How can they believe that? How can they say that?

The national gun debate has become more intense, if not strident.  Some proposals for gun reform, already passed in the House of Representatives, are soon to come before the Senate.  There is an array of potential provisions in the various drafts of the Bill:  red flag laws, limit on magazine capacities, restriction on manufacture and sale of assault style weapons, raising the minimum age of purchase.  Sorting through the details can leave people feeling dizzy.  One of the most recent sticking points is the getting agreement on what constitutes a boyfriend, which refers to men with violent pasts who have relationships with women who feel threatened and want their “boyfriend’s” guns be taken away.  How many dates constitutes a boyfriend?  Does he need to be a live in partner?

Almost every day I hear from either a friend or a national figure say “enough”.  There are common sense steps that can be taken to reduce gun violence, but there are forces and voices that refuse to budge on reforming or restricting the use of guns.  Enough already.  And the other thing I hear nearly every day from friends or national figures is — How can they believe that?  How can they say that?  How can they believe that an AR-15, which was used in the massacre in Uvalde — and which literally decapitated kids, is a needed and necessary weapon?

A few years ago I participated in a  debate on the second amendment sponsored by Braver Angels, a national movement organized after the 2016 election to depolarize America. The presenting question was: The second amendment should not be challenged or changed.  The format invited people in favor of the question to speak for four minutes, after which questions could be asked — but needed to be presented to the debate chair (this minimized “how can you believe that?” questions.) After the affirmative case was made, a negative presentation, which was allotted four minutes, was offered. Questions directed to the chair were invited after the presentation.  This rhythm went on for over an hour.  Initially, when I heard someone speaking in favor the the second amendment, I wasn’t really listening:  I was fashioning my response.  Not exactly “how can you believe that”? But pretty close.  I had data, and examples — and a moral argument.

But as the back and forth debate continued (which wasn’t exactly a debate, given that the process was designed to have opposing sides express their views), I began to have a change of heart.  Because I was listening.  To what was being said, without filtering it for a rebuttal. And as I was listening, I was learning — that the people on the pro second amendment side really believed what they were saying.  They really believed that more guns make people safer.   And from that realization I was able to regard people speaking on the other side not just as avatars of an ideology, but as people who had concern, hopes and fears.  And need to be dealt with accordingly.

Twenty years ago I was invited to participate in a day long discussion on homosexuality with a group of clergy who were divided on the issue.  A few hours in, after hearing a remark made by a colleague, who was a trusted friend, and who was resistant to gay marriage and ordaining gay clergy, I couldn’t contain myself.:  “I can’t believe the arrogance of what you say and how you say it.”  And he immediately responded,  “you have been arrogant since the moment you walked in.”

It was only when we could name — and each of us claim, our respective arrogance, that the conversation could move forward.  We moved beyond arguments, which were and are important, to connect on a deeper level.

For the past dozen years I have been actively engaged in the process to reduce gun violence.  After all the recent shootings, and the proposed Bills before the Senate, I am more committed to reducing gun violence than ever before.  But I m also aware — in myself, and in others — that saying “enough”,  and “I can’t believe they believe that” is an expression of arrogance, if not shaming.  And causes people on the other side to double down by buying more guns and being even more resistant to what they perceive as assaults on the second amendment.

Naming arrogance is hard.  Letting go of it is even harder.  It is a process, if not a discipline — to be committed to reducing gun violence and at the same time to hold people who disagree with methodology with respect and understanding.

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