Today’s political landscape is rife with puzzles and paradoxes in desperate need of Rosetta Stones. The one that I want to discuss is this: Why are we so profoundly incapable of having a reasonable dialogue about guns? National Review writer David French describes the “conversation” as hopelessly polarized. It’s as if, he laments, we are coming from entirely different worlds when processing events like the massacre that took place in Orlando.
The basic facts of that incident are not in dispute: A self-professed ISIS jihadist indiscriminately slaughtered dozens of innocent people at a gay nightclub, literally pledging his loyalty to ISIS via a phone call to a 9-1-1 dispatcher as he was committing the atrocity. Seeing this, conservatives generally zeroed in on the evil of the perpetrator and addressed the broader war on terror. Viewing the same facts, leftist commentators and pundits invariably settled on a narrative driven by a fixation on “America’s gun culture,” a narrow focus on stricter gun control, and blanket calls for “tolerance” of the “LGBTQ” agenda by conservatives and Christians.Naturally, I find the liberal diagnosis of the problem, and the "liberal" prescription insulting and wholly inadequate. As a Christian, and a conservative, I sympathize with the gay community, even while acknowledging that their lifestyle is sinful. But, if Jesus loves these people, who am I to deny it. Jesus does indeed love them, but not their homosexuality. In Christian love, therefore, I must try to gently turn them from an active gay lifestyle. But that is not out of hate. The second thing I find unhelpful is the fixation on guns. As a conservative, I know that the problem is not the tools he chose to use, but the evil heart of the man who did this, He could have chosen a bomb, a gas attack such as Saran, or to become a suicide bomber. The tools a perpetrator uses reflects the tools he is most familiar with, and nothing more. In any case, at this late date, you can not practically ban guns. The technology is too well known, and despite what liberals may thing, it is much too easy to manufacture a gun, especially if it is a one off version.
But all of that doesn't begin to answer the question, which is why is this debate hopelessly deadlocked?
Fortunately, in our quest to comprehend the incomprehensible, we have a Rosetta Stone in the form of Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind.” Haidt’s moral-foundations theory is an extraordinary body of work that is meticulously empirical and thoroughly cross-cultural (agree or disagree this how Haidt defines his terms). In a nutshell: liberals’ moral reasoning rests almost exclusively on the left-most of six moral pillars. Liberal moral cognitions are triggered by indications of suffering and injustice. The conservative moral matrix couldn’t be more different. While it is somewhat biased toward the right-most moral pillars, conservatives clearly demonstrate a relatively balanced concern for all six.
The implications of this difference are far-reaching. Liberals seek to establish “justice” for those they view as harmed, but with essentially no concern for other moral foundations. Conservative moral thinking is “advantaged” in the sense that it is likewise prompted by indications of suffering but also by threats to foundational societal principles and institutions.
Haidt puts this “conservative advantage” to the test—literally. The test (page 287 in the book) involved asking hundreds of subjects to guess how people in the opposite camp would respond to political/moral questions. The result? Conservatives describe the liberal morality far more accurately than liberals describe conservative morality. The most dramatic errors in the entire experiment came when “very liberal” respondents were asked to empathize with conservatives around the care/harm pillar.
In short, conservatives can relate to liberals but the converse is not true. And there may not be a better example of this than the “gun conversation” going in in America right now. Consider the typical liberal triggers and conclusions in responding to the Orlando massacre: For liberals, the culprit is not radical Islam but the NRA; the victimization and suffering easily justify challenging the Second Amendment, which either doesn’t actually guarantee the individual right to bear arms or was meant only to account for flintlock rifles and the like.We conservatives have often made fun of liberals moral posturing and moral signalling, as if these and other behaviors could solve anything. A typical behavior is the candle light vigil, These pop up after every major tragedy, and the only thing they seem to accomplish is to allow people to be seen as caring, for all the good that may do. Now I finally understand. It also explains liberals' inexplicable imperiousness to the utter failure of the welfare state and similar programs. These programs were never put in place to actually DO anything, but once again to signal compassion and caring.
But what about those who believe that individual liberty and the right to self-defense are foundational? What about people who accept 200-plus years of Supreme Court rulings and several state constitutions and agree that the Second Amendment self-evidently guarantees the individual right to bear arms? What animates them after Orlando is the same grief, shock, and revulsion that liberals experience. They feel a similar desire to find ways to prevent and limit the deadliness of such occurrences. But what’s almost literally a world apart is that they want to accomplish this without undermining the individual’s liberty—the right to self-defense or the right to bear arms.As DiMucci concludes, we may know the "why," but there appears to be no solution to the question of how to we get around this? Half the country simply does not understand the other half, I do not know if this lack of understanding is sheer stupidity, or just plain obstinance. I know many who have given up, and I am often tempted to, but I care about my grand children too much.
And then there is this: while liberals may be anti-gun as a way to signal moral compassion, what about the Left. What's their excuse?