What the Gun Debate Reveals About America

PHOTO: Smith and Wesson handguns are displayed during the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits in this April 10, 2015 file photo in Nashville, Tenn.PlayJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
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The current gun debate is an incredibly revealing moment about us as individuals and as a country.

The existence and functioning of democracies or constitutional republics in the world require the ability to reach consensus rooted in some important common values and to hold a common fact set among the citizenry. Without these elements, democracies either never evolve from or devolve into a tribal culture where folks can't reach common ground and do not trust each other. My fear is that America is moving toward a broken democracy and into a tribal atmosphere. And the first thing to be sacrificed in tribal warfare is the truth.

Today, most leaders of the tribes which exist in America today (Republican vs. Democrat, left vs. right) seem incapable of being honest with the American public and explaining policy in terms of a common fact set. Let's look at the existing gun debate in the United States this new year. And a caveat: I own four rifles and a shotgun, but also believe in common sense gun legislation.

Both tribes are out to convince Americans they are certain of one of the answers to keep Americans safe. The left says that if we have a more restrictive view of the 2nd amendment and make guns less available, then it will cut down on violence and mass killings and provide us with the security we desire. The right says that if we have a more expansive view of the 2nd amendment and make guns more available, then it will reduce mass killings and make us more secure. Both tribes are wrong on this, and aren't being truthful with the American public. There is no evidence that less guns or more guns will make us safer.

The left refuses to admit openly that all of the current proposed additional gun regulations would have done nothing to stop the mass killings which have occurred all too frequently in the last decade. Objective sources have looked at nearly all of them and said exactly that. The left also won't acknowledge the fact that over the last 25 years gun violence is statistically way down and is at its lowest point in many years. Yes, mass killings have increased, but overall gun violence is down.

The right won't admit that the 2nd amendment wasn't written with the intent by the original framers to give Americans the ability to buy semi-automatic weapons and for individuals to own as many guns of any variety as they wanted. The right often leaves out of this debate that the language of right to bear arms is directly tied to a well-regulated militia. Throughout our nation's history, including at our founding, there have been a number of restrictions on guns. Furthermore, the right often neglects to say that we have way under-resourced avenues to deal with mental illness in this country today.

What is the answer to the awful tragic extent of mass shootings today in the United States? Not to put an ironic point on it, but there is no magic bullet. It will require many things. This would need to start with a broad examination of a culture as a whole and what is encouraging mostly young men to commit these barbarous acts. Does the violence coming out of Hollywood play a part? Do violent online games contribute to a diminished value of human life? Does the Internet allow too much interaction between the mentally ill who find support for their crazy behavior? Do we really need gun clips which can hold 40 or 50 bullets? Do we integrate the mental health system in this country -- from schools to criminal justice systems to online discussions -- to be more vigilant in spotting potential mass murderers?

All of these would definitely help, but in order to get to the point and to reach consensus on what we need to do, we need to share a common sense view of the truth. We need to reach conclusions based on a a common set of facts. And today, leaders of both tribes aren't doing that. They each pick and choose isolated data points to make their point. And this will either get us nowhere, or take us into policies that feel good but won't actually solve the problem that exists.

Because we have disintegrated into talking points voiced loudly and often by both tribes, the vast majority of the country has been left out of the conversation. And this majority shakes their heads at both tribes and doesn't believe anyone. The majority has lost faith and trust in our institutions to solve the enormous issues which confront us today. The average gun-owner (and non gun-owner) still thinks we can deal with the issue of mass killings but it is going to require a multifaceted approach.

Can this be done? I believe so, but it first requires our leaders to speak with integrity, and not point to bogey men that have nothing to do with the facts. If we can't agree to a common set of facts and rally around values based in the common good, then we are no longer a functional democracy or constitutional republic. And that should scare us all much more.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.