John Krull: Jim Lucas takes a step

John Krull

Indiana Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, made a decent start toward doing the right thing.

He just stopped short of doing the hard part, the part that matters most.

Lucas offered an olive branch of sorts to the students from Muncie’s Burris Laboratory School with whom he had a widely publicized exchange at the Indiana Statehouse. The students were at the Statehouse to express concern about gun violence and gun deaths. During his exchange with them, Lucas pulled back his jacket to reveal the firearm he carried, a gesture some of the students considered threatening.

Coverage of the incident prompted some Lucas supporters to disparage and threaten the students — all of them young women in their teens — often by calling them foul names.

In an interview with Kyra Howard, a reporter with TheStatehouseFile.com, Lucas said he was sorry about the “grief” the young women were receiving. On social media, he urged his followers to tone down their rhetoric and show both consideration and respect for the students. And he offered to pay for the students and their immediate families to take firearm safety classes in Muncie.

All this was to the good.

But it didn’t address the real problem.

Lucas revealed the true issue on his Facebook page, when he chided someone — presumably, an advocate for stronger, or at least different, gun laws — for unfairly labeling those who think there already are too many restrictions on gun owners as Nazis or bad people. Lucas argued that staking out such a position just demonstrates that the speaker doesn’t understand gun owners and is intolerant of people who think differently.

Lucas makes a valid point.

But hasn’t Lucas himself been guilty of the same failing?

Hasn’t he often demonized anyone who disagrees with him about guns and gun laws?

How much effort has he made to try to understand the concerns of those who are worried about the dangerous levels of gun violence in this state and country?

Lucas always has been dogged in his demands that others understand where he’s coming from. His response to the young women from Muncie is a generous gesture, but it also is part of his campaign to prod others to grasp and accept his point of view while making no demands on him to try to grasp and accept theirs.

His presumption always is that everyone would think the way he does if they just knew a little bit more about guns.

The flaw in making such presumptions can be seen in the response from one of the young women to his firearm-training offer.

It turns out that she’s had the training. Her parents own guns. Her grandfather sells them. In other words, she’s been around guns her whole life and she’s been taught how to use them.

And she’s still worried about the gun violence all around her.

Anyone who ever has negotiated any difficult conflict knows that the toughest part isn’t making one’s case. Most of us know what we want, what we care about, what we need.

It’s hearing what the other side wants, cares about or needs — and determining if there is any way to address those concerns that does not surrender one’s own principles or priorities — that is difficult.

Because it demands discipline, maturity and, yes, empathy.

I am sure Jim Lucas does not enjoy having his views on guns and gun laws caricatured.

But can he not understand that, when he argues that anyone who expresses concern about gun-related violence is just a would-be tyrant determined to take guns away from him, he’s doing exactly the same thing?

And that, when he continues to insist this is the case when they say they’d like to explore ways to make it harder for lawbreakers to get their hands on deadly weapons while preserving lawful gun owners’ rights, he signals that he doesn’t care about the truth or finding a solution to a tragic problem?

That he just wants to have an argument?

Jim Lucas’ offer to fund firearms training for the young women from Muncie worried about gun violence was both kind and admirable. It’s clear he wants them to understand him.

To hear him.

To listen to him.

That’s fair.

Perhaps the best way for him to make that happen would be by setting an example.

Maybe, just maybe, he could persuade those young women to listen to him … by listening to them.

John Krull is director of Franklin College‚Äôs Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students, where this commentary originally appeared. The opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the views of Franklin College. Send comments to [email protected].