Where Every Gun Conversation Breaks Down

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gunWhile visiting my parents in December, my father told me he had seen a movie recently on cable. He had really enjoyed it, but declared it wouldn’t be my “cup of tea.”

He was talking about American Sniper.

I explained that not only had I seen it in the theater, I went by myself because no one else I knew was interested in seeing it. He was clearly taken aback.

I find a lot of conversations in our lives go like this. A declaration or assumption based on politics (Dad is conservative, I’m not). Here’s what I told a dear Republican friend of our family one time when he expressed surprise that I didn’t know the answer was ‘ACLU’ to a question posed during our annual, always lively Trivial Pursuit game:

“Sorry I don’t fit into your box.”

I’m not getting on a high horse here. I’m guilty of this, too. But I’m trying to do it less. I’m determined to hear people out, not jump to conclusions, and to realize most of us are complex in our beliefs and convictions.

Lately on the topic of guns – and this is really over a span of years — I’ve begun to notice that whenever I solicit real, true opinions from gun owners on social media and otherwise and try to understand the nuance of their position, the place the conversation breaks down is the same.

It doesn’t come down to an analysis of the Second Amendment or whether a person feels safer with more guns or less guns or even what they think of President Obama. Those things will continue to be debated. The massive breakdown for me is when the person I’m talking to starts using fearful or antagonistic language about the federal government or government in general. The ‘us vs. them’ mentality.

I’m not saying they’re wrong or I’m right. But in no way, shape, or form can I identify with that feeling. I flat out don’t understand it. I can’t imagine for a moment living my life so paranoid about the possibility that the federal government has nothing better to do than try to screw up my life. I can be as narcissistic as the next person, but thinking Big Brother is out to get Nancy Colasurdo is just not how I roll.

We all know people who operate in the world as if everyone is out to get them. Sometimes the cashier shorts you by $1.50 because he’s human and he made a mistake. Maybe the chef overcooked your steak because there was a miscommunication. Small things that add up to a larger way of being in the world.

I simply can’t engage in the big, bad government conversation with a straight face.

A few years ago I told a woman I’d send her a check and then forgot until a few days later. When we spoke on the phone, before I could cop to my error, she started ranting how of course she hadn’t received the check. The Post Office is run by the federal government, silly. They’re inefficient and inept. I could almost see the eye roll through the phone.

What? I’m pretty sure a hefty amount of envelopes and packages move around this country and the world in a mind-boggling way every day. She received that check two days after I sent it.

In a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, the writer talks about moving to the United States from Turkey and being astounded at our postal service.

“Something I take for granted now just didn’t occur to me: There were standardized rates, and you could just slap a stamp on your letter, drop it in a mailbox, and it would go to its destination,” Zeynep Tufekci writes.

The essay was a terrific reminder of what we all take for granted and it was in stark contrast to the naysaying and griping we so often hear about our country.

“Infrastructure is often the least ­appreciated part of what makes a country strong, and what makes innovation take flight,” Tufekci writes.

Yes. There is another way of seeing something as simple as the United States Postal Service. I prefer that approach. I suppose it makes me a ‘glass half-full’ kind of person. But beyond that pat label, I have to say that I can’t imagine expending my precious time and energy fretting about the federal government. Not when there is art to see, books to read, music to dance to, people to break bread with.

I need to function from a place of openness.

When I saw American Sniper, I was moved enough to write about it and I purposely titled the piece, One Liberal’s Take on American Sniper. I wanted people on the right to see another viewpoint and not put me in a box and I thought some on the left might open their minds.

“No, I can’t relate to an upbringing where a father teaches his son how to use a gun,” I wrote then. “But why do I have to? I was not brought up in a gun culture. So what. I confess to bristling in my seat a little at the culture Chris [Kyle] grew up in. I took a deep breath and told myself I could learn from our differences. And I did.”

I can’t be any other way.

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