The Nov. 5 shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, has reignited the debate over gun control, leaving Americans on both sides of the issue wondering whether compromise is advisable, or even possible.
Twenty-six people died when Devin Patrick Kelley, armed with a semiautomatic rifle, opened fire in a rural church. The incident followed on the heels of the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting that left 58 dead and sparked heavy debate on Twitter regarding gun control.
In America, the divide is tight -- and heavily partisan. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 51 percent of Americans surveyed said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 47 percent said it was more important to protect the rights of gun owners. But while 76 percent of Republicans said it was more important to protect the rights of those who own guns, only 22 percent of Democrats felt the same.
For some people, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is as essential as the First Amendment, one professor from University of Richmond’s political science department explained, while others think the Second Amendment simply isn’t a very important right, constitutionally or morally.
Such a vast chasm in opinion means that there’s serious distrust on both sides, where compromising could mean giving away closely-held values: safety, freedom and independence.
“It’s like a tug of war,” the professor, who asked not to be named, explained. “If you let go for a second, you’re going to get pulled over to the other side.”
Mason Zadan, chair of the College Republicans, might be described as one of those who values the Second Amendment highly.
“I think the Second Amendment allows us to have all the other amendments,” Zadan, a sophomore, explained.
He said he agrees that the gun control debate has become extremely polarized, and acknowledges that gun-control activists have the right goal in mind in seeking to prevent mass shootings, although Zadan himself believes that guns save people’s lives.
The debate is particularly relevant in the wake of Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam’s win against Republican candidate Ed Gillespie. As Northam’s team explains on his website, he has a history of supporting stricter gun control legislation, including voting against concealed-carry legislation, advocating for laws limiting the number of handguns a person can purchase, and supporting improvements in the background check system.
Although Zadan believes that there ought to be compromise, he also maintains that some things cannot be compromised: specifically, he’s opposed to an assault weapons ban and a universal gun registry.
Shannon Kane, junior and president of UR College Democrats, doesn’t share those views. UR College Democrats endorsed Northam in his gubernatorial run, and Kane’s views reflect that.
“I believe in restrictions like the banning of assault weapons and bump stocks,” Kane explained via email, sharing her personal views on gun control, which she believes align with those of most members of the club. “We need to have universal background checks and waiting periods.”
But, despite their differing opinions, like Zadan, Kane believes compromise is possible.
“It’s a polarizing issue that evokes strong reactions,” she said. “I think we need to humanize the conversation and make it about both liberty, freedom, victimization, and justice.”
“It would be better if the Second Amendment was understood for the reason it was put in place,” Zadan responded, when asked how the gun control debate could be improved. By giving Americans the freedom to own guns, he explained, we are protecting ourselves from tyranny, and guaranteeing our rights to speech, press and religion.
“Everybody cares about saving lives,“ the aforementioned political science professor pointed out. He explained that it would be useful to have leaders who are “able to talk in a way that began by acknowledging the other side’s legitimate concerns.”
Certainly, these difficult discussion will continue, both in Congress and on campus.
NBC reports that a new bill, "Fix NICS Act" is expected to be announced Thursday, in response to recent shootings. The bill, created by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), aims to incentivize the improvement of states' background check systems, and has received bipartisan support.
And on campus, the Sharp Speaker Series will be hosting Karl Rove, former adviser to George W. Bush, in the Jepson Alumni Center in March. Rove, a Republican, made headlines in 2015 for suggesting that the only way to stop gun violence would be to repeal the Second Amendment.
In addition, Zadan mentioned that the College Republicans were in talks to bring a representative from the National Rifle Association to speak on campus.
Contact features contributor Molly Brind'Amour at firstname.lastname@example.org.