Not a John Wayne movie

For the second time in recent history on this blog, I am going to weigh in on a hot button political issue. In fact, I’m weighing in on the same hot button issue. I will try not to make this a habit, for those of you who avoid politics like the plague or who disagree vehemently with me and find this spoils the rest of the content for you. I promise, a nice Christmas/New Year’s post is coming.

But for now, I find I have something to say that I’m not hearing in other places. As I discussed in my earlier post, public discourse on the issue of gun violence is at a place of complete inanity. Lobby interests and political agendas are so deeply imbedded that we as a nation appear unable to seek real solutions. It is discouraging beyond belief to the many of us caught in the middle, who simply don’t want to live with a pervasive fear that we or someone we love might die by gun violence in what should be a safe place.

In that context, I’m going to address the argument that seems most common among those who disagree with any attempt to regulate access to guns. I commented on this thought from a friend on Facebook today, and I want to say up front that I approach this subject with respect for those who hold this view. I want to engage in thoughtful conversation, not shouted arguments. We get more than enough of that elsewhere.

Here’s the thought I hear so commonly expressed: “Criminals don’t care what the law says about guns. They will get guns any way they can. Gun regulation only affects law-abiding citizens who are attempting to protect themselves and their families. We keep making more hoops for good people to jump through while criminals continue to arm themselves illegally. Then we ban weapons in public places, which means people who follow the rules are guaranteed to be unarmed when the criminals ignore the rules, as they always do.”

I get this. There is logic in the argument. But I think it’s based on a misunderstanding – or at least an oversimplification – of human nature. This line of thinking assumes one very problematic fact: That there is clear delineation between “good guys” and “bad guys,” and everyone is one or the other. Life simply doesn’t work that way.

Let me explain. Take, for example, the law passed in Tennessee a while back that allows patrons to carry firearms into bars. The result is that bar customers are now armed in an environment where they are guaranteed to have impaired judgement and lowered inhibitions. Why would we do this? Even the most law-abiding citizens can make terrible, life-ending mistakes.

What happens when a previously law-abiding employee at a local business faces a series of extremely stressful events and, in a moment of extreme distress, suffers a mental break while also having access to a deadly weapon? Here in Nashville a few years back, a video from a high school student made local news when a teacher had some kind of breakdown and started screaming and throwing things, including a desk.

My friends, this world is not populated by “good people” and “bad people.” It’s populated by a few really evil people, a lot more with a record of really bad decisions, and even more imperfect, everyday people who, given the right set of circumstances, can make really terrible mistakes. We know we want to try to keep guns out of the hands of the first two groups, but what about that third group, which almost certainly includes you and me?

Law-abiding citizens do have a right to defend themselves. But how do we also deal with the reality that so often, having deadly weapons on hand dramatically increases the likelihood that inevitable problem situations will turn deadly?

These issues are not simple. I don’t write all this to beat anyone over the head. Instead, I hope to provoke thought and start conversations that allow for nuance and complexity. Let’s stop demonizing and oversimplifying. We are not extras in a John Wayne movie. We are complicated people living in very messy times. Once we start dealing with that reality, we will already be much further down the road to a solution.