This morning I wrote my representatives in Congress*, remembering the words of a strident conservative who came to my book talk looking to bristle with me over guns. ‘Call them by their first name,’ he said. ‘Reminds ’em who they work for.’
He told me at the outset, ‘I’m a shade right of Scalia,’ and noted his disgust with those occasions when the deceased Justice took liberties with our Constitution.
I spent two hours with him (a retired Fed, a physicist by training) at Virginia’s Great Falls library. He’d learned of my event in the local news.
‘What was it about the notice that attracted you?’
‘I support the 2nd Amendment.’ He followed this up by declaring that only idiots would support getting rid of guns.
My pedigree isn’t inconsistent with that sentiment, and I let him know. The difference between us, really, is that none in my line would describe themselves as lifelong Republicans.
We explored whether or not a tax ladder that treated weapons as luxury goods might be one solution (‘Unfair to the poor.’); what about ammo? (‘No.’); how did he feel about the Second Amendment as a protection for individuals against federal over-reach of any kind? I hoped he’d shed light on how the right to bear even the nastiest assault rifle protected the individual against tanks, helicopters, and other military hardware.
He vaguely referred to Waco and Ruby Ridge. We turned to Cliven Bundy’s armed stand against the government over land use rights.
Another glimpse into my guest’s thinking: he demonstrated how the cane he uses can double as a weapon.
Two hours later, it was clear we’d never agree on certain fundamentals. But after two hours, it was equally clear we could respect each other and allow our differences.
These are the conversations we need to have, if only because they are conversations. We may not sway one another in either direction. But we each know how the other thinks. So long as we keep talking about the issues that aggrieve us, we remain civilized.
Perhaps the oddest part of the day, after walking together to the empty parking lot on a bleak February afternoon, was seeing him climb into his Subaru Legacy and drive off brandishing a COEXIST bumper sticker, the sort that intimates all kinds of religious tolerance.
*I wrote Barbara Comstock, Tim Kaine, and Mark Warner. I let them know I expect them to live up to their responsibility as members of a co-equal branch of government. I urged them to look after the integrity of our democracy in the face of foreign meddling. I urged them to allow for sensible give-and-take where weapons are concerned.