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Give us anything but simple

May 8, 2019

I recently wrote a post that listed what I believe to be the six basic arguments put forth for gun control.  Some folks on Quora have disagreed. More about the arguments and the disagreements in a moment…

I’ve been involved in the gun control debate since my mid-teens (I got started early). I dare say there are probably no arguments for gun control I have not encountered, in one form or another. Gun control arguments, like “haters,” get old and boring after just a little while, so I actually spend time looking for new arguments. I am consistently disappointed. Anyway, let’s tell a few true stories.

The man, let’s call him “Bill,” was my very first client when I was working drug and alcohol rehab as a student nurse. Bill, according to his version of events, had once had a warm, close and loving family. Then, stuff happened and Bill started drinking a little bit, every once in a while. Eventually, “a little bit, every once in a while” turned into a lot, every day. His wife divorced him and his now adult kids wanted little to do with him. There I was, far younger and trying to help Bill see a way to sobriety, which meant a change in not only what he did (not drinking), but how he thought. Like all good alcoholics, Bill could smell my inexperience and so, he sprung his trap. “You aren’t a drunk, so you don’t understand what it’s like or why I drink.” I had no response. In terms of helping Bill, I was done.

Back to the drawing board for more education and training. Dr. Louise Bradford, using simple words of two syllables or less, carefully explained the nature of my failure, including its cause. Then, she had me attend multiple AA meetings in addition to those that were taking place during my normal clinical day. I learned a lot.

Segue’ to “Larry.”

Larry was also an alcoholic. He, too, had a sad story. Like Bill, he decided to challenge me to see if I was really ready to help him. “You don’t know what it’s like to be an alcoholic. Besides, you don’t even know why I drink.” Thanks to Dr. Bradford and the good folks at the AA meetings, I was actually ready, this time.

“You’re right. I don’t know what it’s like to be an alcoholic. I do know all about being sober. As for why you drink, yeah, I know why you-” With one argument down, Larry interrupted me.

“Oh, yeah? Why do I drink?” The challenge was clear, even to me. I thought of all I had learned, not only from Dr. Bradford, but from those folks I had met in various functional recovery groups and sessions. They had prepared me.

“You drink because you’re a drunk.”

Two more stories. First one,

One of the things I discovered is that a surprising number of people lie. They lie to themselves and they lie to others. They lie in business, in academia, in healthcare, in families, in religion, and in every other facet of life. It can be maddening. I’ve done it myself. Eventually, I realized it had become a habit, a reflex. Changing that behavior was hard. Really, really hard.

I was helped primarily by two people who never met. The first was a psychologist I knew from church. He agreed to see me, professionally. I figured we’d get into the “why” of my lying. Nope. He asked me about my faith and how important it was to me. I talked about it for a bit, noting that it was (and is) very important to me. He nodded, pulled a Bible from his desk and had me turn to and read Proverbs 6:16-19.

“16 There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
18 A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
19 A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.”

He told me how to cope with what was, by then, an established habit so as to change it over time. Then, he said he saw no need for further sessions and ushered me out of his office. He changed my life.

then the second one,

I had a business mentor, let’s call him “Jim,” who taught me a lot. One of the things Jim said was that for years he struggled with how to deal with people who lied. “They shouldn’t lie,” he would say to anyone who would listen. “One day,” he said, “I realized how naive that statement was. Some people are liars. Lying is what they do.”

Now, what in the name of all good common sense does any of that have to do with the six basic arguments for gun control, or the objections people have to them?

People tend to hide behind complexity. We obfuscate, evade and avoid. We deny the unpleasant with arguments that offer psychological comfort. On the other hand, we can, with time, effort, experience and sometimes formal education and training, learn to discard the extraneous information, hack our way through the maze of nonsense and wade through the crap. When we do those things, we get our reward. That reward is simplicity.* Dr Bradford had education and experience. The folks in the various 12-step programs who were successful in becoming and remaining sober had lots of often bitter experience. The psychologist I knew had education and practical counseling experience. My business mentor had decades of experience in both business and in education. All of them, in each of the stories, was able to cut through the crap and nonsense (including mine) and provide a simple, truthful answer.

Sadly, most of us don’t like simple. Larry didn’t like simple. I sure didn’t like the simple answer I was given. Why? Why don’t we like simple? Quite frankly, the reason is this: simple leaves us with no where to hide. That’s it. We don’t like simple because it forces us to face the nature of ourselves and our arguments. It requires us to look at who and what we are, warts and all. That is why we don’t like simple. Note that I said simple, not simplistic.

So it is, I think, with gun control advocates. They don’t like those six arguments because they are simple. They leave no room to hide. Reducing the arguments to their most basic forms shows the attempts at obfuscation with facts and figures, the multiple attempts at cross-cultural comparison, and all the mud-slinging and name-calling for what they are: attempts to avoid the psychological discomfort of simple truth. While there are exceptions, most gun control advocates simply are not willing to say “I don’t like what you’re doing and I’m willing to use the power of government, up to and including the power to kill, to make you do what I want.”

To be fair, there are plenty of Second Amendment advocates who are equally uncomfortable with simplicity. They too, often hide behind complex arguments. They are unwilling to say “Liberty is so valuable that, although I don’t want it to happen, I am willing for you and those you love, me and those I love, and untold people, both guilty and innocent, to pay the price necessary for it to be maintained.” It’s sobering when put that way, yes?

In the interest of simplicity, let me be clear. I would rather be free than safe. I am willing to pay the price liberty, which encompasses so much more than just the right to keep and bear arms, sometimes demands. If I can find a way to both be free and to protect from its price those who value it less than I do, I am willing to do that. What I am not willing to do is to be stripped of my liberty for the sake of your feelings or even for the sake of your safety. If your decision to abandon liberty leads to you enjoying the great and rewarding safety that you desire, I am truly glad for you. But, when it comes to my liberty, regardless of what it might cost you and those you love, thousands or millions of others and even my loved ones (for whom even the thought of their pain, suffering or death fills me with dread), I will climb into no boxcar, whether physical or metaphorical. May God grant that I have taught my children the same and that such days never come.

*Note that I’m speaking of dealing with people, not quantum mechanics. People all around the world and throughout history tend to have the same wants, needs and motivations.

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