“inanimate pieces of metal”

Monday I sat down with a bottle of wine to read High Country News. The first article I saw as I opened my browser was written by another writer…

“who believes in national health care, strong environmental protection, reproductive freedom, unions, permissive immigration laws, stiff financial regulation … and guns.”

I must share some of what Dan Baum wrote in The Great Gun Divide. He said more eloquently what I tried to write 3 months ago: that the inability to communicate is “More Dangerous Than Guns” (here)?

A comment on his NYTimes interview said, “Guns are frightfully dangerous and without them the massacres would not have happened. What more does anyone need to understand?” To which Dan Baum responds…

“What more, indeed, does anyone need to understand beyond what he already believes?”

This is the problem, the real reason America is going to hell in a handbasket: so few of us can seriously entertain the merits of an opposing viewpoint and assume the better angels of someone who disagrees. Each political side remains steadfast in their habit of demonizing the other.

I have taught many classes in which I’ve displayed two overlapping triangles on the board at the front of class and asked my students what this represents. They have answered what many would: “Star of David,” “Judaism,” “the Holocaust,” “Palestine”. We discuss why they associate these things with two triangles that have no inherent meaning, only the meaning we ascribe to them. Yet most of us view symbols if they were the very epitome of what they have come to represent.

In some ways, guns in the US have taken on this ascribed life of their own within our own minds: symbolic of death to some, freedom to others. As Dan Baum writes in his article…

“All of this argument can’t possibly be about inanimate pieces of metal and their effect on public safety, because so little evidence exists to connect the two. Gun laws have grown looser almost everywhere in the U.S. in the past 20 years, the number of privately owned guns about tripled, and in that same period, the rate of gun violence dropped by about half. The real purpose of the fight over gun control, it seems to me, is to serve as a kind of proxy for a much bigger philosophical divide that has divided our country since the founding.

“Guns represent a worldview that, broadly defined, values the individual over the collective, vigorous outdoorsiness over pallid intellectualism, certainty over questioning, patriotism over internationalism, manliness over femininity, action over inaction, the Interior over the Coasts. If instead you value reason over force, skepticism over certainty, internationalism over American exceptionalism, multiculturalism over white-male hegemony, income leveling over jungle capitalism, peace over war – if you’re a stereotypical liberal, for lack of a better word – and you feel more at home on the Coasts than in the Interior, you’re inclined to see the gun as the emblem of your opponent’s worldview: his idol. A lot of my fellow liberals seem to think they can weaken their enemy by smashing his idol. Thus, the gun debate is really a way to talk about bigger differences for which we can’t seem to find the vocabulary.”

Dan Baum has rightly and clearly articulated the problem that our divided nation and politicized media will avoid at all costs. I’ve heard moral adults say that expletives are for those who aren’t intelligent enough to use higher communication. I find this article to have the same moral. Our shouting political curses at each other in regard to firearms belies our inability to take a more educated approach.

I have an affinity for the Jewish culture and religion. One of my favorite writers is Rabbi Daniel Gordis. In his book God Was Not in the Fire, he describes listening to his family argue over the meaning of sacred scripture until the early morning hours, then everyone embracing and agreeing to do the same next week. He says they are able to disagree amicably because it is less important to agree, it’s even less important to believe than it is to talk about it.

Maybe we should question our beliefs if we can’t talk about them productively.

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My mother’s family is mostly Appalachian Irish from Eastern Kentucky who fought in the mining-union wars. My great-great-grandfather was known for carrying a .38 special in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other. The other half of my mother’s family are Quakers. Pacifists. That may say a bit about my own personal conflicts. My father’s family, for their part, were Methodists, Ministers, and Missionaries about as far back as you can go. My grandfather recently died with a legacy of over 20 years living and working in Burundi, Africa. My childhood was rooted in a “hideout” with my cousins in the fencerow thicket behind our homes. In adolescence, my dad and I would walk through the woods along one of Indiana’s many Sugar Creeks. Moving to town during my adolescence then away to college in Florida pulled me from the outdoors. One day, as I walked on Gulf Islands National Seashore, I wondered: why’d I stop living in the woods? In the years following I took up backpacking then rock climbing and was soon immersed in the adventurous life of outdoor recreation. I pursued this passion into working for the former sports retailer Galyans Trading Co. My supervisor took me under his wing and taught me everything from how to tie knots to management. Most importantly, he encouraged me to pursue my dreams. So I returned to college, the Outdoor Recreation emphasis in the Recreation and Sports Management Department at Indiana State University. After backpacking with a friend in Oregon, I moved there to work for Friends of Opal Creek, a remote residential facility for environmental education. The experience of teaching old growth ecology while living out of a cabin in the Western Cascade Mountains touched my soul deeply. Exposed to the impacts of industry and recreation on those natural resources, I became interested in further understanding the interaction between people and their environment. I also wanted to gain the skills that could equip me to represent the people involved and their stories. So I enrolled as a graduate student in Department of Anthropology at Oregon State University in 2002. During my program of study I worked with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ language and culture program in addition to photographing and documenting for repatriation Native American materials in the Horner Museum Collection. My resulting Master’s research struggled to find a way to respectfully and accurately represent the experience of Native women with their environments. Today I have traveled across the U. S., North America, and internationally. My experiences have led me to appreciate that people, no matter how different they are, are people and on the most important experiential level, not so different from you and me. In fact, my familiarity with many often antipathetic demographics gives me an appreciation for the challenges faced by diverse communities. So I try to represent the humanity of marginalized groups. My passion is for conservation and humanitarian work. With a background in both socio-cultural and ecological dynamics, I try to keep a fresh perspective on current issues. My training in Art, Creative Writing, Experiential Education, and Psychology helps me look for creative approaches to social and environmental issues. My hope is that our children, yours and mine, and their children will have a free and natural world to experience throughout their lives.