In the wake of yet another senseless mass shooting in the US, we all again turn to the debate about gun control. Here in Australia we of course watch on in horror and complete confusion. After a number of mass shootings over a period of 10 years, the tragic events of Port Arthur lead the Howard Government to institute gun reform which has seen a massive decrease in gun-related homicide and zero mass shootings since the reform. So we look across the world at the USA, we see the mass shootings on an almost daily basis (there are on average 1 per day), the thousands of people hurt and killed (around 15,000 deaths per year) and shout at our American friends to follow our lead. We beg them to reform their laws. Yet even when they try, they fail and nothing changes.
How is this possible? Well I believe, that the problem is not one of information, not one of logic, but one of emotions and a lack of empathy.
Firstly, let’s look at ourselves. The ones who are crying for change. We start with our own well-held beliefs that “guns are bad mmm’kay”. Guns are harmful, they represent death and provide an opportunity to cause incredible damage very easily. We believe that guns are the enemy and we believe anyone who likes guns must also be the enemy. We quickly blame the ‘gun lovers’ for the issues and if only we could make them see the sense and reason, they must change their mind.
The trouble is, we are stuck so deeply in our own minds, that we aren’t seeing the problem. We are trying to fight this argument with graphs, statistics and logic, because our own emotional state is fixed in the view that (cue Mr Macky from South Park) “guns are bad mmm’kay”. But what if our emotional belief was different?
One of the things we need to consider about the gun lobby is that they don’t necessarily believe guns are good, but instead, they see guns are a symbol of freedom. “Freedom is good” is probably a better guess at their mantra. So when we come and give statistics and graphs to overwhelm the logical argument on guns, we are missing the point. They don’t hear us talking about the guns and death, they hear us talking about taking away freedom, attacking their liberties and sovereignty. We are attacking their beliefs of freedom with logic, and this rarely works.
In our heads, we have two brains. One is logical, rational and sensible. The other is emotional, passionate and instinctive. Because we have the ability to think logically, we often mistakenly believe that it is this logical, rational brain that is in control. This is so very wrong. We are largely controlled by the emotional brain. We act based on our feelings all the time. We use these deep stories of love, fear, justice and hope to make decisions ranging from what we eat, what we wear, what car we drive. Emotions rule!
So when we attack a pro-gun person with data and statistics, we are triggering an emotional response. We are attacking a deep story of freedom and justice. We are threatening to take away something that is defining and representative of who they believe they are, deep down. This story has been written deep in the history of the USA, in the constitutional documents, but more importantly, in the hearts of their cultural identity.
The reason the gun laws passed in Australia was because we had no such deep story. The emotional connections with guns were far weaker and in a smaller minority. We didn’t fear the loss of liberty, so we didn’t resist.
If we want to see change in the US gun laws (and I hope we do), we needn’t continue the waves of data and statistics, nor accusing others of blatant stupidity. We need to work with others to better understand and bring to consciousness the deep, emotional stories of freedom and liberty. Then together, work out how we can rewrite these stories to create a better future for everyone.