The Polarizing Debate Around Gun Control

purelyspeculationNobody wants to get shot. That, at the least, is something I believe we can all agree on. Wanting other people to get shot might be a different story, but let’s take what we can get.

There is virtually no one out there eager to catch a bullet when walking down the street—or to see their loved ones do so.

If we can agree on something as simple as that, one might assume we could find some basic consensus on how to handle guns in contemporary society.

Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Fortunately, we here at Brad OH Inc. are an ambitious and defiantly tenacious lot, and today, that’s just what we intend to do. So sit down, strap in, and fasten up your bullet proof vests, because today, we are getting to the heart of the debate over gun control!

The most basic breakdown of opinions here are the classic and time-tested notions of right, and left. The conservatives argue in favour of free access to guns—usually on account of the good ole’ second amendment. The liberals, meanwhile, tend to go the other way—as they so often do—pushing for tighter gun control. This, presumably, goes back to the notion of not wanting to get shot.

But beyond this, things begin to get a little bit murky. I believe however, that if we truly break this whole debacle down to its very essence, we might best steal a line from ‘Cool Hand Luke’ (Source) in saying that ‘what we’ve got here is, failure to communicate’.

I want to introduce a new theme here, because I think it affords us a very important tool with which to explore this debate. I want to talk about the concept of ‘Polarity Management’.

‘Polarity Management’ (Source) describes a process by which we can more effectively analyze all sides of a debate—ideally finding a bit of common ground. In essence, ‘Polarity Management’ is a means of viewing typically entrenched positions which usually go nowhere—such as this one. ‘Polarities’ refer to the opposite ends of a single, connected issue. The key here is that one affects the other directly—it is not simply one problem to solve, but an imperative interaction that must be understood. Polarities are related, and persist over time—thus they must be managed, not solved.

The problem is that we tend to treat these as ‘either/ or’ scenarios—closing off debate, and freezing out both understanding and context. But dynamic issues such as these seldom reflect one single value or quality—no simple right or wrong. They are the result of multiple, interrelated factors.

An easy example of this is rain and sunshine. You may prefer either one, but without the other, your preference becomes a dreadful imposition. Too much sun leads to droughts, and too much rain leads to flooding. You need a balance, and that is why in any issue regarding polarities, we need communication, and then compromise.

Once we’ve identified an issue as a polarity, we can proceed to explore the balance between each side—the positives brought by each end, and the negatives they bring as well. This allows us to better understand how the opposing views of the issue interact with one another, and ideally find the crucial balance necessary to manage them.

I admit already—taking this approach to gun control with any shred of optimism is a tall order, but what the hell…let’s give it a go. To strip it all down to parts, the debate around the issue of gun control essentially amounts to two wildly opposing views:

1) The right to bear arms is protected by the second amendment, and must not be infringed in any way.

2) Gun ownership presents a significant risk to the public good, and should be curtailed, if not eliminated.

Now certainly, there are few who would fully align themselves with either extreme viewpoint, yet those are the sides as purported, so let’s consider them in turn.

Much of the argument from the (typically) Conservative crowd favoring access to firearms makes an appeal to safety—believing that arming ourselves for self-defence is an inalienable right, and that we must have the ability to purchase and carry guns in order to protects ourselves from others which might do so surreptitiously. This certainly makes some sense. After all, there is plenty of merit to the old adage against bringing a knife to a gun fight.

Of course, the better solution is to avoid entering a gun fight, or being anywhere in its vicinity. This isn’t always easy, and may even be a tad unrealistic depending on where you happen to be located. Further, the argument is often made that ‘if we make guns illegal, then only criminals will have guns’. This is a self-serving tautology to be sure, but it does a fair job of illustrating the impotent terror which might come from being left defenseless in a world full of armed lunatics.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find the (typically) Liberal crowd, who heavily favor significant controls on gun ownership, including but not limited to restrictions, background checks, and waiting periods.

This side argues that due to the potential of guns to inflict serious injury and death, access to them must be well regulated in order to avoid such weapons falling into the hands of those who would use them either unjustly, or in ignorance.

Much of the force from the ‘Right to Bear Arms’ side tends to focus on an appeal to the second amendment (Link), which guarantees to citizens that: “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.”

The ‘right to bear arms’ was initially created as an assurance that the people of America were free and able to raise a standing militia to oppose the government should it become oppressive. This is understandably justified in light of the fact that it’s exactly how America became a nation in the American Revolution against the British. But taking up arms against the government now is—sadly perhaps—a foolish and ignoble idea. The Second Amendment notion of armed war against the government is not only invalid, it’s infantile. It’s also the legal equivalent of demanding the ‘Terrorism’ trump card.

Finally, it must be noted here that even within that sacred amendment, the qualifier ‘Well-regulated’ managed to make the cut. Never was there any suggestion of handing out missile-launchers to every civilian. Handguns for self-defence may be deemed reasonable, but if you are equipped to fight an army, you are more likely to start a war.

At this point, we can see some weakness in the notion of free access to guns for all. There are few who would support selling firearms to people on a terrorist watch list, or violent offenders—and those few should certainly be ashamed of their stupidity.

But accepting some control hardly means encouraging complete control, and it may certainly be argued that the more difficult it is for citizens to legally access firearms for self-defence, the more prone they are to victimization by those who will harbor no such qualms. Further, it is a defensible case to argue that unless a restriction is demonstrably proven to be in the best interests of the citizens, then a government has no right whatsoever to enforce it. While I expect the vast majority of people who would favor that position would have a hard time defending it if pressed, it’s something to consider.

So where does this leave us? We can see strengths and weaknesses on both sides: With no control, we are inundated with guns and seduced by their increasing fetishization. With complete gun control however, we are cast into perceived subservience, and potentially left helpless against criminals who continue to arm themselves.

So here we are. Gun deaths are increasing, distrust of police/ government is growing, and America continues to have a depressing hang-up about guns being inherent to their self-worth (Source). Further, we’ve now seen that the extreme polarity of either side could potentially prove disastrous. Because we can now better understand the best intentions (public safety) of both sides, as well as the inherent risks of each extreme (uncontrolled carnage), we may find that we are better equipped to find a position of compromise.

We need balance and informed decision making. Both opinions have valuable insights—but we must actively work towards a greater and more comprehensive understanding of the issue if we ever hope to manage it. People, left with no hope, will always find ways to be violent and get what they need. We must give them hope for an achievable way if we intend to avoid strife. In the end, it is education and empathy, not arms, which shall assure the future safety of our citizenry.

-Brad OH Inc.

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