Monday, March 1, 2010

Looking For Leadership In All The Wrong Places

The tragic stories keep coming. Last Friday morning a special education teacher in Tacoma was shot and killed by a man who was infatuated with her. A man against whom she had obtained a protection order, who had apparently been stalking her for years. Police say he had a semi-automatic weapon.

Last Halloween, a Seattle police officer was executed as he and his trainee partner sat in their car.

One month later, a man shot and killed four police officers in Lakewood, near Tacoma, while they were in a coffee shop before their shift.

Less than one month after that, a Pierce County sheriff deputy was injured, and another wounded so critically that he died without gaining consciousness a week later, after he and his partner were ambushed while responding to a domestic violence call.

You know all this, right? And I bet you’re expecting me to demand gun control, and thereby unleash the “if the teacher had been carrying a gun, she could have defended herself” pundits. They’re out in force already, commenting on the various news stories about these incidents. And they’ll be not only vociferous, but triumphant, if, as expected, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Chicago’s handgun ban as violating the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The “right to bear arms” is one of the most contentious issues in our country. The facts about guns are not in dispute: more than 30,000 people die every year, 70,000+ more are wounded. Countries with stricter gun laws, such as Australia, experience far lower gun-related injuries and deaths, both absolutely (approximately 600 per year combined in Oz) and proportionately (2.94 per 1000 people, compared to nearly 12 per 1000 in the U.S.)

So yes, we could talk about gun control and the epidemic of deaths in this country. Instead, though, I’m interested in the crevasse that divides the leaders of the anti-gun control movement from their own members. The National Rifle Association takes the position that any regulation of guns violates the Second Amendment. A citizen’s desire to shoot a deer with an Uzi is constitutionally protected; her right to have automatic or semi-automatic weapons in her house is undeniable. Background checks, waiting periods, regulations about who may and may not own guns --- these are all impermissible, in the NRA’s view.

Is that what NRA members believe? Actually, no. A recent poll (commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, it’s true) found that nearly 70% of NRA members believe that people who buy weapons at gun shows should go through a background check (not currently required). And a whopping 85% of gun owners who do not belong to the NRA thought so. As for restricting gun sales to people suspected of being terrorists, 82% of NRA members think that’s a fine idea.

All of which is to say that once again, as is arguably the case with health care reform, the financial crisis and many other issues considered polarizing and divisive, when it comes to gun control the people of this country are perhaps not as divided as the media would have us think. What can we do with that? How can we break through the rigidity and unwillingness to discuss or compromise, when those we are supposed to look to for leadership maintain positions so much at odds with what their ‘followers’ believe?

I wish I knew. If you do, let me know.

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