Discussing Gun Violence With Strangers.

I am absolutely heartbroken over the recent school shooting in Florida. It hurts to read the news stories of what happened, but I will myself to do so. We cannot fight an enemy we do not know. 

 

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"I bet after we get this wall there won't be so many shootings," said the lady with fire-red hair.

"The kid from yesterday didn't seem like an immigrant to me," retorted the older gentleman next to her. 

 

I was eavesdropping on two strangers today as I did my homework in a local bar (I know. Not the best possible study space, but they have free WiFi and I live in an underdeveloped area). I was the youngest person there by decades as a man and woman sat next to each other making small talk out of mass shootings. 

It may seem like bizarre bar talk, but the fact that they even discussed it seemed miraculous to me. 

 

The conversation started as many do in red states; someone comments on illegal immigration, expecting it to be glossed over. However, this time, the comment did not fly by unnoticed. Instead, it turned into a group of strangers discussing immigration, gun violence, and the brokenness of families. 

I talked today with a gentleman nearly my grandfather's age on the root of gun violence. He gave me a disclaimer before responding, stating that he is one of the most conservative people I'll ever meet; I mentioned that I'm one of the most moderate people he'll ever meet. We had more in common than either of us expected.

In this man's mind, the cause of gun violence is the brokenness of the family. This is not something I disagree with. However, I know it can sometimes be an easy answer for people who don't want to see further regulations on gun ownership.

We spoke about our differing opinions until we came to an understanding. Each of us ultimately wanted the same outcome: to see an end to gun violence in our nation. 

See this man and I both understood the value of human lives that had been squandered because of one person's decision. We both knew that this sort of outcome could never happen again. The only difference was in our approach to the situation. He saw a nuclear, family-centered approach, and I saw a legislative, do-everything-we-physically-can-to-prevent-more-tragedy approach.

Honestly, neither is wrong. Both is the best option. 

 

See sometimes, it's really not either/or. We like to argue in black and white, right and wrong. It makes our argument more well-defined, but what's the point? Are we really listening to the other? What wisdom are we missing in our constant quest to speak louder than the other.

I found a reminder today that not just legislation needs to be sought in order to prevent this tragedy, we also need to instill the value of every single human life in our family systems. This also means ensuring every child has access to a family of support and that no child feels abandoned or without hope. Each child must be loved for the violence to end. 

My new friend got a reminder that the family is not something that can change overnight. We must do what is within our reach as a nation to ensure those who are mentally unstable are not allowed access to weapons of any kind. We need to ensure that those who are seeking to own a gun are also seeking proper treatment for mental health disorders if needed. We need to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness for the violence to end. It is then that people will more openly seek treatment without fear of humiliation or condemnation while they simply try to better themselves. 

But really, none of us truly knows what will prevent another tragedy like the one we saw in Florida. All we can do is respond to the situation at hand with as much grace as we can muster in our grief and heartbreak, but we must act in order for the violence to end We cannot sit idly by as the death surrounds us, swallowing our nation whole. We must act before our children become engulfed in fear of the unknown and families stop trusting that the school can be a safe place.

Our schools can be safe, our families can be safe, our nation can be safe if we take the time to talk with each other, listen to one another, and work together toward our common goals. In a nation that seems so divided, now is the time to be countercultural and unite. What I've come to find in an evening study session at the bar is that our commonality far outweighs our difference. We ultimately want the same things: safety, love, and a place to call home. Let's give that to this next generation. We owe it to them, and we owe it to ourselves.

Let's stop the cycle of violence today.