Near the bottom of The New York Times online editorial page, in a sidebar that contains the paper's blog entries, is a link that the paper updates almost daily. The title never changes, but the date does. On Sunday, the title was "The Gun Report: July 26."
The header is a little deceiving: One could assume that the posts are about how great the gun industry is doing. (Surely, that would make the National Rifle Association happy.) But, no, this blog documents gun deaths and injuries from across the nation.
Every blog post begins with a short narrative about a recent shooting. Sunday's entry was about Carmesha Rogers, 27, of Muskegon, Mich. She's a wife and mother of two toddlers. A shot meant for someone else penetrated her brain. She's alive, if you can call it living. Rogers recently opened her eyes after two weeks and can't speak. Her family believes she can hear them.
"A long, laborious recovery is predicted," the intro concludes.
The blog goes on, offering brief synopses of 30 other people who were injured or killed by gunshots on July 26. The first is about a 2-year-old from Louisiana shot in the face.
Each entry has a link to the original news report where the Times gleaned the information. The bits come from all over the nation: West Dallas, Texas; Baldwin Park, Calif.; Lawton, Okla.; Charlotte, N.C. "Police are investigating" appears frequently, as does "No motive was given."
At the bottom of the list is this entry: "According to Slate's gun-death tracker, an estimated 6,549 people have died as a result of gun violence in America since the Newtown massacre on Dec. 14, 2012."
Clicking on the link to Slate takes you to a page titled "How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown?" (Readers might remember that Newtown, Conn., was the sight where 20 first-graders were shot and killed.) The page provides a crowd-sourced tally. It's not an official count.
"As time goes on, our count gets further and further away from the likely actual number of gun deaths in America—because roughly 60 percent of deaths by gun are due to suicides, which are very rarely reported," the site states.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that the number of Americans—men, women and children—dead due to gun violence in the past seven months is closer to 20,000.
This is tough stuff—the kind of statistics that can make you go numb, depress you or piss you off. Or all three at once. I can't help but think that if 20,000 American soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan in the past seven months, we would be (justifiably) outraged. But Americans aren't outraged, not that I can see. Instead, more are incensed over the mere suggestion of gun control.
Something's wrong when we're willing to take to the streets screaming about Barack Obama daring to limit our right to bear arms and not over 20,000 deaths.
Yeah, it's complicated, isn't it?
Maybe we're asking the wrong questions about our rights. The truth is that they change over time. The U.S. Constitution has 27 amendments, aka changes. Even the hotly contested 2nd—which protects the "right to bear arms"—is an amendment to the original. We've changed the rules about who can vote a few times. We outlawed alcohol and then ratified another amendment to make it legal again. We limited the number of terms a president can serve after electing FDR four times. The last amendment, in 1992, was about congressional salaries.
In their wisdom, the founding fathers made sure to institute the procedure for changing the Constitution. I'm not a mind reader, but it seems to me that they knew what they wrote wasn't perfect. Despite their undeniable brilliance, the words are not gospel. The founders clearly understood the need to allow for change.
On the incendiary scale of social issues, guns and abortion are at the top of issues' lists for fire-breathing rhetoric. (Guns and abortion in the same column: I must be a glutton for punishment.) But rhetoric doesn't solve anything. It only serves to make our positions intractable.
Last Sunday, as I do most Sunday mornings, I listened to NPR's "On Being" (onbeing.org). The topic was abortion. It wasn't a treatise covering the "who, what, where, when and why"; the episode was part of the "Civil Conversations" series, where advocates on opposite sides of a particular issue attempt to find a way to discuss a divisive issue without shouting, finger-pointing or over-heated wingnuttery. The program, which featured Christian ethicist David Gushee and Frances Kissling, former director of Catholics for Choice—both strong advocates for their positions—was nothing short of amazing.
Near the beginning of the broadcast, Krista Tippett, the show's host, talked about changing the issue's language. "Pro choice" and "pro life," they all agreed, had outlived their usefulness.
"Maybe because we're seen as not being properly loyal to our sides, but the problem is these sides have become entrenched," Gushee said. "And I think that entrenchment, it's almost like a permanent interest-group kind of situation. And then people stop thinking fresh thoughts."
A few minutes later, Tippet asked what may just be the questions that could open a door on any issue where we're at each other's throats instead of in sane conversation:
"What is it in your own position that gives you trouble? What is it in the position of the other that you're attracted to?"
Wow. My imagination went a little wild at that point. Can you imagine congressional debates that honored what is good and right with the others' position while acknowledging that perhaps, just maybe, my/your side doesn't have all the right answers? Can you see how honestly, authentically answering those questions—about abortion, guns, health care, you name it—could lead to a productive conversation instead of yet another shouting match?
Does the slug fest over gun rights (or reproductive rights or fill-in-the-blank rights) need to be at such a stalemate? Don't we just need to find a way to stop another 20,000 needless deaths?
I am not talking about endlessly waffling in the land of ambiguity. But regardless of where I come down on the issues, the likelihood is that what I see it isn't all that exists. It takes work to know that, and it's risky. It will expose my vulnerabilities. But let's do it anyway. Because in the end, "sticking to our guns" in this argument is not worth 20,000 lost lives.
I have to believe it's not OK with you, either.