USA Today extended an offer to me in the wake of Florida’s shooting massacre to write a column about how actual grown-ups should respond to the tragedy.
You’ve heard of them before, right? Grown-ups are people who, among other things, set aside pettiness in favor of a noble purpose. And with 17 innocents slaughtered in cold blood, there is no more noble purpose than doing everything we can as a people to make sure it never happens again.
But in my column I question if the conversation we need to have toward meeting that end is possible any longer:
“The conventional wisdom is there are two Americas, because we don't agree on anything and Americans argue too much. I agree there are two Americas but it's not because we're arguing too much. It's because we're really not arguing at all.
We're hiding, surrounding ourselves with almost exclusively the like-minded. Seeking news sources that give us confirmation instead of information … Then, after working ourselves into a partisan lather, we hop on social media to troll one another with venom. All the while assuming the worst possible motivations for anyone who may dare to have a slightly different take.”
Isn’t it painfully obvious by now that trolling and ad hominem not only can’t save us from further disaster but actually add fertilizer to growing the very environment of suffering we claim we want to fix? So with blood on our collective hands and lamentation in our broken hearts once again, I wrote my column with my olive branch meter dialed up to 11 despite having a record as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment and the God-given right to self-defense.
According to some on my Facebook page not only was that futile, it was heretical. How dare I assume that not every American fed up with gun violence must be a Marxist progressive gun-grabber (though some of them pretending to be fed up assuredly are).
I had to block one user called ‘Constitutional Carry USA’ for bombarding my page with comments like “Bump stock ban (which I never advocated in my piece). Now quit and leave for Canada. You are too cucked to live in this country.” He then threw in a “You don't want civilians to have a have a real right to keep and bear arms, yet you're ok with the Government who can't be trusted having nukes? Like I said. Quit your job and GTFO out of my country you communist pile of feces.”
So not a grown-up then. Got it.
And Facebook follower Tom Nichols deemed my call for better dialogue as an opportunity to attack the character of, wait for it, Ronald Reagan of all people: “In my book agreeing with the ban on machine GUNS is agreeing with a GUN ban. PERIOD. Reagan and the NRA sold out the Second Amendment when they went along with that ban.”
This, from my own Facebook followers. Many other folks, most in fact, agreed with my sentiments. But yikes. Info Wars called and said some of you guys might want to try decaf.
As for USA Today’s comment section, it was a mixed bag. The conversation started out promising because neither Yosemite Sam gun-rights advocacy, nor Piers Morgan/Rosie O’Donnell gun-grabbing were the focus. Instead, the particulars of the Florida story took center stage in an effort to avoid irrational or irrelevant solutions in search of a problem.
“We are wanting to take guns away from lawful citizens, but with a direct threat, we are told that the police or FBI couldn't do anything until he acted out the violence he promised,” said commenter Barry Levy, referring to the fact that Nikolas Cruz – the suspected perpetrator of the school shooting – lived a life heavy-laden with red flags already known to the FBI and concerning to school officials to the point of his expulsion.
So this raises the seemingly obvious question: If our government protectors don’t get it right even when they can see it coming, how much power are we ready and willing to gamble on giving them beyond what they already to have to “make us safe”? Furthermore, doesn’t the failure of government in this case only highlight all the more a need for individual citizens to possess the option of defending themselves?
People of good will, who are gun averse and prone to placing increasing limitations on gun purchases/possession, should feel duty-bound to address such concerns if they plan on pursuing new laws. For the current laws may already be sufficient to the task and we are simply suffering now from a systemic confluence of bureaucratic human error. It wouldn’t be the first time, as commenter Johnny Rose pointed out. The Virginia Tech killer had a history of mental illness that should have been but was never properly communicated through the appropriate channels for limiting gun purchases.
But another commenter, Tom Kane, was unconvinced saying, “This deranged kid bought a weapon of war legally. What law currently on the books would prevent that?” Weapon of war? That implies no civilian should own such a weapon at all and therefore the laws we currently have are not only inadequate but fundamentally flawed.
And if true, the prohibition of the AR-15 could reasonably be an all-in moment for curing what ails us. With proof though, not propaganda. Is this gun truly a unique bomb perpetually ready to go off, or simply one of many possible tools of destruction a madman might choose?
Which brings us to guns in general, the ownership of which commenter Michael Anthony Shea explained to be the product of an “outdated and misrepresented Constitutional amendment....WHY should we have a ‘right’ to bear arms after so many needless deaths?” I would wager that’s what commenter Doug Larson was thinking about as well when he added “it is time for action, not talking.”
And that of course brings me back to my original concern. Had we all done more in the way of effective communication before this tragedy, perhaps the actions we would be talking about by now would be the ones preventing our drift into hate and violence. Instead of those who haphazardly react to the carnage.
Being so cavalier about a founding tenant of the Constitution seems to be adding fuel to an already deadly fire. Not to mention our calls to such action aren’t new. And they aren’t working.
So let’s have a real conversation for once this time and pray it’s enough to do the job of protecting those who went to school one day and never came home.