Opinion: A Republican and a Democrat Talk About Guns

Late last Sunday, 58 people were shot and killed while enjoying a country music performance in Las Vegas. Friday afternoon, I sat down with one of my best friends – a Republican – and we talked about gun violence.

Mike Cocomazze and I aren’t two people whose friendship makes a lot of sense on paper. He is a registered (albeit relatively moderate) Republican. And he loves guns. We’ve sparred over gun issues multiple times over the years, but there’s a reason I’m still friends with Mike and actively seek out his perspective on a variety of issues: he’s infinitely reasonable. Mike isn’t an ideologue, and he’s capable of being swayed by differing opinions or contradictory evidence. In this way, I think he is an outlier among conservatives, and in this way our conversation was limited, and I’m not confident it can be replicated on a larger scale.

This conversation shouldn’t be construed as both-sides-ism. The evidence is clear that higher rates of gun ownership correlate with higher rates of gun violence. Countless studies suggest a variety of policies – waiting periods, universal background checks, buyback programs, limits on magazine capacity – can and do reduce the rate of gun death. The point of this wasn’t to debate policy, it was to understand a different perspective.

What’s the value in that, you ask? Democratic politicians and policy-makers are bad at forming a message on gun control, and until we seriously reconsider how we talk about gun violence we are going to keep losing. And the stakes are too high to keep losing.

Devon: What’s your earliest memory of guns?   

Mike: Around four or five years old, mostly seeing them in movies and TV, plus my dad having one for the Florida Highway Patrol.

Can you describe your gut reaction when people start talking about gun control?

Annoyance. Mostly because they don’t know what they’re talking about.

What do you mean specifically?

People expressing how they think gun control would work like magic.

Okay, so we can use that to move to policy. I think a pretty common sense gun safety measure is waiting periods. Not only would they cut down on impulse gun violence by creating a cooling off period, but they would dramatically reduce gun suicides. Would you support a ten day waiting period for gun purchases?

If I remember correctly I’m pretty sure some states and companies have waiting periods, so I wouldn’t totally be against it.

Only six states and DC require firearm registration of any form whatsoever. Many states require the reporting of firearm sales and transfers, but that’s obviously hard to enforce. In Florida, it is literally illegal to establish a firearm registry. Would you support the creation of a federal firearm registry, compiled into a database, accessible only to federal, state, and local law enforcement?

If done right, yes. I don’t think a database should hold details of the person, but rather the firearm and where that firearm is located. I’m sure there are many people on both sides that don’t feel like being a part of another database, government or not.

Do you think the belief that mass registration will lead to mass confiscation is fair? It seems like that’s how the NRA and others always frame the issue.

I personally don’t, but I understand why many people do. I’d like to think any legislation that affects any of the first 10 amendments should be approached with extreme consideration.

To stay on the issue of confiscation: Australia actually did confiscate certain types of gun en masse following a shooting in 1996. Many studies have suggested it did a lot to curb gun homicide. Setting aside whether it would be effective, is there any scenario in which you might support a similar program for semi-autos or the remaining grandfathered automatics?

I’d continue supporting buyback programs at the state and local level.

Voluntary or involuntary?

Voluntary, with a strong emphasis on amnesty and some incentives.

There are always ways in which voluntary buybacks won’t work. They won’t do much to get guns away from people who actively use them to commit crimes. If those people continue to commit gun crime because we don’t institute any mandatory confiscation, is that a fair trade-off?

People will commit gun crime whether [the buyback] is voluntary or not. That’ll be an entirely different issue for law enforcement, but I don’t think the public will react well to mandatory confiscation.

Should we mandate background checks for every type of gun purchase, even private exchanges?

I think we can start with appropriate background checks at the retail and online level. Private will be a bigger challenge.

The issue is that some unlicensed dealers get around background check requirements by claiming to be private sellers. It’s the infamous “gun show loophole.” Do we just need to do more to make sure dealers are properly licensed?

I think checking and licensing are essential. But it should be done right, to the point that a person wanting to buy guns or a person wanting to sell guns isn’t discouraged by the amount of red tape.

Reducing firearm ownership would dramatically improve the safety of law enforcement. Why isn’t gun control more popular among law enforcement?

I’d say because the constant training, and respect for a firearm a law enforcement officer is trusted with. They spend weeks training with them and then constantly re-train every year or month. They also accept the risks of being a LEO and are more concerned with preparing how to outgun a perp rather than safely assuming they are the only ones armed. Plus, it’s in their oath. Officers will uphold the Constitution – which obviously includes the Second Amendment, and therefore warrants a certain respect. Consider if there was legislation that would open up the 4th amendment a little bit; while it may make an LEOs job easier, I don’t think many would be quick to support it because it would be in violation of the Constitution.

Every time one of these shootings happens, both sides become entrenched and nothing ever gets done. Democrats think the issue is hopeless and don’t seek compromise. Republicans think the policies are useless and don’t seek compromise. How do we bridge that gap and pass laws that reduce gun homicide?

Like I said earlier, language. When you have one side blaming the NRA for everything that’s wrong, and the other side yelling at a political party for everything that’s wrong, nothing will ever get done. While individuals who push policies and ideas should be held accountable, millions of people align with these organizations and parties. Both sides need to think more for the country and seek compromises that will benefit both sides. We’re so quick to unite the country when some other country gets blown apart, but when it’s our own we become even more divided – mostly because of the wording used by both sides.

Thanks for speaking with me. Any final thoughts?

That’ll do it!


This transcript was edited for clarity and length.

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