Debate on gun violence sorely lacks empathy, mutual understanding

Michael Jensen

UT students have been debating the now imminent campus carry implementation for over a year. Although the tone of the debate has occasionally been light-hearted or even silly, the public divide on the issue is very real. The Orlando massacre is a painful reminder that gun violence remains a deadly and serious problem. In this often ugly and divisive climate, it’s never been more important for students on both sides to make a real effort to understand each other.

Virtually every American agrees that some steps should be taken to reduce gun violence, but this hasn’t translated into legislation. There are several explanations for this inaction — from a deadlocked congress to the powerful influence of special interests groups — but the vast cultural chasm between gun enthusiasts and proponents of stronger gun regulations certainly isn’t helping.

For millions of American gun owners, firearms aren’t just toys or means of self-defense. In much of the so-called American heartland, gun ownership more closely resembles a family tradition or a way of life. While firearms are obviously no longer necessary for survival or making a living in a developed country like the United States, it wasn’t so long ago that they were. For many American communities and families this history is part of their identity, and it’s completely understandable that they resent having opposing values forced on them by outsiders.

On the other hand, guns often represent something else entirely for the millions of Americans in more urban settings. These Americans largely lack the deeply entrenched tradition of gun ownership found in other parts of the country, and rather than being a source of pride, guns are often associated with crime, senseless violence and fear.

These negative feelings aren’t unfounded.  Since the beginning of 2016, Chicago alone has suffered 300 gun homicides, the country as a whole has suffered 194 mass shootings and the recent Orlando massacre is officially the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history. Guns are incredibly dangerous, especially in urban settings, so it’s no surprise that support for gun control is strongest in the large cities along the east and west coasts. A licensed gun owner in rural New Mexico may be well-versed in gun safety and very unlikely to harm anyone else, but that doesn’t change the horrifying reality of gun violence in a city like Chicago.

The United States is home to a dizzying array of different cultures and ways of life. For the most part, it somehow works and this diversity is precisely what’s made the American project so successful. However, sometimes we willfully ignore or even dismiss the lifestyles of others, and this is where the whole thing starts to break down. Like the United States as a whole, UT is incredibly diverse, home to students from vastly different backgrounds. It’s not hard to find someone on campus who either supports or opposes stricter gun control. So next time you come across someone you strongly disagree with, try to empathize with them before dismissing whatever they have to say.

Jensen is a neuroscience senior from The Woodlands. Folow him on Twitter @michaeltangible.