To make progress as a nation, we must have free and open debate. This can be done only by approaching topics with the belief in others' rights to have and to state their opinions and for us to take no offense from them. We can disagree, yes; argue, yes; shut down and turn away? No.
Last Friday, Virginia Republican Delegate Nick Freitas stood in the well of the Virginia House of Delegates and delivered a passionate speech. It began with a discussion of gun control, but morphed into a plea for real debate and respect for differences of opinion, with the understanding that they are held with deep convictions.
The video of Freitas, one of six Republicans in the U.S. Senate primary who are vying for a chance to take on Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., this fall, has received more than 13 million views.
"I think if we were going to look seriously at school shootings and gun control, we would analyze things like why do all mass shootings seem to take place in gun-free zones?" said Freitas, who served two tours in Iraq in the U.S. Army, and was voted into the Virginia House in 2015. "We would start to look at [how] most of these shooters come from broken homes,
"What sort of government policies have actually encouraged broken homes....we could look at ...areas ...that have strict gun-control measures and what their crime rates look like, whether it's Chicago, New York City, Washington, D.C., and others that have incredibly strict gun laws and yet, for some reason, it hasn't seemed to stop the gun violence in those particular areas."
Freitas also noted the commonly held belief "that we need to make sure that our students are better protected when they go to schools."
He then turned to explain why gun-control measures worry Second Amendment advocates.
"I don't think any of us on this side of the aisle believe you when you say that's all you want to do ... because when the policies fail to produce the results you are promising to your constituents, you'll be back with more reasons for why we've got to infringe on Second Amendment rights."
The Second Amendment gives people the right to bear arms to protect themselves, especially when those in power do not. Last Thursday, Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, appeared on ABC's "The View," and talked of her experience of "growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the late '50s, early '60s."
"So when White Knight Riders [Klu Klux Klan] would come through our neighborhood, my father and his friends would take their guns and they'd go to the head of the neighborhood," said Rice, who is black, "and they would fire in the air."
It wasn't violence that Rice was advocating, but the right of people to protect themselves when those in power are not willing to do so.
"I don't think they actually ever hit anybody," she said. "But they protected the neighborhood."
Referring to Bull Connor, Birmingham's former commissioner of public safety who opposed the activities of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, she added, "And I'm sure if Bull Connor had known where those guns were, he would have rounded them up. And so, I don't favor some things like gun registration."
Rice expressed concern that the government might fail to protect us, just as it failed her family in the past.
In his speech, Freitas expressed similar concerns. "Yes, we are going to have a problem with so-called solutions which infringe on people's liberty under the promise the government will provide for their security because, ultimately, in this last school shooting, we had a perfect example of government being engaged over 30 times and still failing to provide security for those students."
"We want to have an open and honest debate," Freitas said, "but it does start with a certain degree of mutual respect...I don't assume you're horrible people because I disagree with you on a policy position, I assume you have deep convictions, that we can have an argument and a debate about it."
If we could all remember and live by the words from President Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in...to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations," we might actually be able to listen to each other and make progress.