The prominent 19th century British political theorist J.S. Mill wrote that “all silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility”. One’s own certainty is not the same as absolute certainty, and the only way to truly trust an opinion is to expose it to refutation and debate. Persistent conversation and discussion define a healthy democracy and ultimately create a better, more equal society. In the U.S. today, however, our democracy is marked by stagnancy and partisanship. On the issue of gun violence, in particular, there is little substantive debate. Instead, stubbornness and disdain for opposing views prevails over understanding, and thus gun violence continues to plague our nation. Although the issue of gun violence in America must be addressed, little progress has been made because people are unwilling to engage in a legitimate conversation across party lines.
Gun violence in America is rapidly becoming a crisis. On average, almost 34,000 people are killed by firearms in the U.S. every year, a figure that tops those killed annually in car accidents. More troubling, over 20,000 of those are suicides. In addition, close to 80,000 people are injured each year in gun violence. Overall, the rate of gun violence per capita in America is comparable to impoverished nations like Honduras, Brazil, and Panama, and is completely disproportionate to other high-income countries. Our rate of gun deaths, for example, is ten times that of Australia and five times that of Canada. These statistics don’t even show the emotional toll gun violence takes on families and communities, like the hole left by the 20 elementary schoolers and the six teachers killed in the tragic Sandy Hook shooting. When it comes to gun violence, the U.S. is clearly lagging behind the modern world. It is undeniable that something must be done.
Despite its obvious magnitude, gun violence is still a very divisive issue. Rigid political ideologies and influential lobbying groups like the NRA and Everytown for Gun Safety draw politicians and average citizens farther and farther away from the political center and prevent any sort of dialogue from taking place. For example, the Pew Research Center found in August 2016 that over 70 percent of liberals support gun control, while under 30 percent of conservatives support such reform. The country is bitterly divided, and consequently there is very little opportunity for agreement. The rhetoric of lobbying groups just adds to this fierce partisanship. The NRA, a staunch supporter of gun rights, declares on their website that “guns are tools that protect and save lives”.
In contrast, Everytown for Gun Safety, a strong advocate of gun control, asserts that “we must stand between…the NRA’s vision of more guns for more people”. These two statements demonstrate the polarization of the issue. There is only a liberal and a conservative perspective on guns; a moderate position on the issue that acknowledges both gun control and gun rights simply does not exist. Even with this ideological divide, there is some room for common ground. Standards of firearm education and training, for example, have been supported by both sides. Yet, because of the stagnancy and gridlock of our politics, no progress has been made as a society or in our government. Like we did with civil rights in the 1960s and with many other points of contention in our history, we must overcome the shackles of our own ideologies to find some shared values and ultimately produce real change.
The lack of conversation and debate both in our government and in the public about gun violence not only prevents any positive change but also intensifies the political divisions of the country. Gun violence is truly an epidemic in America, and an honest national conversation would lead to a solution. Gun violence has killed too many people and torn apart too many communities for us to continue to shield ourselves in our own beliefs and evade conflict and disagreement. With gun violence and all partisan issues, people must seek to engage with and understand the opposing views in order to move forward with a comprehensive, effective solution. There is never just a silver bullet, but the arrogance to ignore the perspective of the other side just reinforces that idea.