This week’s NewsNite is part of the national discussion about gun violence following the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut in mid-December. It’s a discussion going on in living rooms and at kitchen tables, in work places and at the gym, in social media and here on PBS. We taped this program as a way to try to better inform our viewers by presenting the disparate sides of a most volatile issue.
My thanks to Dan Clevenger, a retired detective with the Fairlawn Police Department; he owns D & D Firearms Instructors and was my instructor when I got my Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) permit; Rosie Craig, who appeared as a member of and spokesperson for the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence; and Julie Dobransky, co-owns Dobransky Firearms in Massillon with her husband Dave . All three were passionate and powerful spokespeople for their respective positions, and all three raised some issues and argued some points relevant to our discussion. I am grateful to the three of them for their willingness to put themselves in the forefront of this issue on our weekly broadcast. I learned a lot at that taping and then realized afterward that the most important thing I learned was not about guns.
While taping the program, I saw how we, in this country, very often reach an impasse in solving any common problem. Our passions and resolve get in the way of seeing the other side. Our commitment to what we believe to be a just cause prohibits us from even hearing what is being said from the opposing side. The tunnel vision of those firmly held beliefs eliminates any possibility for compromise – let alone understanding. And our inability to search for, find and reach common ground (very often through just common sense) destroys any hope for meaningful solutions. Yet once the cameras were turned off (as so often happens in these cases), I watched Rosie and Julie engage in animated but respectful conversation. They continued talking after leaving the set; in fact, they left the studio together, still talking. Will they change each other’s minds? Not a chance, but they were talking, so I see the hope in that.
But as author Pat Conroy once wrote, “Life wounds me in places only hope can reach.”
I left the studio after the taping and started home only to hear the news on my car radio that in Akron, a 4-year-old boy had been shot in the head and was taken to the hospital where he died.
There are an estimated 300 million firearms in circulation in this United States, a country of some 315 million people. As Ms. Craig stated on our program, more than 30 people die every day from a gun-related injury. That’s some 2,000 recorded guns deaths in the 10 weeks since Newtown, and that includes a 4-year-old boy in Akron, killed with his father’s handgun, a handgun the father was not supposed to have.
I understand and affirm the right to bear arms. I also know that responsible gun ownership is not the reason for the vast majority of shootings we hear or read about every day. I know the arguments and statistics; I have heard the platitudes and hyperbole both pro and con; I know how passionately those on each side of this issue believe in their positions. But I still cannot accept that the people of this country cannot find common ground to work toward stopping the gun violence that is destroying so many lives.
Can we not find areas of this debate where we can begin to stop the senseless gun deaths? Whether background checks for every gun purchase or mandatory prison sentences for anyone committing any crime with a gun or expanding and improving mental health services or funding and moving forward with unrestricted research on what makes so many in our society immune to the violence that has become so commonplace in that society, let’s start somewhere. Can we not find common-sense ways to work toward keeping the guns out of the hands of those who have no right to those guns and, in doing so, protect the thousands of lives lost every year?
If we don’t begin the national dialogue and start somewhere, we may find that mass tragedies like Aurora, Newtown, Tucson, Virginia Tech, and Chardon and the senseless death of a 4-year-old in Akron will be repeated over and over and over.
The only question is when is enough, enough?