by Terry Tait
Several months ago, following the Parkland shooting in Florida, I wrote a piece on the gun debate, in which I expressed my hope that following that tragic moment something would be done, that a true debate would be had, and that a solution–no matter how imperfect–would be reached. However, I am writing now because this is not the case. In fact, watching the issue slink away from national headlines once again–as this debate persists more or less unchanged–I find myself feeling exhausted. With one more place to remember, a new host of names to memorialize, and another false start added to Congress’s track record I find myself confronting one of my worst fears.
Since my original piece was published, my colleagues Jordan Poyner and Jacob Bruggeman wrote their own respective articles on this subject. I have found Jordan’s piece about the responsibilities that go along with freedom, and how we should respectfully treat one another in such a polarized debate, to be particularly interesting as I reflect on my original essay. He wrote that we shouldn’t highlight the righteousness of our positions or beliefs. Along the same line of thought he added that emotion shouldn’t be dominant, but naturally couldn’t be excluded. Adding that “at the heart of this debate lies the fundamental tension of our freedom and responsibility to others.” I couldn’t agree more with Jordan’s assessment. This is the way a constructive debate can and should be held.
But since this is not the form of debate that is taking place, I suggest we consider the one that is: one that is dysfunctional, confrontational, and stagnant. The problem with the conversation that we are having is not that we are attempting to balance freedom and a responsibility to others. On the contrary, we are sitting on a seesaw, struggling to balance our responsibility to others with a responsibility to ourselves and our own views, preferences, and prejudices. The tricky thing about a seesaw though is that balance can just as easily be sustained by both sides moving to the extremes, as by meeting in the center. The only difference is that reaching an agreement is impossible when any movement from the other side is perceived as a threat that could throw you off balance.
I believe that both sides in this debate want the same thing, but they have moved too far away from each other to be able to hear–let alone listen to–one another. No law-abiding gun owner wants to use their gun in self-defense; they just want to be safe. No student wants to worry about another school shooting; they just want to learn in a safe environment. No one wants to think about whether or not they will make it home tonight when they walk out the door in the morning. We all want to be safe in the course of our everyday lives, but the fears and insecurities each new public shooting impresses upon us are hard to brush off. Fear–and not hope, as I felt several months ago–has characterized the gun debate.
The students of Stoneman Douglas High School have not stopped their organizing since the immediate aftermath of their experience in February. Rather, they have started a movement called “March for Our Lives” and at the same time an equal and opposite movement has emerged to challenge it. Ordinarily I would find this to be encouraging: that people are willing to step forward and speak to their beliefs, especially since both sides have expressed a willingness to compromise. However, listening to the rhetoric of both sides, I am afraid we are still locked in a balance of the extremes. But what I am most afraid of is that we–as a community and a nation–will fail to realize this, and that there will be more victims among those observing this battle of wills on a seesaw.
Terry Tait is a Senior at Miami University studying history with a focus on Middle East studies.