The peace process was the term used by the Irish to describe their oft-faltering attempts to bring a decades long armed conflict to an end through an agreed political settlement.
It actually worked. Parties could not agree when the process had started or even when it ended, but after years of talks and setbacks Unionists entered a power-sharing executive with Nationalists and their society was utterly transformed.
In America the time for a temporary cessation of hostilities in pursuit of peace may also have arrived. The nation clearly needs a peace process of some kind -- and perhaps a respected outside mediator in the mold of Senator George Mitchell – to address the exploding crisis over guns.
Because clearly we can’t get the job done ourselves. Fully 90 percent of the nation – Democrats and Republicans – want much stricter gun controls. But a tiny faction within the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, and the wealthy lobby groups that influence their agenda effectively stymie every attempt at change.
It doesn’t help that so many Americans think that their society is already beyond help. Eighty percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 37 percent of Democrats all say restricting access to guns would not prevent killings.
But in Ireland we also thought our society was beyond help. In the early 1990s it looked like mayhem and senseless death would pursue us all our days. They almost did, but the peace process changed all that by changing all our minds about where we were and what we were capable of.
Outside mediators can see the path not taken and the forgotten angle, they can push past all the over familiar gripes and discover new ground. They were essential to the success of the Irish peace process, so why not here?
Is it wrong to suggest that America needs a peace process when there have been 73 different school shootings since the Newtown schoolchildren massacre?
America is in a defining moment now. A peace process could start with movement on background checks, a move that even the majority of NRA members support. Nine in 10 Americans support expanding background checks on gun purchases in every major public poll.
An outside mediator could help allay Congressional fears of voter retribution from the NRA. And they could push back against the radicalism of the fringe who are four times more likely to protest or phone their federal representatives as the national majority who support gun reform but do not agitate for it.
At present the nation’s lawmakers do not believe that supporting bans on assault weapons and high-capacity clips are political winner. They do not press for background checks or tighter gun control laws.
That’s our fault. It was not always so.
In December 1993, just days after the Brady Bill (named after Ronald Regan’s critically wounded press secretary James Brady) was signed into law, 70 percent of all Americans supported stricter gun control. By 1995 that number dropped to 59 percent, and by early 1996 it had fallen to just 48 percent.
But trends can swing back to a more positive direction. Organizations like the NRA live in fear of that fact, which is why they agitate ceaselessly and bankroll like there’s no tomorrow.
They live in fear of a mobilized voting public. Their organization exists to make you believe there is no other choice.
In Europe and Asia the image of the United States as a gun toting dystopia that cannot legislate for the crisis that menaces its own children has reached damaging proportions. It’s not Uncle Same but Yosemite Sam who is our standard bearer abroad now.
We’re fooling ourselves if we don’t see how damaging this is to our international prestige and our long term plans for the future. Instead we’re being held to ransom by a small, militant quasi-militia who want to live in a state of nature where the only rule is the rule of the gun.
Diplomacy is the only thing that can puncture the puffed rhetoric that surrounds us and bring change. For a century America has sent its most skilled diplomats to the worlds hotspots to address intractable political problems, it just so happens that the biggest one they’re facing now is homegrown.
Perhaps it’s time to call in a few favors.
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