On February 14, 2018 gunfire rang out in the hallways of Stoneman Douglas High School leaving 17 dead and a nation in mourning. This tragic event reignited a familiar debate on the Second Amendment and its interpretation. On February 21, 2018 CNN journalist, Jake Tapper, hosted a Town Hall forum where thousands gathered to witness a question and answer period between the survivors, their family members, politicians, the Broward County Sheriff, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) Spokesperson, Dana Loesch.
For the next few minutes, I’d like to share my 3 takeaways from watching the Town Hall.
1. Intellectual Honesty is Paramount.
To have a productive discussion on any topic requires both parties maintain a standard of intellectual honesty; otherwise, the discussion is fruitless. I watched as those directly effected by the shooting ask Senator Marco Rubio questions about his position on gun control and what he was willing to do to ensure school shootings never happen again. Rubio started each answer by sympathizing with the students; however, his display of sympathy was as effective as a toddler throwing a football—it fell short.
I observed the same reaction to Dana Loesch when she expressed her sadness and heartbreak over the young that were lost to such mindless violence. The angry crowd of thousands screamed at her as she calmly tried to answer the questions posed to her. It was obvious that the hostility and anger that should have been directed to the killer was redirected to Dana. A student, Emma Gonzales, went as far to say,
“I want you [Dana] to know that we will support your two children in the way that you will not…”
This sort of intellectual dishonesty is only useful if creating news headlines are the objective; however, if meaningful solutions are the goal, we must be able to identify the humanity of our opposition lest we continue to talk past each other.
It became ever clear that the purpose of the Town Hall was not to receive explanation on process, find solutions and future deterrence, or educate on what the political right stands for in relation to gun ownership-- the purpose of the town hall was to demonize advocates of the NRA and anyone who supports civilian rights to bear arms. It is impossible to have meaningful debate on such an important subject if people are not willing to be intellectually honest. Maintaining the position that the NRA and its 5 million supporters are guilty of the recent mass shootings because of their views is a sure way to alienate and further divide the country.
2. Meaningful Content Will Always Beat Rhetoric
This point was directly derived from observing Dana Loesch’s outstanding performance at the Town Hall. From an objective standpoint, she was professional, mature, and composed in her response to questions that were meant to attack her character and convictions. A common insinuation that was perpetuated throughout the program stated that those who received financial support from the NRA have the blood of mass shooting victims on their hands. This is a common accusation used to attack gun rights activists. It reminds me of the iconic gun control debate between Piers Morgan and Ben Shapiro roughly 5 years ago shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting. Piers had the temerity to accuse conservatives of standing on the graves of the children lost at Sandy Hook because they didn’t subscribe to the same political positions on gun control.
When ill-informed rhetoric, derelict of any substance and fact, is used as the under girth of your position, it is easy for an opponent equipped with an evidence-based approach to verbally eviscerate you. If the Left would be honest about their objective to ban all firearms, they would have a lot easier time defending their position without the use of rhetoric. But instead, they wisely refuse to commit political suicide. They proceed to propose bans on assault rifles, which aren’t used in most of the murders in America.
By elevating rhetoric above the evidence-based approach, we contribute only white noise and no solutions to these important national conversations.
3. Emotion is a Response, Not a Lawmaker
Whenever tragedy occurs it’s natural for an emotional response to follow. This is especially true when innocence is lost because of mindless violence. It is necessary to mourn, question what could have been done differently, and make changes to avoid future loss. At the Town Hall I witnessed raw emotion from a group of people who had valid questions and feelings about what went wrong in Broward County on that dark day. There were witnesses and direct victims present who were calling for an all-out assault rifle ban and other changes to the current laws surrounding gun ownership. But it is important to acknowledge that although emotion may stimulate changes to an established law, it should never be a direct result.
As uncomforting as this inconvenient truth may be, we are unable to legislate morality. Humans have historically been capable of merely mitigating, to a degree, the results of pure hatred and mental illness. We have never been able to stop it completely, and never will.
It is the duty of lawmakers to keep the preservation of life at the forefront of their thought process when mulling over changes and amendments to current law. Emotion, as valid as it may be, is too fickle and fleeting to make determinations on Federal, or even State, law that will affect the country for years to come. Objectivity, common-sense, farsightedness, and thoughtfulness should be used when considering laws that affect citizen’s rights. We should allow emotion to run its course, but to make it the engine that instigates legislative change is a mistake.
If the CNN Town Hall achieved anything, it exposed the human need to answer the question Why? America finds itself in a familiar position of darkness and divisiveness, but I am convinced that the answers are found in history. Ask yourself, has anything good resulted in the demonizing of an entire group? When considering the Second Amendment, it is my prayer that rhetoric is concluded, emotion is consulted, and intellectual honesty is championed.