The day after the tragedy in Colorado the web filled up with three predictable positions. 1. “If there had been someone with a concealed weapon, he or she might have saved everyone there.” 2. “The assault weapons used by the killer were all legal. More weapons would have created a cross fire and given the police no idea who to pursue when they arrived. 3. The President said this isn’t a time for politics but a time for prayer.
What makes this conversation so hard is that each position represents an entire worldview. Someone who believes that human beings are essentially violent will reason that only more guns can counterbalance such acts of violence. Those who believe that violence only leads to more violence point out that countries like England have only a fraction of the gun deaths of the U.S. Those caught in the middle believe if we ignore the situation it will somehow all work out.
I fall into the second group and believe that if assault weapons were illegal it would be easier to identify violent and unbalanced people. I don’t believe in taking away all guns, but feel small handguns and military grade assault weapons have no place in a civilized nation. The idea that an armed citizenship could defend itself against today’s military is delusional in my opinion. Just Youtube Iraqi’s armed with such weapons shot down with Apache helicopters from ungodly ranges.
But my point in writing today is not to argue for that one point of view. Instead, I’m hoping as people disagree on what caused the shooting that we not get lost in traditional cliches, but talk instead about what our hopes and fears, and what kind of a world we both want to live in. Is violence the principle that will organize the kind of world we want to live in? Are we becoming safer as we arm ourselves to the teeth, or are we becoming Kafka-like insects? Simplistic arguments will lead us nowhere. Gun advocates are right that we cannot wish violence away, but if the source of this violence is a wound in the soul of our nation, then gun control advocates also have a point: we can’t shoot it away either.
Conversations about whose fault this is will probably be useless. Blaming the NRA or gun control advocates will not answer the question we need to ask. What are the hopes and fears do we share with those with whom we disagree? How can we who disagree fundamentally on specifics and still work together to create the kind of world that is worth living in? If people of good will cannot learn to have these conversations, the Colorado shooting may just be the preview of coming attractions.