We should applaud Florida Senator Marco Rubio. He showed up at a townhall meeting hosted by CNN, aired on national television, in front of an audience he had to know would be hostile to many of his positions. Some would say that he was only doing his job. In today’s divided politics, that’s more than a lot of politicians would do.

Instead, the response to Rubio highlights the problems in our current democratic debate. Those who oppose the Senator’s positions demonized him and demeaned him. Those who supported his arguments called him a hero and thanked him for protecting our rights. His positions are less relevant than his willingness to listen to his constituents’ concerns and his attempt to explain his positions.

The gun debate is probably the most polarizing in the country right now. Conservative columnist David French of the National Review believes the debate could break the country. Neither side cares to understand the other’s positions partly because neither side understands how the other side lives.

Rural Americans are among the most independent people in the country. They don’t want to rely on their neighbors, much less the government, for help. To them owning guns is part of their security and a buffer against hunger, if it ever came to that.

The Hank Williams, Jr. anthem “A Country Boy Can Survive” sums up the mentality, even if it’s romanticized. The song talks about farming, hunting and fishing and implies that folks in urban areas are less able to defend themselves. Folks in places like the Triangle may dismiss the song as a paean to  rednecks, but people where I grew up see themselves in it.

They believe banning one type of gun will lead to banning others. They don’t trust the government to keep them safe and they’re not willing to disarm. And they have the Second Amendment to back them up.

That said, there’s a lot of room between banning guns altogether and regulating them. When I talk to people in Anson County one-on-one, a lot of them agree that we need universal background checks. They even agree that we should regulate, and maybe ban, high-capacity magazines. I suspect that they would even come around to strict regulation of guns that could handle those types of clips. There’s certainly a compromise somewhere in there.

The problem has to do with the tenor of the debate. Gun advocacy groups warn that the government is coming for their guns. Gun control groups keep talking about bans and using language that indicates they don’t know the difference between one gun and another. Worse, they don’t care.

Getting both sides to the table without the distorting megaphones of the interest groups is the first step to finding solutions. Keeping the debate focused on the goal of reducing the number of mass killings is the second. On those two points, Marco Rubio showed up and he didn’t hew to anybody’s talking points. Maybe it was the least he could do, but it’s more than a lot of politicians are doing.

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