In the wake of the tragic shooting that claimed nine lives one week ago today, President Obama observed that our reactions to mass shootings have become routine, even numb. At least in my experience, he is not wrong.

I will never forget where I was when I found out about the Sandy Hook shooting, headquartered in Perkins and stupidly consumed with anxiety about an impending calculus final. When I read that 20 children and multiple others had been murdered by someone with mental health issues and a mini-arsenal of guns, I spent the next few hours in tears, learning about the victims and listening to the pain of families forced to accept that their children would never come home from school again. Every mass shooting since then has felt like a punch to the gut, but each comes with a little less force. No longer do I read the names of victims or watch the interviews of families; now I stop with the headlines.

Though it is natural to grow emotionally numb in the face of endless shootings, debate on gun control seems unshaken in both intensity and divisiveness. Liberals are frustrated that the government seems incapable or unwilling to solve the nation’s gun problems, while conservatives worry that government overreach will trample on gun rights or, even worse, leave Americans defenseless against armed criminals. No wonder the debate hits home for so many of us—policy stances offer a sense of control over tragedies that are by their nature difficult to predict or prevent. But data does not reveal that one side is entirely correct.

Surprisingly, mass shootings, which generate the majority of debate about gun control, constitute a small share of gun deaths in the United States each year. The majority of gun deaths are the result of suicide, with two times as many Americans dying from suicide by firearm than homicide by firearm in 2013. A 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service revealed that 547 Americans died from mass shootings between 1983 and 2012. To put this number in perspective, the number of mass shooting deaths over this 30-year period represent a fortieth of the number of firearm suicides in 2013 alone. Though most Americans believe otherwise, gun violence in the United States has been declining in recent decades, with the number of mass shootings hovering at consistent levels.

Despite recent declines in gun violence, the United States leads most other developed countries both in numbers of guns and shooting fatalities per capita, hosting over 310 million civilian guns and .15 deaths by mass shootings per 100,000 deaths. Across the nation, states with the loosest gun control policies also host the highest rates of firearm deaths — Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alaska round out the five most dangerous. Research shows that living in a house with a gun increases one’s odds of death, that areas with stricter gun control generate lower rates of suicide and that children aged between 5 and 14 are eleven times more likely to die by a gunshot in the United States than in other developed nations.

These findings help to illustrate why a majority of Americans, both among gun owners and not, support background checks. Yet Congress, led by pro-gun Republicans and an immensely powerful lobbying group, has consistently shot down gun control bills as quickly as they have been proposed. Contrary to what partisan talking points would suggest, Republicans do not oppose gun control measures because they are apathetic about shootings. Though collected data typically shows that heightened gun control limits firearm deaths, Republicans have reason to oppose even simple gun regulations.

Many Americans look at gun ownership as more than just a right. For hunters, farmers and recreational carriers, gun ownership offers a way of life. To take away their guns because of the malignant actions of criminals would be no different than removing knives from every American household because of the opportunities they offer murderers. In principle though clearly not in scale, gun and knife control would both necessarily reduce violence, limit suicides and prevent accidents. Counterintuitively, both types of weapon control would also result in instances of violence. Concealed carriers have prevented shootings, and as a result, there are concealed carriers who are alive today precisely because they were able to carry a gun. It is true that such instances are rare and that concealed carriers can pose a risk themselves, but the narrative remains that eliminating concealed carry and restricting gun ownership will lead to deaths, even if these deaths are fewer than the number of lives saved in the end.

I support gun control as a utilitarian, but I refuse to demonize those who oppose gun control as heartless, apathetic or ignorant. The United States can save lives by enacting stricter gun control, but this is not to say that gun control comes only with benefits. Gun owners lose to varying degrees, whether in principle, lifestyle or safety. Democrats may argue that Republicans are ridiculous to oppose even “common sense” background checks, but the Democratic platform will certainly change with every step toward complete gun control, given that conversations about gun control occur in tandem with mass shootings. Background checks will not stop mass shootings. In fact, of the 14 most recent public mass shootings, eight have featured a perpetrator who attained guns after passing a federal background check. If required background checks are followed by more mass shootings, ask yourself what regulatory policies you would begin to advocate for—ask yourself how much gun control a Republican would have to support to not be heartless, apathetic or ignorant.

Last week, #StuffHappens flooded social media, typically featuring posts by Democrats lambasting Governor Jeb Bush for what they perceived to be a heartless response to tragedy. His comments: “It’s very sad to see, but I resist the notion—and I had this challenge as Governor—because, look, stuff happens, there’s always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.” Perhaps his response exemplifies apathy, or maybe—just maybe—he is a decent human being, trying to describe something that is very difficult to process and understand, who disagrees with reflexive policies proposed after every mass shooting.

Grief and empathy are not dependent on one’s identification as a Democrat. To advocate for gun control, Democrats should consider the arguments of gun-rights proponents at face value before claiming the moral high ground. Restrictions on gun ownership come with a normative judgment about which liberties can and should be sacrificed for the greater good. Both sides of the debate have merit, but neither side can hope to actualize gun policy compromises until the moralistic missiles are replaced by values-based debate.

Brendan McCarthy is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.