Safe in School: I know how we can do It

It’s the beginning of June. Most schools have just concluded their academic year. Memorial Day Weekend has passed. It’s truly the beginning of summer–a time of happiness & fond lifetime memories like summer camps, family vacation, & sunny weather. However, the recent mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX still casts a dark shadow over what should otherwise be a bright time of the year. It just so happens that it’s a national election year. Predictably, we find ourselves in another quagmire as to how to contend with what we’re told is exclusively a problem in the US–the epidemic of gun violence. It’s a debate that has continued since the 1920’s & the days of Prohibition. Yet suddenly, what we have been unable to resolve over the last 100 years we must resolve before the next school year. That gives us about three months. It seems impossible–but trust me when I say that people on both sides of the argument want our nation’s kids to be safe in schools. The disagreement arises in the manner in which we accomplish this shared goal.

Mass shootings are always tragic, but when they involve kids this young, the emotional impact often becomes amplified. While this is understandable, emphatic statements by lawmakers like Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from CT, stating “Spare me the bullshit!” are unhelpful. While statements like this certainly energize one side of the argument as well as grab headlines, they always prove counter-productive in the end. By the same token, efforts by the GOP to pinpoint mental illness as the primary factor behind tragedies like this end up simply angering the opposition, rendering compromise unlikely. Regardless of how fiercely we stand on one side of this debate or the other, I stress that we all wish to accomplish a shared goal. And to do this, we have to build a bridge across the aisle, across the political spectrum, across either side of this debate. If we share the goal, then we have to share the solution. This is exactly why pointing fingers at the other party & shouting obscenities is completely useless. If you haven’t figured it out by now, one one side–no one party–can solve this problem alone. We need each other–enemies need to become allies–enough of us at least, to pass some legislation that both preserves civil liberties while minimizes the threat in our schools.

I’m not proposing any specifics–yet, although, I have some obvious measures in mind that should be acceptable to both sides of the argument. But before we get into the “how-to,” we must address the “why.” We will accomplish nothing specifically until we establish something that is broad; something universal to any argument. We have to have compassion for our opponent.

If you really want to help, stop saying “It’s absolutely lunacy for any American to want to own a gun!” Or, “There’s no place for that kind of thinking anywhere in America!” Because saying things like this, given that there are numerous people in America who actually do think that, serves only to alienate half the country. And, disagree as we may, we need people on both sides of the argument to share ownership of the solution. No one side of the coin, no one party can solve this problem alone. Do you want proof? Well nationally, we are under single party rule currently. The Democratic party, the supposed party of gun safety, controls the White House, the House of Representatives, & the Senate. Yes, technically, the Senate is a dead tie, but the Vice-President has rights to the tie breaking vote. If they don’t make the schools safer by November, do they really deserve your vote? If they can’t pass some kind of meaningful legislation right now, then when?

“The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided” (U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 3). Since 1789, 291 tie-breaking votes have been cast.

My point is, no one party can fix it; no one party can doom us. We need everyone to take their share of ownership in this matter. But to do that effectively, we have to have compassion. People on the Left have to respect their neighbors from the Right who would be for some gun control measures that would certainly keep the schools safe. But they fear that proponents from the left will use this opportunity to over-react & take away the rights of every gun owner, not just those who pose an obvious threat. In similar fashion, responsible gun owners should recognize that, while self preservation is a universal right, not every member of society is equally suited to be trusted to do so with a firearm. The very firearm that may allows the responsible gun owner to sleep easy makes his neighbor feel uneasy. We have to learn to value & the concerns of our opponent in order to find a solution that attempts to address the concerns of both sides, because they are equally legitimate.

The second phase to solving this 100 year old enigma of balancing inherent rights with public safety is compromise. As a member of a civil society, we all enter into a social contract. The social contract isn’t perfect, but it tends to offer a solution that is at least comfortable for most of the participants. There will always be outliers who will remain unhappy–but the goal is to keep as many members of the population under this social contract comfortable enough to live out a productive life. But in our current political climate, especially when it comes down to debates like civil liberties & even more so, the safety of our children–we often devolve into hateful rhetoric & stubborn inflexibility. This type of behavior makes all of us an outliers–people on the fringes of the spectrum who no longer wants to share their society with the neighbor who happens to disagree with them.

Remember two simple things. Compassion & compromise. You may not understand why this or that is important to your opponent, but if you don’t accept it, you’ll never reach a compromise. We can’t change our neighbors. We must understand that for them, as for us, some things are non-negotiable. Some things are absolute. Recognize that your opponent’s fears are just as valuable as your own. If you don’t respect that, you’ll never find a way to work around them. Meaning, you’ll never find a path to compromise. And without compromise, there will never be change. We can’t change the way our neighbor’s think. But we can try to make changes to the social contract that account for how we both think.

You want to make meaningful change? You want to enact restrictions that both gunowners & CNN viewers can agree on? Then recognize that the hateful bickering hasn’t worked. Let’s try something revolutionary–compassion & compromise. I guarantee, we’ll get further doing this than we’ve gotten so far…..and that’s a start.

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