Expressing your thoughts and feelings about gun violence is important, but don’t waste it on social media trolls. Get a pen and index card, or open your contacts, and read this.
Well, here we are again. I can’t imagine the horror and trauma experienced by the survivors, the pain and grief of those who lost people dear to them, or the fear and stress that the community where this happened must be experiencing. We know that the attack was both thought out and impulsive. We know that many are dead and injured. We are also reasonably sure that the weapons and ammunition used were all acquired legally, meaning that no laws were broken until bullets started entering human bodies.
We know this is a problem, we know we can’t make all day every day about addressing the problem, but we want to put some time and effort to it in the aftermath of each of these events. Most of us would like to find a sustainable, effective way to put some time and effort into the cause of gun safety. So what is a good way to do something? There are 5 steps that, if taken by enough Americans, would end the plague of gun violence rather quickly: Don’t feed the trolls; Understand the relationship between the problem and the solution; Who to talk to; What to say; Repeat previous steps.
Each of these steps deserves its own post, or an essay, with citations and proper editing and the like. In lieu of having that kind of time, here is a (somewhat) concise description of each step and why it is important.
Step 1: Don’t Feed the Trolls
“If we make guns illegal, only criminals will have guns.”
“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims.”
“Okay so if there are no guns, there is no gun violence, but how can we possibly get rid of all the guns?”
“I agree with you, but <insert obvious solution here> won’t work because…”
“Chicago has strict gun control laws, but lots of gun violence, so there.”
“This is a tragedy, but our 2nd Amendment rights are what keep us free.”
And on and on…
There are complete, evidence-based, reasoned rebuttals against each of those things people say. But who cares? At this point, anyone who does not support vastly stricter regulations on guns is a troll. That may seem harsh, but think about the guy on Facebook today saying “okay people you want gun control, but what about criminals?” – That person actually think their argument, and ego, should be fed today after a bunch of people got shot and/or killed yesterday. That is a troll.
The quickest way to determine if you are talking to such a person is to ask them: Are you comfortable with guns and ammunition being licensed and regulated at least as much as cars and fuel? If they do not immediately say yes, stop talking to them. Just stop. Forget how commonplace it might be for people to oppose such a thing and just think about how whacked out someone has to be to think that machines made to kill people should not be as regulated as machines made to transport people. Walk away, leave the Facebook thread, unfollow the Twitter account, whatever. Don’t feed the trolls.
Step 2: Understand the relationship between the problem and the solution.
(If you do not require any additional understanding of the problem/solution relationship, skip to Step 3: Who to talk to.)
The United States of America is not a democracy. This is why having 90% of Americans in favor of stricter gun safety laws does not matter if 10% of Americans oppose those laws more fervently than 90% of Americans support them.
The United States of America is a Republic. Our government and laws flow from a constitution that endows legislative, executive, and judicial power onto individuals who are elected or appointed to offices in those three branches of the government. It is those people who create, eliminate, and change laws. While the legislative branch and some parts of the executive and judicial branches are elected by the people, they get to do what they think is best once in office. Our elections are democratic, but our government is representative – or at least it is supposed to be. All 50 states, and the federal government, work this way. Some states have ballot measures, which are a democratic mechanism, but they still exist alongside legislatures in those states.
Without getting into all the details and intricacies, the fact is that the minority of Americans who politically support gun violence are more dedicated to maintaining the status quo than Americans who support gun safety are dedicated to ending this madness. With dedication comes participation and funding, which is what determines how representatives behave in office. While some Americans may be lucky enough to live in a state where their constitution can be amended democratically by ballot measure, most of us do not.
The good news is that the founders of our government had their own version of a gun violence problem and they came up with a solution: the 2nd amendment. The bad news is that, on top of how diffuse governmental power in our Republic already is, the 2nd amendment pretty clearly makes gun laws a state issue (only the interstate commerce aspects of guns are a federal issue).
