On Friday December 14, 2012, a disturbed individual walked into Sandy Hook Elementary with his mother’s Bushmaster Rifle and started shooting. He killed twenty first grade students and six members of the school’s staff.
Later, that same day, after every news network had covered the story of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, there was another event with guns occurring on the other side of the nation. Anyone driving along Government Way in Coeur d’Alene would have seen a sign advertising a gun show being held at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds that weekend.
Bad timing? Insensitive? Callous? On the day America experienced the worst school shooting in our history, the fairgrounds were inviting Cd’A residents to go buy more guns. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dismay.
I understand that the gun show was scheduled long before the gunman entered the elementary school with evil intent. I know it was too late to cancel the event. And I realize there were sellers there with business that need to make a profit - dependent on customers showing up and purchasing guns. Even with those facts in mind, I still felt the brash street-side signage was disrespectful. They could have still held the gun show without putting out the signs.
When I drove by the fairgrounds that rainy Friday afternoon, I felt sick. And the responses to the picture I posted on facebook were simply disturbing.
“We can't put our lifestyle on hold. Life goes on.”
“Gun shows are a business, not some Broadway musical.”
“It is good business.”
These statements do not tell me anything good or bad about firearms. Rather, they speak volumes about our culture. Americans idolize guns – elevating them as something equal to or even greater than God. It demonstrates how badly we are trapped in a cycle of never-ending violence. We are stuck thinking that violence is the solution to all our woes.
When I hear someone say “We can’t put our lives on hold because of some tragedy,” I hear someone who is trapped.
When I hear the claim “Obama (or Clinton) is going to take away our guns!” I hear they are trapped.
When a Bushmaster advertisement states they’ll take away our man-card if we don’t own a gun, I see customers who are trapped.
When I hear someone say they need guns for “self-defense,” I hear someone who is trapped.
When I hear they need guns to “over throw our tyrannical government,” I hear someone who is trapped.
When a person argues “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” I hear someone who is trapped.
Every time I see a “We don’t call 911” poster with a picture of a sidearm on it, I see someone who is trapped.
When an old man walks into a children’s play area with a 9mm strapped to his hip and brags about how he has a badge for it, I see someone who is trapped.
When I see pictures of pistols on top of bibles, I see people who are trapped.
Whenever someone utters the words “God, guns, and glory” or “God, guns, and country” I hear people who are trapped.
We are better than this. Or at least we should be.
Before I get carried away, I must clarify that I do not wish to disparage any gun-owners. If I refused to be friends with people who owned guns, I would be a very lonely man. My objections are not to guns but to the attitudes of our culture that have us mired believing in redemptive violence. I reject the attitude that the second amendment is the greatest amendment. I protest the attitudes that guns bring us closer to God. Guns do not symbolize your savior, they do not symbolize your manhood, and they do not symbolize hope.
Guns may not be the problem, but they are definitely not the solution. What we have is a people problem. We are stuck in a trap and think we can shoot our way out of it.
Think about quicksand. While the younger version of me believed that the danger of quicksand would be far more prevalent than it actually is, it does exist and it is possible to get stuck in it. When caught, quick and panicked movements will cause someone to sink deeper. Simply put – fighting it makes it worse.
The myth of redemptive violence is like quicksand. We are stuck and the more we fight the worse it gets. We are sinking in clinging to our guns. We are sinking in anti-government rhetoric. We are sinking in gun shows. We are sinking in fatal police shootings and sinking further with riotous response to law enforcement. We are sinking in belief that we can fix our broken country with violence.
When stuck in quicksand, slow and careful movements are essential for escape. If we want to get out of our violence trap, we need to make deliberate efforts and stop fighting.
I don’t believe that banning guns will put an end to American violence. But I do believe that gun-proliferation will make it worse. Both of those extremes would be akin to panicked actions causing us to sink deeper in the quicksand. If we learn anything from other nations like Japan, Switzerland, Mexico, and Honduras, weapon regulations do not increase or decrease gun violence. While common sense gun-control could be beneficial, it won’t fix our people problem.
If we want to end the violence, we need peace. We need to lay down our arms. We need a change of heart. Unfortunately, it is impossible to legislate morality. No law can ever force someone to be kind or humble. If we want to encourage peace, there are things we could do aside from revising gun laws.
Remember the biggest difference between Honduras and Switzerland? One nation is economically and educationally secure and the other is not. If you look at violence in America – the perpetrators and victims are both more frequently found among the most disadvantaged of our population. Poverty and crime dance in tandem.
Do you want to reduce the possibility of homegrown terrorism? Do you want to see an end to school shootings? To you want to see less senseless violence in major metropolitan streets?
Then we need to fix our broken education system that favors those with wealth and burdens kids in poor neighborhoods.
We need to do recognize wage disparity in our nation is a travesty and end corporate welfare.
We need to close the loopholes that allow the rich to get richer on the back of the poor.
We need to maintain safety nets to make sure that no one falls through the cracks.
We need stronger policies to crack down on school yard bullies.
We need to call out hatred and discrimination wherever it exists.
When everyone has access to hope and justice, we will stop believing in violence as a cure. We will be freed from the trap.