How we feel about gun violence

In a recent discussion about gun rights vs. gun control on Twitter, I was presented with an image from a news story about a mother, Nardyne Jefferies, whose daughter, Brishell, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Washington, D.C.  The mother holds what I understood to be an autopsy photograph showing her daughter’s injuries from rounds fired by what was identified as an AK-47.

This case is like too many others that plague our big cities.  The causes of this violence are many—drugs, gangs, and failed schools lead my list.  But the advocate for gun control that I was speaking with was more interested in how I felt when seeing the picture of Jefferies and her daughter than in hearing what policy answers I might have.

That’s a stance that would be easy to lampoon—a call for emotion rather than reason—but it’s one that we who support gun rights have to take seriously.

For one thing, human beings make many decisions on the basis of how they feel.  During the presidential election of 2000, for example, one question asked about Bush and Gore was which of the two would you rather have a beer with.  That’s an odd thing to consider about someone the vast majority of us will never meet, but it speaks to the idea that many want to feel comfortable with the person who leads the nation.

And before we become too self-congratulatory here, I include gun owners and rights supporters in this.  A Pew survey in 2013 found that almost eighty percent of gun owners say that owning a firearm makes them feel safer. How much that feeling is based on a rational consideration of the facts isn’t clear, since the survey only asked about attitudes regarding gun ownership, but human nature being what it is, it makes sense that many of those owners made their decision to own because of how that would make them feel.

And that isn’t meant as a disparaging comment.  We make lots of life-altering decisions on this basis.  Evolutionary psychologists tell us that we choose our mates due to an instinctual perception of genetic compatibility and similar factors, and while physical and financial attractiveness are often given as the “reasons” for falling in love, experience tells us that’s more of a justification than a logical conclusion.  (Actually, I did know someone who claimed to base her relationships on spreadsheet calculations, and she and I aren’t together anymore.)  I teach English and write because it’s what I’m good at doing, and the doing of it fulfills me, despite my father’s advice that I should have been a nursing home administrator.  So why wouldn’t the decision to arm oneself for defense have an emotional component?

As I’ve discussed earlier, the best arguments include both facts and feelings.  To be clear, I’ve found the facts to be on the side of those of us who choose to own guns, especially if we take the time to learn how to use them responsibly and well.

Questions such as the one I got on Twitter are a case of framing the debate to make supporters of gun rights look heartless because we refuse to give in anytime someone makes an emotional appeal for more control.

But that’s not something we must allow to go unchallenged.  How could anyone with human decency not feel the pain that Nardyne Jefferies must experience daily?  It’s not that we gun owners feel any less.  What needs to be recognized here, though, is that while our emotions can be valid causes for the choices we make about ourselves, we have to offer more—specifically logic—when addressing matters that will affect everyone.

This goes both ways, of course.  At times, we’re too quick to mock those who disagree with us.  And yes, I include myself in this.  But while there are many (on both sides) who prefer screaming at each other to calm conversation, we can find many others who are willing to listen, so long as we return that courtesy.  With them, in a civil manner, make it clear that we hurt, too, when innocent lives are taken, that that we want to solve the problem of violence as much as any advocate of gun control.  And finding solutions is a subject for facts and logic.  On those grounds, we can win the debate if we come to it intellectually well armed—and don’t act like jerks in the process.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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