Showing Up for the Gun Debate

01/15/2013 04:20 pm ET | Updated Mar 17, 2013

Last week, I wrote a blog post entitled "How to Talk About Gun Violence," and it attracted a respectable number of comments, almost entirely from the all-guns-all-the-time crowd. Insights ranged from "History eludes you" to "It's a PERSON who used the gun," to my personal favorite, "The bed that is raised from the floor kills a lot of people a year." At points, the responses devolved into a kind of weapon-lovers' chat room, with posters gushing that "Those O3A3s are pretty fine rifles" and "I have them all the way from Flintlocks to Semi-auto."

But there was one comment from this gun fan club that was genuinely useful to me. And that was, "Ms. Handler, I was involved in the South Bay open carry group here in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. Your allies showed up 3 times over about 15 months and were outnumbered about 5 to 1 each time." To that reader, I say thanks: You've made an incredibly good point. And that is, It's the people who show up to the debate who have the conversation, and win it.

Why do surveys show that a majority of Americans support common sense gun control measures, and yet our legislators rarely pass them? The problem is that they aren't nearly as adamant or vocal in expressing their beliefs as the people who feel viscerally threatened by these measures -- like the ones who responded to an NRA plea to flood a town hall meeting in Northern California last week, or who troll the web to rail against articles supporting gun control. Maybe they have nothing else to do, but more likely it's that fear is a powerful motivator, and they live in terror that their arsenals will be taken away. And to be fair, this is democracy in action. The squeakiest wheels/loudest voices prevail.

What I don't understand is why the fear of losing loved ones in public places like grocery stores, movie theaters, churches and schools -- any place where it's easy to hit multiple targets by shooting off dozens of rounds per minute -- isn't equally animating. We go through the ritual of grieving, and we ask the inevitable questions about who, what, when, where and why (though there's never an answer for that last one), yet surely no one thinks that regularly sacrificing innocents, like reenactments of the Shirley Jackson short story "The Lottery," constitutes acceptable risk. As a nation, we're willing to have simulated lock-downs be part of our school-going kids' routines, and despite their usual nostalgia for a less complicated, Beaver Cleaver lifestyle, many conservatives seem fine with the idea of turning places of learning into mini prisons with armed guards. With each tragedy, a number of shattered loved ones become activists for safety, joining the world's least desirable union. Do we continue to move on from the carnage because the power of denial is stronger than fear? After all, we all have to get up every day and re-enter the public sphere.

Mental health professionals will have to take up that one. In the meantime, wouldn't it be better to learn from the other side? Tell your representatives that you vote on this issue; it's taken as gospel that legislators are afraid of the NRA, but gun control supporters haven't exactly provided the wind beneath their wings. Show up at silent vigils, town hall debates and protests, such as the March on Washington for Gun Control slated for January 26. Give what money you can, and urge those with deeper pockets to give more. Just like people who love their high-capacity clips and hate background checks, we who support common sense gun control measures need to act as if our lives depend on winning this war. For thousands of Americans every year, it does.