Listen In: It’s time to embrace the complicated

Published 3:44 pm Sunday, July 24, 2016

A friend and I had a long conversation about the national gun debate recently. Let me stop you right now, I’m not going to discuss the merits of guns or the need for gun control — but I am going to talk about the deep complexity of the issue and our inherent need to boil arguments down to the simplest form.

My friend and I each have our own views on gun issues that neither of us usually promotes or does much to voice. At the paper, I need to be fair and balanced. I believe part of that is admitting and knowing my stance on issues to make sure it’s not affecting my work.

My friend talked about a recent TV ad where a gunman enters an office with an 18th century gun. He fires, missing everyone in the office, which sends workers fleeing as he starts the laborious process of reloading a Revolutionary War-era rifle. The ad ends by stating that our guns have changed, so our gun laws should too.

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My friend pointed out the ad made a good point; however, he wisely continued that the same logic could be applied to everything else in the Constitution since that was more than 200 years ago, noting how much everything has changed since then.

Here’s another example: freedom of speech. Last week, Twitter suspended Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative editor of Brietbart, after he was seen as an instigator for hateful posts targeting “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones.

We didn’t have Facebook, Twitter and social media when freedom of speech and freedom of the press were outlined. We didn’t have a cellphone with a camera and recording devices in most hands either. According to the notice, he was banned for violating “rules prohibiting participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals.”

Should we have the right to bully people online without any filter? I don’t have a good answer and our founding fathers probably didn’t either. I think back to my school days and learning about the 1919 U.S. Supreme Court decision where Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote that freedom of speech doesn’t cover something like yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater because it presented a “clear and present danger.”

We strive for the simple, easy answers and positions to our issues, and we often wrongly boil issues down to one side: You’re pro-gun or anti-gun, you’re for free speech or you’re against it, and so on.

But few of our political issues are ever truly black and white. They’re endlessly complex and deserved of discussion and debate, which must include weighing the other side’s view — even and especially when you don’t agree with it — in an open and honest way.

Let’s face the facts: No matter what people believe or tell you, no one side is ever really “right” in political debates; we just have a side or party we agree with more.

I don’t have the answers; in fact, I’m hard-pressed to hone my own opinion on some matters. But I know we need to do a better job of promoting robust discussions about key issues instead of latching onto one side.