On a recent flight, I found myself seated next to a man I’ll call Rick, who was keen for conversation.
We established that we are both lawyers. Rick works for the government, and I explained that I lead a gun violence prevention organization. Rick took that as an invitation to talk about guns.
A self-described “2A [Second Amendment] fanatic” from Texas, Rick grew up with guns and today owns more than 40 firearms. He considers himself a collector, and many of his guns are antiques — he’s not interested in assault-style firearms — and he makes his own ammunition from recycled casings. In short, Rick is a gun guy, and I was interested in his views on gun violence.
Rick offered that he has family in Uvalde, where 19 elementary school students and two educators were murdered in a mass shooting last year. He declared that, despite his staunch pro-gun views, he felt that “something needs to be done.”
Seeing an opening, I asked Rick what he believed should be done. He wondered aloud about psychological testing for gun buyers but concluded that that would be too challenging to administer.
I asked what he thought about “red flag” laws that allow for temporary removal of firearms when a gun owner is determined to pose a risk for harming themself or others. Rick didn’t support these types of laws because he doesn’t trust the process.
Efforts to tackle military and veteran suicide by addressing access to firearms? No, he sees suicide as an individual decision.
What about limits on gun ownership for those with a history of domestic violence? Rick had mentioned that his legal work included handling sexual assault cases, so this seemed like low-hanging fruit. But again, Rick was not on board. He felt there were too many cases in which women falsely accused their partners of domestic abuse.
So, although Rick was saddened by recent mass shootings, he couldn’t conjure what could be done to prevent them or offer any tangible ways to address, much less reform, our country’s gun culture.
In addition to being a gun guy, Rick is also a father. He was quick to tell me that he stores his guns in safes because he doesn’t want his kids to access them. In his own way, Rick is trying to be part of the solution, and I told him as much. But though Rick deserves credit for practicing secure firearm storage, many gun owners do not.
Rick was intelligent, well-spoken and rational, and I enjoyed talking with him. But our conversation provides a real-world example of why we should be skeptical of the idea that gun violence will be solved by finding common ground with gun owners. I doubt I could’ve changed Rick’s views, even if we’d talked for an entire international flight.
To be sure, Rick doesn’t speak for all gun owners. Most gun owners do support some legislative action, though they often disagree on how much. Still, he echoed the pessimism of many gun owners and non-owners alike when he told me that our gun culture would never change. …
What Rick and others may not realize is that modern gun culture is actually quite new. Twenty years ago, most Americans knew that having a gun made them less safe and household gun ownership was on the decline. Today, most people have bought into the myth that a gun makes them safer ― and that misconception is driving up gun use and, in turn, gun violence.