Karen McKim

Karen McKim
August 30
I have conservative values: I want to conserve things like our traditions of self-government, liberty, justice, religious freedom, voting rights, Medicare and Social Security, good public schools, clean air and water, sustainable management of our national resources, and safe communities. Because I do not want to sacrifice those things to increase the profits and power of international banks and oil companies, most would call me a liberal. Also blogging at karenmckim.wordpress.com

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DECEMBER 16, 2012 5:40PM

Why I won't be working for stronger gun-control laws

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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.
I’m sure that my efforts won’t make a big difference, just as I’m sure that similar efforts on the part of many citizens would. I’m also sure that these are not the only things we can do to shape American culture to be less enamored of force and more inclined to value—and to practice—compassion.

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I really enjoyed this blog post. Although I am strongly in support of more gun control legislation, the bipolar political food fight, as it were, is tired and hopelessly off the mark. Just as you suggest. America's culture of force really is something we've learned to glorify, many times to the detriment of the world and ourselves. Your message of compassion and your call for a change in cultural values is, in my opinion, very much so what this nation needs. I would love to read another post from you on your thoughts concerning President Obama's speech at the Newtown memorial service just tonight.
Excellent post, Karen. Americans live in an extremely violent culture - starting at the top, where Bush and Obama combined have killed more than a million innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and where Obama continues to kill them with drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and by arming al Qaeda militants in Syria.

Guns have been freely available in the US since the Revolution - yet the mass shootings are a very recent phenomenon that corresponds with the escalation in US military violence abroad and the militarization of the urban police departments.

I can't help but think progressives have been manipulated on this issue (as they have with the anti-smoking issue) to side against the working class. What we need in the US is profound political change that ends a situation in which we are essentially governed by Wall Street corporations. This change can never come about so long as blue collar workers see the progressive movement as a bunch of moralizers trying to regulate and restrict their lives.

If there is to be any home of changing our culture of violence, it needs to start at the top, starting with our permanent "War on Terror" and armaments manufacturers, responsible for making bombs, guns and other military hardware one of our major export industries.
Boy, this was worth it! What a fine post, Karen, enjoyed it much. Am glad I could sign in. R
We in Canada do NOT have approximately the same gun-loving culture. Rural people have rifles and shotguns, but handguns are very hard to get legally and for most people hard to get illegally. Assault weapons are illegal. We don't have gun shops all over the place - very few of them.
Excellent post! You nailed it dead on.

I must correct Myriad a wee bit. While its true that Canada doesn't have the same wide distribution of guns that is prevalent in the US, there are still a good many of us who own firearms.

While handgun licences are difficult to get, any adult who has no criminal record can obtain one. It's almost impossible to get a concealed carry permit though.

As to "gun shops"...... almost none is correct; BUT guns are sold in sporting goods stores here and there are plenty of them! Myriad might also educate herself a bit by looking through the sporting goods section of her local Canadian Tire store; they too sell guns.

Assault weapons can also be had provided they've been modified so as not to be fully automatic. (So can kits - ordered from the US - to return them to full automatic fire.)

I have owned a firearm for most of my 71 years. I got my first .22 rifle at age 11. I no longer have one. I have an alternate means of defence that does not kill. Right now it has to be ordered from another country and has not been banned by our government. I do, however, expect the government to ban them once it becomes aware of them.

You might like a blog I posted earlier today......

Guns ARE Dangerous; But.....
This is really excellent. It may be the calmest post i've read on the subject.

The next question will be how to institute cultural changes, because that is of course what you're talking about. It's a sensible path, but not a simple one, particularly with a lot of money riding on the current path, as in the entertainment industry.
Rw - excellent article in your link, about lead, IQs, and crime rates.
Excellent thinking and writing. A strong dose of common sense always helps. R.
Interesting how you call for open minds, but after arbitrarily setting the parameters of the issue. That people kill, not guns, is an irrelevant slogan. An FBI study of a few years ago showed that most guns used in crimes were purchased legally, locally, and within a fairly short time frame.

You claim America is divided in 2 extreme camps, which implies some sort of equilibrium in numbers and outlooks, but the truer divide is between a smaller number on the pro-gun extreme and the rest of America. Many gun owners support regulation, and "force of law" is true in any situation, so I don't think you said what you wanted to say.

There are no warring camps and Americans do not worship force. You might consider using a few qualifying words to hedge a bit of stretch in what you treat as fact. After that order of hamburgers you go off on sort of a leftie tangent about manifest militarism v. multitudes of Mahatmas.

Reduced to essence, the political battle is between relatively few gun fanatic enthusiasts who are, unsurprisingly, enthusiastic. Those potential voters who would like tighter regulations are more motivated by other issues or don't turn out. That makes the NRA manufacturers lobby's job easier -- reps can be had for the price of a few oppo attack ads. "Stand Your Ground" laws can be passed in many states by purchasing the much less expensive state rep.

Whatever serves the gun market reigns supreme. That is the issue.

Of course, whatever regulations might be applied by an unusual groundswell of popular insistence can be neutered by the Supreme Court under our new 2nd Amendment hocus-pocus jurisprudence.

Thus created and incorporated, now any laws will have to be blessed by Scalia and the NRA/GOP effort.

So, no, the problem isn't America's cowboy lust and thirst for violence. Society doesn't have to be reformed by mass indoctrination to Anger Management modification.

The political reality is those who want stronger regulation need to turn out and vote. Figure out how to motivate them to the point of overcoming the forces of financed fanatics.

That's how a democracy works. The People vote, the Reps legislate their will and new laws are passed. Then if His Royal Majesty Scalia and his Court approve, The People get their democracy.