Editorial: Guns and the art of compromise

It is heartening to see thousands of young people across America make their voices heard following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. However, it is still too easy to believe not much will change with gun violence in America.

Many reports of the student protests across the country have described the participants as filled with fury and impatient for change. That’s justified, and the criticism student protesters have received from some far right media personalities is disgusting. None of us should act like we understand how a survivor of a mass shooting should feel.

But, hopefully, we all recognize emotions of fury and impatience aren’t enough to produce meaningful change. That will require an action that used to be very adult-like but now is virtually nonexistent in American politics: compromise.

It is realistic to think some compromises can be reached on gun issues following the Florida killings. As was the case after other mass shootings, the attention of the public is trained on this issue. A majority of Americans believe something ought to change. But supporters of gun restrictions can’t overplay their hand. If they swing for the fences, they will strike out. At some point it must become clear to Democrats that they can’t be home run hitters on this issue until they start winning more elections.

But they can help fashion incremental change. For months now there has been support in both parties to limit the use of bump stocks, a type of device that makes a legal weapon function much like an illegal machine gun-like firearm. There’s disagreement over whether the change should come in the form of a law or an administrative regulation. A law would be preferable, but letting the issue get tied up over such a difference would be unwise.

Unwise also is a good description for much of the rhetoric this issue produces. Both sides need to quit treating guns, as conservative columnist David Brooks said, as a “sacred cross in the culture war.” Maybe such rhetoric is wise if your only goal is to energize your voting bloc, but it does little to produce solutions. Further, the right needs to recognize that the type of gun violence that is happening in America doesn’t happen everywhere else in the world. You don’t have to admit defeat to acknowledge that fact.

Likewise, the left needs to be realistic. Not one word of the Second Amendment is going to be changed. As sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, AR-15 rifles are still going to be legal in America at this time next year.

But maybe it is possible to start adding some provisions to U.S. law regarding background checks. Or maybe it is feasible to add some funding to the FBI or the ATF to better enforce existing laws. To accept such compromises doesn’t mean supporters can’t continue to push for greater change. Maybe there will be a day sometime in the future when that AR-15 rifle is illegal in America. But if it is to be a lasting change it seems likely it will have to be part of incremental change that produces a recalibration of attitudes in America.

There is, however, legitimate reason to worry whether our political system can produce that type of change anymore. There seems to be a mindset that if either side accepts a change that is not 100 percent to its liking that it is a sign of defeat. We must get past that sentiment because the true defeats in places like Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland are getting too painful to watch time and time again.