I won’t be joining the fight for stronger gun control laws. Gun enthusiasts are correct: watch Bowling for Columbine all the way to the end, when Michael Moore provides his answer to the question of why Canada, with approximately the same gun-loving culture as the US, does not have anything approaching our gun murder rate. It’s not because Canadians are more willing to enact gun-control laws.
Nor am I joining the fight to allow more Americans to carry firearms. On what nightmarish planet do elementary-school teachers, couples on midnight-movie dates, and people in temples keep loaded firearms continuously within reach? And how would that practice make any place on this planet a safer, more comfortable place to live?
Americans agree that we need to end the gun violence that most recently (as I write this) occured at Sandy Hook Elementary School. To pursue this goal, they have formed two warring camps. One side says, “We should use the force of law to control gun owners.” The other side says, “We should be ready to use deadly personal force, at all times, in all places.”
Come with me. Step out of the continuous Battle Against The Other Side. Having stepped off the battlefield, you are now free to admit that a gun is an inanimate object that harms no one until a person loads it and pulls the trigger. Admit that people who are motivated to use guns illegally are also motivated to obtain them illegally. Admit that guns are less useful and more dangerous than automobiles and should be regulated at least as much. Admit that if the Second Amendment does not prohibit sensible regulation of bombs and other explosives, it does not prohibit sensible regulation of guns and ammunition.
You are now free to stop throwing facts around like hamburgers in a food fight. You are free to listen to your fellow citizens for some purpose other than finding holes their arguments. Most importantly, you are free to be honest. You are free to think creatively, with an open mind, about what is causing America’s gun violence and what you and I can do about it.
The problem is not that America worships guns; the problem is that America worships the ability and willingness to use force. The reflex to demand gun laws forcefully to control our fellow citizens' ownership of firearms is almost as much a symptom of this problem as the call to arm ourselves.
The human brain is wired for both violence and empathy. There have been—there are—cultures that do not assume or expect the use of force nearly as much as modern-day Americans do. One of those nations is less than 500 miles from where I sit as I write this.
But in the US, how many times have you heard a candidate, commentator, or citizen use the word courage in reference to someone like General Petraeus, who spent his career in body armor surrounded by advanced-technology armaments, rather than someone like Mohandas Gandhi, who never donned boots or a helmet and never picked up a weapon?
How many times have you heard someone say strength when talking about our ability to control others to advance our own well-being, rather than our willingness to sacrifice for theirs? Say security when talking about our ability to hurt or kill the 'bad guys', rather than our ability to create a world in which no one wants for basic life essentials--including freedom from armed conflict? Say defense when talking about our ability to use military force, rather than the willingness to work for the reconciliation and restorative justice that would actually remove threats to peace.
How many times in the past year have you been encouraged to honor our military troops or veterans? (Notice they never even bother to say veterans of what.) And how many times have you been encouraged to honor teachers? Nurses? Workers in homeless shelters or child-protection bureaucracies? The field laborers who give their lives, one day at a time, to put food on our tables?
These messages also reach America's scared, confused, vulnerable young men who are desperate for courage, strength, security, defense, and honor. Imagine how that works inside their minds. Humans create cultures, and humans can change them. Here’s what I’m trying to do, and I hope you will join me:
- Practice compassion and nonviolence every waking hour until I can do it reflexively. I’m a flawed human being like you, who grew up in the same militarized nation you did. The force-reflex is something I need to unlearn. To replace that reflex with compassion, I have read and re-read Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, and I’m planning to take more lessons and attend more practice sessions in non-violent communication.
- Remain alert—as painful as it is—to messages that glorify or praise the ability of one person/group/nation to force another to do or not do something. Every time I am implored to support our troops, I try to remain compassionate toward my fellow citizens who are so genuinely fearful of other nations, and who are so naively confident military might can protect us from true threats to our freedom and well-being. Every time I hear someone praising or promoting militarism, I resolve to send another donation to ANERA, one highly-rated charity I have found that works to counteract some of the damage done by our militaristic foreign policy.
- I try to avoid clicking on online news articles that instill fear or sensationalize violence (the editors and producers of news sites pay attention to the type of story that gets clicks), and I try frequently to search for terms like ‘peace,’ ‘compassion’ and ‘community,’ thinking that they might on occasion look at search terms to find out what their readers might be interested in.
- I try to educate myself about public-policy alternatives that would create the conditions for peace. Examples: We need to get JROTC and military recruitment out of our schools, or at least invent and promote similar efforts dedicated to peaceful conflict resolution and careers more constructive of community well-being. We need to give Peace federal cabinet-level status.