There are a lot of things that both gun rights stalwarts and gun control advocates could do to elevate the firearms debate in the face of recent horrors.
1) Do not assume the worst about each other until proven otherwise. Most advocates of gun regulation aren’t “gun grabbers” and most critics of gun control aren’t “gun nuts.”
2) Do not assume that the most extreme positions represent the position of your interlocutor. Asking a gun control critic whether he thinks that he should get to own a neutron bomb is just an insult, as is asking a gun control advocate why she’s in league with Hitler and Kim Il-Sung.
3) Learn the history and the technology. If you don’t know the definition of a so-called “assault rifle”, learn it. If you don’t know whether rifling existed at the time of the writing of the Second Amendment, learn it (hint: it did, in relatively crude form.)
4) Get past your cultural frame of reference as much as you can. If you grew up in Brooklyn where guns were the tool of the cops, the dealers and the bangers, your experience of guns will be different from someone from western Maryland, where the start of deer season is a school holiday, food banks take deer meat for the needy and where many men learn some acquaintance with hunting, game and farming use of firearms as a matter of course. Similarly, if you grew up in rural Mississippi, you probably cannot understand how firearms don’t represent tradition, self-reliance or pride but instead crime, decay and chaos to your new friend from Boston or Chicago. Geography matters; many city residents have never been to a place in the country 1/4 mile from the road where hunting or target practice is even conceivable.
For some of our ancestors, guns were the tool of the local baron or the Tsar or local corrupt functionary, a tool of state terror. For the ancestors of others of us, guns represented sovereignty, honorable military service and self-reliance as pioneers or free farmers, or as a tool for repelling the white supremacist terrorism of the night riders of the Ku Klux Klan. These unstated assumptions have some staying power. The debate is elevated when we face these human, personal perspectives on firearms head-on, rather than from a worst-case assumption about alleged ill motives of the people with whom we are speaking.
5) If you are from another country, really, do your homework. You know why we Americans speak up about our Constitution so much? Find out. Do not assume that you have a good grounding in the jurisprudential weight and meaning of the words you are reading; do your homework. Law is work; that’s why lawyers bill. If you want to be perceived as a condescending ass, it’s your choice to act like one.
6) Our dead and wounded are not the occasion for anyone’s political football spiking – for or against gun policy or legal reform. It isn’t “concern trolling” to be disgusted at the Twitter-era speed of political jackasses braying for policy points before the bodies are even removed from the crime scene – from either side. Decency demands some speck of decorum, unless Fred Phelps is the outreach model for gun rights advocates and gun control proponents alike. Allowing the dead bodies to assume ambient December room temperature before lawyering the heck out of the debate isn’t “concern trolling” but human decency.
Finally, a personal statement. Readers of this blog may know that I had the misfortune to get robbed at gunpoint in January 2012. Three men are now in prison for the crime of robbing me and robbing and pistolwhipping two other people on the same January night. I take referrals from the NRA and I still continue to do so. But I chose not to arm myself and my family, even though as an attorney I am fairly easily located through the Bar, etc. I decided that I did not want the moral responsibility of a firearm in the house potentially near my autistic children or even in the office. Though presumably eligible to get a Maryland street carrying permit as a violent crime survivor, I declined. Part of the right to keep and bear is the fact that it is a right – not a mandatory burden or duty to the State. It’s consistent with firearms rights to choose freely NOT to keep and bear – and in my case, for damn good reasons.