In my last post, I expressed my appreciation to Nicholas Kristof for his efforts to remind us that we can work together and find solutions, even to the hardest of issues.
I thought that today I’d share a couple of examples of how that is done. Just a couple, because I haven’t been saving them up or anything — these moved in the last few days. And they deal with the same issue as Kristof was writing and talking about — guns.
I’ve praised in the past the regular exchanges between Gail Collins and Bret Stephens that the NYT posts under the heading of “The Conversation.” They’re not only instructive, but fun to read. What we have here is a pretty orthodox liberal — but with a sense of humor — and a never-Trump conservative who obviously enjoy interacting over issues upon which they disagree.
Their latest installment moved Saturday and is headlined, “One Nation, Under Guns.” This one is not a classic left-right discussion, because Stephens isn’t wedded to the extremes of the right. For instance, he says such things as:
The United States seems to have a not-so-secret death cult that believes that the angry god known as the Second Amendment must be periodically propitiated through ritual child sacrifice….
You know, it used to be that Republicans weren’t all bonkers on this subject. I remember George H.W. Bush quitting the National Rifle Association over some outrageous comments it made back in the 1990s — and the N.R.A. actually apologizing to him. I also remember when people could support the general principle of a right to bear arms without thinking it was a limitless principle, just as conservatives used to claim to appreciate the idea that rights had to carry corresponding responsibilities in a sane and civilized society….
Between her usual wisecracks (which make her fun to read), Gail seizes the opportunity to try to move her colleague a bit further in the direction of agreement:
Once again, we are in accord. But let me push a bit. If the real problem is mental health, isn’t it time to produce a big, bipartisan, Senate-ready bill appropriating a serious amount of money for mental-health treatment? Something that would let teachers, counselors, sports coaches and other caring authority figures easily summon up services for troubled kids?..
And it works, because Bret responds, “Sign me up for that. It should be a national priority, especially postpandemic.”
No, this isn’t a classic pro-gun-vs.-anti-gun debate. But that’s because they are intelligent, thinking people, not flat cut-outs who think it helps somehow to yell at each other. I bring it to your attention as much as anything to invite you to read these “Conversatons” regularly, if you can get past the paywall. (I subscribe, so I don’t have that problem. I assure you I have found the subscription worthwhile, although it’s not cheap.)
For a more stark contrast, check out “We Clerked for Justices Scalia and Stevens. America Is Getting Heller Wrong.” It’s written by Kate Shaw (who clerked for Stevens) and
Their subject is District of Columbia v. Heller, “in which the court held for the first time that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to gun ownership.”
They both revere their former bosses, and they disagree to this day on their interpretations of the 2nd Amendment:
We continue to hold very different views about both gun regulation and how the Constitution should be interpreted. Kate believes in a robust set of gun safety measures to reduce the unconscionable number of shootings in this country. John is skeptical of laws that would make criminals out of millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens who believe that firearm ownership is essential to protecting their families, and he is not convinced that new measures like bans on widely owned firearms would stop people who are willing to commit murder from obtaining guns.
Kate believes that Justice Stevens’s dissent in Heller provided a better account of both the text and history of the Second Amendment and that in any event, the method of historical inquiry the majority prescribes should lead to the court upholding most gun safety measures, including the New York law pending before the Supreme Court. John believes that Heller correctly construed the original meaning of the Second Amendment and is one of the most important decisions in U.S. history. We disagree about whether Heller should be extended to protect citizens who wish to carry firearms outside the home for self-defense and, if so, how states may regulate that activity — issues that the Supreme Court is set to decide in the New York case in the next month or so….
But they agree on one important thing: That Americans, from lawmakers to the rest of us, have misunderstood Heller, and seen it as a barrier to effective gun control, which it should not be.
Heller does not totally disable government from passing laws that seek to prevent the kind of atrocities we saw in Uvalde, Texas. And we believe that politicians on both sides of the aisle have (intentionally or not) misconstrued Heller. Some progressives, for example, have blamed the Second Amendment, Heller or the Supreme Court for atrocities like Uvalde. And some conservatives have justified contested policy positions merely by pointing to Heller, as if the opinion resolved the issues.
Neither is fair. Rather, we think it’s clear that every member of the court on which we clerked joined an opinion — either majority or dissent — that agreed that the Constitution leaves elected officials an array of policy options when it comes to gun regulation….
They go on to quote Scalia himself in mentioning measures are not at all prevented by Heller, and that could be quite effective in preventing horrific shootings.
Anyway, I urge you to read it if you can. I think it’s a very helpful piece, and particularly hope lawmakers on both sides of the issue will read it and learn from it.
This is the way grownups talk about difficult issues — not yelling to try to shut each other up — but looking for the ways forward to solutions.
I’m going to try to be more alert than ever to such examples, and share them with you, to the extent that I can…