guns & insecurity

Today, I woke up thinking about guns (as sadly, given the events of this past weekend in New York and New Jersey, soon I will ruminate on bombs). Again.

Picking up where I ended my September 17 post, guns & loss, I asked myself: Why, Paul, would you feel less secure if you believed more people were carrying more guns? Because, I heard myself mumble aloud, quoting the slogan of one of America’s most powerful political action groups, the National Rifle Association, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

For years, with these mere seven words, the NRA has summarized its argument against governmental restrictions on guns. The problem isn’t the weapon (which, say, unloaded and resting on a gun rack or locked in a safe, harms no one), but rather the person who wields it.

Precisely!

In much the same way, I think, as an automobile parked in a driveway or a bottle of alcohol sitting on a shelf or even an illicit drug stowed in a hidden compartment doesn’t kill people, those who drive recklessly, drink irresponsibly, distribute illegally can and do kill people.

Yes, these are extreme examples (especially concerning illicit drugs, the uses of which harbor an inherent lethality). Yet most people most of the time do not drive or drink negligently or foolishly drink and drive and most people do not sell or dispense unlawful narcotics.

However, if more people possessed more guns, I will more than guess, I will predict that we will experience more gun violence, accidental and intentional.

Why?

Because people are flawed. As a pastor, though now retired (more or less!), who experienced, largely joyfully, a nearly 40-year active ministry, I am soberly and sincerely aware that human beings, even at our best, fall short of the glory of God. Here, however, I desire not to talk about other people and only about me.

A confession. For a host of reasons, many rooted in my formative years, I am sensitive to hurt and prone to anger. O’er time, with the wisdom of experience and the mollification of age, the razor’s edge of anger has been dulled. Somewhat. Verily, my capacity for ire has proven useful, even helpful in the ministry of service when turned toward the care of others. I hate suffering, especially of society’s least, last, and lost. I hate the systemic and institutional imbalances that perpetuate what I call “the iniquity of inequity.” Still, I continue to know myself to be one whose fury can flash in an instant when I feel affronted, especially when I perceive the insulting word or deed was intended. In those instances, were I to have a gun at hand, would I use it to chasten (frighten, injure, or worse) my offender? I would like to think not, but, truth to tell, I cannot be certain. One thing I do know. In a moment of maddened passion, would I think about using my gun? Doubtless, yes.

Here, again, I do not, dare not universalize my experience of self. Everyone is not like me. Still, I do not believe I am alone in this world as one whose belly is a cauldron of ever-bubbling irritation, thus susceptible to the encouragement, the enragement of resentment that can provoke even the thought of vengeful retaliation.

Hence, for me, the image of more guns in more hands in more times and in more places is a modern day apocalyptic vision, leaving me not only feeling less secure, but terrified.

guns & loss

This morning, following my yesterday’s blog post, gun uncontrol, I continue to think about guns. From what I glean from news reportage, personal reading, and my encounters with gun owners in public and private conversations, a chief motivator for desiring to carry arms is personal security. I accept and respect what I consider a basic, intrinsic human want, need to self-protect, particularly as we live in an era when mass shootings have become sorrowfully repeatable historical events.

On a recent occasion when I probed further and the dialogue went deeper, what I heard from a proud, years-long, law-abiding gun owner was wistful longing, as I perceived it, for “a back in the day time” when safety was a general, almost taken for granted daily aspect of societal life. Reflecting on what I heard, the passion and the pathos, I understood, I felt a sense of the loss of yesterday.

I have a bias against owning a firearm. In my view, my mere possession of it would increase the possibility of my using it and the risk of an accidental injury or worse. I would feel less safe with a gun in the house and at hand.

In confessing my prejudice, I deem not to make too much of one conversation with one gun owning person. I dare not generalize one person’s testimony of loss to speak for anyone but that one.

Still, I wonder.

Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy has engendered great enthusiasm among his supporters. I think especially of his appeal to his voter base declaring that “Hillary Clinton will take away your Second Amendment gun rights.” In May, speaking to the National Rifle Association, he advocated that Clinton’s security detail “disarm.” Last night in Miami, following his now predictable pattern of doubling down on what is, I think, at best sarcastic innuendo and at worst demagogic invective, Trump urged that Clinton’s bodyguards “lose their weapons,” adding, “Let’s see what happens to her.” These remarks, always campaign stop rallying points, provoke zealous cheering and booing (on its face, oddly perhaps, both expressions of intense agreement).

