Looking Beyond our Perceptions to Find Solutions

No one wants to rid the world of violence more than me and I have no doubt some of you reading this article have thought or said aloud that very same conviction.

I also know no matter how hard we try, no matter how sincere we are in this belief, it will never happen. In lieu of the absolute, we must acknowledge the best we can hope for is a reduction in violent events that impact our communities.

When I speak of violence, I am talking about any act that harms or creates a condition of distress to an innocent individual, regardless of the weapon used in the commission of that act. There is good news in this regard. Between 1993 and 2016 (our most recent data) violent crime in America has fallen by a low analysis of 48 percent (FBI) and a high analysis of 74 percent (DOJ: Bureau of Justice). The reason for the difference between each survey is that the FBI collects data from more than 18,000 law enforcement entities on an annual basis, and the DOJ conducts an annual survey of more than 90,000 homes. Aside from the collection method, this is still good news regardless of which statistic you choose to focus on, but you would not know this based on the perception many in our society hold.

According to numerous Gallup surveys over the same time period “at least 6 in 10 Americans said there was more crime in the U.S. compared with the year before, despite the generally downward trend in national violent and property crime rates during much of that period.” Perception and reality are of little consequence, and statistics are of little comfort when we talk about the illegal use of firearms, especially as we watched the horror of events such as Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and Parkland unfold before our eyes.

Don’t think for a moment these events don’t touch me in a very profound way. But perception is not reality, and only serves as a roadblock to advancing a conversation.

We live in a world in which many people have the impression that school shootings (and mass shootings in general) are an epidemic in America. Statistics do not bear that out (https://tinyurl.com/perceptionwrong).

Yet, mass shootings drive the conversation, which tends to lead to the over-reliance on our emotional reaction and not our rational response. I am not suggesting our initial response when these incidents first occur is in any way irrational. However, my experience as a soldier and police officer tells me little can be accomplished in the absence of rational discussion.

I know some of you will see this as a “cold” statement, but it is just the opposite. In our desire “to rid the world of violence,” we owe it to the victims to convert the emotion of the moment into a thought process that will bring together a group of people who share the same desire: reducing the illegal use of firearms. That is a common goal shared by the “two sides” of this debate, but unfortunately a point far too many believe is not true. This is why many believe we are stuck at an impasse.

In response to some of my recent columns regarding firearms in America, some of you asked that I offer solutions, my thoughts regarding the illegal use of firearms, or in the words of one reader “ending gun violence, what would you do to stop the needless slaughter of innocent children?”

It is not unfair for readers to ask if I have any solutions to the issues we discuss every week. Nor should you find it unreasonable that I ask in return that your request be sincere and open to a fair review. Usually, when we try to have a conversation regarding our shared desire to eliminate violence in our society, inevitably the discussion focuses almost solely on firearms. However, in an effort to reduce violence, there are measures we can take that focus on the perpetrator, regardless of the weapon.

Consider this article a preface to my next article, when I will offer thoughts on possible solutions regarding the illegal use of firearms and on preventing violent events in our communities. I will assume nothing as to how I believe my thoughts will be perceived by you as readers, just as you should not assume you will disagree with everything I have to offer. Regardless of where we may be on the spectrum concerning firearms, we share the same goal: stopping the illegal use of firearms. And that is a great starting point.

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