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LPS town hall, 04.05.2018

An audience member holds a Nebraskans Against Gun Violence sign during a town hall meeting on school safety Thursday in Lincoln.

KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star

Perhaps the loudest cheer of a recent forum on student safety came after an attendee’s forceful plea to solve gun violence: “Nobody needs a f****** semiautomatic rifle.”

On the surface, that might sound appealing to many supporters of stricter gun regulations, given that weapons such as the AR-15 — used in the shooting that killed 17 in a Florida high school — would fall under the category. Chatter about such a ban has increased in recent months.

To gun owners, though, this proposal presents an obvious problem: It criminalizes the firearms used lawfully by hunters in addition to those commonly classified as assault weapons.

This illustrates perhaps the greatest roadblock to finding common ground on the divisive topic of guns. Too often, zeal drives while facts are relegated to the backseat. A lack of knowledge and understanding of why others think differently only perpetuates anger and discord that overshadow any discussion of the proper balance of gun rights and restrictions with those who hold different views.

Everyone wants to end the senseless slaughter of innocents, but it seems we as a nation are too entrenched in our individual viewpoints to understand those with whom we disagree. Such narrow-mindedness promotes tribalism and an unwillingness to see the other side.

Part of the problem comes with the utter ease with which intelligent individuals can wrap themselves in echo chambers.

Many who want stricter gun control have never been around law-abiding gun owners and can’t understand the allure of these weapons. Others who are comfortable around firearms, meanwhile, fail to grasp how their familiarity with guns isn’t universal.

Nothing is inherently wrong with either perspective. But before demonizing the other side, learn why people hold their beliefs. What good does it do to brand gun-rights advocates as some kind of ignorant Yosemite Sams? Or labeling those who support stricter gun laws as freedom-hating hippies?

Nothing productive occurs as a result, but plenty of irreparable damage can be done to civil discourse along the way. Since compelling arguments can be made on both sides — hear us out, regardless of your own persuasions — people can dig their heels in without ever being exposed to other opinions.

The semiautomatic rifle debate referenced above, just one of countless threads comprising the broad tapestry of guns in America, illustrates how nuanced any gun discussion must be to encompass the full picture. Unfortunately, that nuance is often lost as a side effect of the fervor stoked by what’s increasingly become a controversial conversation.

The Second Amendment guarantees Americans won’t live without guns. We must learn to live with them in a way that reduces the mass shootings plaguing this country — and that can’t happen until we begin to better understand one another.

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