I’ve always been suspect of neat little "ditties" that seek to dwindle complex issues down into simple answers — answers so simple that there always seems to be an implied “look how simple this is, why can’t you get it?” put down attached to it.
A friend of mine posted something on Facebook that really surprised me. It was a graphic that said “If guns kill people, then pencils misspell words, cars make people drive drunk, and spoons make you fat.”
I posted back “If Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (of the Columbine massacre) only had a fork and a pencil, many people would be alive right now that are dead, and a lot less anguish would have been visited on the slaughtered victims' families.” I was trying to make the point that it wasn’t as simple as that simple phrase was trying to make it out to be. He replied that he strongly disagreed with me and went on to explain why he was against gun control.
I could see that Facebook was the wrong forum to get my point across. My point wasn’t even about guns. My point was that the issue of guns in society and similarly complex issues couldn’t be summed up in one cute little phrase. A complex issue can’t be discussed with a bunch of one liners tossed back and forth. And Facebook is the least of our worries in this regard. Thanks to our media, all we seem to get these days are “one-liners." No real discussion, no depth, no real attempt at a solution.
This is why we have such a hard time making progress on complex social issues in our country. Every issue turns into an argument about the polarities. We don’t live in a world of “yes” or “no”, or “black” or “white”. We don’t live in a world of polarities. We live in a world of grays, and our national debates need to be grounded in this truth.
So to prove this point, I decided to try a theoretical experiment. I put a gun on a table and watched as many people walked by. No one got shot. I guess the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” side is right! A gun by itself doesn’t kill people. It must be that people kill people.
So I tried my experiment with a person instead of a gun. I put a person at the table and watched as many more people walked by. Again, no one died. So the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” side must be wrong! But that’s where the simplicity ends.
Next, I put a very angry person, or a person with issues, or maybe even a deranged person at the table and watched again. In the most extreme cases, this person actually got up and strangled a person or two, and then got tackled and stopped. Or maybe they had a pencil or a fork and stabbed several people and then they got tackled and subdued. (By the way, most of the people who were stabbed survived their wounds.)
One last variation of the experiment. I put a gun at the table with the angry/deranged person and things really started to get interesting. In most cases, nothing happened. But in some cases, lots of people died. And how many people died seemed to be in direct proportion to the type of gun I put on the table. Put a revolver at the table and six or so people died. Maybe one or two survived their wounds. Put a shotgun at the table with lots of ammo, and lots of people died. Few survived their wounds. Put a machine gun at the table and a whole lot of people died.
So what did I discover through my experiment?
1) Guns sitting by themselves don’t kill people.
2) People without guns have a very limited ability to kill people. Usually just one or two at a time. No mass killings. Few indiscriminate killings.
3) With a gun, any fool can kill lots of people, and they are very hard to stop until they run out of ammo. And the “bigger” the gun, the more damage they can cause until they can be stopped. You don’t see many “drive by clubbings”.
There will always be the Jack the Rippers and the Jeffery Dahmers in the world who will kill people. There’s no stopping that. But if these guys and those like them have guns, they will do more damage. It’s not about “guns for everyone” or “guns for none.” Let’s get away from those polarities and talk about the real world.
So I’m right back to my main point. You can’t, in one article, one presidential debate, one newscast, or one Facebook post solve the gun or any other complex social issue. My point was that if you’re at the polarity on a subject, you’re not being particularly realistic about that subject and therefore you’re not helping to solve the issue. You’re just trying to be "right," or make someone else "wrong." We need fewer people trying to be "right." We need more people really trying to solve issues that face our great nation — and that’s going to take compromise and reason.
My message here isn’t whether you should be for or against gun control. My message, as always, is that it’s rarely, if ever, as simple as “this vs. that.” We need to stop trying to distill the complex issues of our time into simple “yes” or “no” terms. It’s time to give our complex social issues the respect and deep thought they truly deserve. It’s time to figure out the grays.