In the past few weeks, headlines have blared one mass shooting after another, all across America. Uvalde began the recent spate of violence, and the Washington Post reports that “At least 15 mass shootings have taken place across the United States since Tuesday, from California to Arizona to Tennessee.” Over the Memorial Day weekend alone, Americans suffered 12 mass shootings. After we filmed this episode, a shooting broke out on South Street in Philadelphia.
What can be done?
In this week’s Good Faith podcast, David French and I attempt to make sense of it all.
In this complex conversation, we attempt to answer the following questions:
How can we actually talk to people “on the other side” of the gun debate, people who come from different perspectives — culturally and politically — by using our own stories?
What are the various tensions between gun rights and gun control and the hyper-polarized responses we are apt to have on one side or the other?
How did certain segments of society change from “gun culture” to “gun fetish culture?”
What is the “Christian position” on gun reform?
How can we take a step back to think through the “how” of approaching such a complex issue versus just the “what” of our preferred policy outcome?
In the excerpt below, David and I share our stories of how we perceived guns from childhood.
CURTIS CHANG: The conversation both in politics and in personal relationships goes off the rails very quickly if you immediately adopt an us versus them framework. With a “them” is out to get “us” framework. And at least one way to moderate the us versus them instinct that is so strong is to actually understand the human story of the other person that holds a different view. It’s probably helpful even for our conversation to start with “what’s our story? What’s our story with guns in particular?” Because the research shows that where you stand or where you end up on gun control is significantly determined by your own life history including from a very early age or childhood. Did you grow up with guns? Did you grow up shooting guns? Did your parents have guns? Ends up being a pretty strong predictor of where you are on guns. So I almost feel like a helpful first step if you’re gonna talk about guns is just to declare hey what’s my own personal narrative relative to guns? What’s my relationship to guns like? So I could start and then I’d actually like to hear yours ’cause I think we’re gonna have two different stories here.
DAVID FRENCH: We might.
CURTIS CHANG: So I grew up in an immigrant culture. It is not a gun culture. The whole, you know, the instrument that we would’ve held up as a, something close to a revered object to be passed down from one generation to another was not guns, it was like musical instruments. You know we were, we were if anything piano and violins, like “don’t touch my violin and pianos” would’ve been the thing that would’ve been the protected instrument that we would’ve, you know wanted, wanted to uphold in our culture. And I don’t know if there was, there was never any regulation against concealed carries of violins and violas but if there was I think my community would’ve rallied against that.
Guns were just not in our lives. Now personally, I was fascinated with guns. But that was in a military context. I, as you know, David you and I do share is we’re both military history buffs. And so I loved to study guns. You know, I can tell you why the NG-42 was the superior infantry squad weapon of choice in World War II. But what’s foreign is when that weapon got inserted into the household, into you know one’s own sort of personal lives or family life. That was bizarre to me. I just never experienced that. I don’t think I knew a single family growing up in the Chinese American community that owned guns. Didn’t know anybody that went hunting. Even to this day, I don’t own a gun. The closest thing I have to a weapon in my house is, is David is my compound hunting bow. And, and I don’t even hunt like living beings with it. The closest thing is I shoot at is a styrofoam deer on my target, at the target range I go to. So I have not, I don’t think I have, I’m trying to remember. I don’t actually think I have fired a live gun yet which —
DAVID FRENCH: Really, in your whole life?
CURTIS CHANG: Yeah, I don’t think so. I can’t, I can’t remember. Not, not of anything of high caliber anyways, you know maybe air guns and that sort of thing. I think the closest thing I came to carrying like a machine gun or assault weapon was actually at the fantasy baseball league draft that you hosted David, where you took us out to the simulation range, where we all were outfitted with like heavy tactical weapons and thrown into various virtual simulations with guns that were equipped to shoot with pneumatic pressure what it was like. And I was like, “oh, I think this is the first time I’ve ever fired a semi-automatic or automatic weapon.” I can’t even remember firing a handgun. So, so this is, and I know this is why for me I am, I am so inclined towards strong gun control laws.
