The Oregonian has been running a fine series - as of today, unfortunately, concluded - of interview pieces profiling the attitudes of various Oregonians about guns. Many of them have been enlightening and thoughtful, but a pairing of two of them shines a bright light on the most serious and distinctive gun divide we have.
Both are of young men, both proud gun owners and advocates for gun ownership. What's different is their perspective and viewpoint underlying their attitudes.
Today's interview was with Brian Jarvis of Dallas, 29, owner of a rifle and pistol. He grew up in a rural family where gun ownership was simply an understood part of life, and understood in a particular way: "I was raised that a person’s ownership of firearms is a provision of family for food, for security and basically to set an example for the next generation."
That much, about his take on his world, is easier for someone from a different perspective to take, probably, than Jarvis' view of them: "What I see is people who are afraid of guns because they were not raised to see them in the same light that I was. They see the gangster on TV shooting up a block, bullets flying everywhere. That scares the tar out of me, too, but I sense that people who don’t own guns don’t want to learn about guns, and instead of stepping out and accepting the responsibility of our world and learning about them, they would rather take the right to own a gun away."
A mixed reaction here to this part. Jarvis overstates the eagerness of non-gun enthusiasts to "take the right to own a gun away" - no more than a sliver of people are in favor of that. He is probably correct, though, that many non-gun owners fail to take the trouble to learn more about guns before issuing pronouncements about them.
Still, on balance, a large majority of Americans probably could nod their heads in general agreement with most of Jarvis' perspective, even if their experience and his are a little different. As far as it goes, at least, his viewpoint represents something most Americans could likely accept; it's a mainstream view.
Here's a second interview, of Trevor LeeJack Francois of Gresham, 18, who's about to enter the Army. Here's the key line from his interview:
"I feel powerful with my guns. My dad doesn’t like me keeping them in my room, but I can’t live without them. I feel lost when they are not with me. We live in a crazy world, and I guess the guns help me feel safe."
Credit Francois this: He has opened up, and taken us to the heart of his thoughts.
Were you to deny Jarvis his firearms, he would (based on the interview we see) protest, and as argument for keeping his weapons would speak of tradition, culture, the ability to hunt for food, and some additional ability to defend himself. These points would not be hard to understand and deal with, even for people who aren't positioned the same way he is.
Were you to do the same to Francois, you're denying him a sense of personal power (that, presumably, he doesn't get elsewhere), exposure in a world of life and death, real peril, and a sense of being utterly lost. Confront a person with that, and what sort of political reaction would you expect?
The divide between someone like Jarvis and someone like Francois is the really important chasm in the gun debate, It is not the line between gun owners vs. non-owners or between Second Amendment advocates vs. some supposed cadre of gun seizers. This is the proximate point at which the issue becomes hard to resolve - when it reaches not a point of disagreement over details, but a point of panic.