Memorials to the 19 children and two adults killed in a school in Uvalde, Texas, last May. More than 600 people have been killed in mass shootings in the United States this year.

Michael M. Santiago, Getty

Fight mass shootings with education

The path away from our gun violence epidemic is neither laws nor arming up but telling the truth about guns.

How to get unstuck? Say an impasse at work, where two people go head-to-head over opposing views of what to do.

You don’t last 35 years at a company without strategies for this, and a favorite is what I call “The Third Way.” A shot of interpersonal WD-40 to get the frozen gears moving again. You want Plan A. Your boss comes along and touts Plan B.

That’s a stupid idea,” sticks in your throat. What to do? Insisting on your own way, telling them they’re wrong gets nowhere. But meekly submitting to the bad idea feels like surrender, and the wrong strategy wins.

Opinion bug


Enter The Third Way. Not your idea, not theirs. But a different approach, not as good as yours or as bad as theirs. A compromise that gets you moving again. Both sides save face.

I thought of the Third Way after our most recent spate of mass shootings: University of Virginia, Colorado Springs, Chesapeake. Keeping track hardly seems worth the effort. The Republican solution to America’s gun nightmare is ever more guns. Arm everybody, everywhere, all the time, and let them shoot it out. We’re seeing how well that works.

The Democratic solution — shore up the tattered framework of laws into something a bit stronger — seldom goes very far. That isn’t to say it can’t help. Our nation banned assault weapons, whatever they are, for a decade. We could again. I don’t want to underplay the value of restrictions entirely, as states with more sensible gun laws have lower rates of gun crimes. A car loving nation, we still manage to demand driver’s licenses and speed limits.

But there is a third way that gets ignored. Not arming teachers or crafting laws but education, in the form of advertising. We gained all sorts of social goods through advertising. The public didn’t just naturally stop tossing trash out their car windows. They had to be taught. Guns are an area where people flail in the dark. Why not teach them? Most handgun deaths aren’t murders; they’re suicides.

It might sound ludicrous to run commercials (or, I suppose, blast TikTok videos) designed to discourage people from going on shooting rampages. But why not? It’s an increasingly common problem. Six hundred Americans killed in mass shootings this year. With more certain to come, tomorrow or next week or both. What if you could reach that potential shooter with reason to hesitate?

When I think of the Highland Park Fourth of July parade shootings, 99.9% of my sympathy naturally is reserved for the victims and their families. But there is still that 1/10 of 1% that pities the miserable mope who did it, sitting behind bars, likely for the rest of his life. How sorry must he be? Maybe he’s mentally ill, sure. Or maybe just young and stupid with ready access to powerful weaponry. Hard to tell the difference, sometimes.

Pull him, or one of those pathetic wrecks out of their bathroom-sized cell where they will live forever, stick him in front of a camera and have him talk about the price paid for that 60 seconds of first-person-shooter-game made real. Why not? It’s worth a try. Yes, gun fanatics will howl about indoctrination. So what?

I keep thinking about cigarettes. Like guns, they were a vastly romantic cornerstone of culture that also killed people — far more than guns do. Before smoking could be banned in restaurants we first had to impress upon a willfully ignorant public that cigarettes are dangerous and should be abandoned, voluntarily.

We should see a lot more messaging that when you buy a gun, sure, you might protect your home for that 10-second window of opportunity if a bad guy breaks in, provided he makes enough noise.

But that has to be balanced against the years and years the gun sits there, a threat to you and your family and the public, no matter how much you like to think you’re Mr. Gun Safety. Buying a gun multiplies the chance you will kill yourself, or your family.

Getting the message across about the danger of cigarettes took decades, but it worked. When I was in kindergarten, 42% of American adults smoked. Now it’s 13%. We must first realize we don’t have to live like this. Second, call the Ad Council and tell them to get busy.

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