DAVID FRENCH: I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have a gun in the house. I shot a gun for the first time. I was so young. I don’t remember when that was. So I was young enough. I remember shooting a .22. I remember it was a .22, which is sort of like the, if you grow up where I grew up that’s your first gun that you shoot is a .22, ’cause it’s got very, very low recoil. And I remember shooting a .22. I literally don’t remember when that was. It was young elementary school.
CURTIS CHANG: With your dad?
DAVID FRENCH: No, a friend. I went out with a friend. And that was no big deal. You’re going out with a friend and you’re gonna shoot guns. No big deal, right? There was never a time that I can remember where we didn’t have a gun in the house. I don’t remember the time before. I mean, I have memories of being a kindergarten or first grader or whatever, but from the point where you’re sort of more fully formed as a person, I don’t remember a time where I didn’t shoot guns. And my entire adult life, I’ve had a gun, at least one gun in the home for self defense. And I’m not a hunter. I’ve never really gotten into hunting. I don’t enjoy it that much. And so I’m not a hunter. I own guns because I enjoy target shooting. So I have some guns that we use for target shooting. My son got into trap and skeet. So we have some shotguns that were in trap and skeet. And by the way, listeners, if you have a kid who says I would really like shooting sports. Two things about that. One, they’re a ton of fun, and the whole sort of like when you go to an event, there’s a really great spirit about it. It’s a lot of fun. But number two, it’s so expensive. If your kid is like, “Ah, maybe I’ll try it,” watch your checkbook, ’cause my goodness it’s expensive. But let’s put that aside for a minute.
CURTIS CHANG: Wait, David, hold on. I wanna ask. In your early memories of shooting a gun, what was your early memory of what it felt like? What was the feeling?
DAVID FRENCH: It was fun. Target shooting is fun. It’s kind of tough to explain if you’ve never done it before. But if you put up a line of like apples or Coke cans or whatever, it’s fun. It’s a challenge. It’s fun. So I don’t remember, because it was so demystified. I mean, it was never at any point, was it… You were taught from the beginning that you treat a gun with caution, extreme caution. So you’re taught all of the rules. But once you’re taught the rules and you understand the rules and how to be safe, it’s demystified. And so you never had this sense of ooh, you know? It was more like, okay, what are the rules? Here are the rules. I’m being closely supervised. Here’s what we’re gonna do. You’re shown. You’re taught how to handle it. And especially when you’re younger, you don’t really have this sort of sense of this is something that is a subject of contention or controversy. It’s more like this is what you do. This is what you learn when you’re growing up. And so that’s where I always was. It was what I did. It was just what I learned. And I didn’t shoot a bunch when I was growing up. Just a moderate amount. But then I had a gun for self defense my entire adult life.
And Nancy, our special guest last week, also grew up completely around guns. She shot guns when she was younger. She would go deer hunting with her dad. So we both grew up in that environment where owning a gun, I don’t think she has a memory of a household that didn’t have a gun. But that’s what I would recall gun culture and the extent that you are used to being around guns, you understand guns, you know the rules of dealing with guns. You purchase guns for specific purposes, whether it’s target shooting or hunting or self defense, and you just know them. Then there’s something else that’s happened in more recent years that I call gun fetish. And this is something that you, if you see like a Christmas card from a Congressman and every single member of the family has an assault weapon, so-called assault weapon, of some sort, or Congresswoman Lauren Boebert and how she has crossed AR-15s behind her when she talks and how it seems to be almost mandatory for a Republican politician in some parts of the country to pose with an AR-15. That’s what I call gun fetish culture and that is alien to me, because the issue with guns was not that they had special meaning, in other words, an elevated meaning. It’s that they were sort of a normal part of life. They were a normal part of life, not a central part of life. And I think that that’s the difference between gun culture, these guns are a normal part of life, versus gun fetish, which these guns are a central part of life.
[This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.]
HOSTS: Curtis Chang and David French
PRODUCER: Kris Carter
The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday on The Dispatch. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.
PHOTO CREDIT: Maryland GovPics “Rally to Prevent Gun Violence” by Jay Baker at Annapolis, MD.