On one of our trips to Atlanta while living overseas, my wife and I were waiting to re-check our bags after clearing customs. The line was held up by a older man of Asian descent who clearly didn’t speak or read English, and didn’t understand he was supposed to remove his laptop computer from its bag before placing it on the belt to go through the metal detector.
A security officer was trying to make him understand — but not by attempting another language he might recognize, pantomiming what he needed to do, or even gesturing to the bag itself. She simply stood there, arms at her side, saying the same thing over and over again, only more loudly each time, until she was practically shouting at the still-perplexed and thus still-noncompliant traveler.
I think about that scene often as I observe politics in our country.
Consider our gun-control politics. Despite the shrillest accusations we hear, no one actually wants to see another mass shooting. No one wants to see a school, church, nightclub, movie theater, or any other kind of space, in their community or anyone else’s, turned into the familiar, chilling scenes in Parkland, Charleston, Orlando, Aurora and elsewhere.
But after each of these atrocities, there seems to be little reflection from either side — those who seek restrictions on firearms, and those who resist — as to how to persuade someone who doesn’t already agree with them. Just more standing still, repeating the same things they’ve said over and over, only more loudly. Our opponents are to be defeated, not persuaded.
To wit: A group of gun-control activists came to the state Capitol on Wednesday to renew their calls for action after last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Persuasion was surely on the minds of many but not all: A friend who’s a lobbyist told me one of the activists walked up to him and asked, “Are you a Republican? Because I’m looking for Republicans to stab with my umbrella.”
The umbrella was already in stabbing position as she spoke. I can’t imagine why she hasm’t gotten anywhere.
On my blog on Politically Georgia, I waited five days before writing about the Parkland shooting. A few commenters complained that I was dodging an inconvenient issue, that I knew “my side” was indefensible.
But my delay was really of a piece with my other policy about these shootings, which is not to name the killer: My intent in both cases is to remove something counter-productive from the discussion. In the case of naming the killer, it’s whatever infamy he might get — or inspiration a copycat might gain — from even that little bit of publicity. In the case of waiting to comment, it’s the reflexive, retreat-to-your-corners mentality that almost always prevails in the early hours after such a terrible thing happens and no one actually knows much about how and why it happened.
I am convinced it would take some of the venom and vilification out of these “national discussions” if more people did the same.
The problem of mass shootings, which has increased even as gun violence remains in decades-long decline, will probably require a much more nuanced and multi-faceted response than anything that starts with “ban” or “repeal” — or, for that matter, “more.” Anything less than that kind of response is less than our loved ones deserve, and too much like that shouting security officer in the airport.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com