Colorado's special recall election Tuesday will yet again focus the nation's attention on the never-ending, frustratingly repetitious, and fruitless politics of the gun debate. And that's the shame of it.
Last December after seriously-deranged Adam Lanza murdered so many innocents in Newtown, Conn., we as a nation missed an important opportunity to have the truly open, adult debate, promised by President Obama. On the pivotal topics of mental illness, safety, criminal behavior, and the fine points of legal and constitutionally-guaranteed civilian firearm ownership.
Instead, the perfect convergence of citizen and government interest in difficult problem-solving degenerated into an utterly predictable and disturbing polemic of "us" versus "them" - replete with a crescendo of "sound and fury signifying nothing".
Rather than coming together as a nation and rising to the challenge of identifying the many co-related issues that need fixing, forging a semblance of consensus on solutions, we fight increasingly hollow battles that reflect our impulsive march towards "identity politics/zero-sum" politics masquerading as policy.
No one - not the president, the vice president, Congress nor pressure groups on either side of the gun issue - pose the correct question. We waste precious time arguing over whether or not criminals who steal half-a-million guns a year will somehow cease-and-desist their felonious behavior if we limit constitutional guarantees on firearm ownership for the rest of us. Gun owners see "gun control" akin to controlling "drunk driving," by making it harder for "sober people" to own cars.
Rather, we should ask what truly works to prevent violent predatory felons, unauthorized juveniles and the dangerous mentally disturbed from obtaining and misusing guns. The sad truth is that 21st century U.S. politics is more about divisive name-calling than seeking collaborative and thoughtful policy alternatives.
I, for one, remain hopeful that we as Americans can still find broad agreement and successfully deal with our social problems. That is, if we follow a roadmap that identifies the path to our objective and avoids false directions and dead-ends.
My ten "rules of the road" for a productive discussion of "gun violence" include:
1. The gun is never the problem. Focus on "in whose hand is the gun." If we focus on the gun, a political "food fight" breaks out, flushing useful measures such as the Manchin/Toomey bill down the drain with legislative detritus such as the Feinstein gun ban.
2. Whose ox is being gored? Gun owners vote to keep their guns. Non-gun owners don't choose the candidate they support in the next election based on guns. Therefore gun owner interests outweigh polled public opinion in passing legislative measures on this issue.
3. Is the goal to prevent harm from firearm misuse or to limit options of people who don't misuse them? Between 35% and 60% of intentional gun violence is related to the illegal drug market. Our national debate should focus on drugs, Mexican cartels, and urban gangs. Any discussion of gun violence that ignores the "war on drugs" is doomed to failure.
4. Our mental health system is not working. Any fix will be very expensive. During the eight months following the Newtown outrage, everyone mouthed the words "mental health," yet not one congressional hearing on the subject was held.
5. To find solutions, go back to basics. We give lip service to firearm safety training, but provide few serious opportunities to teach safety rules that will prevent unauthorized access and unintentional tragedies.
6. Stop proclaiming every idea is a "simple, common sense solution." If solving the gun violence issue is simple, we would have solved it long ago. It's not simple. It's complex and nuanced. It's a difficult balancing act of rights and responsibilities.
7. Where do we start? Start with the lowest hanging fruit! Ask what causes the bulk of gun violence? Crime? Negligence? Or mental health issues?
8. Don't look to elected officials to lead - they rarely do. Our fellow citizens have some answers; let's seek out those who work on these issues daily, not the talking heads that scream the loudest just for ratings.
9. When you're in a hole - stop digging! Let's just decide to address this problem from a new perspective, because the current approach has proven not to work.
10. When you stop digging - you're still in a hole. Jesse Jackson was insightfully correct when he said, "you may not be responsible for being down but you are responsible for getting up". America can get back "up" again if we can find the unifying centrist approaches we followed instinctively and follow them once again.
Richard Feldman is president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association.