Bang! Your argument is dead.

I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m writing about guns. I know almost zero about guns, except to say that everyone I have ever known who owned guns acted responsibly with them. I grew up in a rural, mostly farming town, where most of my friends and neighbors hunted. We had off from school for the first day of hunting season. My friends took care of their guns, were trained on how to use their guns by responsible adults, and were good, conscientious hunters. An ex-girlfriend’s father would go sit in his tree stand and take notes – without his gun – before he ever shot a deer. Total respect.

While I was fascinated by guns, I never truly liked them. I didn’t think they were bad, I just didn’t care for the idea of hunting and killing animals. No judgment, because I happily ate venison supplied by those who did. It just wasn’t my thing.

Watching the debate over “gun control” unfold after the horrific and too many to mention school shootings, is difficult on many fronts. The arguments emanating from those who have suffered are compelling. You have to have a calloused soul to not be moved by their loss, whether or not you agree with their proposed solutions to mass school shootings. However, I believe that many of us who desire a change in how Americans purchase and own guns have started the debate from a place of weakness, because we give away our lack of understanding before we ever engage those whom we seek to persuade. We often don’t treat gun owners as equals, and we similarly don’t care whether or not they have well thought out, sound arguments. They do.

First, let’s stop saying some things. Phrases like “guns are only designed to kill.” They aren’t. Some are designed for sport. Some are designed for hunting. Some are designed for personal protection. Some are designed for military use. Killing is one thing guns can be used for, but not the only thing. Better to say, “it’s the killing with guns that really bothers us.” That’s more honest, and a place from which most responsible gun owners would be glad to step out with us in conversation.

We should drop the term, “assault rifle,” because it makes us sound uneducated about the “killing with guns that really bothers” us. The “AR” in AR-15 stands for Armalite, the original manufacturer of the gun. Are guns like the AR-15 used in war? Yes. We just shouldn’t say “assault rifle,” because we will be dismissed by people who have been regularly and vehemently attacked by many who know very little about what they are talking about beyond how they feel about “the killing with guns.”

Regarding the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, let’s not easily dismiss it as antiquated. It wasn’t written by a bunch of yahoos, but by the kind of people who get their faces carved into mountains. These were leaders who were hyper-aware of the tyranny of military-enforced governance. “Don’t tread on me!” To be wary of an illiberal government is not unfounded. Let’s respect that concern. We should argue from a place of mutual respect for the laws, documents, and individuals that shaped the nation we are today, imperfect as it may be.

Finally, consider this:

“One factory preset of the human mind is a tendency to assume that our models of reality are identical to reality itself.” – Roger L. Martin (The Opposable Mind)

Strongly held convictions and deeply felt emotions are no substitute for nuanced, thoughtful, evidence-based positions. These positions are never arrived at in a vacuum, much less an echo chamber. We must speak with people with whom we disagree, listen to them, and reflect back to them what we hear them saying until they tell us that we understand them. In the case at hand, if we believe lives are at stake, then getting it right is worth the time and relational commitment required.