‘Why is it so hard to talk about gun control?” is a question on many minds of late, especially in the wake of the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history. Examining one’s Facebook feed (especially if you come from a small town like I do) should lead you to conclude that, yes, we really do have a problem discussing this issue in America, but it’s not due to a lack of an understanding of the issue, as one might think.
No, the real problem with the discussion is that both sides are right. Where we continually stumble — as a society — is in the rhetoric we use to deliberate among ourselves.
What is missing from the debate and what is the most critical factor in actually inspiring action is a critical analysis and a more fundamental understanding of America’s mentality toward guns. “How could you argue against stricter gun regulations?” one might ask, especially considering that 86 percent of Americans favor regulations such as universal background checks, that 69 percent feel gun control would reduce the number of mass shootings at least a little or that 61 percent of Americans feel that easy access to guns is to blame for the amount of mass shootings. Well, if we stick to the facts, we see that Americans not only like guns but that most also feel safer when guns are present in their households. Regardless, 55 percent of Americans are in favor of stricter regulation in general, so why not do something, anything, to hear this call?
This is where the discussion loses me and many other Americans and enters the realm of absurdity. When facts can no longer be discussed, what become the merits of debate? The Constitution? Fair, but how can the losing minority of opponents to gun control argue this point when 1 in 3 Americans can’t pass the U.S. naturalization civics test? Now, that’s not to say Americans are stupid. Compared to our often admired neighbors to the north — Canadians — Americans obtain academic accolades at about the same rate, and today more Americans are obtaining postsecondary degrees than ever before.
The lack of understanding of American government, to me, is the most detrimental element of the gun-control debate and to many debates plaguing the American political system. What does civics have to do with guns, you might ask? Well, aside from the obvious Second Amendment citation, gun sales can be considered interstate commerce and, as such, can be federally regulated under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The common comparison to gun ownership is vehicle ownership — and I’m sure the mere mention of that will make gun enthusiasts cringe, but rightfully so.
Vehicle ownership is actually a pretty poor comparison, because vehicle ownership is not federally regulated or monitored in any way. The federal government does regulate safety requirements and emissions for manufacturers, but when it comes to the sale of motor vehicles, it’s up to the states to decide. And many states have robust vehicle registration monitoring mechanisms, but they’re seldom compatible with systems that span state lines. This is where the lack of understanding of government comes into play and where we so often get dragged down into the depths of personal sentiments and subjective illogical rhetoric.
The federal government is broken. Or at least it’s perceived as broken, so how can we expect much in terms of action to come out of Washington, when lawmakers on Capitol Hill can’t even agree if something as potentially catastrophic as the Zika virus is worth combating? Well, frankly, we shouldn’t. If we want movement, if we want change, if we want to see anything happen with regard to federally regulating guns, we need to start at the state level. Build coalitions. Join movements. Make noise.
This isn’t a black-and-white issue. It’s ingrained in our Constitution and in our persona as a society. We can’t leave it behind without presenting an alternative narrative. Americans are scared. And political leaders like the presumptive Republican presidential nominee play on these fears for political gains, not realizing the immense damage it’s doing the American psyche. What makes America great today? The days of John Wayne and the American gunslinger are behind us. We need a narrative that re-imagines American greatness. We need a story to tell that’s born in the 21st century, not in nostalgia.
Matthew Gieseke, of Minneapolis, is a policy analyst.