Conscience in a Polarized Era: A Response

There is a dichotomy within us where we feel the urgency of change, but are afraid for what change will bring, the disruption it causes to the status quo. 

There is a dichotomy within us where we feel the urgency of change, but are afraid for what change will bring, the disruption it causes to the status quo. 

I get it; no one wants to talk about politics especially in an age where we are prone to disagree with everything the other person says.

So, I will aim to make this as apolitical as possible, that being said before reading my thoughts, I encourage you to forget about what may be your political affiliation: Republican, Democrat, third party, whatever your beliefs may be, just for a minute. 

We are often so caught up in our bubble of views that we sometimes forget that sticking to one line of thought has the potential to make the rest of us worse off. Let's talk about guns as an example. It is a very fine line to balance liberty over security; however, we can agree that having some sort of precaution to keep another event like Las Vegas, like Orlando, like Sandy Hook from happening again would be a good idea. 

I don't need to cite statistics to demonstrate that mass shootings have become the new norm for many living in the United States. I know that whenever I go to dense, crowded cities like NYC, I am never 100% in the moment of whatever I am doing. Part of me is always on edge: my eyes are always scanning for possible escape routes, and I am monitoring what other people are doing around me. 

We shouldn't have to live like this, and yet we do. 

Have you noticed that incidents like these tend to follow an alarming pattern? A mass shooting happens, the news quickly pounces on it, for some reason gun stocks skyrocket and everyone struggles to process what happens. People call for prayers on their Facebook feeds, people the next day agonize over the potential fate of their loved ones, their friends; we automatically get very defensive and angry. How could anyone have the nerve in them to do something like this? Why hasn't Congress done anything? Should Congress do anything? Is there anything that can be done? 

Well yes, but it requires stepping outside of our comfort zone. No one said change was easy, but it is one thing to try and advocate for common-sense measures and another to completely marginalize the problem, shout it is violating your constitutional rights, and just shelving the problem. Some people in my party opt for the latter rather than the former; conformity seems to be a bigger issue on the right than the left. Now, I am not negating that there is the problem of groupthink in some respects on the left, but I will point out that it is almost near to impossible to hear moderate voices. 

I have always believed that there is a dichotomy within us: our gut feeling may feel the urgency of change but we are afraid of how much that change will disrupt the status quo. And look, the NRA is certainly doing a great job of taking advantage of this dichotomy, creating an us vs. them mentality which forces gun owners on the defensive. In so fact, some people on my side like to tout statistics from the Crime Research Prevention Center or those like it which conclude that an increase in gun ownership means lower crime rates.

So, I would like to point out two problems with presenting this piece of evidence as fact. One, the source in itself is questionable. A quick search would gather that the Crime Research Prevention Center is a pro-gun research group started by John Lott. Now, there is nothing wrong with using sources that are potentially biased, but you still have to adjust for those biases. Also, the methodology in conducting the study itself may not account for a number of lurking variables such as drug consumption; in addition, the study was also subject to systemic bias (given his own personal beliefs, it is at least somewhat warranted that in the variables he controlled for, he could have quite simply skewed the data) At best, the study is qualified and cannot be presented as verifiable fact. 

So, now back to the NRA. I am generally not a fan of conspiracies, but you can't deny the hold the gun lobby has over the decision making of politicians. BBC notes that the NRA is pervasive both through emphasizing the symbolic value of guns (remember that they are integral to America!) and mass media exposure through underground forums and building subcultures. The Economist reported back in 2015 that 90% of Americans support background checks, so if that is the case, why hasn't Congress opted for increased regulation? {By the way, as I hinted in my earlier article, "What to Do About Equifax" I am not a fan of regulations that just exist without doing anything substantive).

Well, for one, the NRA is great at stirring up tensions like I brought up earlier; it phrases any increase of regulation as a "relentless assault" on rights. People who are a part of the NRA-created echo chamber love to say the 2nd Amendment was intended to quote on quote "in the lessons of history, people must fight against a government who could potentially turn on them", equating Soviet and National Socialists to a probable reality. I am sorry, but the historical comparison is nothing short of laughable, and in reality the intentions of the 2nd Amendment are more complex. As Professor Bogus points out, the three Supreme Court cases that addressed the 2nd Amendment found that the 2nd Amendment was a collective right, and does not correlate to an individual right knowing no bounds. 

But when the NRA constantly expounds on this constitutional point, it is easy to get angry and point the finger at the other side. How dare the other side tell me what to do with my guns? Why have any regulation when I am constantly being told that increased guns mean less crime? So, here is the deal: social media has made it easier for us to retreat into our echo chambers. I cannot tell you the countless number of times when I saw my friends on the left share articles from ThinkProgress, AddictingInfo, the 99%, etc and people on the right share things from Breitbart, the Daily Wire, quotes from Ben Shapiro/TPUSA "destroying an argument" (in reality, they are just wonderful at applying information selectively to support their points and preying on already salient fears). 

For all our love of wanting to protect people's rights, why can't we just overcome this fear of losing our freedoms which are being planted by the gun lobby? Don't we pride ourselves on being independent thinkers, not brainwashed and able to stand on our own two feet? What do we have to lose in supporting at the very least the requirement of all sellers to be licensed or even banning people from owning guns who are on the no-fly list? For example, in the case of Charlottesville, the shooter used a loophole that got him out of a background check he would have failed. Exemptions are currently a feature of gun laws; cutting them short would have saved a handful of lives. In the long run, it is worth it. 

The next time you go on Facebook, or Twitter, talk to friends, think a moment about what it would feel like if you were in the middle of a shooting: helpless, disoriented. Would a good guy with a gun so to speak really be able to calm the fears of people running? I would think not. Also, the media should stop reporting on the identity of the shooter; talk about the victims and bring a human element to our collective suffering. Bring emotion into the conversation if you have to. Building the personal connection is key to changing our long-held views. 

We owe it to the victims to not accept this as a way of life. Don't grant any more legitimacy than you have to to the aggressors and certainly do everything you can to establish the gun lobby is a pernicious force (just like how I refuse to make mention of the person who made the arguments I critiqued above). 

We can do better than the status quo. Break out of your bubble and talk to some new people. Don't be afraid to express your fears, your concerns. Try and forget for a minute what political party you are (I get that it is difficult but do it anyway). 

Have a conscience.