Recently I seem to have started a bit of a brouhaha by comparing traffic death statistics to gun homicide statistics. What I was trying to point out was how close they were, but what a different emotional response we have to them. People said I was comparing apples and oranges, but was I? I could have pulled in teen sex too.
What do speeding and gun ownership have in common?
– “We already have laws on the books. We just need to enforce them better.”
What do teen sex and gun ownership have in common?
– “If we educate them about how to do it safely, it’s like giving them our approval.”
Teen sex, speeding, and guns. They’re not apples and oranges. Each seems an intractable problem we cannot solve. People view buying a big V8 like it’s a right. We can no more get people to give up their big, fast cars than we can get them to give up sex. We seem to have accepted this about cars and sex, but not guns. After every high-profile gun incident, people still seem to think that browbeating, insults, and shaming will work to effect change. And it doesn’t.
So let’s take a step back from it. Let’s accept that we are not going to get gun owners to willingly surrender their guns or what they believe to be their rights any more than we’d get car owners to willingly drive cars with a top speed of 60 m.p.h. Let’s accept we’re not going to get the laws we want passed by current legislators, and with Trump stacking a conservative court, the Second Amendment will have decades of staunch support, even as the composition of Congress swings back and forth.
What can we actually get done? How do we think strategically? How can advertising agencies, and celebrities, and people of good will gradually change people’s minds over the long term while working in the short term to encourage behaviors that will reduce gun deaths?
Gun control proponents are probably as uncomfortable about “safe gun ownership” education as religious conservatives are about “safe sex” education. But with the right approach, it’s likely the most impactful thing that can actually be accomplished.
At some point people said “if we can’t stop teen sex, let’s try to reduce teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs with safe sex education and handing out condoms.” It didn’t stop teen pregnancy or the spread of STDs, but it made a dent. At some point, people have to say “if we can’t stop gun ownership, let’s try to reduce gun deaths with gun safety instruction and handing out safety devices.”
And some of you will yell at me, scream at me, and call me names for suggesting this. You’ll believe pragmatism and compromise are surrender. If our political primaries have taught us anything, it’s that Americans love ideological purity. It’s why Congress has become SO dysfunctional. We’ve elected people who will fight to the death for ideology rather than compromise.
You can still work on lobbying politicians for better laws, work to build the political momentum it’ll take to combat some WELL-funded lobbies and a stacked court, but what can you do NOW? What can you do to reach out to gun owners on all sides of the political spectrum that will really make a difference in the next year? I believe it’s a non-judgmental, encouraging campaign, teaching the safe and responsible handling and storage of firearms.
And after that, perhaps we can get behind teaching people how to better handle those big, powerful cars at high speed.
Yes, prohibiting people from doing dangerous things feels right in our gut. That’s why the Bible is so full of “thou shalt not” commands. But if we can’t stop them, maybe the next best thing is to teach them how to do them less dangerously. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s so crazy it just might work.
Feel free to call me names now.