The real divide on gun control

Story highlights

  • Mel Robbins: Obama's CNN town hall on guns showed a different divide: between those willing to try and those resigned to failure
  • She says if expanding background checks saves any lives, why not do it?

Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author and keynote speaker. In 2014, she was named outstanding news talk-radio host by the Gracie Awards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author

(CNN)The big divide in the room Thursday night was not just about guns.

President Obama faced a room full a people gathered to talk about guns; Anderson Cooper began by making it very clear that CNN had invited an audience that was on all sides of the gun control debate.
The President reminded the audience that Americans have different relationships with gun ownership because we live in "different realities."
    A black high-schooler in Chicago, where 55 people were shot in the past seven days, for example, has a very "different reality" from the high-schooler in a rural area who grew up shooting a rifle for sport.
    We heard from law enforcement and the head of the Gun Sellers Retail Association, clergy and victims of gun violence and other horrific crimes. There were lots of folks wearing buttons of loved ones who have been killed. And there were gun advocates asking tough questions of the President. When the room clapped in support of the President, the other half sat still and quiet.
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    But none of these examples are the divide I'm referring to. That divide is more fundamental.
    It is about how to approach a problem.
    The room was split between people who are willing to try, even if there's no guarantee, and those who need a guarantee -- proof -- before they will try. Between optimism and resignation.
    The majority of Americans, Republicans and gun owners support universal background checks and closing the so-called "gun show loophole." In fact, one objection that came up repeatedly pointed up a grim irony: Obama's step forward is so small that "it won't work."
    Over and over, the President was asked: How would this have stopped the last few mass murders? The answer, it wouldn't have. But that's not the point.
    The President countered: Just because we can't prevent every single crime from happening, doesn't mean we shouldn't try to prevent some. Indeed, he opened the town hall by revealing some "simple math" he was calculating.
    He said that there were 30,000 American's who were killed by gun violence. What if we could just lower it to 28,000? What if we could spare 2,000 families from the heartbreak of that kind of loss? Shouldn't we try?
    The widow of "American Sniper" Chris Kyle, Taya Kyle, was Obama's first questioner. She said laws can't stop these horrific things from happening because criminals and the mentally ill don't follow the laws. She suggested that "instead" of closing the gun show loopholes and making improvements to the background check database, we should send a different message of hope -- and focus on mental illness.
    She's right that universal background checks wouldn't have prevented her husband's murder. But it just might prevent another kid in Chicago from getting killed. It might spare 2,000 families from the heartbreak she faced. So shouldn't we try?
    Solving problems is not an "either this or that" approach -- it's an "and" approach. We should require universal background checks and we should change our mental health system on a number of levels. How do you do that? You start.
    Over and over, the President explained that his proposal will not affect most people's ability to buy a gun and it will not eliminate all gun violence. He repeatedly stated it will eliminate current channels that criminals do take advantage of to purchase guns. If one of every 30 guns sold online is purchased by a felon, as the President suggested, why wouldn't we try and stop that from happening?
    Tonight, the President was modest, respectful and reasonable. He was there to listen and to have a conversation. It was a conversation about gun control yes, but it was wrapped inside a bigger theme -- the nature of change.
    Change takes a lot of time and there are no guarantees. Change isn't about big leaps, it's about small moves with no guarantee. It takes courage to start. And that's exactly what the President is advocating -- not that we will solve this overnight but that we start.