Over the past few weeks, I've noticed a lot of people saying stuff like this:
I don't like guns, and I would never own one. It's not my culture. But I have nothing against hunters and others who use firearms responsibly, and I don't want to see their guns taken away. I respect the second amendment, but I want sanity. I don't want weapons sold without background checks, I don't want assault weaponry available, and I don't want to see private citizens building huge arsenals.I've written something similar, myself (check out, by the way, the story of how the Australians accomplished all these things).
This tack is helpful. Because for people whose culture does involve the responsible ownership and use of firearms, whenever they hear people from other cultures talking about gun control, they sense a trap - an attempt to engage a process leading to no more guns for anyone anywhere ever. And, of course, that's not paranoia. There is a core of extreme anti-gun sentiment, and, like the anti-smoking movement, and many other "anti-" movements, the favored strategy is gradual erosion. If gun owners don't aggressively oppose all regulation, they fear they'll eventually need to kiss goodbye yet another aspect of their traditional way of life, upended by sanctimonious people in faraway places with different values and customs.
I believe many - though certainly not all - gun owners agree with the rest of us about assault weapons, background checks, and crazy arsenals. So why aren't they saying so? They're silent because they've been backed into a defensive posture. Any concession might aid those hoping to completely revoke their right.
If you're a liberal who has trouble relating to this, consider your position on abortion (assuming you're pro-choice). You would likely acknowledge, privately, that abortion is much more than a mere run-of-the-mill medical procedure. But you'd never concede that publicly, because you consider the right of access to abortions critical, and there are sanctimonious people in faraway places with different values and customs who want to revoke that right.
All things being equal, you might be open to sane regulation discouraging irresponsible folks from blithely considering abortion to be just another tool in their contraception arsenal, and to ensure it's used only as a last resort, and with responsibility, thoughtfulness, and respect. That's the sort of responsible behavior most pro-choice advocates work to protect.
But all things aren't equal. If abortion proponents conceded any of that, they'd be aiding those hoping to completely revoke their right. As with gun rights proponents, political pressure makes public posturing more extreme than private perspective, and makes reasonable people appear to support appalling behavior. And so the many sensible people on both sides, who actually share common ground, choose an extremist line. Such is life in a starkly binary political climate.
I'm not saying it's a perfect analogy. But it doesn't need to be. There's enough symmetry there to feel empathy with the other side, and to understand why they - and we - seem crazy.
Of course, there are also gun advocates who favor arming society to the teeth. Rather than restricting guns, they'd allow them to flow like candy, and we'll fix school violence by arming teachers (read some wittily pragmatic thoughts from a teacher friend of mine). I've not yet found a way to empathize with that perspective.