Every American has an opinion on guns, including me. I have strong views and hard feelings. At times, I find myself intolerant of those who disagree with me because of my extreme anger over the carnage in our schools and on our streets.
Sandy Hook was a turning point for me—not in my thinking, but in my desire to be part of the solution. I remember the evening of that tragedy. I took my grandchildren to see Christmas lights. After driving through the display, we went inside a building where the kids could see Santa and pet a real reindeer. What I remember the most from that evening was the overwhelming awareness and sadness that there were grandparents in Connecticut who would never get to take their grandkids to pet the deer. Someone took an assault rifle into their school and massacred those precious children.
I know that sounds like a purely emotional response. But I’ve also studied what has been written—from both sides—on America’s relationship with guns.
As I said, everyone has an opinion. And those opinions are so deeply entrenched that it feels useless to even talk or write about this issue. As we read, talk, fight and exchange angry missives on social media, we simply reinforce and continue to entrench the opinions we’ve already chosen.
Have we ever seen someone make an about-face on this issue? Yes. We see it every day. There is a group of people who have experienced a radical change in their thinking or have taken on a life-changing commitment to reducing gun violence. They are those whose lives have been forever changed by gun violence—the victims and those who love them.
Perhaps, instead of listening to us armchair experts, we should listen to people who actually know—not from Facebook, but from life—what they’re talking about.
This came home to me this week, when a political commentator opined on Twitter and received an unexpected response.
I fear that many people, while being respectful of what Carly went through, may still dismiss her words due to the trauma, grief and sorrow that she must now endure. I hear people say that we shouldn’t talk about guns from an emotional perspective. But shouldn’t we talk about guns from a human perspective? This isn’t only about pieces of metal forged into objects that can kill. This is about the people who die and the shattered lives that are left behind.
I think we should listen to Carly Novell and three thousand teenagers in Florida who now know more about guns than any one of us. I think we should listen to Gabrielle Giffords and Lucy McBath. I think those who lived through the horror of the Pulse nightclub massacre have something to say to us. Maybe they know more about guns than Wayne LaPierre and Donald Trump.
Now, of course, not everyone will like to hear what these victims have to say. With near unanimity, they will tell you that, while mental health and other issues are at play, this is also a gun issue—or more accurately, a gun access issue.
Is it okay to be emotional when it comes to guns? I would ask, is it okay to be human?
But don’t listen to me. Listen to people who really know what a gun can do to your life.