“I doubt I could have changed Rick’s views even if we had talked over an entire international flight,” the author writes.
On a recent flight, I sat next to a man I’ll call Rick who was interested in conversation.
We discovered that we are both lawyers. Rick works for the government and I explained that I run a gun violence prevention organization. Rick took this as an invitation to talk about guns.
A self-described “2A [Second Amendment] Rick, a fanatic from Texas, grew up around guns and now owns more than 40 firearms. He describes himself as a collector and many of his guns are antiques – he’s not interested in assault weapons – and he makes his own ammunition from recycled bullet casings. In short, Rick is a gun guy and I was interested in his views on gun violence.
Rick offered that he has family Uvalde, where 19 elementary school students and two educators were murdered in a mass shooting last year. He explained that despite his staunchly pro-gun views, he felt like “something has to be done.”
Seeing a gap, I asked Rick what he thought should be done. He thought aloud about psychological testing for gun buyers, but concluded that these tests would be too difficult to administer.
I asked what he thought about “red flag” laws that allow the temporary removal of firearms if a gun owner determines they pose a risk of harming themselves or others. Rick hasn’t supported these types of laws because he doesn’t trust the process.
Are you working to combat military and veteran suicide by regulating access to firearms? No, he sees suicide as an individual decision.
What about restricting gun ownership for people with a history of domestic violence? Rick had mentioned that his legal work included handling sexual assault cases, so that seemed to play a minor role. But again, Rick wasn’t on board. In his opinion, there were too many cases of women falsely accusing their partners of domestic violence.
Although Rick was saddened by the recent mass shootings, he could not imagine what could be done to prevent them or offer concrete ways to address, let alone reform, our country’s gun culture.
Rick is not only a shooter, but also a father. He quickly told me that he keeps his guns in safes because he doesn’t want his children having access to them. Rick, in his own way, is trying to be part of the solution, and I told him that. But while Rick deserves recognition for advocating for the safe storage of firearms, this is not the case for many gun owners.
This is what researchers have foundthe majority of gun owners do not lock all of their guns. And studies have shown thatalmost 40% of parents in households with guns believe that their children do not have access to a gun, but the children do. Suicide rates arefour times higher for children and young people in households with weapons. Homicides and accidental shootings are also more likely in these homes.
Rick was intelligent, articulate, and rational, and I enjoyed talking to him. But our conversation provides a real-world example of why we should be skeptical of the idea that gun violence can be solved by finding common ground with gun owners. I doubt I could have changed Rick’s views even if we had talked the entire international flight.
Of course, Rick doesn’t speak for all gun owners. Most gun owners do support some legislative measures, although they often disagree about how much. Yet he echoed the pessimism of many gun owners and non-owners when he told me that our gun culture would never change.
As a young attorney many years ago, I advocated for low-income families on Chicago’s West Side to remain in their homes. Although my clients were grateful to be accommodated, many also told me that they were hesitant to sit on their porches or send their children to the park because of the threat of gun violence. Your experiences inspired me to dedicate my career to combating gun violence.
As a lawyer, I was trained to follow facts and evidence. I also take this approach in my work on gun violence. In this case, the evidence is clear: where there are more guns, there is more gun violence.
And while the movement to end gun violence has grown tremendously in the two decades I’ve been involved in this work, there is one problem: gun violence increasednot decreased since the early 2000s.
What Rick and others may not realize is that modern gun culture is actually fairly new. Twenty years ago, Most Americans knew it that owning a gun made them less safe and gun ownership in households decreased. Today, most people have bought into the myth that having a gun makes them safer – and that’s a misconception Increase in weapon use and in return, gun violence.
Embracing this myth is why I foundedunload project, Here, through social media campaigns and community partnerships, we reach young people with the facts about gun violence and empower them to change perspectives on the issue. Because where there are more guns, there is more gun violence, not less. And history shows that culture change often begins with young people being armed with the facts.
Adults are unlikely to change their coffee order, let alone their stance on an issue like guns, as my conversation with Rick proved. Young people, on the other hand, do open to changing their views and behaviors after learning about the problem.
Two decades ago, almost a quarter of teenagers smoked cigarettes. Today, less than 3% of teenagers do this – a generational shift sparked by large-scale cultural campaigns aimed at empowering them with information about the risks. If we educate teenagers about the facts about gun use, they will also become less interested in owning a gun.
When our flight landed, Rick and I wished each other well. In the days following our flight, I continued to think about our conversation. Like many gun owners, Rick felt that something needed to change and was deeply concerned about the gun violence crisis in America. But until we confront the fundamental truth that more guns make us less safe, we will continue to be stuck in a vicious cycle of more gun violence and heartbreak.
Note: Names and some details have been changed throughout this essay to protect the privacy of individuals.
Nina Vinik is the founder and managing director of Unload project, an organization that uses cultural campaigns to inspire the next generation to choose not to own guns. Before founding Project Unloaded, Vinik worked in gun violence prevention for two decades. She lives in Chicago.
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