So, I wonder. Are there other Americans who make a connection between their sense of security in gun ownership, their fear, I think, irrational of having their guns taken away, and their anxiety at the loss of former times, however defined? Highly probable? I don’t know. At all possible? Of course, yes.

Pondering that possibility, I also wonder whether yearning for the past coupled with gun ownership has anything to do with power; the gun at or in hand being a symbol not only of the restoration of personal security and safety, but also the reclamation of individual control in an out of control world.

Here, I dare not universalize my sense of things, but if I believed that more people were carrying more guns more often in more public places, then I would feel less secure.

gun uncontrol

On September 14, the Republican-controlled Senate in my home state of Missouri voted 24-6 to override the Republican Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of legislation that removes the requirement of a permit to conceal and carry a firearm and includes a “stand your ground” provision granting citizens the legal right to defend themselves if they feel threatened. The Governor, with his veto, contended, in part, that the bill would make the state less safe by stripping local law enforcement of the authority to require gun owners to complete a firearm safety training course and to pass a background check before being issued a permit. There is an attendant fear, should the bill, which will be sent to the state House of Representatives for consideration, become law that guns will be accessible to folk previously denied permits, for example, as I imagine, those convicted of domestic violence.

Doubtless there are nuances of the legislative floor debate that I have missed. Still, for me, on its face, this action by the Missouri Senate is an example of gun uncontrol.

an illustrated question

 

U. S. Capitol Building

On September 13, 2004, the United States Congress allowed to expire the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, prohibiting the manufacture and sale for civilian use of varied semi-automatic firearms (defined as “assault”) and large capacity ammunition magazines.

Similar weaponry was used in the mass shootings at the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater on July 12, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, on December 2, 2015, at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, and at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016.

On each occasion, the Senate and House of Representatives paused for a moment of silence; however respectful and reverent, a metaphor, I believe, for multiple and consecutive moments of congressional inaction to promote and pass sane gun control legislation.

To wit:

gun - self-protection

for self-protection…

 

 

gun - hunting rifle

for hunting…

 

 

gun - competitive shooting pistol

for competitive shooting…

 

gun - assault rifle

for killing lots of people quickly and efficiently…

 

 

 

Congress, what is so hard to understand?

standing up by sitting down

Today, several members of the Democratic Party staged a sit-in on the floor of the United States House of Representatives to protest inaction and to pressure for a vote on pending gun control legislation; their leader, that lion of the civil rights movement, Representative John Lewis of Georgia.

John Lewis

With every action, there are reactions. Some decry the move as a violation of the rules, accusing the demonstrators of petulant unruliness, making the business of the House more difficult to carry out. Others applaud the effort as a necessarily impatient attempt to prod the House to do its job.

Lewis, in his own words: “For months…years…I wondered, ‘What would bring this body to take action? What would finally make Congress do what is right, what is just, what the people of this country have been demanding, and what is long overdue?’ We have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence…The time for silence and patience is long gone. We are calling on the leadership of the House to bring common-sense gun control legislation to the House floor…Rise up Democrats! Rise up Americans! This cannot stand! We will occupy this floor! We will no longer be denied the right to vote!”

Rosa Parks

In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat on a bus to a white man. In her knowing violation of the law, she helped to initiate the American civil rights movement, proving that sometimes in order to stand up for the sake of love and justice, one must sit down.

 

Photographs: John Lewis (1940- ) and Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

the silent ones who wait…

On Sunday, June 12, beginning around 2 o’clock in the morning, a man with guns in his hands and hate in his heart, killed 49 people, wounding 53, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

On Tuesday, June 14, Paul Ryan, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, banged his gavel, signaling all to come to order, saying, “The chair asks that the House now observe a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando.”

