Tahlequah Daily Press

January 21, 2013

Compromise: It works if we let it


Staff

TAHLEQUAH — America’s love affair with the gun is partly rooted in our “wild west” heritage, and it’s going to take more than escalating abuse by criminals and mentally disturbed individuals to change the culture. And despite the tragedy in Connecticut, it’s not likely to happen in our lifetime.

A look at the Daily Press Facebook forum over the past few days reveals the emotional impact of this topic. Though most of the comments on a thread seeking input for a story were civil, a few aimed sharp barbs at other participants. And while only two or three folks got out of hand, we learned later a couple of participants had launched vicious attacks in private messages to people with opposing views.

Many gun advocates fall back on the Second Amendment to support their position. However, if they are familiar with the writings of the founding fathers, they must also acknowledge these 18th century gentlemen had no concept of automatic weapons, assault rifles or magazines that hold more bullets than a man of that era might have shot in a lifetime. Though the definition of “well-armed militia” might be debated, the referenced group of citizens would have been brandishing muskets, and perhaps the occasional cannon.

If the NRA and those who oppose any restrictions on gun purchase and use have any amendment to thank for this freedom they hold so dear, it is just as much the First as it is the Second. The ability to speak freely and with passion keeps the government in check to a far greater extent than a pistol on the hip or a rifle on the rack. But the same liberties Second Amendment aficionados hold up like a banner aren’t just theirs to cherish. The freedom to believe guns are a problem and should be controlled at some level – and the freedom to speak publicly about that belief, without fear of retaliation – is as much of a guarantee for those on the other side of the spectrum.

What does it say about gun control opponents when they level threats against those who call for a moratorium on automatic weapons sales or limits to how many bullets a clip can hold? Are we telling Americans who abhor guns that if they air their views publicly, an opponent might take it upon himself to silence them with the source of the controversy?

Lack of respect for other people’s opinions is as much a problem as gun violence; in fact, it might be at the root of some of the violence. Outlandish and paranoid claims on either end heighten the tension. Does anyone actually believe the government is “trying to take our guns away,” or that it could succeed in doing so? Who will do the taking? Half the people in the country would have to be hired to take the guns owned by the other half, and the confiscations would have to occur at the exact same time all across the country. Otherwise, word would leak out, and the next round of agents to show up on doorsteps would be summarily blown away by a forewarned public. Furthermore, many of the hypothetical agents would themselves be citizens who uphold the right to bear arms; could the “government” really expect them to mindlessly obey and turn on their fellow Americans?

President Obama put several proposals on the table last week. A few might be workable; others don’t stand a chance. But he had to do something. Twenty children were senselessly murdered in Connecticut, and the nation’s leaders had to react in some way, because a huge swath of the public demanded it.

Tony Boyle, a local pawn shop owner and former school board member, had some sensible comments on the issue. While Boyle upholds the right of anyone to own an automatic weapon, he doesn’t see the need for a magazine that holds any more than 10 rounds. He also pointed out that society can’t lay the blame for the recent spates of violence solely on guns. Movies, video games and bullying all tie together to foment what he called the “climate of violence” in the U.S.

Poor parenting is another factor, a Facebook contributor said. True enough, but what happens when embattled parents don’t know where to turn? In many cases, parents aren’t apathetic or neglectful, but are working so hard to make ends meet that they don’t have time to recognize or deal with the problems. And what about mental health issues, when elected officials have systematically whittled away at  resources?

If Obama’s plan was to start a national conversation, it worked. But instead of attacking others who have opposing views, Americans need to continue the discussion, and in a rational, reasonable way. We’re still a democracy, and compromise still works, if we’ll let it.