Wait, what? Yes – the 2nd amendment was created to deal with gun violence. In 1786 and 1787, Shay’s Rebellion happened. It was a big deal (George Washington came out of retirement to help deal with it). At the time, the Republic was governed by the very weak Articles of Confederation. The Rebellion, among many other things, made it clear to many – including some anti-Federalists – that the US government would need to be able to govern and would need some protection against armed, crazed rebels. Here is that actual text of the 2nd amendment:
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Notice it starts with the words “a well regulated militia” and then each clause flows forth from there, connected by what, must be acknowledged to be, quite a few, commas. This amendment does not mean that anybody gets to have any gun, forever and ever. This amendment means states are in charge of regulating (training, licensing, etc) citizen militias for the purpose of protecting the government from armed citizens who believe they are not subject to the law. That’s right, the 2nd amendment is meant to protect us from people who believe they are allowed to stage an armed revolt against the government. Just let that irony sink in for a while. Go ahead, laugh about it! There is nothing else for a sane person to do.
Again, the good news is that the founders are on the side of gun safety because they understood that liberty is protected by maintaining representative government, not by armed descent into bloodshed and anarchy. The bad news is that their solution to the problem as it existed in their time was short-sighted, open to a great deal of misinterpretation by propagandists (NRA, Oath Keepers, et al.), and put the issue very much in the hands of the states.
Step 3: Who to talk to.
We are done talking to trolls, but still need to make our voices heard. And now we know that the whole problem is that our state and federal representatives are not hearing enough of our voices, because it is those people – primarily at the state level – who are in a position to actually solve this problem. Solution? Spend your time and effort – whatever you can spare – lobbying these five people:
Your state Representative
Your state Senator
Your US Representative
Your US Senator
Your other US Senator
This is where the pen and index card or your contacts come in to play: Stop reading, click on those links, and write down five names and five phone numbers. Do it now, I’ll wait…
…Okay, awesome. Seriously did you do it? Because whatever your excuse is for not doing it, I guarantee that it is worth less than your life or the life of whoever is the next American to get gunned down. Write those numbers down! You need them for the next step.
Step 4: What to say.
If you already know what you want to say, go for it. If you want a script, here you go:
Hello, my name is (your name) and I am a constituent of (their name). I am calling to demand that you uphold your responsibilities under the 2nd amendment of the US constitution to properly regulate guns and ammunition, just like we already do for cars and fuel. I will not vote for you or donate to you if you do not sponsor, co-sponsor, or vote for legislation that increases regulation of guns and ammo in our (state/country) to at least the same point as we have regulated cars and fuel. If you are in session, do something now. If you are out of session, begin preparing a bill for the next session. I will call you as many times as I need to until you take action, or I will organize my friends, family, and neighbors to defeat you in the next election if necessary.
If they say “Umm, uhh, okay” or some version of “no,” then you say: “thank you for your time. I look forward to speaking to you again tomorrow.”
If they say “Right on, we are on the same page, here is what we are doing about it.” Then you have two options, either of which is honorable: (1) “Thank you for your work, you have my gratitude and support;” (2) “How can I help?”
If you picked option 2, then just follow through on that whatever it is. If you picked option 1, then remember the next time you call back that you just want to thank them again and don’t need to read the whole script (save it for the offices that need to hear it).
FYI – All five calls will take you less than ten minutes. You can make the calls every day, only the day after a massacre, only the days you remember, alternative Sundays and Tuesdays – whatever. Just making as many calls as you can, when you can, is helpful. I make these calls less often than I would like, but still enough to know that it is helping.
Step 5: Repeat steps 1 – 4
Sustaining a behavior change is difficult, and this is a big change for someone like me who is used to arguing online and averse to talking on the phone. Each step is critically important. Don’t feed the trolls is important because you have limited time and energy, and it needs to go towards progress not towards making some contrarian feel special. Understanding the relationship between the problem and the solution is important because the 10% are making a lot more phone calls to state reps than the 90% are, and the day that changes you will begin to see real, measurable progress towards gun safety in your state and in our country. Presidential candidates are mostly irrelevant, so don’t let them distract you. Knowing who to talk to and what to say is important because it only takes 10 minutes to make all five calls if you are prepared. Spend ten minutes on the phone, maybe save some lives. Surely a lot of us can manage that trade off a few days each week. That’s why repeating steps 1 – 4 is its own step, because it is that repetition that engenders progress in our society and hope for a less violent future.