself as it is to others, we’d all be much better off.

1. Skip the mantras. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yes, yes, we’ve heard it before and repeating it doesn’t make it anymore relevant even if it is true. You may also famously declare how far more people die from car accidents than guns. You do realize these are avoidant, insensitive, bullshit arguments, right?

A. People always have and (presumably) will continue to find unique and innovative ways of offing one another, but they do often use guns for this purpose. Admit it. Guns may not be the problem in and of themselves, but the US is ranked right between Mexico and the Philippines by rate of firearm deaths and that’s not cool.

B. Saying that firearms deaths aren’t a problem because X many more people die from something else is basically saying that those deaths don’t matter. More people die from heart disease than car crashes – does that mean we do nothing about making cars and driving safer?

2. Get some grey. You’re very often a dichotomous thinker – seeing things in black and white. Your oversimplification of the world may make it easy to be uncompromising, but it is also a symptom of mental illness.

3. The whole truth, please. You do tend to have the “facts” right more often than your utopian opponents, but you like to mangle the context to suit your whims.

A. The 2nd Amendment. You know how it goes: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” You love that bit, but you often leave out the first half. The part about “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” The liberal yokel you’re talking to will surely bring that up, and how the National Guard is that very militia of which our Founding Fathers spoke! That is a long and heavily written-upon debate which I’ll not comment upon here, but consider that in those few words they wrote what is – taken as a whole – a clearly conditional statement.

B. Speaking of conditions… at some point you’ve certainly thought that some person or other shouldn’t be allowed to drive a car. Why then do you continue to defend an absolutist stance on gun ownership? There are definitely people out there – not just criminals – you wouldn’t want anywhere near a gun. Recent illegal uses of legally-purchased firearms weaken your arguments for unrestricted purchasing.

4. You’re very spoiled. For as much as you whine about attempts to restrict your access to firearms, you really can have just about whatever you want. Ok, fine, so you need a Class III FFL to play with the really fun stuff, but it’s not an impossible task to get one. And honestly, you have your pick of thousands of different models of handguns, shotguns, rifles, all in innumerable calibres with infinite customizations and so many accessories you probably spend more on them than on the gun itself. A few comments on this point:

A. Grandad did just fine taking deer with his .30-40 Krag and iron sights. He was probably a better shot than you too.

B. You have to face facts – when the anti-gunners say there is no “legitimate use” for 50-100 drum mags, they’re spot on. Unless of course “fun” is a “legitimate use.” They ARE fun, but with 5.56 at .60 cents a round do you really want to feed that thing anyway? And Slide Fire systems. Come on. Really? There is no way to justify this other than “it’s fun!”

5. Be not Afraid. You’re afraid of a lot of things. The Govm’t, Terrorists, Carjackers, Gays, Zombies, and non-Christians. You may have legitimate reasons for any or all of these, but bringing them up just makes you look like an insecure paranoid nutcase. Also, disguising your fear with disdain doesn’t fool anyone.

6. The hypocrisy of tradition. You love the idea that we have always been a nation of gun-owners. That it is a part of our American heritage. You invoke images of Revolutionary minutemen, 19th Century frontiersmen, and Civil War soldiers. All of whom were shooting muzzle-loading blackpowder flintlock and percussion lock arms. Have you ever even shot such a thing? Or is your idea of a muzzeloader some awful in-line job you only break out once a year to extend your deer season? If you truly love the past then practice what you preach and realize that muzzleloaders, single-shots, and bolt-guns are the bulk of what our forefathers survived with. If they were good enough for them, what excuse do you have for your over-love of black guns with quad rails?

While I speak specifically to the issue of gun control, much of this applies to any divisive issue. Stop following the rhetoric of your party leaders and moderate yourselves. Everyone sounds so crazy because they repeat what is told to them by increasingly crazy people, seeking to out-do their opponents through ever increasing hyperbole. The further each side goes Right or Left, the more they resemble each other, so do yourself a favour and take the middle ground.

UPDATE: Part II

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