In response to the June 16 commentary “Guns, sentiments and civics,” whose author concludes that Americans’ lack of understanding of government is why we have such a problem discussing guns, I would offer an alternative perspective: It is not a lack of understanding, but rather a lack of trust that I believe to be the key to understanding resistance to gun-control policies.
You need not look at Pew research to witness a lack of public trust in government today. However, should you do so, you will find that in 2015, 80 percent of respondents did not trust government officials to make the right decisions. Public opinion on specific issues changes more rapidly today than it did 50 years ago, due to things like social media, but public trust in government remains steadily low, decreasing throughout the decades. Clearly, we the people have some serious trust issues with Big Brother — yet we wonder why hearing lawmakers speak of “sensible gun-control policies” makes gun owners weary.
Consider, for example, one of the recent proposals I’ve seen circulating, a national firearms registry (which is prohibited under the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986). How can we expect anyone to trust the U.S. government to secure a database of all firearms owners after seeing significant data breaches like that of the Office of Personnel and Management last year, when the records containing the personally identifiable information of more than 20 million Americans were compromised? If the government cannot keep secured a list of employees, why should the public trust the government with a list of firearms owners?
When considering public policy, such as requiring gun owners to register their firearms or banning a certain classification of firearms, I would think it prudent that we regard the intended result, as well as the unintended consequences and potential for abuse. The conversation about gun-control policies deteriorates well before reaching this point, leading to an abrupt and seemingly inevitable end: “The government is trying to take away my guns.” Every gun-control proposal seems to invoke that type of response. Why? It’s not a lack of understanding government, but a lack of trust thereof.
Americans have the right to responsibly own and safely maintain firearms. When members of Congress start talking about that right — about restricting or regulating it — the lack of trust is reflected in the dialogue that ensues. Threatening to prohibit the sale of some of the most popular sporting rifles in the U.S., including the AR-15, based on a loosely and poorly defined classification of “assault weapons,” does not alleviate the trust issues — it fans the flames.
If we’re serious about wanting to make our country a place that works better for everyone — that is a safer place for all, and a more prosperous one — it would behoove us to work on restoring public trust in the various branches and offices of government. A little faith goes a long way, not just in the gun conversation but in other conversations as well. Elect better leaders, hold elected officials accountable and get rid of the “dark money” holding our politics hostage. We need to strive for better government.
In the Army, I had a sergeant. He told me: “Never trust the government.” Perhaps it is natural for Americans to inherently possess some degree of distrust toward government — perhaps it has been that way since our country’s founding — but public trust in government today is at an all-time low. Until we start taking steps in the right direction, until we restore faith and trust in government, we will continue finding it difficult to talk about the big issues.
Sean White, of Waconia, is an information technology security consultant.