Las Vegas Review-Journal

Can we have a civil discussion about gun control?

- Leslie Kouba Leslie Kouba is a columnist for

Isee our deeds and words as pebbles. Every day, we toss pebbles into the pond of life, causing never-ending ripples of expanding energy that reach farther than we can imagine. No matter the size, every pebble has the power to make the world better or worse; the choice is ours.

Sometimes, our pebbles feel too small. Many times I’ve had to tell myself, “Well, if nothing else, at least I’ve taught four humans how to read.” Size doesn’t matter. No matter how young or old, Black or white, liberal or conservati­ve, any of us may be — we affect our world whether we mean to or not. It’s unavoidabl­e. Our only choice is: Will we make life better, or will we cause pain?

After a recent column I wrote about how I want our elected representa­tives to pursue more meaningful gun regulation­s, I had no idea I’d receive so many emails. Some readers agreed with me. Some didn’t. I’m quite fine with disagreeme­nt. What I’m not OK with is being attacked and threatened for my opinion.

I wonder if those who expressed vindictive sentiments, all men by the way, would be willing to say the same words to my face. Most likely some would and some wouldn’t. I’m pretty sure the thin veil of an email emboldened a few. Either way, I’m confident at least some of the writers’ mothers would be mortified that their children would say such hateful things to anyone.

As I read the messages from the most outraged, I thought, why did you even read my column if you have such disdain and disrespect for others’ opinions? Then, I wondered, what if there are people who enjoy being cruel? I hope not.

I thoughtful­ly went through every email I received — not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but because understand­ing what others believe informs me. And if the understand­ing is mutual, we can then find meaningful middle ground, ideal for launching solutions for big challenges.

There’s no reason to fear others’ beliefs, no matter how different from ours. They can’t stick to us or force us to do anything. Most importantl­y, people don’t have to think alike to respect each other. Being respectful when discussing polarizing ideas is a lost art. Some think our society became meaner and angrier when a certain person ran for office and condoned bullying. Maybe, but maybe not.

The nastier the message, the more fear I sensed. It seemed my attackers were afraid they’d lose rights if others gained rights (such as the right to be safer in schools). No one claimed guns are more important than a kindergart­en kid surviving to first grade, but that’s how they talked. Guns are a problem but so is how we treat others who hold different values.

Maybe we could start with how we talk to each other. Civil conversati­ons where disagreein­g participan­ts listen twice as long as they speak and are mutually committed to show respect could truly change our culture.

Or should we start with how we think about each other? I tried to imagine the people behind those emails as I read their thoughts. Were they a dad? Did they work hard at their job, or were they retired? Did they have a wife or a daughter? Did they ever treat those close to them the way they treated me? Who were they beyond their cruel words, and could I care about that person? It took a bit of time, but I decided yes, I could. And I do.

If our big topic conversati­ons would start with appreciati­ng and valuing the person who thinks differentl­y than us, then we’d be able to hear each other better and, in turn, better understand where each other is coming from, even if we never agree.

The guys who wrote me nasty messages didn’t really see me — a slightly frumpy woman in her 60s, who is a mom, grandma and friend. I was dangerous to their preference­s. From their vantage point, they had to stand on me, foot on neck, to stand up for what they believed. That’s too bad. And sad. Unlike them, I can truthfully and joyfully declare, “If nothing else, at least I’ve been kind.”

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