It's Never as Simple as Just 'For or Against'

If you’re at the polarity on a subject, you’re not helping to solve the issue.


I’ve always been suspect of neat little "ditties" that seek to dwindle complex issues down into simple answers — answers so simple that there always seems to be an implied “look how simple this is, why can’t you get it?” put down attached to it.

A friend of mine posted something on Facebook that really surprised me. It was a graphic that said “If guns kill people, then pencils misspell words, cars make people drive drunk, and spoons make you fat.”

I posted back “If Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (of the Columbine massacre) only had a fork and a pencil, many people would be alive right now that are dead, and a lot less anguish would have been visited on the slaughtered victims' families.”  I was trying to make the point that it wasn’t as simple as that simple phrase was trying to make it out to be. He replied that he strongly disagreed with me and went on to explain why he was against gun control.

I could see that Facebook was the wrong forum to get my point across. My point wasn’t even about guns. My point was that the issue of guns in society and similarly complex issues couldn’t be summed up in one cute little phrase. A complex issue can’t be discussed with a bunch of one liners tossed back and forth. And Facebook is the least of our worries in this regard. Thanks to our media, all we seem to get these days are “one-liners." No real discussion, no depth, no real attempt at a solution.

This is why we have such a hard time making progress on complex social issues in our country. Every issue turns into an argument about the polarities. We don’t live in a world of “yes” or “no”, or “black” or “white”. We don’t live in a world of polarities. We live in a world of grays, and our national debates need to be grounded in this truth.

So to prove this point, I decided to try a theoretical experiment. I put a gun on a table and watched as many people walked by. No one got shot. I guess the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” side is right! A gun by itself doesn’t kill people. It must be that people kill people.

So I tried my experiment with a person instead of a gun. I put a person at the table and watched as many more people walked by. Again, no one died. So the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” side must be wrong! But that’s where the simplicity ends.

Next, I put a very angry person, or a person with issues, or maybe even a deranged person at the table and watched again. In the most extreme cases, this person actually got up and strangled a person or two, and then got tackled and stopped. Or maybe they had a pencil or a fork and stabbed several people and then they got tackled and subdued. (By the way, most of the people who were stabbed survived their wounds.)

One last variation of the experiment. I put a gun at the table with the angry/deranged person and things really started to get interesting. In most cases, nothing happened. But in some cases, lots of people died. And how many people died seemed to be in direct proportion to the type of gun I put on the table. Put a revolver at the table and six or so people died. Maybe one or two survived their wounds. Put a shotgun at the table with lots of ammo, and lots of people died. Few survived their wounds. Put a machine gun at the table and a whole lot of people died.

So what did I discover through my experiment?

1) Guns sitting by themselves don’t kill people.
2) People without guns have a very limited ability to kill people. Usually just one or two at a time. No mass killings. Few indiscriminate killings.
3) With a gun, any fool can kill lots of people, and they are very hard to stop until they run out of ammo. And the “bigger” the gun, the more damage they can cause until they can be stopped. You don’t see many “drive by clubbings”.

There will always be the Jack the Rippers and the Jeffery Dahmers in the world who will kill people. There’s no stopping that. But if these guys and those like them have guns, they will do more damage. It’s not about “guns for everyone” or “guns for none.” Let’s get away from those polarities and talk about the real world.

So I’m right back to my main point. You can’t, in one article, one presidential debate, one newscast, or one Facebook post solve the gun or any other complex social issue. My point was that if you’re at the polarity on a subject, you’re not being particularly realistic about that subject and therefore you’re not helping to solve the issue. You’re just trying to be "right," or make someone else "wrong." We need fewer people trying to be "right." We need more people really trying to solve issues that face our great nation — and that’s going to take compromise and reason.

My message here isn’t whether you should be for or against gun control. My message, as always, is that it’s rarely, if ever, as simple as “this vs. that.” We need to stop trying to distill the complex issues of our time into simple “yes” or “no” terms. It’s time to give our complex social issues the respect and deep thought they truly deserve. It’s time to figure out the grays.

Karen Silva March 14, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I do not think that anyone can deny that some guns in civilians hands can stop some crimes. And I do not think that we can deny that many many guns that are purchased legally are then sold to people who would never be approved for a gun permit if they applied on their own. I think the real issue here is how do we keep guns away from mentally disturbed people who are ticking time bombs. DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY REAL INCITES, SUGGESTIONS, OR SOLUTIONS TO THIS ISSUE???????????? JUST THINK ABOUT IT FOR A MOMENT BECAUSE If you can come up something useful than just maybe we can begin to saves lives AND YOU WOULD BE A PART OF THAT. THAT IS WHAT I CALL POWER
Karen Silva March 14, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Death of Wash. boy third gun accident in 3 weeks A 3-year-old scrambled out of his child seat after his parents stopped for gas early Wednesday, found a gun police say was left in the car by his father and fatally shot himself in the head. http://apnews.myway.com/article/20120314/D9TGH1Q80.html
Karen Silva March 14, 2012 at 10:34 PM
I agree
A Reflective Soul in Berlin August 22, 2012 at 03:36 PM
The author's premise and test are flawed. As we all know, guns don't kill people, bullets do. I am assuming that the author's tests were hypothetical, and designed to prove the point that many issues have slogans or short explanations, that really do nothing to explain at all. Chris Rock was the one I heard say, "We don't need gun control, we need bullet control." The author's thought that the amount of killing that can be accomplished is directly proportional to the size of weapon and the amount of ammo, is really tied just to the amount of ammo. Without the bullets, no effective killing can be conducted, at any rate of speed of the gun. So forgive me, as I am not interested in the gun control issue. I was just enjoying the thought of what the one liners can, or cannot, explain. Thank you, Joel. Your story gave me a moment's pleasure...and for just a few moments, I put down my pencil and spoon and gave your article full attention.
Dave Adametz August 22, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I'm not sure what the author's point actually is, because first he claims we can't address problems by using buzzwords but he then turns around and uses buzzwords to make his case. There is no such thing as a "gun issue". There is only a "crime issue" which self serving politicians are misrepresenting as a "gun issue" so they can use it to market their personal political ideologies. Example- one gang member shoots another gang member over drug territory. Everyone else will say this is a drug problem that incites gang violence. Gun control proponents will portray this as "children tragically being killed by guns". See the difference? If you want to talk about the real world, fine, let's talk about the real world. One of the most horrible crimes in Connecticut history was when two drug addicts invaded a home in Cheshire, robbed them, beat the father, raped and strangled the mother, tied the two daughters to their beds and then set the house on fire to burn them alive to cover up the crime, all by simply using gasoline and a baseball bat. The worst crime in US history was when nineteen hijackers stole four planes and used them to murder 3000 people, all by simply using box cutters. The real world therefore says that when you use these "gun issue" buzzwords, you're really not saying you want to help save lives. You're actually saying you don't care if people are murdered, just as long as it's not with a gun. That's as real world as real world gets.


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