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Front Porch: Political discussion has become too alienating

This June 27, 2013,  photo shows a rack of rifles at Firing-Line gun store in Aurora, Colo. A new survey by the Pew Research Center shows Americans have grown more divided over gun issues. The survey of adults showed about half favor gun-control measures while about half support preserving gun rights. The results underscore the divide in the United States along political, racial, gender and geographic lines. Stefanie Pettit, a Spokesman-Review Voice correspondent, writes how it’s nearly impossible to have a civil and rational discussion about guns with someone on the opposite side of the issue. (Ed Andrieski / AP)
This June 27, 2013, photo shows a rack of rifles at Firing-Line gun store in Aurora, Colo. A new survey by the Pew Research Center shows Americans have grown more divided over gun issues. The survey of adults showed about half favor gun-control measures while about half support preserving gun rights. The results underscore the divide in the United States along political, racial, gender and geographic lines. Stefanie Pettit, a Spokesman-Review Voice correspondent, writes how it’s nearly impossible to have a civil and rational discussion about guns with someone on the opposite side of the issue. (Ed Andrieski / AP)

There’s a conversation I want to have with my cousin, but I can’t. It’s about guns.

It’s been pressing on me ever since the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, when a man fired hundreds of rounds through a hotel window, killing 58 concertgoers outside and wounding an additional 546 of them. What followed was the usual – statements of outrage, thoughts and prayers, brief mention of banning bump stocks, examination of the shooter’s life and then … nothing. On with our lives and, of course, the next incidents – in New York City, then the recent Sutherland Springs, Texas, church killings.

After Las Vegas, my cousin in Florida posted on Facebook one of those pass-around things you often see, this one stating that when someone is killed by a drunken driver, we blame the driver and not the car, that we blame the bomber and not the bomb, but only with shootings do we blame the gun and not the shooter. Not true actually, but I understand where these things originate, and I was surprised that this was something she held as wisdom and shared it with all her Facebook friends to see.

I’ve always understood that she and I have different views of the world politically, so I wasn’t shocked that we approach guns and gun use in America differently. But as a woman I know to be thoughtful and kind and reasoned, the sloganeering of the statement was a stunner.

What I would like to do is have a rational, respectful and calm discussion with her. I would like to give my views and hear hers. I would speak gently when I say that it’s always the fault of the perpetrator when acts of violence occur, but that it is a normal reaction afterward to mitigate or prevent or slow down repeated occurrences.

When Timothy McVeigh’s truck bomb blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people and wounding more than 600, he was tried, convicted and executed for the crime. But because ammonium nitrate fertilizer was used in making the bomb, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was expanded to cover rules for the sale of the fertilizer and a program instituted for agricultural suppliers to report thefts or suspicious activities involving it.

Drunken drivers are fined and often arrested and sentenced. Additionally, efforts and laws have also been instituted to keep them away from what turns into their weapon of choice when they are impaired – their vehicles. Their driver’s licenses can be revoked. Their cars can be taken away. Ignition interlocks can be mandated. Taverns that over-serve alcohol can be fined.

Certainly, any person who wishes to be reckless or do a bad deed can find illegal ways to gear up and carry forth. You can’t prevent everything, but there are things that can be done to slow down and often derail a person on the way to doing the next bad thing. Just because you can’t prevent everything doesn’t mean you can’t prevent anything.

I would like to say these things to my cousin in what I hope would be a nonconfrontational way. And I would like to ask about the how and the why of her belief that guns are exempt from the same kind of mitigation that access to fertilizer and automobiles – things which also have legitimate uses in society – have on them.

I’m not anti-Second Amendment. Although I didn’t grow up in a household where there were guns, my husband did, and we have some now. Constitutional rights are not limitless. Even as the First Amendment grants us free speech, that speech has restrictions – no yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, for example, as we all know. So just stating “Second Amendment rights” doesn’t quite cover it.

My cousin, who was my matron of honor when I got married, is an intelligent woman, and I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t just toss the Second Amendment at me as her blanket reasoning. I’m sure she has a rationale, an argument and an understanding of gun rights that, while different than mine, is not just a knee-jerk political talking point. She is too thoughtful for that. At least I think so, and I’d like to hear and understand it. When I say I want to share thoughts, I really mean it. I’m not just looking to dump a bunch of rhetoric on her.

Here’s the problem. We, like so many families in America today, are now separated by our political beliefs. We don’t talk about such things because … well, we just can’t. How are the kids? How are you enjoying retirement? Did you stay in town during the hurricane? Safe stuff, shallow stuff, that’s what we share with one another. And that’s it. We no longer have the courage or the commitment to go any deeper.

I have already been kicked to the curb by one friend over politics, and I’m hesitant to chance losing this family connection, too. There used to be a time when we discussed our differing opinions, that we sought clarity and understanding about – if not agreeing with – the other person’s point of view. And that this could happen without risk of severing family or friend connections.

But no longer. And I’m not willing to risk losing her altogether by raising a tender topic, no matter how much I want to talk with her about this. So I will remain puzzled by her Facebook posting and ignorant about “the other side” from someone whose opinions I normally value and respect. There will be no potentially enlightening (for both of us) conversation.

And there goes another pin that holds a cohesive society together.


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