Vartan: Silicon Valley needs a public discussion on guns

Between toxic politics and partisan dysfunction, we now have something I believe is important to all Americans: safety and freedom.

Guns have become an evil topic in just about any public setting. Many think if you talk to a “Democrat,” you might hear the only way to protect our children and communities is to implement “common sense” gun laws. And if you talk to a “Republican,” you might hear failing laws are the problem and more unenforceable laws are putting our children at risk.

I put the “parties” in quotes, because it is an example of using labels to categorize large groups of people with an ideology, and then attack it. One extreme feels there is no need for any weapons (of war) in society, and the other says more guns means less crime. Both extremes can cite examples that support their positions, and I would suggest the majority of this country wants to feel safe and feel protected. Are banning certain firearms the answer? Are greater accountability laws necessary? Is federal oversight the answer? How will citizens feel their Second Amendment rights are protected? Is freedom itself being attacked?

This country was founded on the need to defy oppression and to be able to defend oneself from tyranny… and today, that danger can look like the guy next door. No one is willing to make any concession for fear of being seen as weak or that it may lead to an extreme path (like confiscation or the wild west). I believe we need to have an honest discussion that is not hosted by the NRA or Bloomberg or CNN or Americans for Responsible Solutions.

I would like to make a simple request of anyone in power or with political influence to work with me to convene a workshop on guns, right here in Silicon Valley. Imagine a balanced, non-yelling, non-blustering, respectful discussion that includes both sides of the gun debate, and has a balanced panel. And leaving plenty of runway for design, the panel could be six (three from each side of the issue) and include extreme views as well as more moderate views.

“Common sense gun laws” might mean something to one person and the opposite to another. That doesn’t make one right or wrong. We all know you can’t reason with emotion, so why are we using the pain of tragedy to guide a solution without a deeper, balanced and honest dialog? No one I know wants illegal gun activity. Period.

And maybe the next step is new gun legislation or maybe it is better enforcement of existing laws. But one thing is for sure — we need to be able to have civil, rational and respectful discussions. We won’t create the solutions in an op-ed; we need to demand a convening with thought leaders and policymakers to hear the issues in a moderated format where the only agenda is having a better understanding of the opposing views.

The Second Amendment is not a partisan thing, yet it is used as blue vs. red all the time. And in the midst of all this tragedy, what can we do to get more support for change? We need much more than just voting in a party to pass laws that could alienate large populations who aren’t included in the discussion.

This is my standing call to action: if you are willing to invest your time into a workshop focused on the guns in our community, I am asking you to reach out to me at guns@kvartan.com. We need to do this quickly — not in a year and not in six months — but start planning now to get it done in 2 to 3 months, in a venue that will allow for participation and a place that welcomes everyone.

Full disclosure: I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, a strong supporter of respectful disagreement and someone who holds progressive views on how to strengthen our communities. And I believe with the right people (regionally and politically connected), we can have a meaningful discussion on the challenges of and opportunities for guns in our society, allowing our elected leaders to make informed and representative decisions.

Kirk Vartan is a community advocate, co-founder of Catalyze SV and owner of A Slice of New York.

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