In my reflections since I posted my thoughts on gun violence last year, I have reached the perspective that addressing gun violence by enacting new and more restrictive gun laws is rather like addressing climate change by issuing snow shovels and air conditioners to every household in the country.
More effective ways of addressing climate change include accepting the scientific method for analyzing the problem, gathering data relevant to the problem, and collectively agreeing on reasonable and effective changes to our ways of living and doing business that will not further aggravate the problem. (This, of course, assumes we can agree that there is a problem in the first place).
With over 100 million gun owners owning over 300 million guns, (not to mention the tens of thousands of individuals who earn their living in the arms industry) any action to address the issue of gun violence that alienates and demonizes these individuals is doomed not only to failure, but to create a backlash that will only make matters worse.
I think a recent Gallup Poll (October 28, 2013) points the way to a more productive direction to focus our concerns. When gun owners were asked why they purchase guns, the number one reason (60% of respondents) answered, “fear”. This immediately raises the obvious question: Why are so many people so fearful?
Some of us are fearful of a changing world; others of new ideas and new ways of being in the world. Yet others fear unfamiliar cultures and religions.
In any case, many of us have no place to turn with our fears, except to turn inward and reject new technologies and new ideas; to reach for our chosen symbols of power and autonomy such as our firearms; or retreat to the certainty and security that fundamentalism (whether religious, economic, or political) offers.
We believe that if we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals who share our fears and gravitate toward our idea of a safe haven we can shout down those who disagree with us and create a utopia for ourselves where we don’t have to concern ourselves with the needs, desires, hopes and fears of anyone else.
During the Christmas season just passed, you may have heard these words from the Prophet Isaiah of the Hebrew Bible:
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
These words, familiar to many, are set in the context of a vision of a new and transformed world in which all of the nations of the world come together in search of a new way of being together in the world.
In this prophetic vision, the change comes when the people are confronted with the judgment of God on the status quo of their world. I think it may be useful if we think of the judgment of God not as coming in some future time as envisioned in these writings with the coming of a Messiah; or in the end times as some believe. I think it will be useful if we see the status quo of our own time as the judgment of our time and our ways.
Since the horrors of the school shootings at Columbine High School, we have seen shootings at Virginia Tech; a political rally in Arizona; a theater in Aurora; and Sandy Hook Elementary School; not to mention, in the same time frame, wars that have produced not peace but a perpetual state of chaos and violence. Surely these are judgments on a society that lives in fear and turns to armaments (read gun rights) and violence (read war and militarism) and coercion (read legislation) to allay our fears.
The answer lies, I believe, not in praying for the end times to come when a God will intervene from on high; nor waiting for a Messiah in the form of a political leader who will lead us into a new ways of being; nor in turning to our legislators to enact new laws and restrictions on how we may choose to live our lives.
I am quick note that in the Biblical vision from Isaiah it is not through legislation that the people turn away for their love of armaments and violence. It is not through confiscation of their swords that the people seek a peaceful and safer world. It is the people, themselves, empowered by a new vision of a transformed world who beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
The answer lies, I conclude, in a change of heart; a decision on the part of each of us, the fearful and the proud, to cease our worship of power and of arms. It is a change of heart that comes when we, the people, are confronted with a new vision of righteousness, and justice, and mercy; when we cease to find comfort and safety in our arguments and our isolation and turn instead to find safety in a new vision of community and dialog with each other. It comes from acknowledging that we are all in this world together and that security for each of us is found in an ongoing pursuit of the common good for all of us.