On the morning of June 14, 2017, a few Republican lawmakers were at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Va. when shots ran out. It was the last practice before the congressional baseball game, which occurred every year to raise money for charity since 1909. When a loud gunshot went off, the men and women hit the ground, crouched in the dugout, behind fences and in the long outfield grass. Steve Scalise, the House of Representatives Majority Whip from Louisiana, stood at second base. He had nowhere to hide. He looked to the dugout before being struck in the left hip and collapsed to the ground. After struggling to army crawl to safety, he made it to center field, lying in the grass until the shooting stopped. Though police killed the shooter, the bullet broke Mr. Scalise’s bones, caused major internal bleeding and tore his organs.

I read how the shooter had multiple rounds of ammunition, a semi-automatic weapon and mental health issues. I thought, “How did this man get ahold of a weapon with such firepower? How many more shootings like this before we have to have stricter gun control?”

After this atrocity, many saw it as another example of a terrible shooting in our recent history. People wanted change with our nation’s approach to guns. My initial conclusion, as it has always been, was to have much more stringent gun control laws. I soon read that same day that many, especially Republicans, were calling for more guns to prevent instances like these. After hearing this, I had to take a second thought. We had read or seen exactly the same event, with exactly the same outcome, and we came to exactly the opposite conclusion. To most, I think that this would have been disheartening and another reason for gun control advocates to blow off gun rights supporters, calling them crazy and disillusioned. However, I became extremely fascinated and interested in the gun control debate, not to become angrily aggressive towards gun rights supporters, but because I quickly realized that even with the same event, two very different conclusions can be reached. This is a debate that is much more complicated than both sides tend to let on.

I am writing this not to voice support for the gun control lobby, but as a reflective piece. Rather than engaging in partisanship, I became greatly inquisitive about the logic of your average gun rights supporter (not just the NRA). To improve my understanding, I decided to turn to the Second Amendment. Now, I have read court opinions from Supreme Court cases addressing the Second Amendment (District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago), but I wanted to keep an open mind. There I read:

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Simply considering the wording of the Second Amendment, I was stopped within the first four words: a well-regulated Militia. In my instinctual emotions of gun rights, I would have said that the debate should be over right there. Regulation is extremely necessary for guns, and since militias are mostly an entity of the past, it doesn’t make much sense for people to still own guns. Nevertheless, maintaining strong introspection was and is currently my goal. My gut reaction was in my interpretation of regulation. I hear the word, and I conclude naturally a need for an assault weapons ban among other measures, but for many, this “regulation” means better background checks, but more guns on more people. I quickly realized that is an error in communication for both sides of the debate.

Secondly, I arrived at the word “necessary.” This is where I believe the heart of the debate rests. What is necessary today? To understand this, I thought that I should learn more of the history of gun rights in America. In the founding generation, many found that governments were oppressive to its people. To respond to unexpected attacks, governments would depend on a militia of ordinary civilians, supplying his or her own weapons. After the Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention realized militia forces could not be relied on for national defense; therefore, the government should have the authority to regulate its militias. This became a classic Anti-Federalist versus Federalist debate, establishing the root of the modern debate today.

This was one of many firsts where there was a massive shift in power from the states to the federal government. Anti-Federalists said that this removal of defense would all but diminish any effort against federal expropriation. As a means of compromise, they decided on two things: the federal government had almost total legal authority over the army and militia and the federal government should not have any authority at all to disarm the citizenry. After realizing this, I understood that the debate and gun ownership was rooted in U.S. DNA.

I understand that this debate has shifted greatly, where most view that government isn’t coming for one’s guns, people are interested in stronger background checks, and more is in common between the two sides than we like to realize. Nevertheless, as much as I can quote statistics about gun deaths in America, and the gun rights advocates can quote gun safety statistics, it becomes an argument of fact. In the past year as a student and neuroscience researcher, I have realized statistics can be skewed to whichever opinion you feel. It’s a form of strong confirmation bias where one seeks out information only to support their opinion. But as much as I can write and speak about the truths I find evident through research, often it isn’t the statistics that will convince either side of the argument. We are human beings who frequently determine our opinions not by what we read but by what we experience. This is the fundamental issue in most of our debates today: we surround ourselves with people and ideas of our own. This extreme amount of confirmation bias removes us from the experience of someone drastically different than ourselves, so when we approach an issue such as gun law, we retreat to our corners and tell each other, “Well if you just look at the statistics, you’d realize your idiocy.” But it’s deeper than that. It’s experience.

I grew up in a unique situation, where in northern Minnesota, I was both living in a city and surrounded by a strong hunting and gun rights culture. In my self-analysis, I have realized that the experiences for those in cities versus rural America are different. In cities, guns are often the weapon of choice for most homicides and crimes. They are considered vices of the country and are often put into a bad light. In rural America, a typical fall weekend is going out with one’s father or mother to the shooting range or the hunting cabin. In my experience, I have never fired a gun, but I grew up with many people who were both in a city environment and often went to the firing range or went hunting. They went to gun safety classes, were gifted a gun for Christmas, and had guns sitting around the house. Though I don’t plan on going to a gun range anytime soon, I do think that it shows a completely different emotional and cultural difference that most neglect to realize. It isn’t a legal debate; it’s a personal debate.

As stated before, gun control debates are more or less the equivalent to an “American element” on our metaphorical periodic table. It’s a debate rooted in our DNA. Nevertheless, I am frustrated that many don’t realize that gun support isn’t a matter of stupidity or idiocy, but rather an inability to become fascinated with the thought processes of others. These debates and questions can be painful, even insulting, yet often the intentions are not out of spite or malice. We can agree to disagree, but we shouldn’t forget that almost all debates are not black and white. It’s a spectrum. Become fascinated with difference of opinion. Only then will we come closer to understanding the human psyche and create a more meaningful understanding of humanity.

David Kamper can be reached at dgkamper@umich.edu

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