A moment of silence for quiet contemplation or meditation, prayer or reflection is akin to an over 300-year Quaker tradition. Often observed at the occasion of a tragic event, this ritual is intended as an expression of shared mourning and respect for those who have suffered and died and for their surviving loved ones. There is value in this practice. Words, however well-intended, however generously egalitarian, require interpretation and can be understood to bear an assumption about the attitudes and beliefs of those present. A moment of silence allows people, together always constituting a pluralistic group of varying individual customs and divergent viewpoints, to take part in a corporate experience.

On June 14, that moment of silence in the south wing of the nation’s Capitol Building neither lasted long nor masked the raging differences within the legislative body. A number of Democrats, later citing their frustration at the procrastination of the House on gun control and considering a moment of silence an empty gesture, walked out. Some who remained vocally sought to bring attention to the legislative inaction. Others criticized the demonstrators for their disrespect in politicizing a reverent act of peace.

I understand both. The frustration and the criticism. Yet I more than understand the suffering of the dead and the sorrow of the survivors, their families and friends, and us. I feel it down in my rattling bones and in my roiling bowels. Thus, I interpret that June 14 moment of silence as a metaphor, even more a microcosm of a long period of congressional do-nothing-ism concerning the crafting and enacting of sane gun control policy.

See the silent ones who wait[1] is the title of a musical anthem that stirs my soul and spirit. It is a poignant, eloquent prayer bidding that God as provider, creator, and power act that all may be given food, wisdom, love, and dignity; each verse closing with a haunting refrain about “the silent ones who wait” for a blessing arriving seemingly (that word implying a trust, despite appearances, in the benevolent providence of the divine) too late to be enjoyed.

Our 49 sisters and brothers of Orlando are silent ones. So, too, 9 students of Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon, on October 1, 2015, and 9 folk gathered for prayer and Bible study at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC, on June 17, 2015, and 12 at the Washington Navy Yard, DC, on September 16, 2013, and 27, including 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, CT, on December 14, 2012, and 32 at the Virginia Polytechnic and State University, Blacksburg, on April 16, 2007, andandandand

In their deaths, they are silent and wait no more.

We, in our living, to the extent we remain silent, will continue to wait.

 

Footnote: [1] See the silent ones who wait, words by Herbert F. Brokering (19890, music by Cary Ratcliff (1992)

gun (out of) control

Cain killed his brother…The Lord said to Cain… “Now you are cursed…You will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain answered, “My punishment is greater than I can bear…(A)nyone who meets me may kill me.” The Lord said, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance”…Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch…To Enoch was born Irad…Irad was the father of Mehujael…Mehujael the father of Methushael…Methushael the father of Lamech…Lamech said…“Hear my voice…If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”[1]

The Bible’s first murder, a fratricide, is recorded in the 4th chapter of Genesis, the first book (it didn’t take long!). In Cain’s generation, the price of vengeance was set at sevenfold.[2] If you harm one of my beloved, members of my clan could exact equal vengeance on seven of yours. Five generations later, Cain’s descendant Lamech could boast that retribution’s bounty had risen bountifully! If you harm one of my beloved, members of my clan could retaliate against seventy-seven of yours!

Born in 1952 and raised under the cloud of Cold War Era’s saber-rattling betwixt the United States and Russia, I often thought of the escalation of the cost of revenge in terms of the employ of nuclear armament. So far (and I emphasize, so far), this hasn’t happened. However, it seems to me that the American threat and reality of initiatory and retaliatory violence, heeding no restraint or limit, has come in the form of the unfettered and criminal use of an arsenal of assault weaponry.

Following the most recent and worst incident of mass violence, the Sunday, June 12, murders and woundings of folk gathered for an evening of communal frivolity at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, today the United States Senate rejected four measures restricting gun sales. This latest repudiation of what I believe to be commonsense gun-control measures reveals anew the abiding political power of defenders of gun-rights in league with the National Rifle Association.

I do not know what it will take to make sense, to bring sense to this debate. What will be the cost of vengeance that sickens our corporate American body enough to act for the sake of health and peace? 1-to-770? 1-to-7,700? 1-to-77,000? 1-to-770,000? More?

 

Footnotes:

[1] Genesis 4.8-24, heavily abridged

[2] This is to say, balanced at or restricted to a calculated or just response; seven being an ancient measure of wholeness or completeness; anything beyond that being considered excessive.