The American Gun Divide: Where Do We Go From Here?

Over a year ago, I appeared on Episode 4 of Season 3 of the podcast “In Sickness and In Health” with Dr. Celine Gounder to talk about “Gun Culture 2.0.” Season 3 of her well-produced podcast series focuses on gun violence in America, so when she contacted me for an interview I made clear that my scholarly expertise is in gun CULTURE not gun VIOLENCE. She assured me that this is what she wanted to learn more about, and I thought she handled the issue of gun culture quite fairly in that episode.

Fast forward 15 months and the last of 36 episodes has been released under the title “Where Do We Go From Here?” I am pleased to again appear alongside my friend Kevin Creighton (and David Hogg of March for Our Lives), and to be given the last word of sorts for the season.

These are some of my more coherent thoughts on the American gun divide, so give the episode a listen (or see an excerpt of the transcript below) and let me know what you think.

Transcript excerpted from episode website:

Celine Gounder: So, here we are. The final episode in our season on gun violence. I didn’t start off planning to over thirty episodes on this topic. I was just overwhelmed by how much there was to say about it.

Celine Gounder: But after dozens of interviews with experts, activists, and survivors of gun violence… there’s one idea that I kept coming back to. It was a moment in my conversation with David Yamane. He’s a professor at Wake Forest. Here it is:

David Yamane: We really have two different social worlds as concern guns. We have people for whom guns will never be a problem, and we have places and people for whom their only experience of guns is as a problem.

Celine Gounder: Think about the stories we heard in this episode from the Parkland survivors. I don’t think there’s a Second Amendment argument that’ll change the way Tyah and David feel about guns.

Celine Gounder: But the mass shooting they experienced, the thing that moved them to start a national movement, didn’t move someone like Kevin Creighton, a gun-rights supporter I spoke with earlier this season.

Kevin Creighton: I understand the passion, I understand the fear. Of course, I do. I have a 12-year-old and 14-year-old. My wife’s a teacher. I’d be a moron not to understand the fear of school shootings. It’s a very valid and honest fear to have. But to sit there and say that the NRA is the problem, the world’s largest firearm safety training organization, is the reason why people are using guns unsafely, that’d be like saying Mothers Against Drunk Driving, going out and boycotting AAA.

Celine Gounder: Kevin isn’t pro-gun violence. He doesn’t think students should be dealing with school shootings. But for people like Kevin, guns and the NRA aren’t the problem.

Celine Gounder: Here’s David Yamane again:

David Yamane: I think that one of the challenges we have as a society in talking about guns is that people just experience guns in different ways. So, most of the people I know experience guns as law-abiding gun owners who use guns for legal purposes, to have fun, to connect with their family, to connect with their friends. And so they really have a difficult time understanding the reality of guns in another community in which the only experience people have with guns is negative, right? That they’re used in crime, they’re used to terrorize people. People are direct or indirect victims of gun violence, and because those two social worlds can be so far apart, then we have a tremendously difficult time understanding one another when we try to talk about this is the reality of guns.

Celine Gounder: This is the startling thing about guns in America. We can’t even agree if there is a problem in the first place. Some people think gun violence is a national emergency. Others think guns are essential to our freedom. And neither camp has much respect for the other.

David Yamane: Well, I think it definitely pushes the one side away. There’s polarization in both ways because there is a good sizable minority of people within gun culture who look down on anybody who wants to propose any restrictions on firearms. And so, I think that’s emblematic of our political system overall right now, is that it’s really being driven by people on the poles on either side when in reality most of the people are somewhere in the middle.

Celine Gounder: So, how do we bridge those two worlds in your opinion?

David Yamane: Well, I might be up for some kind of humanitarian awards if I could figure out how exactly to do that. But I know in my own personal life I try to take opportunities to speak with people with whom I may not agree about guns….

David Yamane: I think that if there were ways we could think about doing the things I try to do as an individual, on a more systematic basis, you know, that might have some potential for increasing people’s understanding, and it wouldn’t necessarily immediately translate into action. But I think that the understanding could create a basis for action at a later time.

David Yamane: …if there were more of an effort towards empathy in both directions, I think that we would make more progress. The less we can do to try to stigmatize one another, either for our pro-gun or anti-gun views, I think the better off we’ll be as a society because guns are a reality. There are more guns than people in America, so we’re not going to be getting rid of guns anytime soon. We need to figure out ways of living with guns and living with each other in a better way than we have, at least in recent years.

5 comments

  1. “Well, I might be up for some kind of humanitarian awards if I could figure out how exactly to do that.”

    You ARE doing that… by everything you do. The results might not be immediate, but it is a start…

    GREAT job and keep it up!

    Like

  2. Throughout the podcast I kept thinking about people with hardened positions on the issue. Have you ever seen anything about mortality salience and the gun debate? See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortality_salience

    The link at one point says ” Mortality salience has the potential to cause worldview defense, a psychological mechanism that strengthens people’s connection with their in-group as a defense mechanism.”

    I cannot of anything better that would remind people about their mortality than thinking about being shot.

    Like

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