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19 Coffins: Finding Common Ground around Guns

When news comes of yet another shooting, so many of us ask “when will this stop?” In communications, we look for common ground. The place we can all mostly agree: And from there, work out our differences and work towards a solution. One example is New Zealand, where 51 people died in a shooting at two mosques — and dozens of others were injured. Less than a month after the tragedy, the New Zealand’s Parliament voted 119-1 to implement a ban on semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. But, here in America, the country the highest rate of murder by firearms in the developed world, the tragic death of 19 children leads to yet another political impasse.

While it would seem that almost every American can agree that the killing of children needs to stop, answers do not come easily. Even Canada, our neighbor to the North with stricter gun laws, quickly acted to end the sale of handguns.

In a country where guns outnumber people, and where the gun manufacturing sector has a powerful voice, basic gun control has proven impossible for the last quarter century.

Why? Part of it is the divided nature of American society. When one side calls for common sense gun control, the other side thinks it is a pretense to take their guns away. A basic lack of trust — that exists on either side of the issue. Just as when other sides call for a greater fortification of schools, it comes across as an escalation more than a solution. Both sides, unwilling to listen or hear what the other has to say — find no common ground.

And this lack of parallel thought exists across a broad base of ideas on the American landscape, from reproductive rights, to education, to immigration to military spending.

Unable to reach a consensual point of agreement means bad things all around. It leads to a loss of faith in the political system. That partly can lead to lower voter turnout, more violent protests, and an escalation of violence.

Perhaps the communications issue is as simple as where we get our information. Some 25 years ago, news media were still informing via print, radio and TV. Today with plummeting newspaper readership, we see highly partisan approaches on cable news and the rise of false news pages on the web. As social media rises, it allows the simple sharing of bombastic headlines with more shock value than truth. This has led us all to be more entrenched, leaving little room for common ground.

This lack of good information, lack of ability to agree on facts, and when a national tragedy happens, we revert to our ideological corners and just don’t talk. And, this is a nation in which 20 million civilian owned AR-15s.

The clearest example of this is the tragic milestone of 1 million Americans dead from COVID-19. Here social media driven lies, political nonsense and just not caring mean that more than 300,000 people in the US, who could have gotten vaccinated but refused, died of COVID. Higher vaccination rates could have prevented so many fatalities.

So, where are the answers? Listening, dialog, trust and finding a place to agree. This would come from better media literacy, better public education, common sense laws… and dialog. It seems as simple as kids versus guns, but great communication fault lines run through this. We need to make a start, the only way to do that is by seeking out the narrow strips of common ground that remain.

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