Gun Control: The Saddest Debate in America

Handgun, close-up
Handgun, close-up

I live in New Haven, Conn., and when the Sandy Hook school shooting occurred in December of 2012, details were revealed all day long.

There was one segment that afternoon when a reporter fell silent for a remarkably lengthy period of live news coverage, and I later realized he must have been learning the number of young lives lost; there were no speculative words to fill the space, just a quiet understanding that something awful had transpired. I felt a bleak sense of foreboding in my gut. Not sick, or like I'd been punched. Beyond anger, like my stomach had actually disappeared. Hopeless.

The feeling has returned -- watered-down, but present -- with the recent resurgence of gun control discussions since the shooting that occurred on the campus of Umpqua Community College on October 1.

It's how I feel when I try voicing my opinion on the need for sensible gun control online, and opponents counter by commenting that no measures would be enough to stop what happened, and would make attaining firearms difficult for responsible gun owners. It's how I felt when I learned that protesters had greeted President Obama when he went to Oregon to visit families of the deceased. When my brother sent me the video of a Glock 43 commercial that's running in Virginia, where he lives.

It's hopelessness, yes, because I feel that nothing will change; already the debate has waned, making room for lively Election 2016 chatter.

But it's hopelessness that's also about the lack of civilized discourse surrounding guns. About the nature of this particular discussion, similar to so many debates surrounding cultural issues, marked by ignorance and passion on both sides, a dangerous combination.

The truth is I don't feel qualified to discuss gun control issues in an informed way. I usually write about parenthood and family life. About the everyday occurrences that are humorous or meaningful enough to share with readers. I like to shout about my political views, but I don't often put them down on paper.

Furthermore, I'm not good at debating this issue in a balanced manner. I'm a liberal. I'm pro-choice, was a staunch same-sex marriage advocate and I don't have much use for the second amendment. So it's difficult for me to verbalize my feelings about "sensible" gun control, because I'd prefer it if no one had guns in the first place.

My arguments regarding the issues I hold dear are often one-sided, and inspired by arguments made by people who think along the same lines. I pull quotes from personalities hawking their views on MSNBC, and share journalism that proves my points with words I wish I had the grace and knowledge to call my own.

Like many of you, I sometimes engage in online discussions about these issues on Facebook and Twitter, commending my friends when they make a particularly good point and disagreeing with those whose views differ from my own. I am respectful in the public forum, but in private messages and impassioned conversations with my like-minded husband, friends or family, I let loose. "What is wrong with these people?"

And in the past, waging battle in this polarizing -- but safe -- manner has been just fine; this right vs. wrong, pro vs. against, name-calling, angered, back-and-forth we call a political debate. The insults are much easier to hurl on the internet. Nobody's really listening, everybody is furious. It's ok.

But ever since the latest mass shooting ("latest mass shooting," a phrase painful to write and absorb) it's not.

I can't shake the encroaching hopelessness, the strange apathy. It creeps up on ordinary days. That uneasy feeling - you know the one - where there's something stressful you need to deal with, but you can't remember what. When this happens to me and I do finally remember, the thing is question is usually something relatively minor, like an unpleasant talk I need to have with a coworker.

This time, gun control. Not being a politician or personally affected by gun violence, I feel stupid admitting this. But this time around, more than with any other cultural battle, I want to dig deeper. My anger is provoked by those who hold an opposing position, and then festers because I don't understand them.

I don't get the gun thing. Wasn't raised with guns, and don't think I've ever held one. If you disagree with me -- and have read this far -- you do get it. This seems like a good start to an important conversation.

There's certainly nothing revolutionary in this realization: that a for vs. against standoff is never going to get us anywhere when both sides feel that they are, without doubt, right. My hope is simply that important people will take crucial steps to begin the conversation, off the internet, face to face.

I'm not one of these important people, but I am ready to talk. To ask my questions, and respond to yours.

Maybe there are answers in dialogue. Maybe there are not. But desperation looks bad on us, and if we can begin listening to one another, I believe we might find the smallest glimmer of something better.