An Open Letter to My Gun-Loving Friends: Stop Yelling at Me or I’ll Become Even More Nonviolent Than I Already Am

Dear Gun-Lovers:

Let me speak personally to you, without statistics, without affiliation, without insult, without condescension.

Without history, in effect, which is impossible, I know, but worth trying.

I want to speak to you person-to-person. You know what I mean: the bill-paying, slightly disgruntled, wish-things-could-be-better citizen who, if we were stranded on a lifeboat together, would find a way, if we had two oars, to row together toward a safer place. I would look at you, and you would look at me, and we would know what we had to do, and we would do it.

That’s the person who’s writing this letter, and that’s the person I want to address.

I know, in fact, that you are such a person most of the time — wanting and willing to help your fellow citizen when the chips are down. Helpers, we know, always outnumber the destroyers. But like me, you have opinions that often divide us.

Like me, you want your opinions to be right. Even better, you want them to be founded on facts. Why? Because you want your opinions to be founded on something that can’t be overturned. And if they can’t be overturned, then they must be right, and by extension, you too must be right.

After all, being right is a good feeling. No doubt about it.

But I want to suggest that being right at the present moment is less useful than being civil during every moment that we have left together.

So consider this: we have to find a way to work together.

Why? Because I continue to believe that we can row this boat together; or I believe that trying to row this boat together makes sense, that it is our last option, even though Congress tells us every day, every hour, every minute, that co-operation is fatal to the health of the Republic.

Together, we must stop listening to Congress and listen to each other without harassment, without condescension, without superiority. That alone would be a first step toward civility, the missing component to many of our exchanges.

Remember: many of our politicians today are exactly those people that Washington, Madison, and Jefferson (you’re always quoting them) warned us against. They are destroying the spirit of co-operation, the very spirit of the “Union”—their favorite name for us—that we need now to solve our problems. These rambunctious politicians are the source of our current “factions”—Madison’s central fear—that are about to unravel us.

You know this, and I do too.

The problem is that the gun debate uses statistics, a lot of them, and you have your set of statistics, and I have mine, and we toss them back and forth at each other. Yours don’t convince me nor do mine convince you. But statistics, when they appear in polemical settings, are often designed to polarize, and now this polarization is killing us, literally, every day.

So the only thing left to do then is to call each other “stupid,” or “ignorant,” or “libtard,” or “#RWNJ,” or “ammosexual,” or “racist,” or “sexist,” or if we’re feeling compassionate, we might go simply with “liberal” or “conservative.”

Because offending and insulting are what we’re trying to do.

So have we wasted our time? Probably. When was the last time you changed your mind on an issue because you were insulted for holding the opinion that you held?

Maybe there are those who haven’t made up their minds on these issues, and maybe they’re quietly watching our back-and-forth, and maybe they will finally embrace one position or the other based on our shouting match.

But I doubt it.

Why?

Because uncivil rhetoric appeals only to those who have already committed both to the position and the attack-language associated with that position. If we ever do convince someone who hasn’t already formed an opinion that either of us is right, the key ingredient in that act of persuasion, along with statistics, will likely be civility.

I believe that. The problem is I don’t know if you do.

But I have hope. I’ll say it again, my new mantra: you and I have much in common because, as I said, you’re probably a bill-paying citizen, and so we have much to lose at this current impasse if we don’t respect each other’s opinions when they differ.

To quote the great British folk-singer, Roy Harper: “We’re both fighting for the very same breath, and what did you say were your reasons?”

So I think we should both re-boot, and start again with the premise of civility.

We already agree that we have important decisions to make regarding the future of guns in our culture, and we’re going to have to do it together.

And remember, civility is not simply another word for “manners;” civility is an essential ingredient of civilization, and civilization is a group project, people helping each of us to build better spaces for all of us to flourish.

But civilizations can perish or prosper. It’s our choice.

So we need to commit to this project together, particularly to that project of prosperity. And we need to do it now.

If you don’t think civility is a revolutionary concept, if you think it’s something your parents preached, or your teachers insisted on in class, then you’re not paying attention.

Civility, wielded at the right time, is the revolution. Civility gets things done. And I believe that the right time is now.

Like the great Christmas truce in 1914 during the First World War. Remember that little piece of history? It took armies of folks to lay down their arms, just for a moment. But it had an effect on everyone.

I’d be willing to try that now. But I can’t do it alone. And neither can you.

That’s the beauty of it. We have to do this together.

Thanks for your time, and your civility.

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