Don’t Assume Everyone’s an Extremist

Don’t Assume Everyone’s an Extremist:

A Response to the Santa Barbara Shooting Massacre of 5/23/14:

I’m finding it rather uncomfortable—no, awful, actually—to be an artist in the middle of a project that’s essentially a humorous parody of extremist gun culture at the same time that a mass shooting has occurred in Santa Barbara. There’s nothing funny about this tragedy, obviously, and I feel horrible for the families and friends of the victims. There’s a video of a father of one of the victims decrying the N.R.A. and politicians while weeping that I just can’t watch right now because I know I would completely lose it. In this situation there’s little that I can say or do that would make people feel better or help anyone make sense of this terrible event.

The N.R.A. and Moms Demand Action and others will respond in predictable ways in order to bolster their respective positions on gun violence and the media will spin every gruesome angle for entertainment and increased audience share. Once again journalists, pundits and bloggers will ask “Why does this happen?” and “What can we do to prevent it?” and gun rights groups will insist more guns will make us all safer and gun control groups will insist that fewer guns are the answer. After about a week this will all die down, nothing will have been solved or changed, and those people in Santa Barbara will still be dead. In a month or two we’ll have another gun massacre somewhere in this country and the cycle will continue.

In the face of this cycle of violence and accompanying paralysis, what can you or I possibly do? What could possibly change the cycle or stop it from happening again and again? Well, I have a few thoughts, the first of which is simply “I don’t know.” Let’s all be honest and acknowledge, just to get the dialogue going, that none of us have all the answers at the moment. Not the N.R.A., not President Obama, not me or you or your neighbor or anybody on the blogosphere. We all just don’t know.

My second thought is “let’s step back and think about this together.” In other words, as with any problem in our lives, it can be helpful to carefully observe what’s actually happening (as opposed to our immediate gut reactions or strong feelings) and tease out all the complex and underlying factors that lead to a situation. Gun violence is a complicated, multifaceted societal problem that can’t be solved quickly or easily. I don’t think the extreme ideas being espoused, such as all of us having guns strapped to our hips a la the Wild West or melting down all guns into a big heap of metal are practical or desirable. Can we, as a society, step back from our entrenched and increasingly extremist positions in order to examine this problem with clear heads? When we start looking closely we see that the problem of gun violence includes questions about mental illness, poverty and education as well as the obvious issues of politics, law and second amendment rights.

My position in this debate over gun violence and gun control is that I’m against all extremist positions on all sides. I am for stepping back and taking a closer look at the problem, examining it from all sides, and encouraging rigorous and unbiased research into the complex factors involved (by the way, the N.R.A. has helped eliminate federal funding for research on gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). I’m also for everyone involved (including you and me) being a little more flexible in our thinking around this problem. Being a liberal artist and educator who lives in San Francisco and who doesn’t own a gun, my gut reaction is to immediately want to enact stringent new gun laws, especially on assault rifles and high capacity magazines, and to finally implement background checks at gun shows. But if you’re a conservative rancher from Texas, you probably have the opposite reaction, right? To me, that’s fine, that’s as it should be. The problem lies in how much we’re urged to dislike each other, to disrespect each other, and to assume those who don’t completely agree with our own positions are crazy, stupid or “bad guys.”

Let’s bring back the simple notions of moderation and compromise. Can we allow for the idea that because people disagree with us, it doesn’t mean they’re the enemy and that they necessarily must hold the most extreme views possible? For example, even though I support more gun control laws, I don’t want to take away everyone’s guns, I’m not out to get anyone, I’m not the boogey man—I’m just a guy with a family trying to live my life. I’m happy for my wife’s father-in-law to go wild boar hunting in Sonoma and for Boy Scouts to practice marksmanship on shooting ranges. I think there can be good reasons in specific circumstances to have guns and I’m open to learning about more. I’m hoping that there are gun owners who are open to discussing circumstances when guns are not appropriate and when some degree of gun control is sensible and desirable.

Can we have a thoughtful discussion about gun violence between disagreeing equals with respect? Are we willing to examine fact-based evidence, to listen to each other’s ideas and feelings, and possibly, in the end, to compromise? Is this possible? Honestly I don’t really know. It’s probably naïve or foolish to talk about this, but we’ve got to start somewhere, right? For the sake of the people in Santa Barbara, and Newtown, and Aurora, and Columbine, and on and on, let’s at least consider it—together.

Trevor Tubelle

San Francisco, 5/26/14








One Comment

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  1. Wonderful posting, Trevor. May there be more open-minded individuals willing to start the conversation to find a better solution to gun violence.

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