Change, One Step at a Time: On the Newtown Tragedy, Guns, and Letting Go of Our Excesses
A vigil for the Newtown school tragedy. Photo credit: 2012 Penn State/flickr.
My deep conviction has always been that the moment of tragedy is no time for advocacy or politics from either side; that as a nation we move too quickly to get past these horrific events and would benefit from marinating in our shared humanity, pausing in communal grief, and just feeling. But my mind and heart have been changed by the horror in Newtown, Connecticut. Unlike other national tragedies which I certainly feel to an extent, this one cut into me as a parent, a Christian, and an American. From my cubicle at work, I began to tremble and cry when I saw the news, and have since been moved by the firm challenge of many including our President who remind us that these tragedies are so frequent now that there remains no good time to discuss solutions. If we can’t focus our outrage at this moment, when will change ever come?
Known and Unknown
I have grown weary of those who look at the present situation, shrug, and suggest that it’s too confusing, too dark, or too vast to tackle. Sure, addressing violence in our nation is a complicated task. There can be no complete answer because the contributing factors are surely many, including things beyond our current grasp, and human nature remains broken. But that should not keep us from taking steps in the right direction.
As a Christian, I don’t believe that we will know a more complete peace until Christ returns. Yet we Christians seek to bring forth glimpses of God’s Kingdom now, attempting to live Jesus’ prayer: “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” Christians labor in hope because God is already moving to heal humankind’s depravity, with a trajectory pointing towards reconciliation and restoration.
My spiritual mentor Rev. Earl F. Palmer explained that peace usually comes about in stages, during a time when both sides can’t see the end result, and don’t yet trust one another completely. We gain not through domination but through compromise; the laying down of weapons and defenses one at a time, back and forth, with both sides demonstrating surrender as a safe path. This is only possible when each side acts in good faith.
Starting With the Obvious
Guns are unquestionably part of the problem, but they are not nearly all of it. Gun owners, I understand you in part. I support those who own a modest firearm for sport or to protect themselves or their family as long as they go to great lengths to keep it secured. But there are excesses to gun ownership.
Something needs to be done, these are not normal guns, that people need. These are guns for an arsenal, and you get lunatics like this guy who goes into a school fully armed and protected to take return fire. We live in a town, not in a war,” - Joel T. Faxon [NYT], Newtown resident, hunter and member of Newtown’s police commission
To those who say “guns don’t kill people” and “other things kill people too,” these responses are beside the point. Assault rifles, semi-automatic weapons, and high capacity clips make killing incredibly efficient, in a way a baseball bat, kitchen knife, or accident by lawn mower never could. It is also important to remember that those other items have primary uses not related to killing. The Aurora tragedy happened in a state allowing concealed weapons and Newtown was the result of legally purchased, high-capacity firearms falling into the wrong hands. We’ve seen it play out this way far too many times before, revealing just how toothless the so-called protections truly are.
Look, I grew up on an Oregon farm where guns were a part of life; and my dad gave me a .22 rifle for my 12th birthday. I understand: shooting is fun! But so is driving, and we accept that we must wear seat belts, use headlights at night, and fill out forms to buy a car. Why can’t we be equally adult about regulating guns?” -Nicholas Kristof
I don’t want kids and other innocents to continue dying so people can have almost unrestricted access to weaponize their paranoid fantasy about being cornered by criminals or the government. The last thing we need are civilians with a Rambo complex trying to save the day when a shooter is moving through a crowded area. Even the NYPD shot nine bystanders on the way to nabbing a recent threat, and they’re trained. If the government does turn on We The People, no person with an arsenal in the shed is going to outlast a government with a defense budget in the hundreds of billions each year.
For too many, guns have become idols. They claim divine status; make promises of safety and security they cannot keep; transform people and neighborhoods; create enemies; and require human sacrifice.” -James Atwood
The obvious first step, the low hanging fruit, is to ban the most high capacity, combat-ready weapons and accessories, and offer a government-assisted buy back program through local law enforcement. It’s a start.
Is Anyone Willing to Budge?
There are other issues begging for our attention in light of these shooting tragedies: mental illness, malaise in young men, pornography on demand and the scientifically-observed way it rewires the brain and leads to numbing and depression, increasingly sadistic video games, increasingly sadistic television, frequently sadistic films, and more. What’s my point? It’s not that everything is equal. But the left and the right do have blind spots; glossing over varying problems which dehumanize, desensitize, and destroy, and we have to be willing to look at all of it with fresh eyes if change is going to occur. Many gun owners expect their access to military-grade weapons to not only continue, but expand, despite the increasing carnage in our streets, movie theaters, malls, and schools. Many on the left don’t appear to want to discuss limiting or reworking how the population accesses our more vicious and degrading content labeled as entertainment. Each side downplays these excesses, cites the right to bear arms or freedom of expression, and reminds the world that they’re not the ones misusing the privilege. But that does not negate the damage nor does it erase those who are more susceptible to abusing our manufactured extremes.
In exchange for a ban on assault rifles, will the left agree to re-think its approval of the more harsh content labeled as entertainment? There’s a difference between censorship and a culture which collectively develops a distaste for its excesses, thus relegating the market for such material to the fringe.
The Scriptures say: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” I have to ask of my fellow Christians: if we believe in Christ’s eventual return, and take seriously texts like the one above, are we, as the President said, doing all that we can to bring this peace into reality today, or are we letting the earth fall into hell, wagging our fingers with disapproval and misplaced blame, and waiting for our heavenly escape?
It is time for the first step. It is time for us to change. Do we have the courage to begin that journey? Do we have the willpower to surrender something? Anything?