Gun control in America now a hot topic

When you vehemently disagree with someone, it can be hard to listen to what they have to say. Instead of hearing their views, you'll often only hear your own objections to them.

So listening is a skill that's the work of a lifetime really.  It’s one of the hardest things we ever learn to do. But it's also one of the most enlightening.

I know a little about this, having grown up in the north of Ireland, but of course every country and every individual has their own pieties. Blaspheme them and you'll get an earful, if you can bear to listen, that is. But if you can, it' almost always worth it.

When Vice President Joe Biden announces the proposals the administration is considering concerning gun trafficking and assault weapons this week I don't anticipate a principled debate will follow between the two political parties here. Instead, I expect more grandstanding and ideological stalemate, because that's increasingly where the business of the nation concludes.

One side is as bad as the other, people like to say. But are they really?

When it comes to concerns over guns and gun safety I don't think people have been listening to the increasingly belligerent rhetoric coming from the NRA-supporting side of the debate.  I've been listening, and I have to say I'm a little spooked.

Take Larry Ward, chairman of the so-called Gun Appreciation Day movement, for example. Ward wants American gun owners to turn out "en masse at gun stores, ranges and shows from coast to coast" on January 19 to "strike the fear of God in the gun-grabbing politicians."

If you're not sure what God has to do with guns, well, neither am I.  On Friday Ward told CNN he had created the first annual Gun Appreciation Day, which is set to fall, predictably, just before President Barack Obama’s inauguration and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, to "honor the legacy of Dr. King."

He said this without laughing. Ward added that slavery in the U.S. might never have happened if African Americans had owned guns.

To clarify, Martin Luther King is not alive today because he was shot dead by a gun. It beggars belief that this howlingly misguided individual, with his near perfect ignorance, dares to suggest that his Gun Appreciation Day could honor King's legacy, or could have altered the course of slavery in America, for God’s sake. Choosing to celebrate guns and co-opt the blessing of a man of peace who was shot dead with a rifle seems to me to be beyond crass.

And remember what started this debate. Twenty innocent children and six faculty members at the Sandy Hook school, all dead at the hand of another young man with a grudge who had access to high powered weapons.

But Sandy Hook and the horror of what occurred there have clearly not forced gun enthusiasts to search their own consciences. Rather, it has underlined what is really animating the gun debate -- paranoia and deep suspicion of your neighbor and of your government.

It turns out there's an awful lot of anxiety among conservatives that you'll get rolled by your fellow patriots in the land of the free.

In eastern Kentucky a local sheriff told the press he will simply refuse to enforce any new gun laws, claiming his first duty is to protect the U.S. Constitution. You can be fairly sure, of course, that he'll revise that first duty once a Republican president has been safely elected, but let's not quibble here.

Sheriff Denny Peyman, looking like he was on the verge of tears, told the press he would be deeply ashamed to have to explain to the founding fathers why the U.S. was currently any kind of debating gun control. But perhaps if the founding fathers could have seen the unspeakable destructive power of a AR 15 semi-automatic, they might have been deeply ashamed that Peyman ever thought he was speaking for them.

There are even more egregious examples of the kind of toxic rhetoric that are making the rounds of the demoralized and politically routed GOP and its Tea Party outlier.

Take conservative columnist Larry Klayman. He called Biden’s gun task force recommendations, which haven’t even been released yet, "a declaration of war against the American people and our way of life." Talk about pearl clutching.

Fellow columnist Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel is also busy envisaging a "second civil war" under Obama. He claimed last week that liberals celebrate school shootings, adding that the National Education Association is to blame for the Sandy Hook massacre.

"No one’s taking my guns either. Period," said Barber. "I plan to buy more -- a bunch more. In fact, who’s to say I don’t already have a veritable arsenal? Point is, tain’t Big Brother Barack’s nor any other candy-keistered-liberal-cream-puff’s bloody business whether I do or not."

This is the language of confrontation and dismissal, of course. This language contains dog whistles and put downs and plays to the to the basest prejudices of the people listening. It plays to them in the knowledge that they have not and will ever listen to the other side.

If 20 dead children can't make them think again, nothing can. But don't take my word for it. Listen to them yourself.