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Of Guns and iPhones

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 26/02/2016 Randy Paul Oetinger
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I often find myself maintaining opinions and positions which are not at the extremes, but rather they are closer to the middle. So, when prevailing opinions are being held at the extremes about a particular topic, I usually find that my moderate opinion about that topic ends up having something for everybody to hate and nothing for anybody to love. As a new blogger, I confess to having some discomfort with alienating almost everybody with my opinion. Like, who wants to follow that? And yet express this opinion I must, with a sincere hope that it will be loved and not hated.
The conservatives and liberals in America have something very powerful in common: They both deeply mistrust their government, as well as the other political faction. It seems as if dividedness alone now unifies us.
That is no great surprise. What is surprising is how similar are the lines of reasoning used when venting that mistrust, and how that manifests itself regarding how we approach two very heated and what might appear to be dissimilar debates: Guns and iPhones.
Conservatives hold gun ownership to be constitutionally sacrosanct. Liberals hold personal privacy to be constitutionally sacrosanct.
Conservatives, when it comes to curbing their gun rights, fear a slippery slope. Specifically, if we let the government take away some guns, if we let them take away one kind of gun, they fear that will begin a process whereby the government takes away all of their guns.
Liberals, when it comes to curbing their privacy rights, fear a slippery slope. Specifically, if we let the government take away some privacy rights, if we let them hack into one phone, they fear that will begin a process whereby the government invades the privacy of all of their phones.
Conservatives would rather allow criminals full access to guns than give up any guns of their own; they deeply believe it is far more dangerous to take any guns from anybody than to allow everybody, including criminals, to possess them.
Liberals would rather allow criminals full access to a permanent privacy than give up any privacy of their own; they deeply believe it is far more dangerous to take privacy away from anybody than to allow everybody, including criminals, to fully possess it.
It is not that conservatives want a more dangerous world. They truly believe the world is a more dangerous place if the government takes away any of our guns.
It is not that liberals want a more dangerous world. They truly believe the world is a more dangerous place if the government takes away any of our privacy.
The arguments each side uses against the other side are also very similar.
Conservatives argue that criminals are empowered if we give them too much privacy, and indeed, it is easy to imagine that criminals would benefit from being able to permanently hide vital evidence which would be used against them.
Liberals argue that criminals are empowered if we give them too much access to guns, and indeed, it is easy to imagine that criminals would benefit from having access to more weaponry and firepower.
Guns are not anything like iPhones, it is true, and so analogies are tenuous. However, both can and certainly will be utilized to carry out crimes. There is no doubt whatsoever that guns will be used by criminals going forward. Why wouldn't they use guns? There is also no doubt whatsoever that Apple iPhones, if evidence can be effectively and permanently hidden there, will be used by criminals going forward. Why wouldn't they use iPhones?
Guns help criminals. We can debate whether or not having guns in the hands of everybody as a matter of inalienable constitutional right is good or bad for society, but certainly the guns are helping the criminal cause.
Permanently encrypted iPhones also help criminals. We can debate whether or not that permanent encryption in the hands of everybody as a matter of inalienable constitutional right is good or bad for society, but certainly such iPhones are helping the criminal cause.
Both conservatives and liberals hold their views with extreme fervor. Conservatives will gladly die for their right to guns. Liberals will gladly die for their right to privacy. Neither side is willing to yield to the middle ground. As far as I can tell, there is no moderate ground held by today's conservatives about gun rights, nor is there moderate ground held by today's liberals about privacy rights. On both sides it is rather all-or-nothing because of mistrust towards the other faction and fear of the slippery slope.
And, of course, it also means that compromise is rendered effectively impossible in either case. Is there a more moderate position one might take about guns and maintain fidelity to the Constitution? Certainly. Is there a more moderate position one might take about privacy and maintain fidelity to the Constitution? Certainly.
What prevents us from arriving at the more moderate ground in each case? Again, the motivations and arguments are nearly identical.
Conservatives mistrust government too much and, frankly, they mistrust liberals too much to ever cede an inch of territory about guns. If they do, they fear liberal government will rip away their most deeply cherished rights.
Liberals mistrust government too much and, frankly, they mistrust conservatives too much to ever cede an inch of territory about privacy. If they do, they fear conservative government will rip away their most deeply cherished rights.
Conservatives think liberals are blind about both guns and privacy. Liberals think conservatives are blind about both guns and privacy.
Here's the thing: Neither side is blind at all, but merely myopic. Each side is so poisoned by mistrust they are unable to compromise with the other side or even seriously consider their perspective, and both sides are 100% entrenched in cynicism towards their government. Both sides believe the worst thing we can do is give the government any freedom whatsoever to touch our pet constitutional ideal while simultaneously believing the best thing we can do is give the government absolute freedom to touch the other side's pet constitutional ideal.
So, liberals are all for the government severely regulating gun ownership to reduce shootings and promote domestic tranquility. Somehow liberals swell with trust in the authorities when it comes to banning our guns. And, conversely, conservatives are all for the government breaking into a criminal's iPhone to execute justice and promote domestic tranquility. Somehow conservatives swell with trust in the authorities when it comes to invading our privacy.
It is interesting to note: It isn't that trust is impossible for us, but that we are only willing to trust those who think exactly as we do about government. Maybe, just maybe, the people who don't think exactly as we do are more trustworthy than we suppose. Maybe, just maybe, we do all want the same things.
Is it certainly wrong to ban the most powerful and lethal guns? Is it certainly wrong to break into the iPhones of people we strongly suspect are criminals? Is it possible certainty is, in both cases, not completely justified?
Is it possible that the conservatives are my brothers and sisters and also that the liberals are my brothers and sisters? Could the truth - what we should act upon when we govern ourselves - in fact be both?
Why is civility important and extreme partisan politics poisonous? What works - the correct way forward - is almost always to be found nearer the middle ground, the place where compromise happens. Guns are not sacred, nor is privacy, but rather balance and justice.
Who brings justice in our society? We entrust that to our government - and so we must, unless we want to live by vigilante groups and mete out justice by hangings and burnings.
There is a life-or-death lesson we must all soon take to heart: The government is not our enemy, nor is the other side of the political divide. When we act as though our fellow citizens are our enemies and the enemies of freedom, we paralyze our ability to govern ourselves, and we put ourselves in grave danger of losing the very freedoms we are fighting for. When the only common ground we are willing to cede is complete mistrust, there may indeed be no way forward.
But forward we must go. We have said it so many times: "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." There is nothing more sacrosanct than fulfilling that vision. Maintaining two warring factions which are irreconcilably divided (and even divisible by definition) is no path forward. Make no mistake - liberty and justice are at stake. We endanger our ideals, even those about our guns and our privacy, if we hold them too tightly, except those ideals be about balance and compromise and finding a path to behaving like one nation again.

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