By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – I hate writing about guns.
No other issue in American life divides people so much. No other debate pushes us so far into our bunkers.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
I’m on the air, talking with outspoken gun advocate Indiana Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, Indiana University Law School Prof. Jody Madeira and Marian University Prof. Pierre Atlas about guns, gun-owners’ rights and gun-related violence in America. Earlier, I’d also talked with former Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Troy Riggs about the subject.
Riggs discussed the complexity of the gun question and said we needed to have a robust and open public conversation about guns, with all sides willing to listen and compromise. Madeira and Atlas make clear that a balancing act is called for – that we need to find a way to protect law-abiding gun owners’ rights while figuring out how to keep deadly weapons away from who would do others harm.
Lucas sticks to his National Rifle Association talking points.
Near the end of the broadcast, he points to some paper he’s pulled out. It would call for a registration of journalists – similar, he says, to the ones gun owners must go through.
I stare at him, dumbfounded, thinking:
He doesn’t get it. Everyone else here has been trying to figure out a problem of huge moral and legal implications – trying to determine how we can save lives while preserving rights – and he’s playing a game.
I ask him who drafted the “proposal.”
Lucas says he did.
I ask, “You did it just to score a point?”
He says yes, smirking.
I shake my head, thinking:
He doesn’t get it because he can’t get it. This isn’t about finding a solution for him. It’s about winning.
The moment encapsulates why gun conversations are so disheartening.
Every time I write about gun-related violence, my mail box fills up. I hear from gun advocates who want to shower me with “facts” about guns. At least 75 percent of these “facts,” upon investigation, turn out to be spurious, manufactured or taken far, far out of context.
A recent example came from someone who sent me a link to a chart supposedly showing that the United States ranked 92nd in the world in violent crime. The chart showed no such thing. He’d misread it. The countries weren’t ranked. They were grouped by region and the United States was just the 92nd listing.
The person didn’t mean to mislead. His need to believe guns can’t be a problem was so great he just saw what he wanted to see.
Lucas does the same thing. He acknowledges only those “facts” that support his position and ignores all others.
When he says no restriction can work because people kill people despite current gun laws, I ask him if we should dispense with the laws against murder for the same reason. He dodges the question.
When he’s confronted with the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s avowal that the Second Amendment does not apply to military-style weapons, Lucas says Scalia only said that as a “compromise” to get Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote. When Atlas reads a Scalia quote contradicting Lucas’s interpretation, Lucas changes the subject.
And, after Lucas repeatedly asserts that the right to own weapons is absolute – over Madeira’s frequent corrections that the courts never have said that – I ask Lucas if any weapons should be illegal. Nuclear? Biological?
At first, he says, if a person can afford it, he or she should be able to have it. Then, realizing he’s endorsing private arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, he backs away.
But he won’t say there are weapons people shouldn’t be allowed to possess, because that would grant government the right to regulate them for the common good. The only question remaining would be where we draw the line, not whether it should be drawn.
So, Lucas says he wants to take a “pause.”
He’s not being duplicitous. His beliefs are sincere ones.
But he sees only what he wants to see, hears only what he wants to hear.
And the concerns of others don’t count for much, if at all.
That’s what makes this discussion so dispiriting.
Because we look at this so differently, we might as well be speaking different languages.
Some see this as a savage contest that must be won at all costs, others as a tragedy without end.
Some live for the fight.
Others are dying for a solution.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism.