Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On the Gun Control Debate

The title itself will get some people excited. Some because they advocate gun control; some because they oppose gun control. My goal in this post is to be an equal-opportunity pest. Both sides seem to generate a lot of heat, less light, and little understanding. Maybe we should search for areas of agreement before we start attacking the differences. I’ll acknowledge up front that some will probably not like what I say. The “no guns – ever” group will think I haven’t taken it far enough; the “I won’t ever give up my rights” and “they’re-trying-to-take-us-over” crowd will think I've been sucked in by the liberals. But that’s okay.

Issue #1: Area(s) of agreement: Horrific events like Columbine and Sandy Hook force us to look at the gun issue. All sides want to prevent tragedies like this. Everyone wants to protect our kids.

Area(s) for discussion (i.e., we probably won’t all agree here!): Are guns in and of themselves the issue or are they a symptom? Are specific kinds of guns the issue? What about the human side of the equation? James 4:-12 tells us that wars and quarrels arise from the heart. We live in a broken, fallen, sinful world. Mental illness, anger, frustration about life events, emptiness, loss of hope, a culture that devalues life, a culture that devalues morality, a society filled with too many broken families, and a host of other issues define the deeper roots of the problem. Can we ignore the heart issue and hope gun regulation solves the problem?

Issue  #2: Area(s) of agreement: Everyone acknowledges that the second amendment grants the right to bear arms (not to arm bears, however). Here’s what it says, in its entirety: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” We likely all agree that some limit exists defining what “arms” I may bear. I do not want my neighbor to have a hand-held rocket launcher; I doubt they want me to have a tank in my driveway.

Area(s) for discussion (i.e., we probably won’t all agree here!): First, where do we draw the line? Some would say “no automatic weapons”; some would say “no semi-automatic weapons”; some would say “limit ammunition”; some say the line lies elsewhere. Second, has the purpose of the second amendment disappeared over time? Some might say we are too civilized to need to worry about tyrannical leaders stealing our liberty by force. Personally, I think that even if the risk is low, the potential for needing some form of protection from “them” still exists (whoever “them” might be).  As examples of who-knows-how-many situations have popped up over time, in the 1770’s, people faced the American Revolution; in the 1860’s, the Civil War; in the 1960’s, neighborhood riots. It seems to me that until the heart problem goes away, the need for self protection will not go away.

Issue #3: Area(s) of agreement: All sides use statistics, stories, logical arguments, emotional appeals, and studies to support their views.

Area(s) for discussion (i.e., we probably won’t all agree here!): How accurate is the information? Both sides use misquotes, faulty statistics, exaggerations, and personal attacks. One of my favorite quotes-that-doesn't-exist: “To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens”, attributed to Adolph Hitler. The problem? The quote doesn't exist, at least not in this form. But people pass it on, especially on Facebook, as if fact. But let’s assume I am wrong and Hitler did say this. Even then, we must consider the context – are we comparing apples to apples? Does the quote really apply to our situation?

Do we do a careful analysis of the statistics we use? Are the numbers we report correct, and are the conclusions we draw from those numbers correct? I am amazed how many I've discovered were incorrect with only a few minutes of research. Do we confuse causation and correlation? Some gun control advocates argue that countries X, Y and Z have gun control and they have a lower violent crime rate than the U.S. Assuming the statistics are, in fact, accurate and comparable, one (gun control) does not necessarily cause the other (lower violent crime rates). We must study the cultures (theirs and ours) more completely before we can validly conclude causation. It might simply be a correlation (a “coincidence”).

How we argue makes a difference. Call me a communist or an idiot or an advocate of killing children and I no longer care about the issue – I want to defend myself (whether or not I am correct). Use name calling against those who hold different views than you, and you will lose from your audience those who agree with that person (and maybe even the ones who do not agree!). One of my “favorites” compares Obama and Hitler. Really?? I’m not a fan of many of Obama’s policies, but I can still disagree with him and address the issues without the ad hominem attacks!

What should we do? Whichever side of the argument you fall on, and I have friends I respect on both sides
  • Be careful what you say or post. Start with where we agree.
  • Verify statistics and quotes before passing them on. Don’t assume they’re true – do the leg work!
  • Don’t resort to name calling. Yes, I know it’s the political way, but it doesn't help.
  •  Make good, strong arguments.
  • Motivate without inflaming. 
  • Contact your political leaders. 
  •  Love your enemy (Jesus did!).
  • Argue well.
  • If you are a Christian, look for the opportunity to talk about the bigger issues: Jesus; eternal life; the coming Kingdom. He is the solution to the heart issue!