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Column: No quick fix for heated gun debate


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INDIANAPOLIS — A caller named Tim took the talk about guns where it needed to go — to the place where many thoughtful Americans now are.

His call came near the end of the radio show I host. For the better part of an hour, Indiana Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, school safety consultant Chuck Hibbert, Steven Dunlop from Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence and Indiana University professor Heather McCabe had talked about guns, about tragedies, about rights and about the law.

When Tim called in, he said right away that he was conflicted. He said he believes the Second Amendment does protect a person’s right to own firearms. He said he owns at least a dozen guns himself and that he enjoys shooting.

“It’s just fun,” he said.

And yet ...

Tim said that the levels of violence in our country and culture trouble him. He worries, he said, about the lack of reverence for life, about the climate of anger and violence across the land, about the sheer numbers of deaths in which guns are involved.

Tim said he is torn.

He said he does not want to limit or sacrifice what he believes is a fundamental constitutional right, but he also wants to explore ways to reduce the number of gun-related deaths and keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

He wants, he said, for people to stop looking for a quick fix. The huge incidence of gun-related deaths in our country is a profound problem, he said — one that won’t yield itself to easy or simple solutions. Finding the proper balance will require soul searching from everyone involved in the discussion.

Part of the problem with the debate about guns in this country is that it has been dominated by voices who never admit to doubt. They yell and they scream because they’re certain they’re right. They never stop to listen, because they don’t think they have anything to learn.

“Just because you can shout louder than the next person doesn’t make you right,” a wise teacher once told me.

He could have been talking about the gun debate in this country.

The National Rifle Association and its devotees are convinced that guns cannot be any part of the problem or even a piece of the discussion about the epidemic of violence that afflicts the land.

And the people who advocate for stricter gun laws often argue that firearms are the only cause for the bloodshed, and they too often pretend that the Second Amendment just doesn’t exist.

For the record, I plead guilty to falling into that second group upon occasion. I regret it, in large part because I don’t think stridency on either side of the question is going to help us solve this problem.

Voices such as Tim’s have been missing from this debate — voices that are torn, voices that are confused but searching, voices that admit to doubt.

Doubt can be an invaluable asset. Doubt prods us to keep thinking. Doubt pushes us to keep listening. Doubt prompts us to keep asking questions — of ourselves and others.

Most important, doubt forces us to keep asking the one essential question: What’s the right thing to do?

The noise from the strident fringes of the gun debate has all but drowned out voices such as Tim’s.

But those are the voices we most need to hear right now, because they’re the ones asking the question that will help us find our best selves and solve this problem.

And we do need a solution. Nearly 30,000 Americans per year die in gun-related incidents. That many people would fill a decent-sized Indiana city.

The number of people who mourn their passing and deal with lasting grief because of their deaths would fill a large Indiana city.

We don’t show the proper respect for tragedies that immense by shouting, as the NRA does, that guns are a complete blessing or screaming, as too many gun control advocates do, that guns are an unmitigated curse.

No, the way to honor those who have died and comfort those who mourn them is to lower our voices, to listen at least as much as we talk and, again and again, ask Tim’s fundamental question.

What’s the right thing to do?

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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