We’ve all seen it on social media.
Gun control divides us into extreme categories and are exaggerated through faceless discourse in never-ending streams of comments we can “like,” “edit” and “delete.”
Some read “I own a gun” as “I’m an advocate of murder,” and others read “I don’t like guns” as “I’m a fascist advocate of military takeover.” Then they reach for the mouse to delete their so-called friends.
We were all affected in one way or another by the tragedies in Tucson, Aurora and Newtown.
Though we mourned in unison, we instantly divided ourselves into the categories of pro- or anti-Second Amendment, rationalizing extremism with you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us mentalities.
Whether we’ve participated in the largely irrational realm of Internet debates or not, we’re all at least familiar with the rather new concept of social media discourse.
Garrett Rzepecki, a global studies junior, is a former Marine. He is calm and collected as we walk to the bike racks to discuss my article after a class we share together.
He says that while he is a gun owner and has a “strong inclination” not to see stricter gun legislation passed, he does believe more control needs to be implemented in order to close loopholes for everyone trying to purchase weapons.
Rzepecki explained that assault weapons, the types of weapons he says he is familiar with through his military training, should be viewed as dangerous weapons, but that lawmakers shouldn’t outright ban them.
“I’m not so Second Amendment that I blindly think we should do anything to protect it,” he says. “Nor am I at all in favor of seeing any increased gun legislation aside from closing the gun loophole or maybe background checks on all sales of weapons or semi-automatic weapons with a certain range, 800 yards or something.”
When I bring up the fanatic social media debate, he chuckles.
“I think there’s merit to both arguments, but there are parts I find a little bit silly,” Rzepecki says. “Fanaticism is never the answer because it almost lends itself to absolutisms, and no such thing really exists within our culture.”
He says he often finds himself in the debate on both sides. He says he thinks Americans need to find a balance. On one end of the argument, he says people will accuse him of not being sympathetic toward the murder of children. On the other, people tell him there should be absolutely no control on gun ownership whatsoever, and he doesn’t agree.
“I think sometimes we get so misfocused with things and throw in emotion and react unreasonably,” Rzepecki says. “I think people need to take rational steps into the way they approach problems.
Kinesiology freshman Jordan Barta also finds herself somewhere in the middle of gun debate. She says she feels like her opinion doesn’t really matter, so she doesn’t think of it often. But during our conversation, she is thoughtful and careful with her choice of words.
“Both sides do have legitimate reasons,” she says as her friend scrambles to submit an assignment on Blackboard. “(Legislation) should be stricter, but if it is more strict, and no one has the legal abilities to protect themselves, that’s an issue. If they’re not restricted, then it’s like everyone can carry guns and things can happen.”
Borislav Tsonchev, an exploratory sophomore, sat outside the Memorial Union with his friends while they waited to see a movie.
Tsonchev says, in general, people should be allowed to have guns, though namely for protective use. He says fanatic debate only incites “tension” between groups.
“In one sense (social media debate is) good because it demonstrates to the government that people want action to be taken,” he says. “On the other hand … they’re commenting based on their emotional responses rather than reasoning it all out and doing research.”
Stan Hui, a criminology junior, seemed the most perplexed by radical gun dispute. He is an international student from Hong Kong, where guns are completely banned other than by the police and the militia. They are not a subject of heated debate — ever.
Hui says the majority of his Facebook friends are from Asia; he never sees debate from them.
“It’s pretty harsh in Hong Kong,” he says. “They don’t understand about guns. Like me, I don’t understand.”
Crime is much lower in Hong Kong, Hui says, which is why he hopes to work in the U.S. before returning to China after he graduates.
“If I can work in America for a couple of years, when I go back to Hong Kong, I can get a better position there,” he says. “There are more criminals (here). I can get more opportunities to do my job.”
Edward Mehta, a political science freshman, sits studying in the Hayden Library café and is soft-spoken. He says he’s never really participated in Internet debate, but he often sees it on his Facebook newsfeed.
“While it’s good to express your feelings, I think there might be better ways than shouting at other people over social media or to lay blames,” Mehta says. “I’m personally not a fan of the fanatical view on either side, but I can see why they’re doing it.”
I prompted the suggestion and we considered together whether American culture, not legislation, is to blame for the U.S. crime rate.
“I can see that’s how we are as a culture,” he says. “America began as the frontier place. . . Having someone take (guns) away would kind of change or somehow restructure that culture we have, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
I continued to speak with other students and began to see a trend. None yelled (ALL CAPS), none name-called (blamed Obama/Republicans), and all offered an insightful perspective (does that even happen on the Internet?).
I began this story in search of understanding. I wanted to gain perspective on each side of the gun debate because loss of life elicits strong emotional response in most any living, breathing human. But people come from such different races, ethnicities, classes and political ideologies that a solid, unified view on any given topic is an impossibility.
Though by no means was I able to conduct some sort of official statistical study, I did find clarity in my own perspective. I was able to see the rational stances on both sides of the debate through face-to-face discussion.
The theme of this issue is “fanatic.” I searched for fanatics on gun legislation all along the spectrum of the discussion. I was interested to see what my peers thought, and to discuss their ideas in a rational, educational setting. Arguments via Facebook and Twitter make everyone sound a little crazy.
But what I found was a bit different from what I had anticipated: What people see through media often warps their perceptions of each other. And while radical advocates both for and against gun restriction do exist, many others stand somewhere in the middle, often perplexed by the fanaticism illustrated by heated debate — and they are the ones whose voices are often misunderstood or unheard all together. To come to understanding, Americans must talk, and listen, really listen to everyone.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kaharli